diy electronic techno blinky flashy electromechanicalish sometimes artsy projects from my workbench…

Category: Electronics


DIY AIS Receiver

I live near a busy harbour and wanted some dynamic data for my NMEA2000 testing. A DIY AIS receiver seemed like a ideal plan and I had most of the parts in my spare parts pile. Found a site that had a prebuilt Raspberry Pi image and I also found a quick and very cheap way to make your own antennas out of coax and PVC tubing. Mounted it all in a box outside and was soon seeing real-time marine traffic. See this page for all the details: AIS Receiver 

NMEA2000 Testing & Troubleshooting

My brother in-law bought a sailboat and was having some issues with the mast mounted wind sensor. Not only was it hard to access (it’s over 60 feet high) but the boat uses the NMEA2000 data bus to connect all the instruments. A further complication is that it uses the SIMRAD SIMNET network cabling. I did some research and found a way to make a very cost effective DIY adapter to allow you see the NMEA2000 traffic in real-time using very good free software. Check out my NMEA2000 Testing & Troubleshooting page

DIY Animatronic Control Systems

There are a few options for DIY stand alone controllers that can synchronize audio with servo control (that I am aware of). None of these are off the shelf easy to use but are free and open sourced…


1) Falcon Player – If you create your sequence in Vixen or xLights (both are Xmas lighting sequencing software) you can export the file and run it on a Raspberry Pi running Falcon Player (FPP). This will give you a stand alone controller. If you already have sequences created in VSA  you can import them into xLights and then export into a file that Falcon Player can use. FPP/Vixen/xLights are very well supported for lighting control but not so much for animatronics.


2) Lightman’s Servo Controller – This is a Parallax Propeller based 8 channel servo controller. Once you have you audio file loaded you sequence the servo movements via attached pots in realtime in a record mode. You can then play the various sequences syncronized with the audio. 


3) Bechele2 – This is a Raspberry Pi based 16 channel servo controller. Again it has a record mode to get the servo motion from an attached joystick and then you can use a player mode to play your sequences with the audio.


I have more information about these and other animatronic controllers on my Animatronic Control page:   Animatronic Control Systems

Need to control more than a servo?

A typical hobby animatronic uses servos. So naturally your control system may only have the ability to control the typical RC servo PWM signal. But what if you have other things like LEDs or motors or…. Or perhaps some pixels. I needed to control some relays from a servo signal and while I know you can purchase such things, I rolled my own with parts that I had on hand. I used a Arduino NANO clone and a 2 relay module. This lets me control each relay separately using two of the servo control channels. I used a carrier board for my build but you could make yours a lot smaller if you just solder the wires directly to the NANO and cover it with heat shrink. The circuit is power from the +5V servo power.

While I was working on this I also had the need for controlling some eye LEDs. I wanted to have adjustable colors for these LEDs so I could have used some RGB LEDs but this would have taken 3 control channels (one for each of the 3 colors) and would require some sort of driver for multiple LEDs. Then I thought about using addressable LEDs, a NeoPixel ring was ideal for lighting up the project  that I was dealing with. And it would only need  2 control channels. I again used a NANO and cobbled some code together that lets one servo channel control the brightness and another channel to control the LED color color (all LEDs show the same color).  Again I didn`t need to worry about size and it is powered from the +5V servo power. 


For more information including wiring diagrams and the Arduino code go to my Servo Project page.

DIY Ethernet E1.31 Controllers?

While the ESPixelStick based controllers are great sometimes you want (or need) a wired Ethernet connection. One of the Xmas lighting site members (Barnabybear) has written code for a great range of controllers using an Arduino Nano, ENC28J60 Ethernet shield and a RS485 module. You will not find a cheaper wired solution that these. You can find more information on various postings on the DIYCHRISTMAS.ORG site. Here is a summary of his projects:

Cabled E1.31 to 16 on/off outputs, test firmware and parts:…ll=1#post91147

Cabled E1.31 to WS2811 pixel:…ll=1#post91536

Cabled E1.31 to 4 outputs WS2811 pixel hardware:…ll=1#post95062

Cabled E1.31 to DMX:…ll=1#post91537

Cabled E1.31 to TLS3001:…l=1#post100881

All firmware variants and set up code as .HEX files.…ll=1#post97088

The above board is a the single output WS2811 pixel controller. As you can see there are not many parts required. It uses a inexpensive RS-485 module as a invertor driver for the pixel data line as the NANO outputs negative logic (so it needs to be inverted). 

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