Hacklet 72 – Burning Man Projects

Burning Man is almost here! In just a few days, artists, hackers, makers, and engineers will converge on the Black Rock Desert in northern Nevada. They’ll endure the heat, the dust, and possibly a few bugs to create one of the largest outdoor art festivals in the world. Every year, the playa is covered with art cars, giant rolling barges, and fire-breathing animals covered in RGB LEDs. With so many projects to work on, it’s no surprise that quite a few Hackaday.io members (and Hackaday staffers) are burners. This week’s Hacklet is about some of the best Burning Man projects on Hackaday.io!

thedeepWe start with [David Nghiem] and “The Deep” – DC’s Sonic Jellyfish Art Cart. There’s just something calming about a watching a luminescent jellyfish floating serenely through the dark ocean. [David] and his team are recreating that effect in the desert with The Deep. They’re hanging a giant jellyfish in front of a golf cart. The medusa will be festooned with yards of silk and other types of fabric to create a flowing effect. Lighting will come from 8 RGB LED strips, controlled by 15 Teensy LCs. The Teensys will keep the lights flashing to the beat of the music. Burners can dance inside the sculpture, because this jellyfish thankfully has no sting.

anglerfishBicycles are the preferred mode of personal transportation at Burning Man. As you might imagine, it can be pretty hard to find your bike among all the other parked cycles. [Bob Baddeley] has made this a bit easier with Anglerfish for Bikes. Real anglerfish have an illicium, which is a stalk with a lighted tip that hangs just in front of their mouth. The bioluminescent light lures prey to the fish. [Bob] is using an RGB LED illuminated ball to lure him to his bike. This anglerfish started life as a blinky globe from Amazon. [Bob] removed the original electronics and replaced them with a Bluetooth radio on his own custom PCB. A simple press of a button gets the ball shimmering and blinking, leading [Bob] to his ride.

danceNext up is [Jeremy] with Interactive Disco Dance Floor. Inspired by Saturday Night Fever and the music video for Billy Jean, [Jeremy] is creating a dance floor that responds to those dancing on it. The floor is lit by 80 meters of 5050 RGB LEDs, controlled by ATmega168s. The ATmega168’s are connected to a capacitive sensor made up of a chicken wire grid. The system is sensitive enough to pick up feet even when wearing thick motorcycle boots. All the processors connect to a central computer via an RS-485 network. This allows the computer to take over and drive pre-programmed patterns to the floor. The PC side code is written in JavaScript, so it’s easy to modify.

jacketFinally, we have Hackaday.io’s own [Jasmine] with Glow Jacket. Walking around at night in Black Rock City can be dangerous. People running from party to party, high cyclists flying across the playa, you never know who might run into you! Having something to make sure you’re visible is a great start of a project. Keeping warm through the cold nights in the desert would be an added bonus. [Jasmine] sewed 32 feet of electroluminescent (EL) wire onto the back of a black parka. The wire ran to two AA battery-powered inverters hidden in the jacket. The hardest part turned out to be sewing all that EL wire to a jacket. Once all the stitching was done though, her husband [Ben] glows like a beacon in the night.


Burners unite! [Jasmine] has set the Hacker Burners project page as a meeting place for all burners and fans of Burning Man. If you’re interested, join up! If you’d like to see more Burning Man projects, I’ve got you covered with our new Burning Man project list. If I missed your project, don’t hesitate to drop me a message on Hackaday.io. That’s it for this week’s Hacklet. As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io!

A Very Bright LED Jacket

Last year, [Ytai] went to Burning Man for the first time. He was a bit inexperienced, and lacked the lumens to make him visible on the Playa. This year, he made up for it by building an extra bright LED Jacket.

The jacket consists of 48 LEDs, at 150 lumens each. Each RGB LED module was placed on its own PCB, and controlled by the tiny PIC12F1571 microcontroller. This microcontroller was a great fit since it has three PWM channels (one for each color) and costs 50 cents. Firmware on the PIC allows the boards to be daisy-chained together to reduce wiring. This was done by using a protocol similar to the popular WS2811 LEDs.

Assembling 50 of the boards presented a challenge. This was addressed by using surface mount components, a solder stencil from OSH Stencils, an electric skillet, and a good amount of patience. The final cost of each module was about $3.

With 50 of the boards assembled, a two layer jacket was sewn up. The electronics were sandwiched between these two fabric layers, which gave the jacket a clean look. A wrist mounted controller allows the wearer to select different patterns.

For a full rundown of the jacket, check out the video after the break.

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Biofeedback Flowers at Burning Man

Burning man, the premier desert-based convention, is a vacation for some. [Sam], on the other hand, points out that he is there to get his hands dirty. This year, he (with a team of six) built a set of 20 interactive lotus flowers that light up in sync with a heartbeat.

[Sam]’s biofeedback circuit is able to sense up to two heartbeats per flower. When a person’s heartbeat is detected, a set of high-power LEDs light up from the base of the stem upwards towards the petals for an incredible illuminated display of biofeedback.

The lotus flowers themselves aren’t anything to scoff at, either. They range from 8 to 18 feet high and are made out of steel and rowlux plastic. The circuit boards are all custom-made as well, with every part chosen to be as affordable as possible. The whole installation is powered by a deep-cycle marine battery and a set of 6V batteries, which can run all of the electronics in the flowers for the entire night before needing a recharge.

Burning man is a great example of art meeting technology. For other examples, check out this 2010 pyrotechnic ball, or head there yourself next August! Be sure to check out the videos and the project’s code on the project site as well.

Wearable flames with fur and LED strips


[Finchronicity] over on Hackaday Projects has made a pretty awesome furry LED Vest to keep him warm and well lit at this year’s Burning Man. He is using a Teensy 3.0 that drives strips of 470 WS2811 LEDs.

The vertically aligned strips run on a continuous sequence which reaches up to 31 frames per second using precompiled animations. The effects rendered in Processing or video mapped, are captured frame by frame and stored as raw color data to an SD card. Playback uses the NeoPixel library to control the strips. The high resolution LEDs, with the video mapped fire and the long pile fur, create one of the nicest flame effects we have seen on clothing.

We’ve also seen the Teensy 3.0 and WS2811 LEDs used as a popular combination for building huge displays, a 23ft tall pyramid, and more recently in the RFID jacket at Make Fashion 2014. Have you made or seen a great Teensy/WS2811 project you would like to share with us? If so, let us know the details in the comments below.

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FLASH.IT: The RGB LED climbing wall


[Chris] and his friends were kicking around ideas for a Burning Man project, and this is the one that stuck: a rock climbing wall with RGB LEDs embedded in the holds. The holds themselves were custom made; the group started by making silicone molds of varying shapes and sizes, then added the electronics and poured in polyurethane resin to create the casting. The boards for these LEDs are equipped with a central hole that pairs up with a peg in the silicone mold. [Chris] also solved an annoying spinning problem by affixing a bolt to the far end of the LED board: once embedded in the polyurethane, the bolt provides resistance that the thin board cannot. The finished holds bolt onto the wall with all their wires neatly sticking out of the back to be hooked up to a central controller.

The Instrucables page suggests a few ways to get the lights working, including grabbing the nearest Arduino and relying on the Neopixel Library from Adafruit. [Chris] went the extra mile for Burning Man, however, designing Arduino-software-compatible controller boards capable of communicating via DMX, which expanded the system from a simple display to one capable of more complex lighting control. Stop by the Github for schematics and PCB layouts, and stick around for a video of the wall after the break. If the thrill-seeking outdoorsman inside you yearns for more, check out WALL-O-TRON from earlier this summer.

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A 23 feet tall pyramid with 0.31 mile of LED strips

This year the Disorient Camp at Burning Man built a 7m tall pyramid with over half a kilometer of LED strips. For this special occasion several artists had developed patterns for this massive LED display, animating the parties happening every night in front of this build.

To handle the dusty environment, a Toughbook was running the pyramid’s main code, which was rendering the animation frames to 24-bit bitmaps and sending them over UDP to the network. For each face of the pyramid, a $45 BeagleBone Black running a dedicated program was slicing the images into the individual panels. Finally, each panel composed of eight WS281x LED strips was driven by a Teensy 3.0 microcontroller, receiving the piece to display by USB from the BeagleBone. To power the pyramid, 5V 40A power supplies were used for the tall panels, 5V 30A power supplies for the smaller ones.

Unsurprisingly, many of the power supplies failed due to the heat and dust.  The adhesive holding the LED strips also failed, and some screw terminals rattled loose from the 25KW sound system, requiring constant maintenance. Nevertheless, the sixteen thousand LEDs sure made quite an impression.

If anyone attending Burning Man managed to capture video of this thing in action we’d love to see it. Leave a link in the comments.

DIY Electricity and Internet for Burning Man


Despite this being [Kenneth Finnegan’s] first Burning Man, the guy came prepared and stayed connected by setting up a beefy electricity supply and a faint yet functional internet connection. If you saw [Kenneth’s] Burning Man slideshow, you know that the desert is but a mild deterrent against power, water, and even temporary runways.

He borrowed a 20V 100W solar panel from Cal Poly and picked up a bargain-price TSMT-20A solar charge controller off eBay. The controller babysits the batteries by preventing both overcharging and over-discharging. The batteries—two Trojan-105 220Ah 6V behemoths—came limping out of a scissor lift on their last legs of life: a high internal resistance ruled out large current draws. Fortunately, the power demands were low, as the majority of devices were 12VDC or USB. [Kenneth] also had conveniently built this USB power strip earlier in the year, which he brought along to step down to 5VDC for USB charging.

Internet in the desert, however, was less reliable. A small team provides a microwave link from civilization every summer, which is shared via open access points in 3 different camps. [Kenneth] pointed his Ubiquiti NanoStation at the nearest one, which provided a host of inconvenient quirks and top speeds of 2-20kBps: enough, at least, to check emails.