Hackaday Prize Entry: Pyrotechnics Sequencer with Wireless Control

[visualkev]’s friend was putting on his own fireworks show by lighting each one in turn, then running away. It occurred to [visualkev] that his friend wasn’t really enjoying the show himself because he was ducking for cover instead of watching the fun. Plus, it was kind of dangerous. Accordingly, he applied his hacker skills to the challenge by creating a custom fireworks sequencer.

He used a custom PCB from OSH Park with an ATMega328P controlling eight TPIC6C595 8-bit shift registers, which in turn trip the 64 relays connecting to the fireworks. A 5V regulator supplies the project from 5 5AA batteries, and he kept the wires neat with 8-wire ribbon cables.

Starting the sequence is a generic wireless remote — a cheapie from Walmart — allowing [visualkev]’s friend can launch the fireworks with one hand while working the barbecue tongs with the other.

Behind the Scenes at a Professional Fireworks Show

Have you ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes at a big fireworks show? Last year [Kenneth] was asked to help manually ignite a fireworks show, and this consisted of him running down a row of shells with a road flare, lighting each one in turn. He apparently did so well that this year worked another show, this one with a more complicated setup.

The show [Kenneth] helped run consisted of 950 three-inch shells, wired in series into small groups, plus another 150 in 25-shell clusters used for the finale. The fireworks were organized in racks consisting of five three-inch diameter tubes of HDPE secured together by 2x4s. Each tube held a shell, and each shell came pre-wired with both a match fuse and electrically-triggered squib. Each squib or series of squibs connects to 45-channel breakouts, which connect to a control board.

Even after the show was completed, [Kenneth] had work to do, walking around and looking in each tube to see if there are any unfired shells. The dual wiring is so the shell can be fired with a flare if the squib is a dud. In this show they found six shells, and [Kenneth] was tasked with setting off those last shells with a road flare—otherwise they’d have to use a licensed and placarded vehicle just to transport a few shells.

For more fireworks goodness checkout this beautiful Arduino fireworks controller and this network-controlled fireworks launcher.

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Firework Shows, The Vintage Atari Way

In the summer of 1987, the Atari magazine ST-Log caried a piece entitled “Atari Sets Off Fireworks!”, a profile of the use of Atari computers in professional firework displays by Astro Pyrotechnics, a now-defunct California company. Antic podcast host [Kevin Savetz] tracked down the fireworks expert interviewed in 1987, [Robert Veline], and secured not only an interview, but a priceless trove of photographs and software. These he has put online, allowing us a fascinating glimpse into the formative years of computerized pyrotechnics.

The system uses not one, but two Ataris. An ST has all the display data and scheduling set up in the Zoomracks card file software, this is then exported to an 800XL which does the work of running the display. We’re told the code for the 800XL is loaded on a ROM cartridge for reliability. The 800XL is mounted in an aluminium briefcase with a small CRT monitor and battery, and a custom interface board stuffed with TO220 power transistors to fire the pyrotechnics themselves.

It’s unlikely that you’ll be breaking out a vintage Atari yourselves to fun a firework show three decades later, but the opportunity to examine in detail a real-world contemporary commercial use of a now-vintage computer doesn’t come along too often. You can read the original article on the Internet Archive, and listen to the [Veline] interview on the podcast episode.

This is the first Atari firework controller we’ve brought you, but we’ve shown you plenty of others like this beautifuly-executed Arduino build. And if you wonder how to trigger the fireworks themselves, how about destroying a resistor?

Fail of the Week: [Chris] vs. The Gorn

This week, [Chris] tips the scales but ultimately fails. He’s on the road, hacking through the Great White North and improvising from a poorly-lit echo chamber that happens to have a vise.

Knowing nothing about firearms (do you believe that?), he decided to build a BB cannon out of pure scrap. Several kinds of sparks fly, starting with a Hitachi drill-as-lathe and ending with a tiny cupcake sparkler. [Chris] proceeds to bore out some redi-rod by eyeballing it and offers helpful tips for course correction should you attempt same. Having centered the cavity, he drills out a tiny hole for a fuse.

His first fuse is of the crushed up match head paste variety. It burns kind of slowly and does not launch the BB. Naturally, Plan B is to make napalm glue to adhere Pyrodex pistol powder to paper. As you might imagine, it worked quite well. The wadding was singed, but still no joy. After packing her full of propellant, it still didn’t explode and merely burned out the blowhole. So, what gives? Insufficient barrel length? Should have used bamboo instead of redi-rod? Didn’t want it badly enough? Give us your fodder below.

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The Unity ‘Candle’ With A 30 Foot Flame

candle

[Quinn]’s friends were getting married, and while the couple wanted something like a ‘unity candle’ ceremony, they though simple candles were entirely unimpressive and ultimately not very entertaining for the guests. They decided a unity fireball would be a much better representation of their relationship, and were lucky enough to have a good friend that could build one.

The design of [Quinn]’s unity candle consisted of a control box with two key switches, a giant button, and the gigantic propane fueled candle set well back from the bride, groom, and guests at the ceremony. The candle itself releases the entire contents of an accumulator tank over a hot surface igniter, creating a thirty foot fireball without a visible pilot light, or the loud jet-like sound you would get from a traditional ‘poofer’.

As with all giant fireballs in front of an audience, safety was of the highest concern. [Quinn] didn’t use a full propane tank for this build, instead, a new, purged, and never used tank was used as an accumulator, storing just enough propane for one giant fireball. All the valves, regulators, and plumbing were rated for LP, and [Quinn] even filled out the proper forms and got the local fire department to sign off on it. It’s safer than [Caleb]’s Mario fire flower, but you still shouldn’t try this at home.

Video of the ceremony below.

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Pyrotechnic Star Machine

Star_Pump_Cutaway

[Robert McMullen] designed and built this fascinating, fully automated, pyrotechnic star pump (Google cache). It was made as a project requirement for his engineering program — The inspiration? He also happens to be a member of the Olin College Fire Arts club.

Let’s backtrack for a second. What is a pyrotechnic star any ways? They are the pyrotechnic pellets that make up the heart of all projectile type fireworks. Usually either a metal dust, compound or salt, they are what makes the pretty colours and “stars” of the fireworks. Only problem? If they aren’t made right they can be rather dangerous. Luckily, [Robert] chose one of the safest methods: pumping. The basic concept is that the star mixture is damp as it is pressed into a cylindrical shape, and then cut and dispensed, ready for use after a drying period.

The machine is a very slick mechanical contraption that is even a bit mesmerizing to watch. There’s lots of info on his blog, and even the technical drawings and Solidworks files are available! If this all seems rather familiar, [Robert] built a similar machine that creates waterproof fuses.

Stick around after the break to see it in action! Unfortunately we regret to inform you… blowing up of the stars is not included.

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6 foot tall fire breathing piranha plant from Super Mario Brothers

 

I always thought it would be cool to build a giant fire breathing piranha plant. I never really came up with an excuse to do it though. Eventually, I just decided I didn’t really need an excuse, and thus it was born.

The plant itself is pretty much just foam and cardboard. You can see the construction process in the video, it was really easy, but a little time consuming. I wanted to go with a bit of a crazy, hyper stylized look, so it is covered in veins and has these insane looking wrinkly lips.  The plant itself would be a fun thing just to have around the house. Actually, I may turn it into a lamp.

The fire systems were very much trial and error.

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