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Interactive Millenium Falcon


Okay it's not the AMT/ERLT model kit... Okay it's a "little" shortcut...
I'll say that I haven't become lazy, it's just that I didn't want to start a project to see it finished in one year or more. Not to say that my little kid and my crowded electronic bench are not helping to store a project like that for several months without risking an accident.
I chose a slightly simplified version. During FACTS 2007, in Gent, Belgium, I step across this :

I discovered the Revell Easy Kits initially during Celebration Europe, in London (July 2007). Pre painted models, no glue to assemble them. The paint job is nice and it's real paint, not tinted plastic, so the look is close to a hand painted model (well, it's even better than if I paint it myself !). Model making is clearly behind me, I did that when I was a teenager. I decided to give a try to this big one. For 30 euros, that was not a big risk !

The aim
Already painted ? Nothing to glue ? What's the point then ? In my case, I bought it to implement interactive electronics, of course. Cheap base, good looking and plenty of room inside for my custom boards. Disclaimer : I don't pretend to have here the most accurate and ultimate replica, it's just a fun project in my hobby line.

What I'd like to get :
? A not too bad looking model
? Illumination : landing gears, position lights, cockpit lights, engine lights
? Interactive sounds, using my Droïd Core sound board
? A wireless radio remote to control the ship and trigger sound and light sequences

Assembling the model
Nothing to say : assembling is easy and fast. You'll get the whole thing done in less than an hour. Take the time to clean tu edge where each piece is attached to the frame. Think about getting some grey and sand acrylic paint to cover some imperfections

Lights !
The Millenium Falcon is full of lights. Looking on the web, I came across a light placement blueprint. I decided to install :
? A big blue LED un each foot / landing gear - Superflux blue LED / 140°
? Four 5mm white LEDs on the 4 "corners"
? Little 3mm red LEDs as warning/caution lights

Wiring in progress...

A example of the result (landing gear + warning/caution lights)

The center of my Interactive Millenium Falcon is my Droïd Core board. Initially designed and prototype to be a R2D2 sound board, it's a generic sound module that can be triggered and remotely controlled thru a serial port or using limit switches (when an accessory arm, hatch or periscope is activated from the R/C remote control of the robot for instance).
It shares the same PCB as Blaster Core, my sound & light Fx module dedicated to blasters and sci-fi weapons.
I've slightly modified the firmware of Droïd Core so that it handles the lights as well. In a nutshell, specific sounds are associated to actions. An ASCII order is sent to the serial port, triggers the sounds and controls the lights. As an example, "AS02" triggers the specific action sound number 2.
To test my syntax and code, I've wired my board a little USB serial port and used the Docklight shareware software to send pre-recorded ASCII strings.
Like my other modules, Droïd Core uses a SD card to store the sounds, dispatches in several directories to simplify indexing the files. A configuration files handling the general behavior of the board (baudrate of the serial port, shuffle mode etc) is stored in the root directory. It's a simple text file that you can edit in place using a SD card reader.
The lights were supposed to be driven directly from the board outputs, but I wanted bright lights, and the MCU could not provide the required current (3.3V / 20 mA per output). Hence, I used my Power Xtender board, that acts a bit like a relay and allows to drive up to 2A loads from a 3.3V control output.
The system has 3 circuits : one for the landing gear lights + interior lights (cockpit and entry hatch), a second one for the position lights and the last one for the engine lights.

Wireless Radio Remote Control
I've done that a thousand times at work, so it did not take long... I had a spare 916 MHz Linx emitter / receiver pair on the shelf. It allows you to build up a wireless serial port in less than an hour. It can handle digital data up to 56000 baud, but I've chose to use it at 38400 baud, first to avoid being at the limit of the specs, second because 38400 is slightly more standard than 56000, and finally because I don't care about speed or latency in this application, it's just a remote control.

For testing the whole thing, I've connected my wireless emitter to my USB serial port and I've programmed in 10 minutes a Max/MSP mini remote patch. Clicking on the AR button ask the board to trigger a random action sound.

The remote will be installed in a droid caller, like the Han Solo one. Switches and buttons will be handled by a microcontroller that will then generate the appropriate ASCII strings and will send those the wireless transmitter.

The (almost) finished Falcon...
I still have to build the remote, but the Falcon itself is done. I can put it on a shelf, without any wire and control it from my PC ! So cool !
I didn't need much to finish it. I've installed the engine lights. I used 18 oval LEDs bought in China last year. The oval shape gives a great and unusual diffusion pattern on the blue plastic that represents the hyperdrive. They are wired by pair to reduce the overall current and they are driven by a PWM output of my board, this way I can even create a progressive effect like the engine is turned on and off with fading lights.
The Falcon is powered buy a 7.2 volt / 2400 mAh lithium-ion pack with a recharge port accessible from under the ship. Like on my sabers, a kill plug is used to turn the power off and avoid the batteries to discharge.
It's really bright. Pics are giving too much justice, but anyway, it's bright ! So bright that it evens glows thru the plastic, I'll have to paint some parts in black inside... Since nothing is glued, I can easily do that later.

?Some detailed views of the ship with the lights. I especially love the windowed light thru the ship access hatch.

Droïd Caller
I had some little problems when finishing the remote control. A wire escaped during soldering and unfortunatly applied a high voltage to the receiver chip. It's still working but I had to reduce the link speed and data rate to 19200 bauds. Well... it makes absolutly no difference for a remote.
The "naked" remote - from left to right :
? The 9V battery connector
? Dip switches (general on-off + control of the 3 light circuits)
? The 2 wires of a momentary button (generate a random sound / sentence from the sound board)
? The power supply board (yellow) and the microcontroller (spider-wired).
? The Linx wireless transmitter and its antenna
? The programming connector of the microcontroller (ISCP)

For the Droïd Caller, I've used 90% of scrap material :
? A piece of PVC plumbing pipe (OD 40 mm)
? Two camera film boxes
? A 3mm LED chromed bezel
? A D-ring + mount (frame holder)
? Two O-rings
? An inflating socket for soccer ball
? Aluminium Tape

I used the tape to increase the diameter of the camera film boxes. Then I drilled and threaded assembly holes to secure the parts during drilling and milling the bigger holes on the caller body.
Then I assembled everything together using epoxy glue. The caps from the camera film boxes allow to access the battery (down compartment) and the electronics in case I need to fix something or modify the code of the remote firmware (upper compartment). The film boxes are made of polyethylene, a "fatty" plastic. Moreover, it's really flexible and paint might crackle. I started by priming the boxes with document plastifying film (spray). It's a sort of thick acrylic coating that will make a good tack for the painting, rather than a classic prime spray that crackles if applied on flexible surfaces.

?A few screws and a paint job later...



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