Saturday 1 June 2013

Bluetooth DMX512 controller

DMX512 (Digital MultipleX) is a standard for digital communication networks that are commonly used to control stage lighting and effects. It was originally intended as a standardized method for controlling light dimmers, which, prior to DMX512, had employed various incompatible proprietary protocols. It soon became the primary method for linking controllers to dimmers and special effects devices such as fog machines and intelligent lights. DMX has also expanded to uses in non-theatrical interior and architectural lighting, at scales ranging from strings of Christmas lights to electronic billboards.

The need for a DMX lighting controller came about after I bought my first piece of lighting equipment, a DUNE 3 colour laser projector. This unit has automatic show functions and a sound reactive function, but it isn't enough, I wanted to be able to control the functions of my laser. 
After doing a bit of research into current products available on the market, I found they were either based on a physical lighting desk (expensive hardware), or propriety software systems based on a computer communicating with a usb DMX controller (expensive software/hardware).  In my research I also came across an Arduino software library capable of driving DMX signals, the hardware side of things is very simple, it is based around an RS485 serial communication IC with some supporting circuitry. 

The use of an Arduino microcontroller means that any manner of control could be used, anything from push buttons, to variable resistors, to accelerometer or the idea I had, which was to connect via Bluetooth to my phone. Okay, so it isn't a particularly new idea, but so far I cannot find anyone who has tried doing this open source. I want to be able to drop all of my gear down at an event, plug the power in, and immediately be able to control everything via a wireless connection from my phone. DMX512 supports daisy chaining devices along the same DMX bus, this removes the hassle of wiring back to central location, this plus wireless control should mean a very quick and pain free set up.

This is at the breadboard stage, I have a power supply in the background there supplying 3.3v to the Arduino and Bluetooth module.

I was testing out the functionality with my RGB LED strobe.

 I have changed to a different Arduino module here. The prototype board seen holds the two voltage regulators, a MAX485 chip and all the wiring to go between the Bluetooth and Arduino.

This is how the first prototype looks. My next two steps with the hardware is to design a custom PCB and a 3D printed case to hold everything together a bit more securely.
Looking at the software side of things and it is non existent, the phone and Arduino are currently just communicating via a Bluetooth serial terminal, the DMX library on the Arduino interprets commands and applies them to the DMX bus. The mobile device software side will be something relatively simple and allow for basic control of the DMX channels with possibly some programmable functions.

Just to share, this is my road case of stage equipment, it includes an RGB LED strobe, Dune red, green and cyan laser projector, and a Dune 400 smoke machine.