Weekly Roundup: 4/18/16

Now that we’ve told the world about Horatio, we spent the last week getting everything ready for the first few units to ship. Ben’s been busy building the Bridge Devices in the shop, while I’ve been preparing a little surprise for our first customers.

Ben also spent some time working on a custom DMX-to-IR converter for a client (to cue infrared-controlled LED candles via DMX), and the littlest member of our team has been working on writing (and coloring) her numbers. She’ll be in the shop building Horatios in no time!

Also, in case you missed it, we got some great Horatio press from Stage Directions, and a mention in this Live Design article about the Winter Palace on Fifth!

Horatio Monitoring System – Available Now!

Y'all Need Horatio

“Hardware eventually fails, software eventually works.” — Michael Hartung

A reality that we all face is that the hardware that controls our lighting systems will eventually fail. Systems with an operator are easiest to maintain; when something fails, the operator sees it and works to resolve it before the next show. Unattended systems, like architectural lighting systems, don’t have someone watching the show every cycle, and failures can accumulate until someone notices and reports them.

With the launch of our Horatio Monitoring System, there is now a streamlined solution for monitoring unattended installations. Horatio connects to a lighting network and actively monitors the system to ensure that everything is working properly. Monitoring data is collected in the cloud in real-time and notifications are pushed via text or email when errors are detected.

Saks Winter Palace

Our first Horatio installation, and the impetus for its development, was the Winter Palace on Fifth holiday display at Saks Fifth Avenue in New York. Chris Werner Design, American Christmas, and Saks Fifth Avenue developed an ambitious facade display consisting of 176 universes of ArtNet driving thousands of light fixtures, with a cadre of Mac Minis as back-end media servers.

Horatio monitored all of this: pinging Minleon NDBs to make sure they were still online, watching CITP discovery packets to track the status of the media servers, collecting syslog data from the various embedded systems and network switches, logging OSC messages from QLab3, and safely providing a backup storage solution for the MA Lighting GrandMA2 console. The event ran from 4:30pm-midnight for five weeks, and on several occasions Horatio was able to notify the team of potentially show-stopping errors that occurred during the day, giving technicians plenty of time to reset things before the display went live again that evening.

“Horatio’s logging functions provided an incredibly powerful forensic tool which allowed for remarkably accurate and fast troubleshooting of the system by members of the design team scattered throughout the country. Horatio’s persistent monitoring and error reporting allows our team to boast “zero down-time”: each and every scheduled performance ran on-time.” — Chris Werner

Petersen Automotive Museum

Horatio’s second installation was at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. The complete renovation of the Museum features a multi-layered lighting control system with an ETC Mosaic at the head. During the programming of the system, Horatio’s remote syslog feature with filtering and searching capabilities allowed Chris Werner Design to rapidly troubleshoot programming issues in the interactions between the ETC Mosaic, MediaLon Show Controller, and the rest of the show control systems. Now that the museum is open, Horatio continues to monitor the network infrastructure, lighting controller, Ethernet-DMX gateways, and remote power supplies, alerting technicians of any problems and failures in the system.

“Horatio’s frequent communication with the connected hardware allowed for the very thorough assessment of network functionality, identifying and eliminating hiccups prior to the facility’s grand opening. Currently, Horatio tracks all triggered events within the museum’s lighting system, allowing for easy verification of show playback throughout the various ‘signature’ galleries and up-to-the-minute status monitoring of all components. We have been given such a powerful diagnostic tool and remote monitoring device! It’s a Swiss Army knife for lighting systems requiring any level of remote support.” — Chris Werner

Customized installations

We’ve also worked with Clear Story Creative to integrate Horatio units into two of their recent projects, both of which required not only lighting system monitoring, but also a customized interface to improve the end-user experience.

The first of these was the bridge lighting at The Waterfront in Homestead, PA. This is a rooftop and grade mounted lighting system designed and installed by Clear Story. The lighting system consists of four different lighting positions linked by Lumenradio CRMX units, as well as in-grade fixtures with integrated radios, with the back end controlled by a Pharos TPC.

Connecting to the internet from its integral GSM link, the Horatio on this system monitors the Lumenradio network and fixture health on the RDM-enabled fixtures, logs syslog and OSC messages, and integrates an IP camera for live camera views. Additionally, we created a custom mini site with Clear Story’s branding that gives the Waterfront staff the ability to easily adjust the bridge lighting through preset recall. No special VPN software or configuration is required; the client simply logs into a custom page on the Horatio website.

The second project with Clear Story was St. Nicholas Croatian Catholic Church in Millvale, PA. Clear Story is providing a lighting system, controlled by an Interactive Technologies CueServer, to illuminate the Maxo Vanka murals covering the inside of this historic church. In addition to typical monitoring, their Horatio has been customized as a UDP-to-Serial bridge, allowing the CueServer to send simple UDP messages to trigger control of the Middle Atlantic UPS as a sequencer for the audio system.

Find Out More

After these successful beta installations, we are launching Horatio this week, with units available on a 4-6 week lead. For more information, visit the Horatio website, or email Ben at hello@benpeoples.com.

Photo Credits:
Horatio:  Ken Lager Photography
Saks:  Robert Figueira
Petersen:  Kevin McCauley

Mix N’ Match Grand Opening

Mix N’ Match, the public art installation that Ben’s been working on in Market Square all week, had its grand opening at the Bicentennial Gallery Crawl this past Friday, and it was a huge hit!

We’ll be posting more details about the project and our part in it later this week, but for now, check out this great write-up in the Trib, see a few more of our photos below, and stop by Market Square to play with it yourself!

Fightball 2016!

Ben was in New York last week for the opening of the Spring 2016 season of Fightball, a new, intense, one-on-one basketball competition.  We worked with TPG to create a new-and-improved scorekeeping system for this season, along with a couple of custom-built shot clocks that interface with it.

Check out the video below – you can see our scoreboard projected on the screen above the stands and the shot clocks above the two backboards.  And if you look closely, you can also see Ben sitting just to the right of the scoring table – right in the middle of the action!

Introducing Horatio

We’re excited to finally be able to announce the new product we’ve been developing for the last few months:  say hello to Horatio!

Horatio

Horatio is a manufacturer agnostic system that integrates with your lighting network and monitors all devices in order to send you alerts when your system isn’t working as it should.

Horatio dramatically increases your visibility of the inner workings of a lighting system from wherever you are, using the rack-mounted Horatio Bridge Device to link your lighting network to a variety of monitoring tools on the horat.io website. This web interface allows you to monitor almost anything through your ethernet network; supported protocols currently include ARP, TCP, CITP, RDM , DMX, Lyntec RPC, Syslog, and OSC.

We’re currently beta testing, and we expect to ship the first Horatio Bridge Devices in January 2016. I’ll have a beta unit with me at LDI this week, though, so drop me a line if you’d like to check it out, or visit horat.io for more details.

 

Welcome to Ben Peoples Industries!

Just a little note to say welcome to our blog!

Ben Peoples Industries doesn’t officially exist yet.  At the moment it’s a whole bunch of different business ventures offering a variety of products and services, all tied together by two things:  their connection to the live entertainment industry, and the brains behind them:  Ben Peoples.

We’re in the process of consolidating all of these businesses under one umbrella, but in the meantime, we’re starting a blog to bring everything we’re doing together under one roof.  Here you’ll find updates from Ben about what he’s currently working on, articles and photos of some of our past projects, and updates about any new happenings with our family of companies.

Stay tuned for more soon!

Developing the Juliet Candle

Juliet Candle

Next week, Trinculo’s Attic launches our first in-house developed product. We’re calling it the Juliet Candle*. It’s a tiny 1/2″ diameter board with an LED mounted atop it.

The first prototype was a bit bigger (although skinnier):

Juliet Candle Prototype

Scale may be hard to grasp, but the LED is about 5mm (1/4″) wide, the overall board is 3/8″ wide. This has all the parts the final board has on it, but is a bit easier to program, since it has a standard programming port on it.

The LED is connected, via resistor, to one of the PWM ports on the board. This allows us to very easily set the brightness of this LED, since we’re simply writing a value to a register instead of trying to manually turn the LED on and off.

We’d previously implemented LED candles with three LEDs. One LED is kept on, the other two flicker randomly on different frequencies, causing the light output to be nice and flickery. The only problem with this is that it doesn’t look very much like a real candle. Side by side with a real candle, it’s far too consistent. We set about doing some studies about what different candles really do. We set up this little rig:

Candle Flicker Recording Rig

This is a little circuit that measures the brightness of a candle, on about 1000 samples per second, and outputs the data into the computer. It’s built using an Arduino, one resistor, and a CdS photocell with a bit of blackwrap around it to mask other light. We put another piece of blackwrap behind the candle to give us a very strong signal. Here’s what we found:

Real Tealight Flicker Profile

The dataset is dense, but we found that candles tend to float around to different levels, with periods of relative calm and periods of heavy flickering. We also discovered that the candle flicker had a “resonance frequency” of around 5Hz when it was flickering, while it’s amplitude changed throughout:

Real Tealight Flicker Profile

We mulled around different ways of implementing this in software. We considered using Fourier Transforms to dig out the overlapping frequency data. On a walk up to get some coffee, one of our team (Sarah) said “Why not just play back the data?”

Turns out that works, and amazingly well. We resampled and normalized the data (bringing it down to about 50 frames per second). We found we had two basic modes of operation: high flicker (a pillar candle) and low flicker (a tea light). The tea light actually was incredibly steady, but we took a segment of the data in which a lot was going on, since a theatrical candle needs to be a little dramatic. The tea light is the first graph above, the pillar candle is the second.

After proving the concept on the first prototype board, we then shrunk it. We decided a round board would be nice, since you can fit it into things designed to take a candle, or into a candle itself. The smallest board you can fit the microcontroller on is a 1/2″ diameter circle. We might have been able to shrink it a tiny bit more, but the size was nice. We had the boards produced really thin — 0.020″ instead of the standard 0.0625″, and with a black soldermask instead of a green one. The finished board is pictured above, and in plan view below (with a standard tea light for size reference):

Juliet and Tealight

So now we have a lovely little candle. The LED circuit uses one of six available pins, so there are 5 pins on the microcontroller available. The simplest use is that one of the pins can be tied to ground, which will switch the candle from low-flicker into high-flicker mode. This serves as a really simple way to change up how the candle reacts.

The second use is that the microcontroller can read analog voltages, so we’ve implemented two more things (which will be shipping shortly after the candle does):

  • Light detector: the candle will go out when in darkness. This allows you a basic way to turn off the candles in a blackout.
  • Motion detector: when left alone, the candle will be in low flicker mode. When moved, the candle will shift into high flicker mode. Multiple candles can be wired together to a single motion detector, allowing you to control a whole candelabra from a single motion detector

Using LEDs and microcontrollers also reduces our power needs. Any 3V-3.6V power supply can be used, including two AAA batteries, a single lithium coin cell, or an AC adapter. Each candle pulls 50mA, and we can supply an AC adapter that’ll run up to 20 of them with no problem.

Look for the big announcement next week: the first in our Thing-A-Week product launches between now and USITT in March. (They won’t be quite Thing-A-Week, but pretty close).

* “But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.” — R&J, Act II, Sc 2.