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FireHero: Turn Guitar Hero into an extreme sport by adding flamethrowers!

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Picture of FireHero: Turn Guitar Hero into an extreme sport by adding flamethrowers!



So, long ago I  had read about propane fire poofers. They're pretty cool... I mean, who doesn't love fire?! But, no matter how awesome, they could get pretty boring after a while of seeing the same large fireball. I never built one because I wanted something that would be exciting and thrilling every time I fired it up. So, I put the project on hold until I could come up with an awesome idea.

Back in December 2010, I was daydreaming in class about who knows what, when I thought of my fire poofer project. I thought back to this project I had read about a while back on Mikey Sklar's website where he uses an ultrasonic sensor mounted underneath a trampoline to shoot off a fireball every time someone jumps. This is pretty sweet, but it has the potential to get pretty repetitive. After a few hundred jumps, I would imagine I would get tired of seeing the same small fireball and crave something more. (besides, I don't own a trampoline!) I tried to think of ways I could apply a fireball shooter to things in ways that would be pretty awesome. I thought of using a microcontroller to sync the fire to the beat of music - now that would be pretty cool, and the patterns would always be different, so it wouldn't get as boring as fast. Then I thought of the game Guitar Hero, which uses five frets, and I had my idea! Simply interface a Guitar Hero controller to a microcontroller that would power some relays which would in turn fire off solenoid valves on five individual fire poofers! Now this could be cool; a large fire "sculpture" that is playable by anybody. Read on to see how I turned this idea into reality in a week's time!

Disclaimer:
I figure this is as good a place as any to place a disclaimer about my project. FireHero uses controlled blasts of propane gas to create pyrotechnic flame effects. DO NOT EVEN THINK OF ATTEMPTING THIS PROJECT UNLESS YOU ARE FULLY QUALIFIED AND FEEL COMFORTABLE WORKING WITH EXPLOSIVE GASSES, HIGH PRESSURES, ELECTRICITY, AND OTHER THINGS THAT CAN KILL YOU IF YOU DO NOT KNOW WHAT YOU ARE DOING.
 
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Step 1: Acquire necessary parts and materials

The project is broken down into three major sections: propane supply, propane distribution and ignition, and electronics/software.

Much of the project uses common steel or brass NPT pipe and fittings. You may already have many of the parts you'll need lying around, and the rest can be found at your local Home Depot. To duplicate this project exactly you'll need to get the parts listed below:

Propane Supply
- POL x 1/4" male NPT full-bore adapter (3)
- 1/4" FNPTx1/4" flare fitting (3)
- 1/4" MNPTx1/4" flare fitting (3)
- 1/4" flare nut (3)
- 1/4" copper refrigeration tubing
- 1/4" NPT ball balve (4)
- 1/4" NPT tee (5)
- 1/4" NPT close nipple (9)
- 1/4"x6" nipple (3)
- 1/4" FNPT quick disconnect coupling
- Fisher 67C high flow 55-135psi regulator
- 1/4" NPT 150psi pressure guage (2)
- 1/4" NPT 90 degree elbow

Propane Distribution and Flame Effects
- 1/4" ball valve (2)
- 1/4" quick disconnect coupling
- 1/4" NPT tee (5)
- 1/4" NPT 90 degree elbow
- 1/4" needle valve
- 1/4" MNPTx1/4" flare fitting (5)
- 1/4" close nipple (8)
- 1/4" x2" nipple (6)
- 3/4"x1/4" bushing
- 3/4" ball valve (2)
- 3/4" NPT tee
- 3/4" NPT close nipple
- 3/4"x2" nipple (2)
- 3/4"x3/8" reducing bushing
- 3/8" tee (4)
- 3/8" NPT 90 degree elbow (2)
- 3/8"x6" nipple (3)
- 3/8"x4" nipple
- 3/8"x1/4" reducing bushing
- 1/4" NPT 150psi 12v solenoid valve (5) (the valve's diaphragm material should be propane-compatible, such as Nitrile or Viton)
- 1/4"x6" nipple (5)
- 1/4" flare nut (5)
- 1/4" copper refrigeration tubing
- 25'+ high pressure propane-rated hose w/ male quick disconnect fittings at each end

Electronics
- Arduino microcontroller (Uno or Duemilanove will work)
- 5v relay (5)
- 2N222 transistor (5)
- 1A blocking diode (5)
- breadboard and jumper wires
- Playstation 1 or 2 controller breakout (I ripped one out of an old PS1)
- Guitar hero controller
- Terminal blocks

Miscellaneous parts
- 12v battery
- computer with monitor and speakers
- Propane-rated Teflon tape (you'll probably need several rolls)
- 18AWG or higher wire (at least enough for 6x the distance you plan to be from the flame device while it's operating)

**Note that depending on how you plan on supplying propane, this parts list may change slightly. This will be explained in more detail in the next few steps.**

Step 2: Purge the tanks

Before you can safely work with any of the tanks, you'll need to purge them of any residual propane still inside.

As far as working with propane tanks goes, it's really not that dangerous as long as you follow some basic safety precautions. Remember to perform the following procedures in an open, well-ventilated area away from any source of ignition (also be aware that brushed motors from fans are a source of ignition). If you buy a new tank, they already come purged completely with inert gas (some are even under a slight vacuum) and you can work with it safely.

If you use a tank that previously held propane, you have to make sure that there is no high pressure propane left - make sure that the tank is at or very close to atmospheric pressure. The best way to do this is to hook up a propane attachment such as a blowtorch or similar and let it burn until it goes out from lack of propane. Remember, there will be propane vapor left in the tank, but as long as it does not mix with air it is not explosive.

Once the tank is purged you need to remove the valve, which is most of the time easier said than done. I've had tanks where the valve comes right off after a few hits on the monkey wrench with a hammer, and others where I've needed three people helping me to hold the tank down and pull on a cheater bar. Your best bet is to strap the tank to something big using ratchet straps, like the side of a workbench or a steel support column, whatever you have around. Then use a monkey wrench wrench to grab the valve and either throw a cheater bar onto it or hit the crap out of it with a mallet until it starts to budge. The valves unscrew counter-clockwise (NOT reverse-threaded, unlike POL fittings); they screw into the tank with a standard 3/4" NPT fitting. Don't worry about mauling the valve with the monkey wrench; you're not going to use it anyway.

If the monkey wrench idea isn't working for you, I've successfully welded a tool made out of pipe that fits in and around the POL valve to grab it. If you're using a 20# tank, you may have to get rid of the collar around the valve to make it easier to unscrew. I've done this easily with an angle grinder; just double check that you're not cutting into the metal of the tank, only the collar. Once the valve is loose, unscrew it by hand. *Note: I once had a close call where the POL valve did not completely vent all the propane to the atmosphere (probably due to the excess flow valve), and there was still 30psi or so of propane inside the tank as I started unscrewing the valve. Fortunately, I heard the hissing of propane through the threads before I unscrewed it all the way. Moral of the story: be ABSOLUTELY sure that your tank does not contain any high pressure gas. The best way to completely ensure that your tank is empty is to connect it to a propane appliance such as a grill or torch and let it run until it goes out.

At this point you're going to want to either purge the tank completely of any residual propane vapor with an inert gas such as CO2 or Nitrogen, or use a 3/4" plug to cap the tank until you can. Some people say to purge the tank by filling it with water, but I would strongly advise against it. Propane tanks have special oils inside that coat the steel to prevent corrosion, and adding water washes these away and allows for the tank to begin rusting from the inside out.. not something you want on your hands when storing large quantities of high pressure, flammable/explosive gasses. I personally use CO2 to purge my propane tanks.

You can see the apparatus I used to purge the 100# tank below. I have a 20# CO2 cylinder and regulator which I use whenever I'm working with propane systems to purge and check for leaks.

The method for purging involves using a 3/4"x1/4" bushing attached to a 1/4" pipe tee with two ball valves on either side. One ball valve is the discharge, and the other is connected to the CO2 supply. close the exhaust valve and open the supply valve to fill the tank with CO2 (I like to bring it up to at least 30-40psi) so that it contains a mixture of CO2 and the residual propane. Then close the supply and once the tank is in an open area (I only purge outside) open the exhaust valve to purge. Repeat this process 2-3 more times until you're comfortable that there's no more propane.

Don't be freaked out when the tank still smells like propane afterwards - the propane gas is long gone but the Mercaptans that propane companies use to give the gas its odor will linger for a long time. My garage smelled like "propane" the whole time I was building FireHero and working on the tanks, but it's not a cause for alarm.  You can even take a blow torch and pass it over the opening of the tank, nothing will happen.

Step 3: Build the supply system

Picture of Build the supply system
In this project, I assume a basic knowledge of plumbing and working with pipe and fittings. The pictures provided, combined with the fuel system diagrams and bill of materials, should be more than enough to go about making your own system. If you have any questions about how something goes together, just leave a comment and I'll get back to you ASAP!

In this step, we'll assemble the propane supply system, which is responsible for taking high pressure propane from our supply tanks, regulating it down to a lower pressure, and storing it to be used by our flame effects.

When doing any plumbing with a flammable gas, it is especially important to make sure that each joint is sealed with properly-applied hydrocarbon-rated Teflon tape and that your system has zero leaks in it.

I used three 20# tanks with individual shutoffs chained to manifold with a pressure gauge. The gas then passes through an adjustable 50-135psi propane regulator and into the buffer tank, which has a second pressure gauge attached to it. The gas is fed through a ball valve and into a quick-disconnect coupler to make its way to the main accumulator tank.

A commonly-asked question: why did I use three 20# tanks instead of one big one? The reason for this is simply that it's all I had on hand - of course, a single 100# tank for the supply would have been optimal, but at the time all I had on hand were three 20# tanks. Using a single 100# tank would also cut down on the number of fittings required for the supply system, as you wouldn't need to run individual lines to each tank.

A note about using copper tubing to connect each tank: the copper refrigeration tubing is rated for pressures well above what you'll ever see in a propane system. However, copper tubing is very sensitive to repeated flexing of the line. Flexed enough, the copper will be weakened significantly and can and will break, releasing high pressure propane everywhere until the excess flow-limiting valve on the 20# tank kicks in. If you're using a 100# tank, you won't have this luxury. Ideally, you'd use high pressure propane-rated hose to connect each tank, although the ideal system wouldn't be using little propane tanks like this. Just be sure to limit motion of the copper tubing during use.

Step 4: Build the distribution system and the flame effects

This is the business end of FireHero. It consists mainly of a 100# accumulator tank, plumbing fittings to accept the incoming flow of gas from the regulating assembly, a pilot light assembly, propane distribution to the individual flame effects, and the solenoid valves and nozzles which make up the flame effects themselves.

The propane enters the main accumulator tank through a second quick disconnect fitting. In the pictures below, there is a tee where gas can be routed to the left to fire up a Ruben's tube, a separate flame device from another experiment. You can ignore those fittings when replicating this build. The line also splits up into the pilot light manifold which has a ball valve so it can be shut off completely and needle valve for fine adjustment of the pilot light size. The pilot lights can be adjusted anywhere from candle size to a 5 foot flame.

The gas then splits off again, making its way into the 100# storage tank via a 3/4 ball valve where it is stored to be released by the solenoid valves. This is also connected through a second 3/4" ball valve to the large "menorah" assembly which serves to route gasses to each individual solenoid valve. The "menorah" is only switched on right before the show starts. The pictures are very self-explanatory.

Note that many of the plumbing systems shown are overly complicated and use more fittings than necessary, such as a 3/8"x1/2" bushing combined with a 1/2"x1/4" reducer to accomplish the same thing as a 3/8"x1/4" bushing. This is because I actually completely stripped the shelves of my local Home Depot of most of the fittings in the sizes I needed, so this was my quick last-ditch solution. An easy way around this is to drive to other Home Depot stores to plunder them all of their fittings, or to order all your fittings online from a place such as Grainger or McMaster-Carr.

Step 5: Build the control electronics

In this instructable I assume a basic knowledge of electronics and soldering. I also assume you have familiarity with using the Arduino microcontroller and know the basics of interfacing sensors, switches, and relays to the device. If not, a few quick Google searches should help to fill in the gaps. For a good reference on the basics of the Arduino microcontroller, check out this instructable.

The pictures above show my setup: the guitar is plugged into a header I salvaged from a PlayStation 1, which is connected to my Arduino Uno. The Arduino decodes the serial data from the controller, looks for button presses, and cycles power to the relays accordingly.

The relays are then connected to the solenoid valves on the main assembly via a nice long wiring harness using a common ground setup.

To play FireHero, the player simply watches a video of the guitar hero chart and plays on the guitar accordingly. Every time he presses a button while strumming on the guitar, the Arduino will fire the appropriate relay and thus the flame effect corresponding to that note.

You'll have to wire the five digital outputs of the Arduino (the default is pins 1,2,3,4,5) to relays which will then control the solenoid valves. Of course, this requires the use of a transistor and a blocking diode (a quick Google search on Arduino relay circuits will clear this up). I then used six 25' lengths of single-conductor wire (I used 14AWG because that's what I had lying around, but the wires only have to carry a few amps in the worst case scenario, so 18AWG or 22AWG will work fine too) to hook the relays up to the solenoid valves. A common-ground wiring harness is simple to make, and everything is powered by a small 17Ahr 12v battery. 

To use the provided Arduino firmware, you'll need to download the PlayStation 2 Controller Library here. V1.5 is the latest and is required for the provided code. Follow the instructions for the library on how to hook up your controller - Bill Porter has put up some great resources and has spent a huge amount of time making this library accessible to everyone and helping people troubleshoot. (If you're reading this, thanks Bill!)

Step 6: Finishing up: hooking everything up and start playing!

Once all the individual sub-systems are complete, you are ready to hook everything up!

Use a propane-rated hose to connect to supply and accumulation quick disconnect fittings. I used a polypropylene hose, which is compatible with propane vapor. Any other type of air hose will melt and degrade when exposed to the propane vapor! THIS IS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT! Nobody wants a hose carrying propane to suddenly split open and start whipping around, spraying propane vapor everywhere. Be SURE to use propane-rated materials. The ideal hose is a rated nitrile rubber, braided hose.

Once everything is hooked up, I like to pressurize the entire system with CO2  to the full working pressure (about 90psi for me) and do a thorough leak test. Use a spray bottle containing soapy water and look for bubbles to appear after spraying on fittings. Wipe off the excess water afterwards to prevent corrosion. A side benefit of purging with CO2 first is that I can be sure that there's no air in the system and therefore zero chance of flashbacks occurring. If there is enough air in the system to provide a mixture of 2-10% propane, when ignited the system WILL flash back until it reaches the supply tanks, at which point it will stop. Obviously, this is bad! Just purge completely with CO2, and then fill completely with propane and nothing bad will happen :)

I use a blowtorch to light the pilot lights. A quick wave of the torch over the pilots will light them beautifully. Adjust the needle valve to the desired height of your pilot lights, and then you can start testing.

While using pilot lights is one of the cheapest and easiest methods of ignition, it is also one of the least reliable. A strong gust of wind can easily blow these pilots out (there are other ways to build them so that they are less susceptible to wind). You shouldn't really be shooting off balls of fire on a windy night anyways, but you'll definitely have to really choose a calm night if you build the system to spec as it is here (as in <1mph winds).

To start testing, fire off the solenoids individually - most of the pilots lights will probably get blown out. One really tricky thing with these pilot lights is positioning them so that they are close enough to light the blast of propane reliably, but not so close that they get blown out by the huge blast of cold, high pressure propane. You'll have to experiment and adjust each individually. Note that this is also sensitive to changing wind directions. Keep the blowtorch lit and close by to re-light them quickly if the need arises.

Step 7: Conclusion

That's it! Now you should have enough information to build your very own FireHero device! Remember to follow all the guidlines, be safe, and don't attempt this project unless you feel comfortable working with all the systems specified. If you have any questions about any step of this instructable, please leave a comment! I'll clear it up for you and edit the instructable so it will make more sense for anyone else who may have the same question.

This was version one of my FireHero device - be sure to check out the teaser of version 2 below!



You can also check out FireHero 2 on my website, www.chrismarion.net.

Have a great day!
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kopaka222 years ago
would be amazing would adapt this system to each instrument in rock band, sorry for the english :)
oswaldonfire (author)  kopaka222 years ago
I have an upcoming project that does exactly that - except it can also interface to real live instruments! It's codenamed Project Vulcan and I've been working on it for over a year - stay tuned to see its release soon! 

Photorealistic Rendering of project Vulcan

We are waiting to see that! Quite cool stuff.

That thing looks almost like a target at a shooting range...
Although come to think of it, that might actually be cool, if you could figure out a way to do it safely. Also, pyrotechnic pinball?
Your guitar hero project, as well as Project Vulcan are both absolutely awesome applications of fire and audio - great job. Can't wait to see it published and entered into one of our contests! Congratulations.
that would be awesome!
aschmidt137 months ago

I love it!

AWESOME!!

harveymgb1 year ago
Hi, just a quick question: why is it necessary to remove the valve on the accumulator tank? Would it not simply be possible to obtain an unregulated adapter, say a POL to 1/2" screw-in fitting, and attach the accumulator to the system like that? That way, you don't have to go through the tough job of busting the valve off, plus you can then reuse that tank as a normal propane cylinder if you took it out of your project...
MWPxerom1 year ago
I love guitar hero so that makes this project even more awesome!! Very nice work.
Very Sweet!
Shadow13!2 years ago
This is amazing! I can't wait to see the full video of Through the Fire and the Flames.
mblicker2 years ago
Very cool! Wow I want to build one of these for sure! :)
cfleis12 years ago
really awesome, we need to combine this with the wii kart and really create something ridiculous! we were think about figuring out how to shoot turtle shells and bananas...but this is more our style!

nice work!
The videos just make me smile. Such an awesome project. You are deserving of the win. Looking forward to seeing your next project.
Mr.Sanchez2 years ago
Wait until I Pick up my jaw of the floor...AWESOME PROJECT!!...Me quiero volver Chango!!!!
mackerous2 years ago
I saw a large version of this at a regional Burning Man event, Playa Del Fuego. The whole thing was like a big pipe organ and the game was projected in front of the pipes. Needless to say, it was quite epic.
DGW2 years ago
Great idea, innovative. You write and think very clearly, especially for a younger person. Where did you get the solenoids and how much did you pay for them? They are probably the most expensive single parts.
oswaldonfire (author)  DGW2 years ago
Thanks, the solenoids I used are from STC Valves, part # 2W035-1/4. They are around $32 each.
menahunie2 years ago
You mounted on top of the propane tank; looks like it.
THAT is really stupid and dangerous..
Get a backfire and boom.
You blow up..
Not to mention the tremendous heat coming that close from the fire balls...
Use a high pressure propane hose at least 50 feet long and shield the tank.
Another thing Flame thrower unless you some how get a license the law will come and arrest you.
oswaldonfire (author)  menahunie2 years ago
@menahunie - If you read the instructable you'll see that the tank which the flame effects are mounted on is simply an accumulator tank, not a supply tank. Furthermore, there is zero chance of a backfire occurring as long as the system is filled completely with propane vapor, as it will be during normal operation. Believe it or not, propane is actually extremely hard to ignite. Its range of flammability is from around 2.1% to 10.1% - meaning that if there is a mixture consisting of over 10.1% propane gas it will not sustain a flame. Since the operating pressure of my system is several times that of atmospheric pressure, this condition will always hold true and there is actually very little risk. In addition, I specify the additional step of pre-purging the entire system with an inert gas such as CO2 to completely eliminate any explosion or fire hazard.

The heat generated from the flames largely tends to radiate more in an outwards direction rather than downwards. This, in combination with a steady influx of large volumes of cold propane, means that even after an hour of operation the surface of the accumulator tank is hardly warm to the touch.

In addition, you hardly need a Flame Effect Operator's license to operate a small propane-fueled pyrotechnic device on your own time on private property. You won't be arrested for building one of these, and you won't be arrested for playing with it in your back yard (although I can't speak for largely populated areas). The only time you can really get into trouble for something like this is if it becomes a public show - at this point you will need to obtain the proper licenses and permits. The device must be built to satisfy the NFPA 160 standards, which will also need to be inspected by your local fire marshall. If you'd like more details on what is required to show something like this as a public display, feel free to message me for more details.

I don't attempt any project like this until I'm positive that I can do it safely - I enjoy doing this stuff and learning and I want to make sure that I'm around to do more of it next time! :)
Replicator2 years ago
Truly imaginative and very clever, also looks like tons of fun!
pixman552 years ago
yes great ideas you could use fireworks ideas with mineral/metal powders or angle grinders and metal like copper,etc for different colours to burn in flames
t2172652 years ago
Hot!!
MFXPYRO2 years ago
There is another good reason for using 3 tanks rather than one and that is take off rate/freezing. multiple tanks allow you to take off more gas gas quicker and it takes longer before they start freezing (the vapour is boiling off from a much larger surface area of liquid gas). As you point out you have to be careful with copper, personally I'd use flexi armoured propane hoses, you can get them with the POL connector already on them (at least you can in the UK) as they are intended for manifolding cylinders in this way and generally they aren't that expensive. http://www.bes.co.uk/products/067.asp
ArchEnemy#12 years ago
Thats awesome! Since this deals with fire, you should do either through the fire and flames or fight fire with fire. Then make a second one and have guitar battles with someone!!!!!!!!!!
oswaldonfire (author)  ArchEnemy#12 years ago
Thanks! I actually did Through The Fire and Flames with the second version of FireHero - you can see some of it in the preview in the last step. Since there was no way I could play that song perfectly by myself (I know it can be done, but not by me or anyone else I know), I built a complete control system that automated the playing by utilizing the MIDI protocol. I basically turned FireHero into a MIDI instrument, and it can play itself with perfect computerized precision.

I was saving the videos of FireHero 2 playing TTFAM for a huge release of something else that I'm working on, but I'm considering releasing them now :)

And "FireHero: VS" is on the horizon - which will feature two FireHero systems played simultaneously in battle mode.. of course shooting additional flames from whoever is winning!
That would make guitar hero so much more fun than just sitting in your room bored for about an hour just playing some songs. With that I would turn about 1 hour into at least 2-3!!! I can't get TTFAF 100% on expert either but I can survive it and thats good enough for me. You could also use it to cook some hot dogs or something for after you're done playing.
DRH14692 years ago
Well done. What are you qualified in?


DRH1469
oswaldonfire (author)  DRH14692 years ago
Thanks, feel free to check out my website, where you'll find my resume listing all of my skills and qualifications: www.chrismarion.net.
After seeing something similar done with twenty hot air balloons I was thinking about something like this. Never would it have occurred to me to use guitar hero in it. Inspired piece of madness :)
Keigh2 years ago
I saw this done at Burning Man last year! They had a big tv screen in front of it also so you could see the game as well as the flames. It was the first thing we could see from the road, about a mile away.
HickLife2 years ago
This is a great project. But here's an idea for a future one- different gasses. different gasses burn at different colors. So y not have a different gas for each color on the guitar hero controller? Preferably the same color of flame for the button.
I believe you have won the extreme challenge.
Simply put, Rock on! You got my vote.
oswaldonfire (author)  MissouriVillian2 years ago
Thanks!! You, sir, are awesome.
Taimur2 years ago
Really awesome job!!
This could be a good business for parties eheh something like renting it, to be used in private parties!

I'm pretty sure it would be success !!

regards Taimur
oswaldonfire (author)  Taimur2 years ago
Thanks for the kind words, everybody! I've entered this instructable in the Extreme Challenge, the Arduino Challenge, and the Game.Life 2 Challenge. If you like this instructable, please consider voting for it in any or all of the above!

@Taimur - I've since come up with FireHero 2, which I plan on making available for renting out to parties and other events. If anyone would like to have FireHero featured at their private event, they can send an email to booking [at] chrismarion.net.
Taimur Taimur2 years ago
I check your site in your profile and noticed you already release some info for to appear in some events ;)
a1r2 years ago
Wow ! Great job man !
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