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Solid-state Halloween controller and how to build a Haunted House

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This was originally an article in Make 03 where my awesome editor Paul Spinrad actually made a replica of my controller and did a much better job documenting it than I would. For the controller board, if you need more explanation than "get a bunch of solid-state relays, connect them up to your parallel port, and go to town," check out the Make article. It also has an awesome comic that I have gone to pains trying to convince people that it doesn't star me.

With this Instructable, I'm putting in text that didn't make the cut for a size-constrained magazine article and creating a space to explore the latest options for computer control. The Win98 machine I had previously used to drive my controller can no longer by relied upon and I haven't yet conquerred external (parallel port, serial port, USB, ...) control with WinXP or MacOSX; hopefully we can collect some great pointers and links in the comments.

The original page describing this project is here.
 
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Step 1: Background, or what made me a bad kid

During elementary school, my parents took me to a local Haunted House. In each room, you witnessed some gruesome scene; if you survived to the end, you got a grab-bag of awesome junk and candy. About mid-way through, there was a room lit by a single strobe-light, flashing at low frequency, and a guy in a hockey mask with a chainsaw. Maybe there was no chain on the saw, or maybe it was a weed-whacker? All I really remember is that I was terribly scared and I loved it. It was the first time I had seen a strobe-light and the saw was so loud I could feel it in my stomach. The experience was incredibly disorienting, and the feeling of terror and delight has stuck with me. No horror movie or ghost story has been able to top that low-budget, real-life fright.

As I grew older, trick-or-treating became more of a search for Haunted Houses than a search for candy and mischief. I was ever-hopeful that around the next corner would be that one weird guy who turned his garage into a haunted maze built from cardboard and bedsheets. I was never satisfied with what I found. “I could do better than that”, I often thought. So, for roughly the last ten years I’ve been perfecting my technique of scaring kids and handing out candy. In this project, I will show you how to build the tool I use most frequently in my haunted creations and give you some ideas for your own Haunted House.
I would totally do this if I could understand it. It sounds so cool!
COASTER193 years ago
I plan on building this. I was wondering if you could post some relays that would work for under 20 dollars each.
If you haven't already, come join us at the garageofevil.com.  You'll find it's a website devoted specifically to the home haunter, made by us and for us...
scienceguy5 years ago
So let me get this straight. You have run a cord from a wall socket, split it off into however many lines, connected these to SSRs, and then used the heads to make more outlets. The SSRs are then told to turn on and off by the computer. So, in essence, it turns one outlet into many and makes the computer control an on off switch, just like a wall switch. If I am correct, please send back. I have been looking for something like that for quite a while for my haunted house.
ewilhelm (author)  scienceguy5 years ago
That's exactly it.
barnibie5 years ago
hey just wondering if I could use just a "12VDC Coil DPDT Miniature PC Relay" instead of a solid state relay???
DRodriguez6 years ago
Could you use any other AC relay, or does it have to be those crydom ones? I ask because I hear that there are $5 relays out there, but I can't find them. Could someone point me in the right direction?
ewilhelm (author)  DRodriguez6 years ago
I used the Crydoms because I already had them on hand. Any AC relay that operates on 3-5 volts should work just fine. If it's a mechanical relay, you might want to ensure there are no current spikes back into the parallel port. There are plenty of circuits out there to help with this.
Then could it be something like This?
Also, about how many amps does a number of lights, say, 100, take?
I was going to ask precisely the same question! Could we use something like this:

http://www.goldmine-elec-products.com/prodinfo.asp?number=G1619

or even this:

http://www.goldmine-elec-products.com/prodinfo.asp?number=G13763

These can be had much cheaper, and to my novice eye, have the same sort of specs (5vdc to activate, output >= 120v 0.5A). The second (W107DIP-5) being in a tiny DIP package, you could shrink the whole project to be rather small!
It seems that, from what I can gather, Solid State Relays are virtually silent, and they do not, as said above, produce current spikes compared to the mechanical relays. But I am wondering if maybe its worth having a little bit of noise and sticking in a diode to protect your ports if you can get these relays for two bucks, instead of 12 or higher.
they are silent and have the AC that it switches fully islated from the trigger and they don't ark
I tried using a radio shack Mechanical relay (5v) and heard a suttle Click and nothing happened but when i connected 1.5v to it it clicked loud and the lights flashed, is something wrong? PS>I am using vixen to control the lights
JonnyMac6 years ago
For Windows users who don't want to write code, you could use Vixen and the parallel port driver to play your sound and control the relays in perfect sync. See www.vixenlights.com.
How would you rewire the data cable to suit vixens serial based control?
I would use a standard cable into a microcontroller that could interpret the serial commands form Vixen, which -- if you're really into it -- can be totally customized. I use the EFX-TEK Prop-SX to interpret Vixen commands to drive servos, PWM, and straight outputs using SEETRON protocol that also is standard with VSA (Visual Show Automation).
benthekahn6 years ago
How fast is the switching time of those 120v relays? I was thinking of using one to make a music controlled outlet box. Are they able to turn on and off more then five times a second?
ewilhelm (author)  benthekahn6 years ago
Check the datasheet.
DRodriguez6 years ago
What is the highest voltage that your relay can be in order to be switches by the parallel port? In other words, At which voltage does the parallel port operate on, and what is the tolerance with the relays? (will they switch slightly lower than marked?)
These are real works of art, thanks
ratmandu6 years ago
For computer controlled stuff like that, you can also check out what people are doing with christmas lights. http://computerchristmas.com is a good start, with light controllers, and even how to make your own SSR's with triacs. Tons of information there.
brian256 years ago
In Windows XP, regular user applications do not have access to Ring 0. Ring 0 is where device-level communication and signaling occurs. If you want to send bytes to a port address, you need to use a Device Driver such as WinIo to perform the task. I use WinIo on WindowsXP to control Cash Drawer Ports on a POS machine.
ewilhelm (author)  brian256 years ago
You should post an Instructable about how to do this!
I should have something by Monday
cool stuff! i am into building house projects. and when i see creative projects of different types or themes I am just impressed at the ideas people come up with these projects. house projects
leebryuk7 years ago
WOW! What a great job. I am truly impressed and I plan to use your display this year. Go easy on the blood donation stuff though. It is INCREDIBLY hard to get people to donate and God knows where people get their phobia. Maybe you could do brain donation? (Or maybe I need a sense of humour donation!)
zachninme7 years ago
What did you use for a "clear sheet of plastic". I was planning on doing a similar technique, but I couldn't find anything that was seamless and transparent, yet cheap.
ewilhelm (author)  zachninme7 years ago
Painter's plastic. You should be able to get it at any hardware store.
Ah, I was worried that because it isn't perfectly clear, it could be seen. But I guess it is hidden in the dark.
Fireflash137 years ago
And you sir, are the Halloween god! Thank you.
abbtech7 years ago
Cool Videos. Spooky stuff!
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