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The Voltage Slammer – Nathan Villicaña-Shaw

The Voltage Slammer

The Voltage Slammer V1

The Voltage Slammer is not only a mechanism for controlling circuit bent electronics but is additionally a platform for assisting in the activity of circuit bending. This project is part of an ongoing exploration in controlling circuit bent toys, video game consoles, and instruments with Arduino powered interfaces.

The Voltage Slammer v1 – Circuit Bending Probe and Interface

The Voltage Slammer is conceived to provide centralized control over a variety of circuit bent battery powered toys. The project originated from frustrations when circuit bending ensembles of toys with the goal of musical performance. As the number of bent devices increases, it became cumbersome to control dozens of circuit bent toys which each have their own set of local knobs, switches, and dials to conduct their behavior.  Additionally, many of the bend devices featured different bends with conflicting controls and it was difficult to keep track of how to operate each individual device. The Voltage Slammer provides a solution to that dilemma by providing a uniformed interface in which to interface with all the varied devices. Unfortunately, not every circuit bent device can be plugged into The Voltage Slammer and work its way into the system, devices have to be initially bent with the device.

The Voltage Slammer v1 – circuit bending probe and interface

The first eight out its thirteen output channels produce Pulse Wave Modulation (PWM): a type of digital signal which allows the user to adjust the duty cycle of the underlying digital signal. Each of these channels have a corresponding potentiometer and switch. The potentiometer is used to modulate the pulse width of the outgoing signal, affectively producing higher current and voltage to the client device. The switch cuts off the connection to the client device entirely. Small LEDs are positioned above the switches which light up along with the output signal to provide immediate feedback to the user. These outputs are affected by the master delay pot stationed in the upper left corner of the interface. The master delay inserts a period of dead time into the signal temporarily turning the signal off. This can be effective for simulating button presses on some devices and can even be necessary for getting many instruments to reach a state of incantation. The remaining five outputs are kindred to the first eight but have no feedback LEDs, no on/off switches and are physically arranged on the interface in a separate group. These secondary outputs are used to control motors drivers or any other bend requiring constant voltage or current. The rear of the Voltage Slammer provides the output for both the primary and secondary output channels through thirteen RCA connectors. The rings of the RCA cables are connected to the system ground, which is shared by The Voltage Slammer and all battery powered devices, while the pins carry the control signal which originates from the Arduino. A RCA connection with both the ring and pin connected to ground is included in the outputs to allow for easier probing and bending but serves no function when the interface is used as a sequencer. Lastly, the Voltage Slammer has an ultrasonic rangefinder which allows the interface to be aware of the presence of gallery viewers in the case of installation. This proves especially beneficial when the interface is used in an installation setting, making it easier for the installation to exhibit traits of intelligence with a crude sense of spacial awareness.

The Voltage Slammer V2

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The second version of the controller boasts sixteen rotary encoders which each feature built-in push-buttons and RGB LEDs. The encoders provide an intuitive interaction experience to interactees when the interface is used for installations due to their ability to provide both visual feedback through the LED and by allowing for continuous rotation. When used to control circuit bent toys in a gallery setting the system resets the encoder states in-between each visitor, ensuring each interactee is yielded the same starting system state. This is a vast improvement over the potentiometers used in the first version which only rotate 270 degrees and have no mechanism to reset their values in-between users, causing each interactee to be left with whatever state the user before them put the unit into. Because the encoder shafts support continuous motion, users are not stuck having to reset the controls back to a starting state themselves as everything can be handled in software. To alert the new user that the unit has reset itself each of the encoder LEDs will turn green to indicate the values have been reset. As the user turns an encoder it will the LED will mirror the behavior of the output, pulsing when the unit is sending out a signal with green, yellow, and red corresponding to a low, medium, and high signal level. This instant feedback proves useful to offset the unpredictable nature of circuit bent instruments. In the circumstance where a puppet device is not responding to The Voltage Slammer, the feedback from the LEDs provides reassuring feedback which affirms the controller is working properly and that the user’s actions do indeed have affect . The pushbutton on the encoder allows its user to manually reset the encoder state: turning the LED green and resetting the value. The second version of The Voltage Slammer replaced the SPST toggle switches with eight higher quality metal pushbuttons with LED rings. The new buttons are used in the same manner as the switches in the first version of the interface by connecting, or disconnecting, the output jack from the Arduino for its corresponding channel. The buttons are latching, functioning just as a SPST switch does. The LED rings provide instantaneous feedback about the status of each of the buttons, making it easier to tell the states of the outputs with a quick glance. The inclusion of the LED rings in the button housings additionally eliminate the need for adding discrete LEDs, to provide the valuable visual feedback, reducing the number of components used over the first version of the interface. An additional upgrade added in the second version of The Voltage Slammer allows the interface to be powered with rechargeable batteries instead of a USB cable – which the interface still supports. As the devices that the controller is sequencing are almost always battery powered as well, this feature allows the entire system to easily be mobilized for performance, or installation, allowing for use in locations without access to a power grid. The ultrasonic rangefinder in the front of the first version of The Voltage Slammer proved useful for detecting the presence of folks directly in front of the device, but was of little use when interfacing with the controller. The second version of the interface decided to increase to number of rangefinders to four by adding one to each side and one to the top of the unit. The added sensors give the interface a heightened sense of spacial awareness over the single front facing sensor in the first interface while also providing more options when mapping the interface for performance.

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