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Helix Light Controller

Standalone, Wireless, Networkable Light Controller

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The Motivation

I'm an electronics engineer that does more managing than designing at work. In November 2004 my family and I moved into our new house that my dad and I built. It took me about 18 months to build it and another year to decompress from that effort. So in November 2005 I was an engineer without a major project. I'm sure all of the engineers out there and anyone that lives with one knows, that is a very dangerous situation.

Wizards in Winter

One afternoon my wife and I were surfing on YouTube and found the famous Carson Williams video. We both thought that was so cool. My wonderful wife, recognizing the dangerous situation I was in, suggested that I should do something like that with our house. I immediately started researching to see how he did it. It wasn't long before I found out he used a commercial light controller. After looking at that controller I decided that route would be too easy. I needed to design my own.

April Fools Joke

That is when I started researching the different microcontrollers available. I started to settle on the PIC series and almost purchased a development kit when I read an article in the April 2006 Nuts and Volts magazine about a new chip from Parallax called the Propeller. This new chip sounded way too good to be true, eight 32-bit processors on a single chip, each capable of 20 MIPS, all for about $13.00. This had to be an April fools article. After much research I finally started to believe that this chip might be for real. (Note to self, never debut a too good to be true product in April.) Also in this edition I saw an ad for the MaxStream XBee radios. I fell in love with these two products. Unfortunately the Propeller chip would not be available until June or July 2006. I was determined to design a project around the Propeller and XBee once I finished designing my light controller.

The Epiphany

I went back to researching which PIC microcontroller and programmer I was going to use for my new 16 to 32 channel light controller. After about another month of research the proverbial light bulb finally went off in my head and I got the idea that I could use the Propeller chip to create a much larger controller and use the XBee radio to make it wireless. Thus began the design of the Prop 128 light controller.