4 UAH engineering students create light show for Huntsville Botanical Garden

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UAH engineering students created an interactive light show for Huntsville Botanical Garden. (UAH / Steven Byrd)

A student team from The University of Alabama in Huntsville recently designed and deployed an interactive light show for visitors to the Huntsville Botanical Garden.

The installation was completed as part of a senior design project. This was an impressive undertaking, so read more to find out what all it involves:

The Chargin’ RGBs Design Project Team

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Engineering students Steven Byrd, Savannah Flaherty, Trey Thompson and Tristan McCarver designed the light show. (UAH / Steven Byrd)

The Light Show Design project was created by four UAH engineering students, including team lead Steven Byrd, software co-leads Savannah Flaherty and Trey Thompson, as well as hardware lead Tristan McCarver.

The project came about through a connection Byrd had through his position as the lighting design and programming manager at the Huntsville Botanical Garden. Within this position, Byrd supports all projects related to light shows at the Garden, including new technology additions to Galaxy of Lights.

All work was performed as part of an Electrical Engineering Senior Design team project during their senior design course, EE494. The team’s hard work added up to a stunning visual, as well as aural, experience, which can be seen here from video footage taken at the Garden.

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The Galaxy of Lights display took a significant amount of work from these UAH engineering students. (UAH / Steven Byrd)

What the Project Involves

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The design that powers the project consists of passive infrared sensors linked with a Raspberry Pi which served as the brains of the system. (UAH / Steven Byrd)

So what did the Chargin’ RGBs Design Project Team have to do? Okay, this is pretty technical stuff, but here are the basics:

  • With the support of Garden leadership, the addition of newer light technologies to Galaxy of Lights in 2021 paved the way for technology to be worked on and invested in for the Senior Design Project.
  • McCarver, the hardware lead, helped with hardware selections that facilitated a truly interactive light show, while Flaherty and Thompson, software co-leads, supported software development and testing.
  • The design that powers the project consists of passive infrared sensors linked with a Raspberry Pi which served as the brains of the system.
  • The design concept uses eight passive infrared (PIR) sensors, which sense a thermal signature and measures this heat in the infrared region of the optical spectrum. A person walking by will trigger the sensor, making these PIR sensors very useful for an interactive light show display. When an object is within the range and field of view of the sensor, the voltage goes ‘high,’ and when the object passes the sensor, the voltage goes ‘low.’ In a high voltage state, the light show turns on, and in a low voltage state, the light show turns off.
  • The PIR sensors have a range of 20 feet and require 5 to 12 volts of DC current to operate. The power supply is located inside a bub’s box that also houses the Raspberry Pi.
  • The team is using cat5 to send power and data to the sensors and a Raspberry Pi which runs software called Falcon Pi Play (FPP) which sets the sensors to trigger when a person steps into the detectable region of the infrared sensor. This will, in turn, trigger the Raspberry Pi, which will then send a command to a F48 Falcon controller.
  • The students arranged the rebar poles in a grid pattern with the light show commands programmed to be different and specific to each of the eight sensors.
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The team used 10-foot rebar for light poles. (UAH / Steven Byrd)

“This project not only challenged our engineering skills, but it also taught us team skills only learned within the real world. These skills involved budget building, schedule planning and problem solving for a large-scale project, time management and working for customers who invest money into the project.”

Dennis Hite, a senior lecturer in the UAH department of electrical and computer engineering

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Michael Seale
Michael Seale
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