Monday, October 17, 2011

Arduino to the Rescue

Off and on I've mentioned "Arduinos" around here in terms of their usage for making laser tag stuff... mainly blasters.  While it's true that, at the heart of the Pulse Rifle project lies an Arduino that would likely run the blaster to use whatever system we can manage to program it with.  We have had success in building an Arduino-toting laser tag blaster and further testing has revealed the simple power that we have as long as we have the information to replicate the features of the Laser Tag systems that we're using.  By hooking an Arduino up to a computer, we can program it to do whatever we want, which means complete freedom to specify ALL the settings of a blaster.  They come in varying sizes too, so it's relatively simple to get what you need to fit into the right size blaster.

The group that I go laser tagging with is known as the "Omaha Laser Challenge Association".  By our namesake, we started off with Laser Challenge-brand gear.  Most of our gear in our 40-set armory is well over a decade old now and is starting to show it.  Some sensor vests are getting glitchy and are in need of major work.  Others have been just as susceptible to resetting in the middle of games than ever.  The vast majority of the OLCA's custom gear is designed with LC at it's core though, making it tough for us to even consider moving on to a different system like LTTO, LTX, Light Strike, or otherwise.  However, as their performance degrades, so does our desire to continue to tag with this system.

Still, there's a LOT of investment in LC, so to just completely switch seems like a silly idea to me.  But with the advent of our development with Arduinos, I think we can bridge the gap.  By building our next generation of custom laser tagging gear with Arduinos, we can still tag with Laser Challenge stuff.  We can also program them to work with other gear like LTTO, since the patent has been released.  As long as we have the means of replicating the signals, the sky is the limit with Arduinos.  This ALSO means that if we get enough gear rolling with Arduinos that we could possibly see our own flavor of laser tag emerge.  Folks always seem to be complaining about sensor placement with gear.  Laser Challenge is tough to hit from the sides because of the nature of the front and back sensor.  LTTO and LTX are impossible to hit from behind when folks run away.  So having a system that could have a blaster-mounted sensor and a Back Sensor, which would essentially cover everything, would be possible.  We could even go with head sensors if we wanted to!  But that's all paper ware and there's a lot of work to be done before we can reach that point.

In the months to come, expect to see advances in building our own boards to be compatible with the systems we use, mainly the Laser Challenge and Lazer Tag brands of gear.  I also want to put those Battle Tag sensors to work as a Laser Challenge vest, and a custom Arduino board running them seems like a great idea to start with.  We've got a Mod Night coming up on Wednesday that I'm sure will interest some of our Laser Tag enthusiasts who read up on this blog.  I'll keep you posted on any advances in the usage of Arduinos with our group once we've met and discussed things.