Studio has been dark. The BSC.

I have not been shooting anything the past 2 weeks and it is driving me up the wall. I am hoping to correct that in the next few days, but the past couple weeks I have just been super busy.

Bread-board prototype of the BSC (Biolapse Studio Controller)


I have not been sitting on my ass though. I a building another Project3 robot for a client that wants a plug and play dragonframe moco system. I have also been busy working on the BSC (Biolapse Studio Controller), and it is shaping out to be a beast, and I cant wait to get it finished and in the studio. This is going to be a direct replacement of the older BCM (Biolapse Control Module) I have been using.

On the tail end of my last shoot, the BCM started failing to shut off the grow light again. I think it is just getting old. I have already replaced the arduino and the relay, the wiring inside it sorta sucks, as I really just threw it together. It has served me well the last several years but it is time to replace it.  This weekend I plan to pull it apart and replace the internal wiring, I have already replaced the relays and the arduino, it has to be the shitty prototyping board I used to make some connections.

For those who are wondering, the BCM is a fancy intervalometer that coordinates the lighting system and environmental controls.  This next version is going to be a heavy upgrade on all levels. The BSC will be built like a tank and should get me by for the next 20 years.

Warning, I am about to get nerdy on this one. 

I have several upgrades planned.

  1. I am moving away from mechanical relays to solid state relays, and rather than just having four, it will control eight. These are much higher quality than the cheapo Sainsmart 4 channel relay that I had been using,  and being solid state they do not have any mechanical parts to wear out.
  2. Custom made circuit boards. The old BCM uses one of our chronocontroller boards hacked in with a blank prototyping PCB for the connections. This is where I think a lot of the problems stem from. Using a new PCB instead of jumpers for those connections will keep things nice and tidy and more reliable.
  3. Assignable switched outlets. The current BCM uses four relays, each has a specific task, one handles the Grow lights, one for the fill lights, another for the humidifier, and the last for a heater. They are hard set for these functions, and if i want to change them I have to re-write the code. The new BSC will have eight switched outlets that can be assigned for different purposes.  Lets say I am using one of the relays to provide power to a heater in switched outlet 1, if it starts having problems I can just move the heater cable to outlet 2 and reassign the heating function to that outlet and continue with the shoot, and then pull the BSC apart and replace that relay afterwards.
  4. Switchable Dual Power Rails. Like the fist BCM, this new one will also sport dual power rails, one that can connect to a battery backup, and one without the battery backup. I use this already as if there is a power outage I don’t want the grow lights sucking up all the battery power, I want to reserve the battery power for the fill lights, camera, logic board, etc. The humidifier, heater, grow lights, none of these need battery backup, if they shut off for an hour it is not going to cause any problems.  On this new BSC each outlet will have a toggle to take them from one power rail to the other, where as the BCM had them hardwired.
  5. I am adding function groups to cluster several relays together for specific functions.  So i can assign outlet 1 through 4 as grow lights, 5 and 6 as fill lights, then 7 for the humidifier and 8 as a spare.  When using the manual relay function to turn them on and off, 1-4 will all turn on and off together.
  6. Extra functions.  Right now the BCM only controls 4 relays to cover Grow lights, Fill lights, Heater, and Fogger. This will be expanded to include the ability to control a Cooler, Dehumidifier, Pump, etc.
  7. 3 Day/Night zones. Controlling multiple grow light ones for up to 3 different day/night times for different zones to accommodate shooting on multiple sets and being able to meet the requirements for various plants.  I might have one that stays on 24/7 for filming flowers blooming while another one works with 12/12 hour cycles for a plant, and the 3rd doing 16/8 for another. All these would still be disabled before shooting.
  8. Improved display and control setup
  9. Multiple triggers with assignable skips.  When filming a Nepenthes I like to keep my intervals at an hour or longer, but when filming flowers 10-15 minutes is better. I plan to give it 8 camera trigger ports, of which can be set to only trigger every X amount of shooting sequences. With this, I can film Nepenthes at 1 frame per hour, while I film 6 frames per hour on a flower.
  10. Metric output. Every time the system runs an event it will log the data to a terminal session on a computer.  This will help with debugging in case any issues arise.
  11. Interval ramping. I like the idea of gradually increasing/decreasing the intervals between frames. This can be used to adjust the capture speed without making an obvious change in the rate of growth, it also would allow for some interesting effects as well.
  12. Physical Build is going to be far more substancial, everything from the upgraded Arduino to the upgraded solid state relays, to the Server Chassis I will build this one into. This is going to be a heavy duty overbuilt beast.

Everything above has already been coded in, and now that it is starting to shape up I have to make a few final decisions before having the PCB’s manufactured and delivered.

A couple other ideas I am considering

  1. Adding a light sensor to monitor and ensure that a light has in fact shut off before it takes an image. When running into the issue with the BCM not shutting off the grow lights, it does not always fail and continue to fail, sometimes it only fails for a single frame.  By giving it the ability to make sure the light has shut off, it something sticks it can pause and try to turn the relay on or off multiple times to see if it can “jiggle it free”, then take the image and resume.
  2. Pump control. I already have this in the first BCM, but most never use it. It may be worth adding in to automate watering.
  3. Optional audible warning pre-trigger.

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