Star Trek Doors: Progress and Project Overview

by Ben N on December 3, 2015

To be frank, the Star Trek Doors project has been a “back-burner”, a project slowly evolving in the background while my brother-in-law and I are also busy with everything else in our lives.

Just lately, I’ve had a bit of free time, so I got back in to learning Arduino and figuring out how to properly drive the air valves from it.

I was able to spend some time modifying a tutorial on buttons to apply to the project. I wired up an old industrial push-button control to operate the air valves. The buttons send a signal to the Arduino, which then sends an output to a relay on a four-relay board. The relay then applies power to the air valve. The great thing about using an Arduino, instead of hardwiring a button straight to a relay, is that I can use the code to change the properties of the button push.

For example, the buttons are momentary on. They only complete the circuit as long as the button is held down. In this project, that means holding down the button until the door is all the way open or close. Not a big deal, but wouldn’t it be better if you simply pressed the button briefly, and the door then did whatever it had to?

In the “IF..ELSE….” section of code, I simply added a delay after activating the valve. That leaves power to the valve ON for whatever I set the delay to, for example, a second or two – however long I expect it would take for the door to fully open or close.

The other neat thing about a “coded” button is that I can make it do more than one thing at once! I had some 12V LED light tape kicking around and I wired it up to the third relay. Now, the button could not just activate the OPEN valve, but also turn on a light. I think it would be pretty slick to have LED light all the way around the door frame that turns on and off as the door is used. By modifying the code, I can have the button open or close the door AND turn that light on or off.

Besides doing more than one thing at once, I can also use code to create a series of actions. I set up the STOP button so that it would open the door, pause long enough for a person to go through, then close the door. It would also activate the light at the beginning of the actions and turn it off at the end. (Of course, this will still need a safety added. You do NOT want the door to close with a person standing in it…)

For those of you experienced in programming Arduinos, this probably seems pretty simple to you. In my case, it’s pretty new and I’m just learning, but loving the fact that I can change machine behavior with just a few clicks.

I mounted the valves, the Arduino and breadboard, the relay board, and a 12V fuse board, all down to a piece of plywood. It’s still not that pretty, but at least I have a functional “control panel” that’s all together. For the moment, everything is running from a single 12V power supply, except the Arduino. Since I was programming it, I had that running on a USB cable anyways. I’ll still want to wire that up with a DC barrel connector to run it from the 12V as well.

In the mean time, Fred has still been working on the physical doors themselves. The garage side of the doors are finished, other than paint. On the inside, he started building the interior false wall, which will hide the doors when they are retracted. This includes a geometric upper bump-out for the connecting bracket to pass through.

He also built the decorative door frame for the garage side. It’s flat wood, but with pieces cut in a geometric pattern and contrasting colors. The middle horizontal pieces were laminated together by cutting wood to two different lengths, then alternating them and gluing them together. The planned finish for the wood frame is to stain it with contrasting light and dark wood stain. The finished effect should be somewhat steam-punk sci-fi.

This whole “panel” that I’ve been working on will still need some cleaning up. I’m using a very large power supply for the moment. I’d like to trim that down to a more typical “wall-wort”. I think we also want to have power for the project all running through a switched outlet. That way, if something is ever not working right, we can just flip a switch to turn it off, and open and close the doors manually. I’m using a physically very large fuse board, which supports multiple circuits. I really only need something small and simple. A single 12V fuse should probably be fine. I also need to find a good way to attach the tiny jumper wires from the Arduino to the physically larger wires (18 ga lamp cord) that I’m using to go to the buttons. Maybe there’s some sort of small screw-down terminal strips I can use, or a custom circuit board with everything wired to it? I do NOT intend to use alligator clips between the two in any sort of permanent fashion!

So, that’s your update for now. Look for more soon!


PS: To see everything on this project, visit the project home page:


LED Bulbs Revisited

by Ben N on December 1, 2015

About a year ago, I shot a video showing off my favorite and most affordable LED light bulb at the time – a TCP 60-watt equivalent – which was available for $6 each while on sale and purchased in 6-packs. (See video above.)

Today, I had to do some shopping, and I looked around to see what was available on the shelves at the big box stores. I had to stop at Home Depot, and I also needed a particular item from Wal-Mart. Let’s see some of what’s out there right now.

I was already rather liking the “G.E. Bright-Stik” – a 800 lumen (60-watt equivalent) LED bulb that can be purchased for $10 for a 3 pack. That’s only $3.33 each, and they are available in warm and cool color temperatures. What’s nice about them is that they are very compact. They fit in small lamps and other locations that never worked well for CFLs with their bulky bases. I even had one lamp where another brand of LED bulb wouldn’t fit, but this one did.

Next, I saw a special sale on the EcoSmart brand – 4 LED bulbs for $6.97, or about $1.75 each! Wow, talk about a deal! Not only were they priced well, but they were FULLY DIMMABLE as well!

Back in the lighting department, there were still plenty of the Philips two packs for just under $5. New to me was a display of Philips “Slim-Style” bulbs. These bulbs look like a two-dimensional version of a light-bulb. They are dimmable, and best of all, it’s a 3-pack, bringing the price-per-bulb to only $1.66 per bulb.

When I had to stop over at Wal-Mart, I took a look in the light-bulb aisle as well. Their “Great Value” house brand is only $4.64 – at regular price, not a sale or special buy, for a 2-pack. A single bulb is only $2.44.

I tried to find some traditional 60-watt incandescent bulbs in the same aisle to get a fair comparison for price and energy usage, but couldn’t find any. The closest I could find was a four-pack of halogen bulbs. While still in the incandescent family, they are actually a little MORE efficient than a typical bulb. Instead of 60 watts, they only draw 43 for essentially the same amount of light. The four pack was $4.38, or roughly $1.10 per bulb. Note that the bulb has an expected lifetime of just UNDER ONE YEAR! You would literally have to replace the bulb every year! Not only does that add another $1.10, but also the hassle of getting at that one really odd bulb. (You know the one, at the top of the stairs, where you have to balance a ladder on a chair to reach it!)

On the other hand, the LED bulb saves an estimated average $6.21 per year on your electric bill. What!? That’s more savings per year than the bulb costs! That’s right, in a purely economic return on investment, the LED bulb pays for itself in less than five months. Add to that the fact that you WON’T be buying an incandescent bulb to replace every year for the next 10 to 20 years, and we are talking savings of over $120 – per bulb.

But wait! Maybe this particular bulb is very poor quality? I pulled one out of the box and compared it to one of the TCP bulbs I already had – other than some small printed text, they are identical! In fact, I examined the bottom of the “Great Value” box and did see “TCP” in small print. It looks like the bulbs are made by TCP, with just another name on them! My extensive testing has already shown that the TCP are great all-purpose bulbs.

So, if you are still using old-fashioned incandescent bulbs, WHY? (There are some legitimate reasons – keeping a chicken coop warm, etc…)

LED bulbs have long been at a price point that they made sense in the long term. But now, they are so affordable they have a <1 yr. ROI, and can be purchased for less than the cost of a Venti Americano.

If you think you know LED light bulbs, please look again. You will be glad you did.


POP Bottle Exploding Target

November 7, 2015

Two weeks ago, I was at the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR in Kansas. I looked through the vendors for anything unusual and found a “prepper” booth that sold a target system which used compressed air and a soda bottle. It looked like fun, so I bought one.
Of course, I also wondered how hard it would [...]

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Bowling Ball vs Solar Panels

May 11, 2015

A while back, I posted a video of a bowling ball smashing into a “Bullet-Proof Coffee Table” that I had built. The idea was that I wanted to test whether or not it really was bullet-proof, only WITHOUT firing guns in my residential neighborhood. I DID have a bowling ball and a ladder, so I [...]

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PIRs and Scratch-n-Dent Doors

February 27, 2015

Progress continues on the STAR TREK DOORS!
Last night, I got a chance to stop on over at Fred’s to work on the doors. I purchased a bag of PIRs (Passive Infrared sensors) from Amazon, and started playing with them, hooking one up to my Arduino Uno. By playing around with a bit of sample code, [...]

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The Girl’s First Robot

February 17, 2015

Recently, I started learning about Arduino – a popular hobbyist microprocessor board. I’d like to use it for home automation and several other projects. In a nut-shell, an Arduino lets you have sensors in, process data, and output signals back to the real world. It’s great for all sorts of things, including robots.
My four-year-old daughter, [...]

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Air Cylinder Position Sensors

February 13, 2015

The latest excitement on the Star Trek Doors project is that I just got two Bimba 18″ air cylinders in the mail from an eBay purchase. The cylinders have a built-in position sensor with a 3-pin M8 connector right on the end.
I was able to look up some information on the cylinders to find out [...]

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Michael Jackson Light-Up Eyes

February 2, 2015

This weekend, I had a chance to start playing with some tutorials and an Arduino Uno, so that I could finally learn about micro controllers, and eventually use those skills for some DIY home automation and LED lighting controls. On a completely different note, my four-year-old girl is now completely obsessed with Michael Jackson, especially [...]

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FLIR One Thermal Camera – First Impressions

January 7, 2015

Today, my FLIR One camera arrived in the mail.
I excitedly tore open the package, but then I slowed down to make sure to take some photos so you all could get my first impressions of this thermal camera designed to work with an Apple iPhone 5 camera.
In the box is the FLIR One camera, the [...]

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Top 5 Places for LED Lighting

January 1, 2015

LED lighting has come a long way, and prices are lower than ever. However, there’s still plenty of people who don’t want to switch over to LED all at once. So, if you only had five LED light bulbs, where would you put them? Here’s my top 5 locations, and some of them might not [...]

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