Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Our Floor

We made it on to a blog at University of California as well as MAKE . A comment on that site raises the point that we were not the originators of this idea. It is not a secret that MIT did this first -- we have a link to their site on the left and have mentioned this wherever appropriate (including the first post of this blog). The reason we've received so much publicity is that our school's media services division released a press release to all of their contacts to get the word out. Unfortunately, even though it was mentioned several times to various interviewers, the press-release appears to lack explicit credit to the students at MIT who pioneered this design. Also, the STL Post-Dispatch photographer did not have the opportunity to conduct an interview and as a result there are several inconsistencies in the photo caption seen in the paper and on

We may not have conceived the original idea but that does not discredit the hundreds of hours we have invested in this project, nor does it tarnish the giant working dance floor we ended up with. MIT, our helpers, Thomas (Germany) and Clint should all be commended for the effort it takes to get something like this going. The fact that, currently, there are only three dance floor projects of this type other than MIT's in progress speaks to the size this undertaking really is.

That said, we have made what we consider design improvements that make our floor uniquely our creation, even if the underlying circuit boards are of the same design. We made ours expressly portable in that two PCB's are integrated into a frame of concert staging that locks to additional frames for stability. We built the floor in an unused room on an upper level of one of the engineering buildings and were able to transport the floor down 4 levels and into the venue for Vertigo without too much trouble. Our custom software package introduces client/server interaction that gives flexibility in operation (like wireless or remote control), an easy-to-use playlist for loading and playing animations (as well as on-the-fly scrolling text) and other features. We also put in time to debug and stabilize power supply issues that result from the PCB design and high amp draw from the LED's.

Our first edition of this floor concept will be used in our lounge's window to entertain passersby, in Computer Science II (CSE132) as a final project for beginning CS students, and, of course, for more parties.

Props to MIT for starting this trend and getting everyone interested!

This is only the beginning for Wash U; we have learned much from the creation of Version 1 of the VDF. Spending hundreds of hours creating it has brought to light many ways to make it more reliable, to make it faster to build, and to create even cooler patterns and interactions.

We will be refining the concept further as time goes by. Stay tuned for the latest!

Saturday, November 19, 2005

CNN picks up the STL Post-Dispatch Story

CNN has posted the picture from the post-dispatch in their off-beat photo gallery:


Friday, November 18, 2005

More Publicity (part 2)

The school alumni newspaper, the Record, printed "Lighting Up the Night" with a nice picture of one programmer on the dance floor.

Speaking of programming, the students from CSE 436, Software Engineering Workshop, will release the first version of their software by Thanksgiving. The software has features that go well beyond the MIT software, including:
-client/server architecture for more flexible floor control
-virtual board for testing out animations
-GUI for adding animations to a playlist
-JPEG to .ddf animation converter

... and more, coming soon. As always, if you have any questions or comments, send us an email!

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

More Publicity

The dance floor has been getting a huge amount of publicity lately!

The above picture, taken early in the night, is from the Metro section of the Nov. 14 St. Louis Post-Dispatch, with the headline "Tripping the Light Fantastic."

We now have a press release on the Wash U web site: Engineering dance features computer-controlled dance floor.

The school paper also featured a front-page picture of the floor, taken before Vertigo had started.

Expect a video of the party and dance floor to be released shortly!

Monday, November 14, 2005

Some Vertigo Pictures

I have put some pictures from the event into a really quick thumbnail gallery at . Note that the full-sized images are really large.

Sunday, November 13, 2005


More information will come later as we are all exhausted from dancing all night, but a quick recap:

This years vertigo was bigger than ever. An official attendance total is hard to come by because the counter got reset when the fire alarm went off (due to the fog machine + insane body heat from all the dancers). Luckily we got the alarm reset and the DJ entertained people as they stood outside in the (thankfully not cold but still damp) weather. The alarm went off about 11pm and we were up to about 600 at that point (with three hours to go). An unnofficial estimate is around 2000 for the whole night. Typically the party tapers off around 1:30 with the most hardcore dancers staying till 2 but this time the entire place was packed up until the DJ had to stop spinning, leaving the crowd chanting for more.

Overall, the dance floor was extremely well received. We did have some minor issues, due to the way the circuit boards were placed into the wood lattice. Pressure on the USB and power connectors led to intermittent connections which we only saw when lots of dancers were on the floor. A few slightly-larger holes around the power and USB connections should fix this issue. It didn't matter, however, as you could barely even see the floor because of all the people on it! In fact, even with the entire surface covered with people jumping and grinding to both hip-hop and hard-techno, the Lexan is in great shape-- save for some scuffs and spilled beer. We were very impressed.

Overall it was a great success and many more photos will come!

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Vertigo in T-minus 17 hours, 28 minutes!

The Dance Floor is installed in Lopata Gallery!

After spending all day in the gallery, vertigo setup is coming along nicely. We have more lights and more sound and more stage than any vertigo in recent memory -- without even considering the dance floor!

The space is decorated on every surface with fluorescent designs that will glow under the numerous black lights we have installed. The entrance tunnel has more strobes than is (probably) healthy. We have consumed over 10 rolls of duct tape.

Tonight at 10:00 PM, Vertigo 2005 will dazzle, amaze and entertain thousands of Wash U students. Bring your friends!

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Vertigo is in two days!

Vertigo is this Saturday and the energy is already building! People all over campus are talking about the floor. We will be in Student Life tomorrow and the Washington University Record (Newspaper for faculty and staff) in the next few weeks.

Vertigo setup begins tomorrow (friday) at 2:00 when the stage and lighting truss arrives. We begin by tarping the entire room and then painting designs in UV Reactive paint. We can use all the help we can get so stop by on friday or saturday to lend a hand!

We have been featured on EnGadget as well as STL Diatriber which is amazing!

We have been lax on posting lately due to last-minute issues. We are behind schedule and are pulling 8 hour shifts to get everything done. We ran into an issue with power supply voltage drops causing the USB connection to reset. This was rectified by adding capacitors across the auxiliary power connection on the controller boards and using thicker wire for the 5v line from the supplies.

As of now, we have modules one and two "done" and module three is being tinfoiled as we speak. Module four's frame needs finishing touches before it can be cabled. We'll have more pictures later...

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Two Modules Acting as One

I recompiled the stock animation software(not the in-development stuff) to work with the USB hub and now half the floor works in sync! We're finishing module three monday night and module four by wednesday night. Stay tuned!

Module Two is Done

Module two is now complete. All that remains (for both modules one and two) is to attach the lexan and minor aesthetic improvements. We have some videos and pictures of the two available. We cannot run both at once yet because the device addresses change when used with a USB hub so we have to recompile/adjust the software to manage this.

Module three's frame is completely built and up in Lopata 404. It is ready for cabling and tinfoiling to get it ready to use. We are meeting this week in the evenings to finish wood construction for module four. Once the frame is done, assembly does not take that much time. The hardest part is getting the cable mess near the controller board situated without pulling any connectors loose. Worst case, we finish the tinfoiling / diffusing friday evening in the gallery. What matters is to get four built and then three and four lit up. We'll keep you posted on the status.

Today we kicked off the major vertigo publicity campaign with the underpass painting and major flyering. We intend to flyer every building on campus to reach out to those who are not in the engineering school and get them excited about the event.

We're getting down to the wire here but we have faith we can get it presentable by vertigo. The one final thing is to make new patterns. Details on how to do this are contained in a matlab script at . we have about ten pre-made patterns that could be used at vertigo but we definitely want more. We will be working on this later in the week.

Note: ignore the funk music in the background of these clips (or, rock out to it).
Matrix pattern close-up
Checkers pattern close-up
Diagonal pattern close-up
Pulsar pattern close-up

Saturday, November 05, 2005

We're getting there, and Publicity!

Yesterday we made much progress leading up to the final construction. We still have only one module completed however we have ALL cables sorted and taped in rows so we can just drop it into the cable channel and it's good. They've all been tested again as we had a few weak solder joints that were knocked loose.

The frame for module 2 is completely done. Today we will add the cable and then the tinfoil to this module. #3's wood is 80% cut, special notches are left. #4's is cut into strips and now must be altered to fit together. We plan to jam in the wood shop today to get as much done as possible. All the help we can get will be much appreciated.

The software team has many new features working but is slowed down by our lack of hardware. We aim to have 2 modules for sure done by moday with the other two by tuesday (an optimistic estimate) so that they can have full use of the floor to perfect the software.

Publicity for Vertigo and the floor in general is gaining more momentum. Today the School of Engineering PR department sent a press release to members of the media detailing our project (see below) and took information down for the school newsletter. Also, television news cameras may be at the event taking interviews and covering the floor and how it ties in with vertigo. We will be featured in Student Life, Wash U's student newspaper, next week as well. The floor has already been covered in EnSequitor, the engineering school's student-run newsletter (

Tonight the Vertigo publicity campaign will hit full swing as we begin painting the underpass to advertise the event and begin to flier the entire campus with vertigo fliers and the special ones for the floor itself (see below).

all in all, a good buzz is building!

The Press Release:

The talent and ingenuity of Washington University engineering students are being put to the test with a large-scale, computer-controlled dance floor that will light up the night on Saturday, Nov. 12. That’s the date of the Engineering Student Council’s annual dance party, Vertigo, to be held from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. in Lopata Hall on the Washington University Hilltop Campus.

Comprising four 4 ft. x 8 ft. modules, the dance floor boasts 1,536 long-lasting and low-power-consuming LEDs that light to 4,096 different colors. Students are using substances as common as aluminum foil to achieve special effects. The dance floor, which makes use of one-half mile of environmentally friendly ribbon cable, can be controlled wirelessly by remote clients, thus facilitating visual interactions that were not possible in previous designs. The high-tech dance floor is based on one made by M.I.T. students last spring.

Students have worked hundreds of hours on the dance floor and are now putting the finishing touches on their project. They will be working on the dance floor through the weekend in 404 Lopata.

The dance-floor project is under the direction of the University’s chapter of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). The software portion of the project has been completed as a project for CSE 456, a capstone course in software engineering.

For more information, visit the project Web site at or contact Pehr Hovey, IEEE chapter president, Brandon Heller, (hardware) Garrett Eardley, gse1@cec.wustl.eydu (software), or Cheryl Simon, (software).

Friday, November 04, 2005

Module One is "Done!"

We have the first of four 4x8 modules completed, for the most part. All thats left is to attach the Lexan.

We will be working on completely finishing this module as well as constructing the remaining 3 today at our build party. It lasts all day and it is critical that we make progress since vertigo is next saturday!

See a video of the module in action:
Module one, without diffusion

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Build Party! Let's get this thing done!

The soldering* is done, there is no more cable to cut. The plywood is cut into strips. All that's left is to finish notching the wood, stick it all together, route cable and attach the lexan!

Please come help wrap this project up this friday all day (and night?) starting at 11:00am!
Note that we're meeting in Lopata 404 for this one.

we will have a working dance floor before the weekend is through!

*some minor toaster-soldering still needed