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Controller FAQs Frequently Asked Questions

How do I monitor messages sent over an MQTT connection (for example, to M3)?

One of the most powerful features of the BAC is the ability to send messages over a network connection to game control software. One of the most popular protocols for this connection is MQTT, which is a simple industry standard designed for sending short messages between two points. Because the BAC is built on MQTT, you have the option of using off the shelf packages like M3 or creating your own control solution using a tool like Node-RED.

Because MQTT is an open standard, you can also connect to the server and monitor the ongoing communications using desktop tools. This can be a great option if you’re having trouble getting a link established and are not sure where the problem is in the system.

We recommend the MQTT Explorer project for most users; it’s a convenient graphical browser for MQTT messages and is available for most major platforms. If you prefer the command line, we recommend the mosquitto_sub tool available as part of the Eclipse Mosquitto project.

While you can run MQTT Explorer from the same computer as your MQTT server (also known as a broker), the best test results will come if you can use a second computer on the network, as this will validate that your firewall and network are configured correctly.

To set up MQTT Explorer to monitor your BAC, install it from the link above, then open the application. You’ll see a server connection window:

In this window, set the “Host” field to the network address of your MQTT broker. (For most people with M3, this is the address of the computer running M3.). Then, click Save and Connect.

MQTT Explorer will connect to your server and display a tree view of topics and messages that updates live as messages are sent:

If MQTT Explorer gets stuck on the connection page and never connects, eventually showing a “Disconnected from server” bar in the bottom corner, it’s likely that your MQTT broker is misconfigured. One common possibility is that the server computer is running a firewall that’s blocking access from other computers (to disable Windows Firewall, follow these instructions). Another possibility is that you are using Eclipse Mosquitto 2.0 as your server; the new 2.0 version has default security settings that disable access from remote computers. The Eclipse project has instructions for enabling remote access here.

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Controller FAQs

How do I set up a BAC if I can’t plug it into my router?

The best way to set up a BAC’s network connection is to plug it into your main router, or to a connected Ethernet switch. This allows the BAC to get an IP address from your router’s built in “DHCP Server”, which is a piece of software that controls your network and hands out IP addresses. It ensures that any other computer on your network will be able to access the BAC, making it easy to integrate with M3 and other software packages.

Sometimes, you might need to configure your BAC without access to your router, though. If you’re using a phone hotspot for connectivity and don’t have an office network, or if you’re setting up a BAC in a new location before a network is available, you might need an alternate approach.

In these situations, you can connect your BAC directly to your computer via an Ethernet cable. In some cases, this will just magically work – so we recommend you start by simply connecting the cable and opening Bad Ass Manager. If you see your controller there, you can skip the rest of this article.

Unfortunately, sometimes just making the connection isn’t enough – both your computer and the BAC will make up random ‘local’ IP addresses, and they won’t be able to find and talk to each other.

The solution is to “share” your Wi-Fi connection temporarily to your Ethernet port. This causes Windows to set up its own local server to hand out addresses, and enables BAM and your BAC to find each other and communicate. We don’t recommend this arrangement for more than temporary setup – you’ll want to invest in a router, perhaps a small travel router like this one that can connect an Ethernet device to a Wi-Fi network – but in a pinch this can get you up and running.

Before getting started, make sure to download BAM from our Downloads page; it’s possible that in some situations this process will cause your computer to not connect to the Internet properly until you’re done configuring your BAC and disable the sharing feature.

  1. Find the Ethernet port on your Windows 10 computer and plug in your BAC using a standard cable. If your computer is a laptop without an Ethernet port, you can buy an affordable USB adapter like this one from TP-Link.
  2. Open your Start Menu. Search for “Network Connections”, and when “View network connections” appears, select it.

3. In the window that appears, examine the network connections. You may have several, but you’re looking for two connections: your standard Wi-Fi connection that connects you to the Internet, and the second Ethernet adapter that is connected to the BAC.

The Wi-Fi adapter should be easy to find; the Ethernet adapter might be a little harder, but it probably will have “Ethernet” in the name, potentially followed by a number. If you see other items in the list with words like “Virtual” or “VPN”, you can ignore them.

4. Right-click your Wi-Fi network and choose Properties. (It’s very important for this step that you select your upstream Internet connection and not the wired connection linked to your BAC.)


5. Click the Sharing tab.

6. Check “Allow other users to connect through this computer’s connection”. Then, in the dropdown box, choose your Ethernet connection that is plugged into your BAC. Uncheck “Allow other users to control or disable the shared Internet connection.” When you’re done, the dialog should look like this:

7. Click OK.

8. Launch BAM. When it opens, you may be asked about firewall access; make sure to permit it to communicate on all network types:

9. BAM should open. If it does not open, follow the tips in How do I access Bad Ass Manager? When I open it, all I see is a black screen.

10. If all goes well, you should see your BAC in BAM. If not, try clicking Discover; if it still doesn’t appear, unplug and replug the power to your BAC and wait two minutes, then click Discover again.



Still no luck? Contact our support team and we’re happy to help.

11. Important: when you’re done configuring your BAC, reverse the process by right-clicking your Wi-Fi adapter and unchecking the options on the Sharing tab. If you forget this step, your Ethernet adapter will no longer work for other network connections, and you may even cause problems if you attempt to plug your computer into another network (because your computer will be competing with the network’s router to hand out IP addresses).

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Controller FAQs

How do I access Bad Ass Manager? When I open it, all I see is a black screen.

Not to fear, this happens sometimes depending on the configuration of your computer. There’s an easy workaround that will get you up and running quickly.

This window is the core of Bad Ass Manager. As long as it is open, you can rest assured the background code that communicates with your controller is up and running.

In the window that appears, look for an IP address labeled BAM URL. This is the web site you will visit to access BAM:

Once you’ve found this highlighted address, simply enter it into the address bar to load Bad Ass Manager:

Now you’re ready to go! Don’t forget to keep the black command prompt window open while you’re using BAM; the web page will stop working if you close it.

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Electrical Safety and Your Escape Room (Part 2 of 2)

An incomplete, helpful guide to not burning down your business.

Low Voltage Wiring

(Part 1 should be read first)

This is what you should be using.  Low voltage wiring by definition is less than 49V.  For our purposes, we’ll be dealing mostly with 24V, 12V, or 5V.  Using a lower voltage has several advantages, but the most important here is that it’s safer.  A simple touch of an AC circuit is enough to burn you, make you jump, or kill you.  Low voltage is much more forgiving.  You can touch 24V with dry fingers all day and not notice it. DC circuits are usually isolated too, so no path to Earth to shock you either.  There is much less ‘force’ behind the electricity (analogy works for this case).  Therefore, when someone takes apart your prop, breaks the glass, etc., you are not exposing them to a lethal situation.  That is not to say you can’t die from DC, you can.  Anything that reduces resistance like a cut or moisture can make DC deadly quickly.  Which is another reason to keep current limited in your circuits. 

What we are officially trying to do here is fall under Class 2 wiring in the NEC (National Electric Code).  If you can do all your work in Class 2, that greatly reduces the fire initiation capability and shocking hazard.  This level of protection is provided by the power supply you are using to drop your AC voltage to DC.  If it’s a Class 2 supply, then it is limiting the power for you and making your circuits safer.  Electrically, Class 2 for us means 100VA (or 100 Watts to keep it simple) at 24V and 60W or 5A Max for 12V and 4.1A max for 24V.  Look at the chart below for wire size guidelines and limits.

VoltageCurrentPower Limit<=2 Feet AWG10 Feet
12V5A (max)60W24 AWG (2.1%)14 AWG (2.1%)
12V1A24 AWG (.8%)20 AWG (1.7%)
24V4.1A (max)100W24 AWG (1.8%)16 AWG (1.4%)
24V1A24 AWG (.4%)22 AWG (1.3%)

How to use this chart:  Once you have determined your system voltage, the first line shows the maximum current and power that circuit can provide.  Then choose the wire gauge (AWG) according to how long your run is.  The number in parenthesis is the percent voltage loss, for a 12V system, each 1% is .12V.  For a 24V system, each 1% is .24V loss. 

Most cabinet wiring can be done with 24 AWG because of the short runs, but I personally am a fan of 24VDC and will do my wiring with 22 AWG all around because most items in an escape room don’t exceed 1A.  If I have a long run (10ft), I will either run 20 AWG or double up the 4 conductor wire into 2 conductors (yes, that works).  If you are a 12V fan, I’d run everything in 20AWG.  If you are exceeding 1A, then increase gauge accordingly.

You can calculate your own wire gauge requirements here: https://bulkwire.com/help/recommended-wire-gauge-calculator or play with more details here: http://www.calculator.net/voltage-drop-calculator.html.  Try to keep your losses below 2%.  Read the directions carefully as the conductor length is twice your cable length (there and back). 

So which voltage should you use?  12V or 24V are the most common industrial voltages.  24V is the most versatile and it does have the ability to supply more power when required and losses are less.  Also, wire gauges can be smaller (read cheaper, less copper) when using 24V.  12V is fine for smaller rooms or if you have some props that only work on 12V (like LED strips).  If you know what you are doing, you can mix as required.  5V should NOT be used outside of a circuit board.  It is not an industrial control voltage.  It is a common power supply for electronics, but best practice is to keep all 5V signals inside the electronics board (or immediate wiring area) and use 12V or 24V for external, longer wires, like power and switches.

This means don’t run your 5V Arduino/Raspberry Pi/other hobby board I/O pins to the outside world.  They are too fragile and too sensitive.  More on this later.

Basic wiring

Many of the same rules that applied to AC wiring apply to DC wiring.  They are just good practice all around. 

  • Restrict, tether, mount, strap, etc. your wiring. Keeping wiring from getting yanked out of their termination point increases safety a lot.
  • Use proper boxes. Don’t leave a connection in midair with wire nuts on it.
  • In a box with mixed voltages (AC and DC), keep the AC as far from the DC as possible. You should be able to draw a virtual line down the path where they are kept separate.  Generally, components that handle both AC and DC have an isolation rating of 1000V.  If it doesn’t, don’t use it. 

    The key thing to ensure is that there is not any conductive or electrical connection between the primary (high voltage) and secondary (low, safer voltage).  Even if a person is connected to ground, because of the lack of connection between the primary and secondary, they won’t get shocked by the high voltage.  The 1000V rating basically means the lack of connection is guaranteed up to 1000V, which is a large safety number for 110/220V.
  • Use approved, high quality power supplies. UL/ETL labels on power supplies are a good indication you are using a quality product. We also recommend using only name brand power supplies, like CUI or Mean Well, as the extra cost is well worth the investment to avoid flaky behavior or failures during a game.
  • Keep wiring gauge consistent.  If your power supply is limited to 1A, ensure your wire is rated for 1A all around.  (This is pretty easy for 1A, but higher currents are more significant.)  We don’t recommend you use anything less than 24AWG ever unless you are trying to hide wire.

Power Distribution

Beyond wiring, the main way escape rooms (and most fixed devices) get power is through an AC adapter.  These come in a variety of forms from plug in modules (wall-warts) to open frame power supplies and everything in between.  The placement and size of your power supply can cause many issues so this needs to be carefully assessed.  Be sure to use the type of power supply suitable for your environment. 

Plug in modules can be used most anywhere you have a proper outlet.  Pretty straight forward as they are the simplest and consumer friendly. 

Alternatively, you have open frame or enclosed.  These typically do not have any wires already attached to them.  We do not suggest anyone use open frame power supplies in escape room applications.  There is not any physical protection around them and they must be used by professionals.  Enclosed come close but are friendlier.  They do have a protective metal case around them but need to be wired up appropriately.

Enclosed power supplies are friendlier.  Make sure you ground them properly.  Grounds are not optional.

Here is where things can get problematic.  These supplies can be much larger than the plug-in modules and the enchantment of DC leads people to believe whatever they do after the AC lines is safe.   This is a poor assumption.  A common implementation model is to get a 10A, 12V supply.  You can run most rooms from that amount of power easily.  Controllers, maglocks, a linear actuator maybe, lights, LEDs, etc.  Since most of your circuits only draw maybe an amp, it would be common to run maybe 20 or 24AWG wire to all your individual props.  And that is the big problem!  Your 10A supply can put 10A down each line.  If any of them short or create an excessive load, the wire you planned on carrying only 1A will now carry 10 Amps!  You now have smoke. 

Your 10A supply can put 10A down each line.  If any of them short or create an excessive load, the wire you planned on carrying only 1A will now carry 10 Amps!  You now have smoke. 

The solution is to individually fuse each leg for the current you expect to be in each leg and appropriately rated the wire for.  There are two common methods.  A slow-blow fuse is handy as it won’t open under small surges but will under a short before the wire can heat up and melt.  Another option is a PTC.  It is basically a special resistor that when it heats up, it opens.  And will stay open until power is removed and the over current is resolved.  These are nice since they auto reset. 

Here is a handy box for DIY escape room builders.  https://www.monoprice.com/product?p_id=6875.  There are better options for sure like DIN circuit breaker blocks and more specialized PTC power distribution blocks, but this is a reasonable suggestion to reduce fire potential.  An alternative:  https://www.grainger.com/product/48KT20.

68751
48KT20_AS01

Complications

ESD

We’ve all walked across a rug, touched something metal and received a shock.  That is ESD, electrical spark discharge.  Besides being annoying to us, it’s deadly to electronics.   That walk across the rug or pulling scotch tape off can generate 15,000 Volts, no problem.  Most small boards from Spark Fun and Adafruit contain chips which are very sensitive to ESD.  Any chip is sensitive to ESD.  If you are in a dry environment, you can easily blow up your Arduino boards during development.  Worse, if any of the signals are accessible to your customers, they will likely zap your electronics as well.

Two things.  One, keep board signals away from your customers so they can’t zap your electronics.  Two, protect your circuits with a TVS.

A TVS, short for transient voltage suppressor,  is simple a two-legged electrical device which will clamp voltage spikes and protect your circuit board.  Here is a sample of one: https://www.digikey.com/product-detail/en/littelfuse-inc/SA5.0A-B/F5310-ND/715761.  Wire this between ground and your signal and it will take the hit instead of your microcontroller.  More details on this part here: http://www.littelfuse.com/~/media/electronics/datasheets/tvs_diodes/littelfuse_tvs_diode_sa_datasheet.pdf.pdf.  These devices have the added benefit here of adding capacitance (about 1000pf) to your signal.  More on that below.

Voltage Drop

As covered above, using the correct wire gauge for your circuits, especially your long runs on high current parts, can be detrimental.  The classic example is something like a large 12V maglock that draws 1A.  You want to have an emergency release for this maglock in the control room by using a disconnect switch.  The control room is 50 feet away.  If you run 24 AWG, only 9.4V will get to the maglock.  It will probably work, but it won’t be as strong.  Spend the extra few dollars on the 16 AWG and get 11.6V to your maglock.   Also note, that if your maglock was running 24V, you could run 18 AWG.

Loss of voltage in DC electronics is a very real problem which can cause headaches and other problems later.  Wires are not perfect.  They have small resistances that add up significantly over distance. 

Any large room or room with long runs should just run 24V to keep your life simpler.

 

Back EMF

EMF is short for electromotive force.  Big word, but all it means is back current.  When an inductor is powered, a EMF passes through it.  When it turns off, a back EMF passes through it.  You are probably thinking you don’t care about inductors, but all of the maglocks and relays used in escape rooms are inductors.  Common problems people describe are erratic behavior, system resets when I turn on or turn off something, or a lockup.  If you experience these issues, you likely have a Back EMF problem.

What is happening here is that current is flowing through an inductor, which could be a relay, motor, transformer, or maglock; anything with coils of wires (which form inductors).  When these devices are switched, they cause a current spike, which causes a voltage spike, and the combination cause energy to jump out of the wire and into other wires.  Or the spike overloads something directly connected.  Either way, it’s bad.  So, what you have to do is squash the spike.

For simple circuits, a diode or TVS (transient voltage suppression) can be inserted to prevent back EMF.

MOVs (metal oxide varistors) are also an option.  You see these inside a quality maglock, but sometimes they are not sufficient especially when you have long cable runs. https://progeny.co.uk/back-emf-suppression/

More info here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flyback_diode

Signal Integrity

There are a lot of factors that go into a reliable electronics control system.  Keeping your signal clean and accurate takes a bit of work.  Input signals like switches can be susceptible to interference because they are high impedance devices.  Output devices like your maglocks can cause a lot of interference.  So can things like motors and other high current devices.  These devices are referred to as ‘inductive’ and create current spikes when they turn on and turn off.  We need to take a two-path approach, protect inputs so they are less susceptible to interference and clamp outputs so that they make less interference.

Protecting Inputs

Input circuits to a microcontroller are high impedance.  This means it takes very little energy to change the voltage on the wire, and therefore, change a digital input from high to low or low to high.  A typical situation is running a switch to an input on an Arduino.

It seems so convenient as the Arduino has built in pull-ups and one just needs to pull the line low with a switch and you’re done!  No!  There are many things wrong with this.  One, the internal pull-up is only 20K on a good day and can be as high as 50K.  At 5V, that is 250uA to 100uA respectively.  When the switch is closed, there is a solid connection to ground.  When the switch is open, the input pin is very susceptible to noise (other electrical signals exerting unwanted energy onto your circuit).  It is important that the input pin is driven (loaded/controlled) in both states of the switch. 

Here are a few keys to keeping your system working as expected:

  1. Add capacitance. Adding a small capacitor on your input pins can increase the loading dynamically.  Capacitors are resistant to changes in voltage.  Therefore, it will take more energy to change the voltage on your input pin. 
  2. Load both sides. In the case of the switch, provide a much smaller pull-up, something to draw about 5mA.  For 5V, this is 1K. 
  3. Use a larger voltage swing. As explained above, 5V should only be used for short, in cabinet wiring (controller next to button).  So when running control signals longer distances, use a larger voltage swing to increase noise immunity.  Think of it like this, if you have a 5V signal and there is 1 volt of noise, then that’s 20% of your signal. If you have a 12V signal and get same 1 volt of noise, that is 8% of your signal.  Built in immunity.
  4. Use a proper input filter for an Arduino pin (or any 3V or 5V digital input) that uses an industrial control voltage.
  1. Even when the electrical world is cleaned up, electronics still respond much faster than humans can.  A very common practice is to write a de-bounce filter in your software.  It’s nothing more than making sure an input is there repeatedly over a period of time.  Reading an input as active once could be an anomaly, but reading it active 3 times over 30 milliseconds means it probably is really a person hitting that button.

Conclusion

Escape room operators tend to fall into two camps, people who want to build almost everything themselves and those who just want to write checks.  Here at Escape Room Techs, we want to enable both – we love building things, and we particularly love helping people build things right.  Keeping escape rooms safe is key to the growth of our industry.

Whether you’re a do-it-yourselfer or not, it’s your responsibility to keep the public, your employees and your investment safe from damage, and that requires a comprehensive understanding of the electrical safety issues that are intrinsic to building an immersive entertainment experience. We’re always available to help!

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Electrical Safety and Your Escape Room (Part 1 of 2)

An incomplete, helpful guide to not burning down your business.

Introduction

If you are reading this, you probably own an escape room or you want to build one.  This guide aims to address the most dangerous and common issues in escape room wiring.  It should be understood that the National Electrical Code (NEC) and your local ordinances should always be followed, but in practice, as soon as the inspectors leave and you get your occupational license, people tend to do whatever they want. 

AC Wiring

AC is a name for the high voltage, high power electricity we commonly use in our houses and business.  AC technically only describes one aspect of the electricity.  Alternating Current.  This electricity flows in waves, 60 Hz (Hertz or times a second) and is great for lights and transformers, but not great for electronics.

To be specific, the electricity in America is 110 Volts, AC.  I’ll use ‘AC’ in a very general sense to represent this.  It is usually limited to 15A (amps) or 20A based on the breaker limit (look at your breaker).  15A circuits use 14 AWG (American Wire Gauge), 20A circuits use 12 AWG.  So here is why this is important.  A circuit breaker is a safety device.  NEC says 14  AWG wire can safely handle 15A.  Safely means it won’t overheat, melt, catch fire, etc. 

So, if let’s say you extend one of these circuits with some 20 AWG wire you have laying around (which is smaller and can’t carry as much current) to run a small prop.  If that prop shorts out, the 20 AWG wire will have to carry the 15A for a period of time and it’s likely to melt, overheat, and catch file. LESSON:  Always use the same wire gauge through the entire branch of the circuit.

Standard single phase AC power, 110V in the USA, has 3 wires.  Hot (carries the current), Neutral (current return), and Ground (references the Earth, 0V).  Neutral and Ground are connected at your panel.  (Not your concern.  I hope you aren’t in the panel, please get an electrician.)  I bring this up so you know that only the Hot (Black wire in the US, 110V systems) is the one that kills you.  The other two should not have any voltage on them if properly wired referenced to ground. 

AC in Escape Rooms

Most people are familiar with AC current as it’s what we have in our homes; props and decorations are routinely pulled from the commercial environment, so it’s natural to just want to run 110V AC into a room… but the best practice is to prevent all access to these outlets inside your rooms.

Common sense may seem common, but in an environment where players believe anything may be part of the game, it’s your responsibility as an escape room owner to prevent access to anything dangerous and to assume players will interact with everything in the game space. Some irresponsible owners have even designed puzzles involving faux electrical outlets, complicating safety for everyone else.

You bear full responsibility for the safety of the public when you invite them into your business.  Not putting AC fixtures, props, or appliances in your room helps keep the room safe.  This doesn’t mean removing fluorescent lights in your drop ceiling, but it does mean you need to pay attention to objects you may not even have considered, like the potential that players might try to remove light bulbs from a table lamp, creating a hazardous situation.

The use of GFCI can increase the safety of an AC circuit.  They are just not for wet locations.  These ingenious devices look for electricity leaving the system.  A person could be in the path where the electricity is leaving the system and this will cut power when it detects that fault state.

If you must…

AC Wiring Key Points

  • Minimize use of AC. Overhead fixtures are OK, but cover up plugs and convert everything else to low voltage DC.
  • Run your grounds. They are there for safety.  It doesn’t matter if they aren’t needed for function.
  • Do not use Romex, it’s for houses. Use ENT (metal or metal wrapped pipe) or the blue ‘smurf pipe’ if allowed by code, other approved enclosure for running AC current.  Or hire an electrician.
  • Restrict, tether, mount, strap, etc. your wiring. All of it (DC too).  Keeping wiring from getting yanked out of their termination point increases safety a lot.
  • Use a GFCI. They are just not for wet locations.  They increase the safety of the circuit.
  • Use proper junction boxes. Don’t leave a connection in midair with wire nuts on it.
  • In a box with mixed voltages (AC and DC), keep the AC as far from the DC as possible. You should be able to draw a virtual line down the path where they are kept separate.  Generally, components that handle both AC and DC have an isolation rating of 1000V.  If it doesn’t, don’t use it.
  • Use approved power supplies. UL/ETL labels on power supplies will ensure you are using a quality product.
  • Keep wiring gauge consistent. Basically, you should never be using anything less than 14 AWG wire in a 15A circuit.  No less than 12 AWG in a 20A circuit.  Don’t use larger than 20A circuits unless you REALLY know what you are doing.
  • Switch the hot. If you are going to switch AC, use a device designed for it.  If you insist on using a relay off eBay you found for $3, make sure you are switching the leg that has power on it.  A proper relay will have an isolation rating to ensure it’s safe.   I would also consider switching both sides of the circuit for complete isolation.
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Controller FAQs

How do I prepare an SD card for my Audio BAC?

The SD card that comes with your Audio BAC is prepared at the factory with the correct file system, but if you need to prepare another card, it should be formatted with the FAT16 or FAT32 file system only.

Do not use NTFS or exFAT, and do not store files on your card other than audio files intended for playback via the BAC. Many SD cards ship from the factory with an exFAT file syste

Warning

The act of formatting a storage card erases all data on it permanently. Before formatting your card, back up any files on it that you wish to save.

Exercise special caution when formatting your storage card to ensure you don’t accidentally format the wrong device – if you aren’t careful, you could accidentally format other external storage devices or even your computer’s secondary hard disk or recovery partition. When in doubt, stop and consult your operating system manual for assistance.

Files should be named with short filenames – 8 characters or less with a 3 character extension. We recommend simple numbers (for example, 001.wav).

The Audio BAC supports .WAV, .MP3, .OGG, .AAC and .WMA file formats. We recommend the industry-standard 44100Hz 16-bit stereo .WAV format for shorter sounds and 192Kbps CBR MP3 for longer sounds, but most sample rates and formats should work well.

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Controller FAQs

What’s the difference between a Bad Ass Controller and an Arduino?

Great question! While both can be used to build your escape room technology, we designed the Bad Ass Controller to solve several key problems we frequently encountered when using Arduino-based controllers.

At the core, both are surprisingly similar devices – both the Arduino and the Bad Ass Controller are based on industry-standard Atmel microcontrollers.

Arduino microcontrollers are generic control devices designed to be used in a wide variety of DIY projects. They operate at a low voltage – typically 3.3V or 5V – and have pin connectors designed for temporary breadboard assembly of circuits. While they offer a great deal of flexibility, the responsibility is on you as the user to design circuits to integrate them with other devices you want to control and to write software implementing your game logic using C++ or a similar programming language.

The Bad Ass Controller builds on this foundation. We designed it to be a turnkey approach, and the BAC improves on the Arduino for escape room use in several ways:

  • The BAC can be configured to run most common escape room game scenarios right out of the box, no programming required. Our easy-to-use configuration tool, Bad Ass Manager, makes configuring game behavior an easy point-and-click operation.
  • The BAC comes with a built-in Ethernet port and integrated support for common escape room software platforms, allowing custom game logic and easy integration with other sound/lighting/gameplay elements. Adding network support to an Arduino requires extra costly hardware and time-consuming software development.
  • The BAC uses industrial screwdown connectors that ensure a safe, secure connection. Loose or poorly soldered wiring is one of the top causes of unreliable escape room props.
  • The BAC uses higher voltages (12V or 24V DC), which better withstand long wiring runs. 3.3V or 5V signals like those generated by an Arduino are not intended to travel more than a few inches from the circuit board and are unsuitable for long in-wall wires.
  • BAC inputs and outputs have extensive protection against electrical faults, protecting your controller in case of wiring mistakes or transient electrical noise. Most Arduino boards have no protection and the controller can be easily damaged by electrical noise.
  • The BAC includes high-current driver circuitry and multiple relay suitable for controlling magnetic locks, which are commonly used in escape rooms. Arduino boards require additional modules and custom wiring to control locks.

We love the Arduino platform, and in fact many elements of the BAC are inspired by its foundation. (In fact, the BAC can actually be used as a fancy Arduino for complex projects, so please reach out to us if you’re interested in that option!)

But our years of experience building escape rooms have taught us there are many challenges encountered when using Arduino devices as the core of an escape room, and we’re proud to have solved many of them with the BAC.

While the upfront investment may be a bit more expensive, we’re confident the time you save by using our products will pay for itself many times over by helping you get up and running faster and by keeping your games reliable over the lifetime of your experience.

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Frequently Asked Questions RFID FAQs

Can my sensor or RFID sensor be fully enclosed?

In almost all cases, they can be fully enclosed. All electronics, when they are on, generate heat. However, the power these devices draw is very minimal and there is not any concern enclosing them as long as they are not located next to another heat source.

When in doubt, please contact us and we’ll be happy to offer safety advice specific to your situation.

Categories
Frequently Asked Questions Magnet Sensor FAQs

How do I select a magnet to use with my FX51 Magnet Sensor?

Tips and Tricks:

1. Magnetic field is not linear

Its works more like a flashlight against a wall. The closer you get, the brighter, but at a faster rate than the distance [inverse square relationship]. What this means is that as a magnet gets closer to the sensor, the magnet field gets much larger than the distance. Here is a quick table of our 1/2″ cylindrical magnet.

Distance between sensor and magnet (closest surface)Magnet Field
1.25″68 Gauss
1.00″93 Gauss
0.75″231 Gauss
0.50″549 Gauss
0.25″1751 Gauss

We have this all outlined in a Google Doc for you. Or if you want to experiment more, K and J have a nice calculator.

2. Don’t get them too close or too far away from the sensor

Based on the above information, we can see that the sensing distance is important. Think of the magnet as the signal to the board. You don’t want a weak signal (like under 50 Gauss) and you don’t want to overpower it (1000 Gauss is the sensor limit).

3. Use the appropriate magnet size

This brings us to the last bit. If you are not happy with the range a particular magnet gets you, use a different magnet! A smaller magnet of the same type (there are different types, so please consider what kind you are using) will be weaker up close. If you need more range, get a larger magnet and move it away further.

The newest versions of the FX51D have a built in feedback mechanism to show you when you are too weak or over powering it.

Categories
Controller FAQs Frequently Asked Questions

What is the ideal network setup for my controller?

The Bad Ass Controller is a standard Ethernet-enabled device, just like other home networking products you might be used to. To keep it connected and running smoothly, we recommend:

Physical Connection

Connect your controller via a high quality (CAT5e or better) cable directly to your router or switch only.

Connecting it directly to your computer requires complex setup steps and is not recommended or supported. If you want to try anyway, we’ve documented one approach here: How do I set up a BAC if I can’t plug it into my router?

Protocol Configuration

The Bad Ass Controller acquires its network address (“IP Address”) directly from a special service called a DHCP server built into your router. In most cases, this is automatic and you do not need to take special action for it to work.

While Bad Ass Manager can detect when your controller changes IP address, we still recommend using your router’s “Static” or “Fixed” reservations feature to assign it a consistent address that never changes. This setting can usually be found in the “Advanced”, “LAN” or “DHCP” section of your router’s configuration page.

Firewall issues

To ensure your computer can talk to your Bad Ass Controller, some additional configuration steps may be needed. Most computers come standard with a ‘firewall’ that blocks communication on your local network – great for security, but bad for connecting to a controller!

For Windows users, be sure your network connection type is not Public. Setting to Private or Domain is the recommended setting. Windows networks marked as Public with extra security which hinders controller communications. If you do need to have your network type Public, then contact us for how to configure your firewall – we’re happy to help.

Typically, selecting the correct network setting will get everything working – but if you’re a firewall configuration wizard, the short answer is that you need to add a inbound firewall rule allowing UDP traffic to the BadASSManager server application.

Security

As is typical for industrial automation, the Bad Ass Controller is designed to be used on a trusted local network and does not have required authentication. This means anyone who has access to your network can use Bad Ass Manager to control your games.

If you provide Wi-Fi access to your guests, we strongly recommend that you use your router’s guest network feature to create a separate Wi-Fi network that only allows access to the Internet, blocking access to other local devices.

You should also ensure devices on your local network are inaccessible to inbound traffic from the Internet. In nearly all cases, this will happen automatically if you are using a standard router.