The Swarms

Bastli's SWARM is one of our largest party decoration projects which was built in 2011 for the 10th anniversary of the legendary AMIV Hertz party. SWARM consists of almost 200 battery powered, illuminated buttons. Each one contains an AVR micro-controller which controls and RGB LED and creates varying fading and flashing effects. All electronic components are covered by a white plastic cap which creates an incandescent appearance.

The individual SWARMs were handed out to our party guests which pinned them to their shirts. However, as we are the Bastli, just handing out blinking buttons would be far too boring for us. Therefore we equipped all SWARMs with an IR based communication system. If a group of people stands facing each other their SWARMs synchronize into a swarm, hence the name. All buttons then create the same effect synchronously. Furthermore we installed fixed IR transmitters throughout the party location. These stations continuously tell all SWARMs nearby to switch to fixed color. For example, all SWARMs turn to blue near the bathroom, to orange near the bar and so on.

Technical background

SWARM was a very interesting project from the development point of view for us. Not because of its complexity, each SWARM consists of less than 30 components, but because of the large number of identical PCBs required. All soldering and assembly work was done manually by a team of about 10 students. So the challenge was to make the circuit as simple as possible while maintaining full functionality and make it easy to test and debug.

To speedup testing and commissioning of the boards an automated testbed, using a bed of nails, was developed. The SWARM PCB contain contact pads which allow us to insert them into the tester. Once the hardware test passed a boot loader is programmed into the micro-controller. As soon as all SWARMs were tested and loaded with the boot loader, the actual firmware was loaded over the IR communication system. This allows to update the firmware without manually flashing all 200 devices.

SWARM was a very interesting project for us, carried out by a diverse team. More than 10 electrical engineering students contributed actively in the development of the various parts.

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Many SWARMs in a charging construction

Many SWARMs in a charging construction