The Clown - 2009

A good friend of mine, and technically my brother-in-law, runs a haunted house in Hubbard, Oregon. It's a lot of fun see the thing go from an idea to a working haunted house. I get ask to help on the sound files and technical issues. As time went by I decided to build something automated for it. The clown you see above is my second attempt to fully automate a prop. The first year it had a different costume, a bit gruesome since we put it along the trail for the kids to go through. So in a sadistic sort of way I decided to use a clown in 2009. For some reason kids are afraid of clowns, gotta feed on that.

One of the challenges I had to overcome was not to use pneumatics. Air cylinders would have made it a lot easier, but unless you invest in high quality equipment, it breaks down. You see this in haunted houses all the time. The prop wears out and breaks down toward the end of the season. Air also makes too much noise when it actuates, you can pipe the vent somewhere else, but there is still noise. I decided to go electric, 12 volt DC for reversability. Two motors, one for the raise / lower, one for the tilt.

In 2008 the prop was controlled by a person pressing three switches. The three switches were: (1) Sound file, (2) Sound file and prop motion, (3) Sound file. In 2009 I was given the task to make it completely automated, no people. So after many weeks of unsuccessful attempts to get the PIR (Passive Infra-Red) detectors to work with various circuits, I found the Prop-1 controllers from EFX-TEX. These guys are great, they sell a great product line and their online forums will help you develop a program for the Prop-1. This controller is programmed for many uses through a simple Basic Stamp 1 microprocessor. It can be updated in the field with a laptop and USB adapter.

I used motor controller theory I learned in the Navy to design the relay board. When a relay is energized it powers itself until a limit switch is open disrupting power to the relay. The relay system I developed is very complicated, eight relays and nine limit switches. Initially I set it up this way because I did not realize something as great as the Prop-1 controller was available. I plan on replacing the relay board and the majority of the limit switches in 2010 with a second Prop-1 controller. I will use travel times to determine how long for the motor to run, with limit switches to kill power if they travel too far. The first Prop-1 controller will still run the PIRs and send the start signal to the second Prop-1. Two limitiation of this controller is limited input / output connections and program space on the chip. But they are only $40 each and by splitting the two functions up I will have more than enough connections and also have cleaner code in the microprocessors.

Clown in its lowered position

Clown Lowered

The head of the clown lowered and tilted back stands around six to seven feet above the trail. That is how it sets in the dark waiting for its next victim.

If the clown suit looks familiar you might have seen it in a Walmart commercial. I had to buy two, cutting them both apart and sewing them together to make the arms, legs and torso longer. The shoes I make out of 2 x 6 lumber. I cut and shaped them using my band saw and sander, with the final touch of painting them yellow and red.

Clown in its raised position

Clown Raised

It raises to about nine feet then tilts forward. One of the improvements this year was to get the arms to move. I have three PIRs or Passive Infra-Red set along the trail to pick up movement.

At night when the first PIR is activated it sets off a sound file and the eyes glow red.

The second PIR starts the prop in motion and sets off the second sound file.

The third PIR plays the final taunting sound file, asking the people where they think they are going.

Clown from the side

Side View

Here is a side shot from up on the hill.

You can see part of the mechanics of the tilt mechanism. Everything is made out of wood and angle iron or aluminum as needed. I attempted to hide the control section with a camouflage blanket. The blanket stuck to the control box and made a mess out of things.

Relay Board

Relay Control Board

The relay control board is incredibly complex. But it works. You can click on the picture and see a larger view. I have a couple of PDF documents that explains how it operates if you feel like having your head explode.

Operational Description        Operational Schemantic

Prop-1 and Relays

Prop-1 and Relay

The Prop-1 is an amazing piece of equipment. It uses a programmable Basic Stamp microprocessor. Updated it on the computer and upload it via a USB connection, make changes on the fly. I didn't want to pass the high current through the Prop-1 so I built the relay board. Click on the link below to the see the program I used in the Prop-1.

Prop-1 Program

DreamPlayer Audio Player

Dream Player

I found a great little sound file player called the Dream Player. It's actually from model trains. Easy to use and plays up to four sound files. This card also has a relay associated with each sound file which can be used to activate lights and such.

A daughter card is also available which will route the four seperate sound files to four seperate speakers. I'm a big fan of this player.