Greetings, carbon units. Here is an update on the development over the last couple of months. Lots is happening and this is probably going to be a bit long and no pictures. So if your brain suffers from Social Media Induced ADD, you may struggle 🙂
Onboard WiFi and Remote Control
One of the most requested features is remote control of the light. Lights get put in all sorts of hard-to-get-to places and it would be very convenient to be able to control the lights remotely. But how best to do it?
What should the controller be like? Should it be a separate remote control unit? Should one of the lights act as a master able to remotely control other lights? Or should we use a tablet or phone as controller?
A dedicated remote control device would probably be the best in terms of reliability and ease of use. It could be optimised for a single task. It could also use a simple and robust radio protocol and low cost radio chips. But it would be expensive to make a separate device.
If we use one light to control the others, we could also utilise low cost radio chips, but we would bave a challenge cramming the added functionality into the user interface. It could easily turn into menu system hell where you would have to hunt around in menus and settings screens to do the simplest things.
The last option is to use a tablet or phone as the remote controller. The advantage is that it has a big screen, touch control and you most likely already have one with you. With phones and tablets the radio alternatives are Bluetooth or WiFi. To use Bluetooth with an iPhone/iPad, we would need to put an Apple chip in each light, and, well, I don’t think that is a viable option for the time being 🙂 So it has to be WiFi. The awesome part is that WiFi is widespread, standardised, and WiFi access points usually has an internet connection as well. The downside is that I need to add an expensive WiFi radio chip and processor to the hardware and run a WiFi software stack. The iPhone/iPad does not support peer-to-peer networking with third party hardware, so they have to be connected to the same access point. Android don’t have those limitations, but 90% of all photogs have iPads and iPhones, so there is that.
Another comment is the cost, the size and the light output of the current Floyd prototype. Talking to photogs, everybody wants something different. The thing everybody agrees on is that more light, less weight and less heat is a good thing.
To test the remote control I needed a number of devices. So I designed a tiny version of the Floyd. It is small, has a knob for intensity, a knob for color temperature and a button to activate remote control. If you press the button, you control the light from your iPhone, else you control the light with the two knobs. It can be reasonably inexpensive to manufacture.
The current state of affairs is that the hardware works, there is WiFi communication between the PC and the light, but there is an iPhone App to make. I’m working with Hans Olav (pronounced “Han Solo”. Get outta here Chewbacca, how awesome is that?) to get an iPhone App prototype up and running.
Earlier this year I tried to keep up on the blogging but I think that can safely be declared a FAIL by now 🙂 I am a slow writer. Making videos, even the very simple ones, takes even more time and that is time taken away from development. But that have to change. I’m just not sure how. Hmmm, actually I do know how. Until this project gets more resources, I have to take time away from development to do more blogging and videos. Dang.
User Interface work
There has been a lot of comments and suggestions on the Floyd prototype and it is coming together pretty nicely. It has been simplified and made more robust during the last few months. I think it initially was a bit to “technical” for some, too much Kelvin and EV values. It is more visual now and defaults to preset values like Daylight and Tungsten instead of 5600 and 3200. Pauric who is an awesome interaction designer is doing some work on the User Interface to simplify and clarify it further. He’s had some really cool ideas and I’m looking forward to implement the UI improvements.
Light and math
I’ve spent a lot of time working on the quality of the light itself. Processing color mathematically involves a lot of heavy duty calculations and they have to be done within a few microseconds to keep up with changes in light intensity and color. Floyd is now capable of working with and converting between several color spaces so it produces preceptually correct output when it mixes and adjusts colors. It’s kind of a mini-photoshop in there now. We’re not messing around.
Red, green and blue produces a color spectrum that has a dip around 570 nanometers, which is around yellow-orange. That is no problem when the light goes straight from the emitter and into your eyes, like it does from a screen. But it can be a concern when the light is meant to be reflected before it it enters an eye or a camera. So I’ve experimented with mixing in additional LED emitters to add energy in the dip and see if we can get a more even spectrum. But when we add a forth or fifth emitter, we now have a underdetermined math problem. I’m not going to bore you with the details, but this is the kind of hard-to-solve math problem that involves big greek letters with little doodads both over and under. Thankfully I got a lot of help from Joriki who is a math god and can answer any question whatsoever, as long as he can do it in Algebra.
Adding emitters does improve the color rendering ability of the light. It also requires additional driver electronics, more processor power and increases the size of the device. Whether the improvement is marginal or essential is up to the individual and dependent on the shooting situation. I’ll guess we’ll see eventually how this pans out. Is RGB sufficient as a video light or do we need RGB+?
If you think that remotely controlling video/photo lights over WiFi sounds cool, and you are a software developer, and you want to do something with it, please do get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org. I can get prototype hardware out to you (at cost).
To people who ask “when is it going to be ready?” all I can say is that it is ready when it is good enough. We’ve obviously made a ton of progress, so it is not that far away. It is ready when people say “This is has value. This is useful to me. I want one.”.