First, while we are happy to see other people doing similar kind of work, we want to keep our design process as open as possible, so here is what we have. This is built as an shield for Arduino Mega boards, which means it plugs right into an existing micro-control board that is well supported by the open source community. The shield has connections for J6 and J7 of any SAM system Stern and converts all the flasher signals (and some coils, depending on the game) into a format that the Arduino can understand. From there, we have developed a library of effects that is built on top of AdaFruit’s NeoPixel library (https://learn.adafruit.com/adafruit-neopixel-uberguide/arduino-library). AdaFruit is excellent in their open source philosophy and has a ton of resources to help other people get started.
Using our library, we then trigger various effects as events are during gameplay. Since nearly everything that happens in a pinball game causes flashers to go off, this makes it very easy to program the LED strips to interact as you hit different shots, start modes, etc.
In terms of our development process, we have handmade several boards using Arduino Mega prototype shields. While fully functional, each board takes a couple of hours to put together. We needed custom PCB boards designed to our specifications.
The first round of these boards was manufactured yesterday and will soon be in our hands. Once we get them, we are placing a few with some friends for testing. Testing should take a month or two, and we’ll probably have to modify the board’s design a couple of times. We are confident that we'll have these ready for a launch sale at ZapCon (March or April of next year) and have four to six games ready for people to play.
We want to emphasize that we will not accept any money until we have a product that is ready to ship. For the original chase lights, we took 10 pre-orders and worked through the list when we finished making them. Only then did we accept payment. Also, we were pretty spot on with our delivery date (stated Nov., but shipped most out in late Oct.), and feel that this timeline will be accurate. Of course, you never know what may happen, but we'll keep people posted about the process.
So, here is what this thing actually looks like:
An Arduino Mega Board mounted in Tron
Another shot of it mounted in Tron. It is attached using velcro. The power plug runs to the 12V accessory plug.
Underside of shield. Far too many wires to solder to produce these by hand. Also, this makes it prone to failure if one of the solder joints wasn't done well.
Shield mounted to Mega, with a splitter for wires coming from J6 and J7. Those wires are split with one set going to the shield (pins underneath the splitter); one set going to the backbox flashers. The extra sets can be used to drive undercab lighting, under backbox lighting, other LEDs on the playfield, or other coils for interactive toys. Note that only half the plugs from J7 are used. Due to the hand wiring, space the shield was limited to 12 inputs. For Tron, this worked perfectly, but as we've compiled a list of how J6 and J7 are used in various Sterns, there is nothing consistent. Different pins are used across J6 and J7 for flashers and coils. The boards that are being made have more usable space and will accommodate all 16 inputs from J6 and J7 so it will be plug and play for all SAM Sterns.