At Hack Oldham we’re always happy to have a go at unusual projects, particularly when they benefit other community groups. So when Oldham Theatre Workshop asked us to make a bicycle rickshaw used in one of their street theatre productions look spectacular, we jumped at the chance.
The production was Rick Shaw’s Terrific Travelator, where a passenger is driven around in the rickshaw and the actors recreate a journey at various stop off points (we saw this being done after the work was complete – it looked seriously good, but then it’s the Theatre Workshop so we wouldn’t expect anything else from those annoyingly talented individuals. Not that we’re jealous or anything.).
As blank canvases go this was not a particularly blank one. Something decorated in a traditional Indian style could not really be described as blank, especially so when that something is a bicycle rickshaw. A colourful canvas might be more appropriate.
Once we had established the passenger carrying push bike was mechanically sound, fixed an issue with the axle and repaired a couple of punctured tyres (thanks to Pete downstairs for his invaluable assistance with this) we could start on toning down the explosion of colour. A little bit, at least.
This was done by covering panels with vinyl wrap. Given the more generic bright and breezy look we wanted to end up with, we used different colours for each panel. This made for a bolder outline and a better base for adding flare to.
Next up Maeriel replaced the well used canopy with a handmade circus inspired yellow, blue and red hood, complete with flags and tassels, followed by boarding out the passenger foot well and fitting a lap restraint. With this the mechanical and structural work was complete and it looked pretty good. However we all know the golden rule – everything is better with LEDs.
There were three main areas to illuminate – the canopy, the headlight and the “Rick Shaw’s Terrific Travelator” logo below the seat. Of course, being us, we couldn’t just have static lights, each had to be selectable and/or progress through all the colours of the spectrum. Because we can.
The headlight was based around a circular RGB neopixel array built into a 3D printed housing and mount, with a printed defuser to stop people being blinded (I looked directly at the un-defused neopixel array – 2 weeks later I can still see it). Nathan used a PIC microcontroller to create colour fades and patterns in the LEDs.
Ribbons of RGB neopixels were used to illuminate the canopy, mainly around the frame, a bit like fairy lights. Again Nathan used PIC microcontrollers to create a constant colour change on the LEDs.
Finally the logo, designed by Ben, was laser cut into two pieces of wood and covered in perspex. These sandwiched a board with RGB LED strips mounted to either side and defused using the thin foam you get wrapped around monitor screens (we don’t like waste). An Arduino Nano was used in conjunction with some MOSFETS to PWM drive the LEDs resulting in 24 bit colour resolution, which could be set to loop through all possible colours or driven to any static colour using a matrix keypad. Finally the whole assembly was mounted in the V between the handle bars and the seat.
Next up we needed to give the driver the ability to trigger sound effects, so we mounted two speakers pointing directly at the passenger area of the rickshaw and drove them from an Android tablet running a sound board app. This was mounted to a custom laser cut holder mounted on the handle bars.
Finally we needed to provide some power. A 12V mobility scooter battery was mounted under the passenger seat along with all the safety gear and the circuit boards, keypads, voltage regulators etc… for controlling and powering the lights. After testing everything and a bit of tidying up the rickshaw was ready to handover.
Massive thanks to Andy, Ben, Dave, Jake, Tony, Nathan, Maeriel and Pete for all the work that was put into this, and to Oldham Theatre Workshop for having the faith in us in the first place.
In 2015, a crack unit of hackers, makers and crafters were dismissed as crazy by pretty much everyone. These men and women promptly proved everyone correct by escaping into the Oldham underground. Today, still considered a bit crazy, they survive as problem solvers of fortune. If you have a problem … if no one else can help … and if you can find them … maybe you can the hire … HackOldham.
BAH BA BAH. BAH BA BAHHHH.