Ring of Fire – Simulator

To make some progress before my parts arrive (they showed up yesterday), and to have a good way to test my animations, I decided to build a simulator.

The simulator is build in windows forms, and is intended to prototype both the approach I'm going to take in the real software. I'm also hoping I can steal code, as the real software is going to be built in C this time, rather than directly in assembler.

To build the simulator, I had to decide how I was going to encode the animations, and how the main loop would work.

Because of time constraints, my plan was to build this as a sequencing system rather than something involving dimming. So, I coded up a very simple scheme of encoding the output in 3 bytes:

Count byte            first 8 lights            second 8 lights

Where the light bytes tell you what lights are on, and the count byte tells you how long to stay in that state.

I then tried to write a "lights go around in a circle animation". The table looks roughly like this:

0x08, 0x80, 0x00
0x08, 0x40, 0x00
0x08, 0x20, 0x00
0x08, 0x00, 0x01

So that's 16 lines of entries, taking up 48 bytes for a very simple animation, with me doing a lot of bitwise math in my head.

I then decided to do a more complex animation - there's one light on at the bottom, the other lights circle around, and give a whack to the fixed one, which starts moving. So, in essence, a fixed spot moves backwards as the main animation goes forwards.

A full cycle of that involves 16 full circle cycles, or 768 bytes. Each of which had to be hand-figured out, basically by overlaying a fixed mask on top of the moving circle animation. I got through two cycles through a lot of debugging and testing, and decided I'd had enough. It was like programming a system without any looping constructs.

So, I decided to abandon the table-based approach to take a programmatic approach. Well, strictly-speaking, it's a hybrid approach, where the animation is controlled programatically, but the low-level stuff is handled on an interrupt.

I also decided to incorporate dimming, since I really wanted to. So, here's the design.

Interrupt Handler

The interrupt handler executes N times for each cycle (arbitrarily set to around 1/100th of a second to avoid flickering), where N is the number of dim levels I want to support. Consider N to be 64 for sake of argument.

PWM Cycle

The lowest level operation is to implement the PWM loop. Each time the interrupt fires, a byte counter is incremented, and compared to the dim level array elements (one per led), and the output bit is cleared if the counter is greater than the dim level for that light.

So, we have this array of lights all turned on, each with a number saying how bright it is, and as the PWM cycle continues, lights get turned off as their dim level is reached. Those with a low dim level are turned off early, those with a high level are turned off later.

The current levels are stored in a

byte current[16];

When a PWM cycle is finished, we reset all the outputs to high and the counter to zero, and then move to the animation cycle to see what to do next...

Animation Cycle

The animation cycle implements changes to the current array values over time. This is done through a delta vector and a count. Basically, we have:

byte delta[16];
byte deltaCount;

and every time we go through the animation cycle (ie each time a PWM cycle finishes), we add the elements of delta to current, and decrement the deltaCount.

So, if current[0] was 63 (ie full on), and we want to dim it to zero and turn current[1] full one, we would set up the following:

delta[0] = 255;
delta[1] = 1;
deltaCount = 63;

The first time through the cycle, current[0] = 63 + 255 => 62, and current[0] = 0 + 1 => 1. We're just adding 1 to current[1] 63 times, and subtracting 1 (by adding 255 to it) from current[0] 63 times.

If we didn't want dimming, we could also encode this as:

delta[0] = 193;    // 256 - 63
delta[1] = 63;
deltaCount = 1;

That would flip from one light to the next in a single cycle.

Note that we can achieve a hold by clearing the delta array and setting deltaCount to whatever delay we want, which leaves current[] unchanged for that period.

After the animation cycle has completed, we need to get the delta[] and count values for the next cycle. We do this by copying from deltaNext[] to delta[] and from deltaCountNext to deltaCount, and then setting deltaCount to zero. That gives us the delta set, and we continue as before.

That's all for the interrupt routine, but it rather begs the question - where did the values in deltaNext[] and deltaCountNext get set?

Main animation loop 

In previous incarnations, the main animation was just handled in the same section of code as everything else - when the animation cycle ended, you'd figure out what you needed next (well, actually, you did it right before you needed it).

This has two whopping disadvantages.

The first is that you have to do it in the spare time between cycles. That's not bad if you are doing simple animation (ie not dimming) or you're doing dimming in hardware (which I'm not), but in this case there may not be enough time to do the main animation loop in the time left for an interrupt (at 64 dimming levels, about 156 microseconds for everything, including the interrupt routine).

The second is that you have to write the animation as a state machine - for any given set of counters, you need to know what the next delta[] should be. That's not going to be much fun for more complex animations.

I therefore decided to let the main animation loop run in the main execution thread (well, there is only one thread, which the interupt preempts as needed). It therefore has the full animation cycle to come up with the next set of values (though, if the count=1, that's the same as the PWM cycle), or 10 mS, and there should be enough time leftover to do the work I need to.

The main loop will use a blocking function to tell it when it needs to proceed. It's:

void SpinWait()
    while (deltaCountNext != 0)

So, we'll just hang in that tight loop. An interrupt will come along, do what it needs to do, and if it's at the appropriate point, deltaCountNext will be set to zero and when the interrupt returns, we can go on to generate the next values.

That allows the animation to be coded as something like:

deltaNext[0] = 255;
deltaNext[1] = 1;
deltaCountNext = 63;

deltaNext[1] = 255;
deltaNext[2] = 1;
deltaCountNext = 63;

which is a whole lot easier to understand, and you can even use this thing called a "loop" so that it's easy to write. The simplification is roughtly analogous to how it is easier to write an enumerator using yield than the old way.

Back to the Simulator

The simulator implements this by having a timer fire off every 10 mS, and it calls into the interrupt code (which does everything except the PWM loop). The main loop runs in a separate thread, and everything is peachy.

That's all for now. I think my next task is to write a few more simulations to make sure the code does anything, and then move the code to the microcontroller, hook up a scope, and see what I get.


Comments (2)

  1. Ring of Fire is a tree ornament I built this year. A big, high-powered, custom-animated tree ornament.

Skip to main content