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Demo Model: WALL⋅E (set 21303)

WALLePFxBrick

One of the first models we built the PFx Brick into was the LEGO Ideas WALL·E set 21303. Check out the video to see the results, and read on to learn more about how we used the PFx Brick to bring WALL·E to life.



The WALL·E set almost seems like it was designed to be augmented with the PFx Brick. Only a few modifications were needed to run LEDs to the his eyes and control panel, house an M-Speaker and battery box in his body, and attach 2 Power Functions M-Motors to drive his tracks. There is even a nice space on his back to attach the PFx Brick itself, which just makes it look like he's been given an upgraded power pack.

WallEBlockDiagram

We configured WALL·E to be controlled using the Power Functions Joystick Remote, and different behaviours are mapped to all four channels of the remote.

  • Channel 1 controls WALL·E's startup and shutdown actions, which include playing 2 startup sounds, turning the LEDs in his eyes on using a 'flicker-on' lighting effect and turning the control panel LED on. Pulling back on the right joystick remote will turn everything off.
  • Channel 2 is configured to control the lighting. When the LEDs in the eyes are toggled on and off, a shutter sound is also played. The LED on the control panel can either be turned solidly on, or put into 'sound modulated mode' which will cause it to flicker in coordination with any sounds that are played.
  • Channel 3 controls the playback of four different audio files, which are individually triggered by pushing or pulling each of the joysticks.
  • Channel 4 is configured to control the motors, so that WALL·E can be driven around using a standard track drive steering scheme.

One cool feature of the PFx Brick is that it 'listens' to all four channels simultaneously, so multiple remotes set to different channels can be used to simultaneously trigger any of the actions above.

It was really cool to see how much character could be added to the WALL·E set by integrating a PFx Brick. He's no longer just a static model sitting on our shelf. Once the PFx Brick is released, we will be providing How-To guides and downloadable profiles for models like WALL·E, so that you too can bring him to life.

Demo Model: City Fire Helicopter 60108

CityHelicopter1-800px

We have integrated the PFx Brick into many different LEGO® models of various shapes, sizes, and themes. The most interesting and challenging integration projects are small models with very little interior space. I think this challenge makes the result that much more satisfying! Shown above is the LEGO® City Fire Helicopter (60108) with a PFx Brick used to full effect.

Features:

  • Motor driven main rotor
  • Tail rotor navigation lights
  • Anti-collision strobe beacon light
  • Nose wheel headlight
  • Port/starboard emergency flashers
  • Speaker with various sound effects

All of the active lighting effects can be toggled on or off using a Power Functions remote control. The main rotor speed is also controlled via the remote. The motor is configured such that the top speed is limited to about 50% full speed to prevent excessive model vibration. Furthermore, the motor acceleration and deceleration have been configured so that the rotor has realistic slow acceleration to emulate the high inertia of a real helicopter's rotor blades. Lastly, the model has sound effects for helicopter rotor noises, pilot-air-traffic-control communication chatter, and emergency siren sounds. All of the sounds are independently controlled using the remote control.

Below is a connection block diagram showing how the active elements are connected to the PFx Brick.

CityHelicopterBlockDiagram

The biggest challenge was integrating the Power Functions M-motor with bevel gear drive to operate the main rotor. This required rebuilding the upper rotor housing on the roof to allow for an axle to pass into the fuselage to the motor. The PFx Brick is mounted in the helicopter cockpit area. This gives the IR sensor visibility through cockpit windows. A Power Functions extension cable passes discretely through the floor and is used to power the PFx Brick with an external battery box. An M-Speaker brick is also mounted discretely on the bottom of the helicopter fuselage between the main landing gear. All of the lighting consists of tiny 2x3 mm surface mount white LEDs with tiny 36-gauge wires soldered to the LED pads. All the LED wiring is run to the nose of the helicopter where it connects to a pinLABduo light accessory board attached to the PFx Brick lighting dock connector.

This was a fun model to integrate the PFx Brick! Not only because of the challenging space constraints, but also because it showcases all of the PFx Brick's main capabilities in sophisticated motor control, lighting Fx and sound Fx. We worked hard to make the PFx Brick as small as possible so that models even as modest as this City Fire Helicopter can benefit from the magic of motion, lights, and sound!

Merry Christmas from Fx Bricks

In celebration of the holidays, we thought it would be cool to give you a better sneak peek at what we've been working on over the last year. We incorporated 2 prototype PFx Bricks into the Winter Holiday Train (10254) and Santa's Workshop (10245), to really bring these LEGO sets to life with sound, light and animation.

Enjoy the video below to see just some of what the PFx Brick is capable of. Its worth pointing out that all of the audio in this video is actual playback from the PFx Bricks which were installed in these models!



In early 2017 we'll be launching a crowd-funding campaign to help make the PFx Brick available to everyone. Be sure to check the Fx Bricks website for more information about this exciting new addition to the LEGO universe, and stay tuned for more information on how you can help us make it a reality.

Happy Holidays from the Fx Bricks team!

The Road to Production

After several months of intense yet rewarding engineering design and development, the PFx Brick has evolved from a concept to a functional and stable pre-production prototype product. Its development required electrical circuit design, embedded firmware and cross-platform software development, and mechanical design. We have iterated the Printed Circuit Board (PCB) three times, made four versions of the brick enclosure design, and our github software repository indicates that we have made nearly 400 commit revisions to date. All this activity has been aimed at improving and refining the PFx Brick to ensure that it meets our design goals and that it is stable, mature, and ready for production.

The road to production involves several key steps:

1) Capturing and estimating production costs
2) Designing a crowd-funding campaign with realistic and achievable goals
3) Finding supplier partners
4) Making a production plan

Capturing and Estimating Costs

Making an item like the PFx Brick in volume production involves many large costs. Not only for materials, but also for services and labour to build, assemble, and test each unit. There are also overhead costs such as packaging, printing, IT, transportation, and much more which also need to be considered.

The three largest components of the production costs will be:
1) Electronics procurement and assembly
2) Design, tooling, and production of plastic injection moulded brick enclosures
3) Regulatory certification for European CE mark, US FCC part 15, and possibly Canadian ICES-003.

We already have a detailed and sound basis of cost for the electronics components and PCB manufacturing. However, we will still need to estimate the cost for assembling the electronics to the PCB and how much assembly will require individual hand assembly. We will also have to determine how much of the assembly we should outsource? What are the trade-offs and risks?

Making 3D printed prototype enclosures is very different from designing an enclosure which can be mass produced with plastic injection moulding. The costs for designing and tooling plastic moulds are very high. Design errors at this stage can yield very expensive re-tooling costs. Again, our challenge will be finding a plastic moulding supply partner who can deliver high quality brick enclosures at a reasonable cost. We will also have to consider the trade-offs and risks of using local vs. offshore suppliers.

Selling an electronic product into the European Union will require certification against several EU directives relevant to the PFx Brick. Demonstrating conformance to these directives, enables us to place the CE mark on PFx Brick product allowing it to be sold into the EU. Similarly, selling electronic products into the USA and Canada require testing and verification of Electromagnetic Interference and Compatibility (EMI and EMC) performance standards against USA FCC part 15 rules and equivalent ICES-003 rules in Canada. These tests will require verification in a certified facility authorized to verify and declare conformance to these standards. These certified testing services can easily cost thousands of dollars and in some cases well over $10000 for each certification.

Designing a Crowd-Funding Campaign

Before we can start reaching out to people to contribute to our crowd-funding campaign, we have a great deal of preparation work. We need to estimate our required funding level, establish our reward tiers, and choose a crowd-funding platform. Furthermore, we need to make a convincing video describing our campaign as well as preparing plenty of background material for potential contributors to perform due-diligence on our product offering. A lot of this background reference material is already published on this website. We have described and documented the PFx Brick product in as much detail as we can, and hopefully it will be enough to convince folks that our campaign is worth supporting.

Finding Suppliers

Many challenges will be faced in the search for reliable and suitable suppliers for the key tasks of electronics assembly and plastic injection moulding. One of the trade-offs will involve the use of local vs. offshore suppliers. Local suppliers have the advantage of being readily available so that any changes and adjustments can be accommodated quickly. The disadvantage is the higher cost as compared to many offshore suppliers in countries like China.

Production Plan

In order to ensure the volume production of the PFx Brick can be performed in a reasonable time frame, we must establish a detailed and accurate production schedule. This schedule will need to consider every aspect of the production process and what dependancies exist among the various tasks that need to be performed. Everything from the choice of certain electronics components and their associated lead times can contribute to schedule delay risk. Our goal will be to mitigate these risks and establish a realistic plan starting from the end of the crowd-funding campaign up to the shipment of PFx Bricks to customers.

We've looked at and studied other crowd-funding campaigns to see what factors contribute to its success. Also, we are well aware of many campaigns falling short on their delivery schedule commitments and we know that we are not immune to the same risks. However, any effort we make at this stage to be more prepared will ultimately contribute to a better outcome not only for us, but also to our future customers!