I decided fairly early on that Iíd
put a computer inside the console pillar and arrange that the switches would
somehow connect to it, so that I could get the computer to do interesting things
with sounds and lights.
Iíve found, though, that the crank
assembly for the time rotor needs to be central in the pillar and thereís no
room in there for a standard PC case as well.
Closeup of the embedded computer
Instead I put the PC case under the
sensor panel by cutting the case down using tin snips. I mounted case fans under
the speaker rectangle and in the base of the console to get good airflow and stop
the PC from overheating.
So how does one get a PC connected to
dozens of knobs and switches? I had thought about dismantling a keyboard and
also actually built some circuit boards with TTL IC logic to multiplex the
switches over the parallel port. Unfortunately I couldnít resolve the analogue
problems with electric fields that scrambled the signals.
So I bought some Digital IO devices
from Sealevel Systems. They have one with 96 I/O pins that connects to the PC
using a USB connector. They also have a reasonable software development kit
(SDK) so you can interface to it using Visual C++ or Visual Basic. Everything
else is done with CAT-5 cable and terminal blocks (also from Sealevel systems).
The switches just short the inputs to ground as TTL inputs tend to float
high. The TTL outputs can drive LED lights or small PC relays which run on
5 volts and 20 mA. These relays can then be used to switch larger
currents. I used 12V bulbs for some lights.
There are two hooded
displays on the drive panel, a large one on the navigation panel (with the
joystick) and another (to be) on the computer panel in the raised black mounting.
That's four! Fortunately these days it's easy to attach four displays to a
PC. I bought two dual display video cards and configured them to make one
big virtual desktop of all four displays, strung out in a line. The
software puts up custom graphics behind each display so that the displays
show something that looks reasonably Gallifreyian.
Each of the 6 raised
rectangles on each of the panels has a loudspeaker mounted behind it. I
bought a couple of (different) sound cards to drive these, one with
support for 4 speakers. Using pan and fade in DirectSound I can control
each of these speakers independently for sound effects. I've wanted many
more sounds than I could find reasonable samples for from the show, so
I've improvised with a lot of other suitable sound clips collected from
all over the web. Now nearly every knob or switch makes some kind of blip or
warble, and many of them have some practical function.
Console in situ