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Dance Deck V.1

With the introduction of the dancing gaming systems here in the states there has been huge growth with in the community. The problem that anyone who is truly interested in the fitness gaming revolution will face at some time is the gross difference between the home console and arcade dance pad quality. Even the super high end home use dance pads that cost 500+ are not considered a long term or heavy use choice. So I set out to create a dance deck at an affordable price range that would even trump the arcade quality units. This is just the “prototype” and we will be putting up a full article with detailed instructions and even a full part list and plans for the final version that we are in the process of writing up now.

So how did I get roped into this project? **Burry’s head into hands** Well I suppose you could say it was all about timing. Late last year I saw an article about a school on the east coast starting a program to help address childhood obesity via increased physical activity. They were installing several dance dance setups using the cheap pad and consoles. The total price tag, 26,000. When I saw this I was about sickened. Some one was really banking on that project and it wasn’t the school or students. So about the same time I had a good friend of mine who was really into the whole dance phenomenon bring me some of his expensive pads he had for the Xbox to see if I could find out what was wrong with them. I was disgusted with the shoddy construction. After looking over the system I realized that I could put together a system that trumped even the most expensive home system and even the arcade systems. So Danny and I got to work on a new dance pad system. Little did I know that this would become the longest most expensive project in inventgeek history due to scope issues. Now Danny really didn’t help much with the actual inventing. But he both gave me the idea and secondly was a good set of helping hands and a good sounding wall for ideas when needed.

The Dance Pad:
Sometimes the right method for invention is reinvention. Reinventing the wheel is not always the best course of action (unless your talking about government work or selling dance pads to schools). When it came to the console interface we decided to do the easiest thing possible to accomplish our goal. A quick trip down to our local Gamestop, some funny looks when danny told them what we were doing with them, and 40.00 for a set of there self branded dance pads and were off to a running start. These pads are for the Xbox. There are of course the PS2 verities as well. But the reason we chose the Xbox version was for the super easy ability to plug into a USB port on a PC. Just a simple converter is required and allows for pc play for free via step mania. Step mania is a free dance gaming suite and most dance games are based on its engine, both console and arcade. Just as a note there are Xbox to PS2 adapters for about 16.00 each. Giving the maximum flexibility possible out of the system

With this project we decided to use 1″ square tubing for ease of construction. We also went to great efforts to create a design that would be both easy to construct as well as well as very durable. Using 14GA(.083) square tube we got from our local steel supplier and cutting it to length our self’s to save a buck or 2. We strongly recommend using .083 or thicker material. Thinner materials may not have the strength to prevent warping and bending over time as well as being a little trickier to weld for the rookie welder. The cut list for one deck is 19 – 36 1/8″ cuts and 4 – 6″ cuts. Total cost for materials was some where around 80.00 + welding materials per deck. Just a fair warning on costs, if you cant cut and weld your materials your self you can usually have the supplier of the material cut it to size for you at a cost usually 1-2 times the cost of the materials them self. These cuts are important to be accurate and I do not recommend using something like a hand hack saw for accuracy sakes. Additionally if you can’t weld the deck you can usually get it welded together for 100.00 or so. Everything other than the deck fabrication can be done in the comfort of your personal geek studio surrounded with your friends like Old Ben Kenobi and Mr. rubix.

We picked up a couple spools of this 24 gauge speaker wire at our local super store for about 9.00 each. We chose to use the speaker wire in the prototype due to the ease of access to it, the flexibility of the wire as we will be fishing it threw the decks as well as the redundancy provided by the dual wires.

End Caps:
Our local home improvement store had these 1″ square tube end caps for about 2.00 each. Well 2.00 each would be a barging if it didn’t take 20 minutes and 3 drones to find them. These help reduce the risk of personal injury one could sustain from the top surface of the deck. Additionally they address the cosmetics by covering up the hole cleanly. One thing to watch for with these is on the install. Use a rubber mallet wrapped with a wash cloth or something similar to pound them into the tubes. As we are using a slightly heavier square tube the inner walls are narrower than what these are meant for. So they will need a little persuasion to seat all the way.

Project Box:
Our local Radio Shaq (yes I know this is misspelled. It’s intentional you spelling Nazis!) we found some simple project boxes. Basically a 6″ X 9″ plastic box with a screw on metal lid. This is where were going to hide the controller wiring from the dance pad to the deck. Being this was the prototype we have hence decided this was a bit on the big side….. cost was about 8.00

Large Terminating Block:
We used 1 of these terminating blocks to provide a modular interface between the dance controller and the deck in case of tile or sensor replacement. Basically a 10 screw terminal it provides the functionality we needed at a good price, some where around 9.00 each.

Small terminating Block:
We used 19 of these terminating blocks to provide a modular interface between the dance controller and the sensors in the tiles as well as providing some modularity in case of replacement of a sensor. Basically a 2 screw terminal it provides the functionality we needed at a good price, some where around 3.00 each.

Another great part picked up at the local home center. We even found it our selfs! About 3/16 across and an inch tall. These springs are used in the actual sensors in the deck. They will need to be cut down to about 3/4 tall and then bent for safe handling. They cost us about 3.50 each and each pack hold 4 springs. So one tile per package.

Rubber Grommets:
We picked these rubber grommets up at our local home center for about 1.50 each. 6 in a pack and you will need about 4 packs. These are used in the holes we drilled in the deck to fish the wires through to prevent chaffing of the wire over time as the deck is constantly stomped on. I wonder if they would help other repeditive dance repetitive chaffing……

Foamies are a high density rubberized foam type material (closed cell) that is very dense and has an adhesive pill-away backing to it. We will be using this material to dampen the tiles contact with the deck. We picked these up at our local super colossus mega mart for about 2.00 each. We used over 100 in prototyping sensor design; you will just need 4 sheets.

Aluminum Tape:
We will be using aluminum tape in this project as part of the sensor design. Usually used in home heating installation and insulation. We will be using this as part of the switch in the sensor its self. Unfortunately this stuff can be expensive… some where around 12.00 a roll and we will only use a couple feet of it. So I would ask around and see if you can scrounge some up.

Super Joy Box 10:
Yah, this product is branded about as I expected…. for about 14.00 we picked up this Xbox controller adapter from the ole WWW. This unit has 2 ports instead of the usual single of its competitors. Used in conjunction with stepmania and XBCD you can really have some fun and have access to thousands of songs from popular artists. This is not a required item for this rig, but man it adds to its capabilities.

The Dance Deck Surface:
This turned into quite the chore. In hind site maybe not the brightest time in my life. Danny and I did some rather intense testing of materials. We needed to determine if we were going to be using acrylic or polycarbonate for the actual surface of the deck. The polycarbonate is stronger than the acrylic but cost almost exactly twice as much. After some rather risky but moderately comical stress testing with some creative** rigs. We found that the acrylic was not only good enough, but was easier to “heal” if it became damaged. As well as having superior interaction with our lighting system. ** Creative is defined as…. stacking a 55 pound anvil on top of a ballpin hammer and hitting it with a 20 Lb Sledge hammer.

Assorted Sprays:
We used several assorted sprays in this project. Spray-paint for the deck its self. Degreaser and rust removers and a window frosting spray for the details in the tiles. With the amount of spraying in this project if your not experienced with it… you will be by the end of it. We spent about 40.00 total on assorted sprays when it was all said and done.

The Lighting System Heart:
Once again we find another excellent example of a “don’t reinvent the wheel” opportunity. This has to be one of the coolest lighting systems for pc’s I have seen in a while. Basically providing 4 pods and each pod has a RGB LED in it. You can mix the color with the control panel to any color you want! And to top it off its super super bright. We got these at Newegg for about 20.00 each and 2 per deck so we can cross fade 2 different colors. And with 2 decks side by side you can go blend them to go from green to aqua to blue to purple. The last page has some pics of basic fading that they can do.

So here is our victim. We will be steeling the brain out of this dance pad to use in the new deck. These cheep decks use exactly the same technology as the big expensive ones. And as far as I can see there is no difference between these and any other brand as far as internals are concerned. Even the main plastic housing is the same. So our first step is to remove the screws that clamp the housing around the pad. Inside the housing there is some tape attaching the plastic sensors inside to the terminals on the circuit board. Just pill them away to disconnect it.

With the deck pilled away you can see the large black contact areas where the pads where attached. The large center contact is a common ground for the system. This will eventually be attached to the deck it’s self. Near the top you can see the memory card reader’s tray. We chose to not use this in our deck. But if it’s something you want you can easily adapt your rig to accommodate it.

The next step in our project is to free the internals from the housing. Now I just pried it out with my fingers as they just used a soldering iron to melt the plastic at the post holes in the boards. With it freed from the housing the memory card reader housing can be removed.

So here is the pin out for the control interface from left to right. Start – A – Right – X – Up – Ground – Down – Y – Left – V – Back

Next up using a dremal tool and a buffing wheel, buff off the black compound on the contacts. Be careful not to buff too deeply. Solder some leads to each of the contacts.

Using a soldering iron melt a slot into the side of the plastic case and trim it up with a sharp razor. Slide the rubberized stress protector into the slot to keep the guts from being ripped out when you trip on cord. It’s just a matter of time, accept it.

Using that hot soldering iron again melt 2 holes for the center screw holes of the 10 place terminating block. Using some screws or perhaps a bold and nuts attach the block to the project box. Next melt a hole 1/8th above each of the terminating blocks screws to allow for the internal wires to come through. Repeat this process and mount a small 1 or 2 space block under the 10 point block for the common ground. Finaly find some burn cream and apply.

Install the controller into the box and feed the wires from the controller and attach them to the posts. Use some hot glue to attach the boards to the inside of the project box to make sure they won’t roll around. Close up the project box and your control interface is done!

Once again we pull out the welder from the geek closet… just in time for it to blow up in a rather non spectacular and all together disappointing manner. Now I am not going to give any direction on welding or equipment. But I will leave you all with a warning that welding is not something for an unguided amateur to just pick up and do. There are several severe dangers you can expose your self to even with the best safety precautions and training. As this deck will be undergoing repeated stressing it’s important that the welds on this project be strong and clean. No bubbles, no slag, no cracks, no n00bs.

Now here is a picture for reference of what this deck is supposed to look like. It is important that the inner part of the deck where the tiles are to be places have no raised welds to interfere with the movement of the tiles. Make sure that all joints are welded on all sides to insure maxim strength. When you get to this point clean it up and paint it as you like.

Perspective View

Upper Deck Blow-Up

Lower Deck Blow-Up

Midway threw this project we reached a major detour. My little girl was sent to the emergency room with a rather severe illness. After a few days of mending she started to act more like her old self and was able to get her IVs removed. When we got home all she wanted to do was dance on the dance pad. To this day she loves the dance pad. But it stood as an important reminder of what matters in life. So geeks. Don’t forget there’s more to life than geeking. Trust me.

Step one after the deck is all welded up and painted is to install the cap ends. Using a rubber mallet pound the caps into the deck. Make sure they are good and tight. Depending on the metal you used for your deck when they weld up the square tube it can leave a bump at the seam inside the tube. If you have a bump that interferes with the cap being inserted use a set of snips to cut some of the plastic away so the cap can seat into the tube. Finally if the cap is loose just use a couple drops of super glue.

The Next step is to drill the holes for the wires. Now something we learned is that there are some holes in the corners especially that would have been a good idea to drill before we welded the frame. But seeing that we didn’t we just drilled right threw the outer walls. It doesn’t look as pretty, but it works. Center the holes in the middle of the tiles when it is drilled. Also a trick we learned… if we drilled the holes with our super duper fast drill it took about 2 min to drill threw the material. But if we drilled at a moderately slow speed it took seconds. Just a tip we learned your more than welcome to try to be a jock…

Once all the holes are drilled use a bit of kite string and a vacuum cleaner to fish the wires. Basically your sucking the string threw the hole and then taping the wire to the string and pulling it back threw. Leave a bit extra at both ends just in case, cut, trim, repeat.

A helpful tip in construction is to tie a loose loop in the wire ends. This will reduce the chance of the wire getting bumped and falling into the deck and thus help prevent the spontaneous cursing in front of relatives moment as well.

Using a self tapping screw attach the terminating block the deck. A flat head screwdriver helps in the install of the rubber grommets. By threading the wire threw it, then retying the loop in the wire and cinching it down you once again may avoid wire fishing again.

Strip the leads and screw them down to there terminal. Tuck the knotted wire threw the grommets. I chose to tin the wires for durability sake as well as so they dont fray when you screw them down. But its not required.

The next step is to mount the controller box. To do this we just used a self taping screw and in the extra space in the control box drilled threw the box into the bar below it. Next step is to connect the appropriate tile wires to the control boxes terminal block. There should be 2 wires to each terminal for each side of the tile. Use a self taping screw and a bit of wire to connect the grounding block to the deck. a little tip we used was to strip the wires and twist them nice and tight. Then wick some solder into the wire ends and let it cool. Using some pliers and a screwdriver shaft bend the tined wire into a hook.

So with the deck fully assembled here is what you get. Make sure to trim the wires to length so you aren’t trying to hide tons of extra wire in the deck.

One of the most important steps both cosmetically but functionally as well is to strip and buff off the tops of the supporting rails. Paint overspray, rust, grease, blood….. well it will all interfere with the sensors, look horrible with the clear plexy, and the shiny metal is just more cool looking than oxidized bare metal.

This is the core of the lighting system. I didn’t really feel like imbedding several LEDs or custom creating a LED color mixer. With my modding background this was the no brainier choice. Using a set of pliers carefully crush the plastic housing. Cut the wire and slip the LED out of the housing. Using some phone wire to extend the length.

Fish the led threw the frame of the deck. If you extend the led wire don’t attach it to the plug end of the wire until you fish the wire threw the deck. Use some hot glue to mount the led in place.

Wire the led into the controller and light it up. Make sure the mixing controls fully work and that you can get all colors.

Next up is the tile modifications for the sensors. Using a 1/4th inch drill bit drill 3/8 of the way threw the tile in each corner of each tile. Do not go all the way through! If you have access to a drill press with a stop on it will make this allot easier.

Install the spring into the hole by just sliding it in. use a gob of super glue to cover the entire first spring loop at the bottom of the hole.

Using some of the foamies. Cut a strip 3/4″ wide and then cut 2″ lengths. Remove the adhesive backing and stick it to the deck 1/2 inch away from the spring. Do this to only 2 sides of the tiles.

Using some of the aluminum tape cut a 3/4″ strip 2 3/4″ long. Stick it over the foamies and 1/4 overlap onto the tile.

Run a wire between the 2 tabs of aluminum tape and adhere it together with some extra foamies. At the same time on one side place a 6″ leader to connect to the terminals under the deck. Use a little super glue to hold the wire down to the deck and to hold the extra foamies peace to the deck.

Here is the lead to the sensor contact. The total gap between the sensor contact and the deck rail should be 1/16th of an inch. If its to narrow you can use a wide flat head screwdriver to compress the spring a little, as well as some pliers to pull and extend it. The foamies also provides some dampening to the step making it more comfortable to use.

With the tiles installed and hooked up we decided to do a quick test of the lighting system to celebrate the build being all done!

Final Thoughts…
When I started this project I had never used one of these DDR systems before. I have to admit that they are quite a bit of fun! Videogames and a competitive nature can really benefit anyone who is willing to give this a try and there are several great titles like In the Groove and Dance Dance Revolution to keep you challenged. After all the testing and prototyping and problem solving this is a very simple dance dance system to put together. If you choose to use the plexy for the lighting system you can count on this being 400-500, but if you use plywood in place of the plexy then you should be able to build this system for about 150-200 each depending on features and scrounging. While one deck is a lot of work, I strongly recommend building 2 of these units at the same time if you willing to give it a try. This will help keep things uniform and you will not have to try to match a new one to an existing one. When you build them side by side tack them together as one unit and then separate them when you’re all done with the welding.

Besides being an awful amount of work I have learned 3 things from this project. Manage scope, manage scope, and manage scope. Especially when someone else is involved. Also it is important to do more user testing and get clear feedback on what the user expects and feels. I tried 63 different sensor designs before finding the one that was responsive enough to do everything the user wanted with the lightest touch possible (probably to light compared to the arcade). When it comes to this project I have to say I really am glad to see it go. At least now the hard prototyping is done we can move on to funnier versions of this project.

Solid colors are bright and vivid. The red is the dimmest of the colors and as you can see it still really pops!

Cross fading effects that can be achieved with this lighting mixing system are amazing. Blue to red with a nice purple in the middle.

Here is a nice aqua color. Blue on full blast and just a touch of green.

Here is an example of some of the color mixing options you can achieve with just a twist of a couple knobs.

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I am in many respects the text book example of someone who shouldn’t be successful. I was an outcast in my grade school years, and a poor performer in school, unable to fit the standard mold. Fortunately I found small opportunities that I took advantage of, and coupled with hard work they have guided me to where I am today. I spend my time running several businesses I own, developing new products and sharing what I have accomplished with those that deserve opportunities that they wouldn't get any other way. InventGeek has been a step on a path that has helped bring me success and confidence by the simple act of doing. I encourage our readers to do what they can to better themselves a little each day, because overtime it's amazing what you can do!

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