SPACE SUIT by Stephen Ives

Click here to view the source code for this project.

About ten years ago, the extraordinarily talented artist Steven Ives created a space suit costume out of shell shaped children’s sandpit, and a whole bunch of…well….very intriguing….bits and bobs.

11046660_1013917308635970_6709408965678516286_oRecently he decided to revive it and update it, bringing it out of the suitcase it lived in for many years. and asked if I would like to beef up the lighting on board.

Getting to work with such an exceptional artist was quite breathtaking.

I installed a number of fun things on board:

  • Programmable LEDs, highlighting the features and nooks and cranny’s, and to cast light on the suit so it looked nice at night.
  • An orange rotating warning light, like what you see on machinery when in operation.
  • A stepper motor to open and close the helmet.
  • Fans on the front breastplate, and rear of the helmet, for added cooling in summer.
  • Programmable fiber optic to highlight the perimeter of the helmet.



The big orange light on the left in this image was repaired, and wired into a relay.  It started life as a battery operated light for kids, though with some voltage tweaking it operates stable.

To make it stand out the lighting system will dim when it is turned on.




image1I noticed there was an old Nintendo controller on the arm. I took it apart and found it was very easy to attach it to the analogue ports of the Arduino controller I was going to  use to run the lights. Each button is very easy to detect.

I decided to farm out the Lighting controller to a separate Arduino to the stepper motor controller, as both units are time sensitive.

The stepper controlling Arduino serves as the master controller, as while it is time sensitive, the lights are more time sensitive.

So we have a SYSTEM controller and a LIGHTING controller.

Below we see an early prototyping of the system. The final version is much neater with wires tucked securely away, and covered with a panel.


The system controller makes the decisions of what to do, and the lighting controller simply accepts serial numbers that tell it what program to run next.



DRV8825I used the nicely packages and easy to use Texas Instruments DRV8825. You can just set the direction, and flip a pin for each step! Easy.

You can also set the current via a pot, and also set the stepping division for micro stepping a bipolar stepper motor.

image2Given the fragility of the helmet, it was necessary to implement ramping up and down of the stepper motor speed. This also helps it look smooth.


I attempted to do so in code, by adjusting the wait time between steps….but it was very jerky.


I found this great article by Texas Instruments, that is easy to follow, and explains they idea of setting TWO timers to do the job of ramping up and down.

One timer flips a pin on and off, which makes the motor perform ONE step. The other timer periodically changes the wait time between those individual steps, making it shorter or longer depending on weather we wish to ramp UP or DOWN.


The timing calculations should be done first, then turn on the timers. With the addition of some code to manage the length of time, or steps, it will autonomously ramp up, coast, and ramp down.

image3End Switches were installed to stop the stepper motors from going too far and tearing the helmet right off!

I found there was about 15mm of travel after the micro switches were triggered, so I simply used them to indicate when it is time to ramp down!




Here is a video of Steph cycling through some of the programs, turning the rotatory light on and off, and operating the visor:


Click here to view the source code for this project.