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January 2019 | The Wand-Ring Project

A little less than a year ago, some friends and acquaintances of mine participated in Cerridewn Community College of Wizardry – a live-action role-playing game about the students and faculty at a community college for would-be wizards in a Harry Potter-esque world. I thought it’d be nice if they could have good wand props, and that wand-making would be a fun “class to teach.” Specifically,  I wanted wands that:

  • Changed color and brightness directly in response to your gestures
  • Would create the exact same response if you made the same gesture. For example: Pointing up, then down, then up would always return red > blue > red.

I did some research and found many commercially available wands that light up, sometimes in response to simple gestures. I didn’t find any that did what I wanted. Then I checked to see if there were any DIY projects that did what I wanted. The answer: I found one Adafruit project ( https://learn.adafruit.com/magic-wand/parts-slash-tools ) that approximated what I wanted, but it wasn’t close enough.

So I decided to make make the DIY wand of my dreams. I got an Arduino Uno, an MMA 8451 accelerometer, an RGB LED, and started learning and experimenting.

I was telling a friend about this project and she said, “So you’re going to be able to cast spells, right?” I realized that (since I was already tracking the wand’s position and correlating that to specific LED colors), it wouldn’t be hard to keep a queue of recent past positions and trigger specific LED sequences in response to specific past position sequences in the queue. “Sure, I’ll make it cast spells.”

So I told a different friend about making wands that cast spells. They said, “So you’re going to be able to have spell duels between wands, right?” Well, that’s not trivial. I’d have to add wireless communications, like Bluetooth or some such to the wands. But hey, I’ll figure it out, right? And it’ll be awesome when it works! “Sure, I’ll set them up so they can duel.”

So I told another friend about making wands that can communicate wirelessly and duel with each other and he said, “So you’ll be able to use your wand to interact with a whole virtual world of magic – an augmented reality – that’s overlaid with the real world that you view through your phone?” Developing software like that is way beyond my skill set, so I partnered with Shawn (the friend who asked the question) to develop this.

Understandably, Shawn and I had dollar signs in our eyes. We were ready to launch this and take off like gangbusters. That’s when I had the bright idea to do some patent research. Turns out that two-and-a-half months before I even thought of this idea, Intel filed a patent for the same thing. Now, I have some issues with Intel’s particular patent – specifically as regards prior art and being overly broad – but that’s largely academic. After all, if it comes down to a legal battle between Intel and us, we lose – even if we’re in the right.

This revelation seriously quashed our enthusiasm. The project stalled out for a while as we regrouped and worked on other projects. But we kept coming back to these DIY wands. Ultimately, we decided omit the augmented reality world and release the wand design (hardware and software) as free open source content.

…and that brings us here.

Wand-Ring Wands

We call the wands we make “Wand-Ring” wands. It’s a reference to wandering around the real world to interact with an extensive virtual world, but was also a reference to ring designs we planned to include in the wand shells and another secret-ninja idea we have. Full-featured Wand-Ring wands have three essential components: an ESP32 micro controller, an LIS3DH accelerometer, and RGB LEDs. We’re using the ESP32 because it has integrated WiFi and Bluetooth, plenty of memory, and can use existing Arduino libraries. We’re using the LIS3DH because it’s “baked into” the PropMaker Feather Wing, which has easy connectors for LED strips and a speaker. We’re using Adafruit’s .5m NeoPixel strip for light-based feedback ’cause it’s relatively inexpensive, easy to connect, and the LEDs are individually addressable (so it only takes one pin to “drive” them instead of 90).

Eminently Hackable

It’s worth noting that the Wand-Ring hardware (ESP32 + PropMaker Wing + NeoPixel) – in tandem with the software libraries (FastLED, Adafruit’s sensor libraries, etc…) we’re using – is super-versatile. Sure, you can use your wand to delight, dazzled, and duel – and that might be one of the coolest things you can do with it – but you can make it do lots of other great and clever things by uploading new software to it!

The Wand-Ring design also leaves a lot of room for hardware expansion. Want to add a speaker and haptic feedback? Go for it! Want to bling out your wand with more LEDs? Be our guest. Want to use the Hall Effect sensor on the HUZZAH 32 to sense magnetic fields? Awesome! Want to connect to your local WiFi and control your Hue lights by waving your wand? Do your research, master the Hue API, and rock ‘n roll!

Wand-Ring with Wanda and Ron

Wanda and Ron are our mascots. Wanda is a brilliant, creative, and curious witch who likes to make and do things. Ron is her always eager, always hungry, faithful cauldron companion. They’ll be your companions, walking you through making your very own magic wand step-by-step.

What’s this site about then, eh?

For now, this site will be the hub for everything Wand-Ring related. It’ll have the latest news and links to code, hardware lists, schematics, tutorials, pictures, news, and such. We’re stashing the code on GitLab.

We think it’s going to be an awesome, wild ride. We hope you have as much fun as we do!