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TPi_Magazine__February_2018

GEAR HEADS OUT BOARD RCX

GEAR HEADS OUT BOARD RCX SMART REMOTE Out Board Director, Dave Haydon, discusses the R&D process behind the company’s latest venture into user-friendly digital rigging control. What was the original goal for RCX SMART Remote rigging control handset? We’re fortunate that Out Board LV & DV motor controllers have become something of a staple workhorse for belt and braces tour, event and venue rigging over the last dozen or more years. In that time we’ve learnt how much lighting, staging, video, audio and studio riggers value their reliability and simplicity, but are also being faced with larger numbers of channels to manage at one time, and quite often more complex lift configurations. We had been servicing this demand with 16- and 24 channel variants of our traditional ‘analogue’ RC handsets that use straight multichannel 24Vdc control, but these were becoming increasingly unwieldy and inelegant in terms of heavy handsets, splitters and remote cables. RCX is specifically designed to deal with these higher channel counts in a more convenient and handy package. Most importantly, it can be retrofitted to every 6-, 8-, or 12-channel Out Board LV or DV controller already out there in the field, not just for new purchases. What are some of the key features that were included in this new product? The RCX is digital with a robust serial comms protocol, but uses switches and LEDS for programming and display as opposed to a touch-screen, in order to make it more instantly familiar and straightforward for hardpressed riggers to learn and use quickly. There was a desire to move on from the expensive, heavy and trash-able 24Vdc RC remote handset cables. RCX works with CAT5, ie standard off-theshelf IT cable, although we do equip the RCX SMART Remotes and interfaces with Ethercons so they are roadworthy, and most customers use them with proper armoured touring-grade Ethercon cables. Being digital meant we could create 16, 32, and 64-channel RCX units in relatively compact packages, and also add group Memories to make all those channels more manageable. And because what goes up must come down, the Memories are non-volatile and reversible, so you can pull the RCX out of the rack drawer at the end of the show, power it up, double-click a Memory button and all the channels in that lift will switch to Down for flying in. This also helps with bumping, where you can temporarily clear the selection to solo one hoist to bump it, then recall the memory to continue the lift, or you can double-click the Memory to reverse the lift then deselect a hoist and bump the rest in the opposite direction. These were subtle but crucial details came to us through discussion with master riggers we’ve been fortunate to get to know over the years. There’s also been a growing interest in Load Cell monitoring, partly due to the complex lifts and also evolving safety standards, so RCX provides a data path back up the control CAT5 interconnect that can take status data from load-cell computers and will instantly flag over- or under- load conditions on the RCX SMART Remote, by flashing the channel LED’s 70

OUT BOARD RCX SMART REMOTE Below: Dave Haydon, Out Board’s Director. and sounding a bleeper. We are currently canvassing opinion on having a selectable mode to make it automatically stop the lifts until the error condition has been identified and eliminated. Load Cell status monitoring is currently implemented for Mantracourt Broadweigh load cells, through work with our UK Dealer AC Entertainment, but it can be made to work with any load cell system. It seems like the linking element of the RCX SMART Remote was a paramount feature. Can you explain why this is so important? We had received growing numbers of requests for handsets capable of increasingly larger channel counts: 32, 48 and 50+ channels. The compact size of our controllers with 6, 8 or 12 channels in just 3U rackmount packages is very popular for inventory and deployment versatility, so it made sense to stick with that and just link them together. You regularly see 24 and 32-channel LV & DV racks, so a CAT5 link within the rack and also between racks works really well. We chose to avoid Ethernet in favour of a more robust serial protocol, and we designed the RCX interfaces to automatically figure out the channel layout on the RCX SMART Remote in the order they are plugged up in the rack – avoiding having to prod numeric displays or DIL switches to address the controllers. We also made them hot-pluggable, because it would be inconvenient to have to power down to change a hook-up or add a further controller. How do you make sure you are developing a product that really answers the market’s needs? The RCX SMART Remote System was developed to address the changing demands placed on our conventional handset systems mentioned earlier. We have good longstanding relationships with major rigging companies and master riggers, and their constant feedback has been invaluable towards evolving the basic concepts and spec details of the RCX SMART Remote System. Before the product was released commercially, we tested and retested prototypes on shows and tours which and this process was invaluable in drive subtle functional amendments via tweaks to the software. This is a product specifically developed in the market, for the market. What has been the initial feedback to the device? Rigging companies and riggers have reacted very favourably to the convenience and utility of the RCX handsets. We faced a slight challenge with switch cap LED diffusers getting washed out in bright daylight outdoors; it’s a custom component so we were able to re-specify and re-tool it with virtually transparent lenses – you can now see the LEDs in direct sunlight even with your RayBans on. These new switch caps can be retrofitted to all existing RCX units if customers wish. We may also add a software bright/ mode election mode in due course so riggers can tailor the LED brightness to their particular environment. Will there be any features added soon? Further Load Cell status monitoring will be added for brands other than Broadweigh as demand arises. We are now also working on a wireless interface link between RCX and the LV/DV controller racks. We’re using proven serial data RF technology from the industrial control sector, avoiding the busy and variable wifi fog that many other disciplines share. We’re adding our own battery management and failsafe mechanisms for optimum reliability and safety, and RCX will retain the digital E-Stop. There will always be users who prefer to stay wired to benefit from our dual-circuit hybrid digital and DC E-Stop system, but our TV and film customers, for example, are very interested in wireless so they don’t have to drag handset cables round large studio sets when asked to make quick changes by the lighting director. TPi www.outboard.co.uk 71