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Inner Light Scale Model Lighting Scalectronics Lighting your model has been a growing interest in genres such as Science Fiction for quite a while now and it is slowly spreading to other genres too, as has been evidenced by the companies popping up offering solutions here at Britmodeller and in the wider world of modelling. They're always either custom-made for a particular installation or cobbled together using our electronic skills and generally speaking, once they're done that's it - You have no real way of changing them. You generally need to have at least some ability with coding if you want to depict any kind of lighting effect such as flashing, pulsing or the Knight-Rider/Cylon "wawww-wawww" effect too, and having had a brief go with some simple changes to an existing code snippet, it's not all that easy if you have no experience. What if there was a black box that has the flexibility so that you could hook up to pre-soldered lights, including options for fibre-optic/fibre guides, with a user-friendly interface that you could connect to and control from your desktop PC, tablet, laptop or even your phone? I think you know by now that there is, and that this is the subject of this review. It's called Inner Light, and it does all those things and more, thanks to the massive leaps in System-on-a-Chip (SoC) computers and the general miniaturisation of electronics that we have seen lately, driven heavily by the release of the Raspberry Pi (see the pic below) and various types of Arduino board. At the heart of the system is a Raspberry Pi 3A in a black case, which is a somewhat shrunk-down version of the new(ish) 3B, but still retains most of the power of the B, unlike the much smaller ZeroW, which probably couldn't hack it. In a slot under the board is a tiny MicroSD card with 16gb of storage space, which is pretty generous in size and of a good brand. There is a 5V Power Supply Unit (PSU) with a USB outlet and generous 2m USB extension cord, but you could replace this with a different length if you feel the need as it's a standard cord. The combined power/data cable plugs into the extension and pin 19 of the General Purpose Input/Output (GPIO) header (noted with an arrow on my board in the picture above) that projects through a slot in the case, and your lights plug into the small 3-pin socket at the business end of the power/data cable. In the starter kit you receive two long and two short extension cables, two lengths of LED tape (one with 5 and one with 10 LEDs), five pre-soldered socketed LED units, five unsocketed LED units, five fibre-guide clip-on covers, five 30cm fibre-guides, and finally a quick start guide with a link to the full instructions on their website. That's quite a lot of gear and the fact that most of the LEDs are push-together will save plenty of time in the construction phase of your next project. If your model needs more of anything, there's a full shop on their site with all the items available in quantities of 1 and above for a reasonable price, from fibre-guides to extension cables and LED chips. Once you have your lighting set-up, you then start the process of configuring it, which involves powering up your black box for the first time, and logging in via a browser to the in-built Wi-Fi server that's on the board. Join the new network "Inner Light" from your phone, tablet or other Wi-Fi enabled device - this will cut you off from your home Wi-Fi network, so make sure you remember this when you finish and try to visit Britmodeller or somewhere. Once you've joined you just navigate to http://192.168.1.100 and login using the provided credentials. If you don't want your friends and neighbours hacking your latest creation, you might want to consider changing those details, but that's entirely up to you. If you forget the new login details you can factory reset the device, but that's a pain if you haven't backed up your configuration. You're presented with a nice simple webpage that talks you through configuration of your lights, with colour, intensity, special effects and so forth easily changed at whim, and at any time thereafter. You can also add custom sounds, and make lights and sounds respond to physical buttons too, although you'll have to buy and solder those yourself, but you are shown the correct pin-outs on the GPIO to connect them to. Everything is menu-driven with tickboxes and drop-downs for quick and easy changes to pretty much everything. You can also control the device and its lighting groups (which you set up) by using HTTP command sent over the airwaves directly to your model. If that sounds tricky, it probably would be if you had to do it by typing out the commands yourself, but there are several 3rd party apps available for iOS and Android devices, some of which can be visually customised to match your subject, such as a Star Trek command console seen on their site. That's the theory, but I'm not about to pass judgement on the system without having a go myself, so here there has been a break while I dig into the box, put some lights and cables into a simple set-up and have a play with the system. Now where's my tablet? Following those instructions, I soon realised that I'd forgotten to plug in the MicroSD connector into the black box, which is what supplies the power to the system's processing unit. Once I'd corrected that blunder (it had been a long day), the lights started flashing sporadically as they should and after a few seconds, checking my Tablet's available Wi-Fi SSIDs showed up with the innerlight name, so I logged in using the username and password provided. Navigating to the home page by typing the IP address into your browser's address bar, you're greeted with the main screen, which has a few important settings that must be stored before you can proceed. You choose the number of LEDs (in total) that you have attached to the line, how bright you want them to be as a maximum value (they can be really bright, so they're best toned down), and how they start up when you power on. That's all very simple and hinges upon your ability to count. No worries there then! You can revisit this page if you add or subtract lights later on, so don't worry if you decide to change things, and there's no need to reboot as you can just save the new settings and carry on. The next tab LED Grouping allows you to separate the string of lights into sub-sections and give them names that mean something to you, which will help you out if you decide to switch things up a bit in the future. Allocate the various lights to the groups, and here you don't have to use contiguous blocks, as you can choose a block, a few additional singles, another block and so on, simplifying the process if you want the same effect on opposite sides of your model and have other lights in between. With all your groups set up, you can go off and create some effects in the next tab. Again, everything can be revisited if changes are needed or desired. The Effects tab does just that. You can create the effects that you want to later allocate to your various light Groups by tapping Add New Effect, then renaming it and assigning attributes like flashing, solid colour or chasing, with choice of colour, duration and delays. You can use a colour picker, an RGB slider, or a pick-list from your history to choose your colours, which will be a lot quicker if you're using the same colour in different areas of your lighting design. The final part of the setup is the Scenes tab, which is where you bring the Groups together with their Effects so that you can issue commands to your model from afar. You can connect the Scene to a trigger, which will be a button or switch you add somewhere on your model and wire into the black box using the pins allocated in the instructions. This enables you to be as fancy or simple as you like, providing you've got sufficient lights, enough time and a good memory to keep it in your head as you switch between tabs. In addition to the light effects, you can also add sound effects that will be sent to the 3.5mm audio jack on the RasPi by default, so will require a speaker to be fitted in order to enjoy the sound on the finished model, but can be used with headphones while you are setting it up. While talking to Andy, I sowed the seeds of an idea to allow sound to be sent to a Bluetooth speaker or sound bar, which may appear in future updates of the firmware, taking advantage of the RasPi's built in Bluetooth chip. I've got a terrible memory as most of you will probably know by now, so I kept my test setup pretty simple. I arranged 11 lights comprising the long self-adhesive backed 10 LED strip, plus a singleton with a snap-on fibre-guide cover and a length of fibre slotted through it. The covers have a central hole, and you feed the sharp end through the hole from the inside so that it stops at the flared end, absorbing most of the LED light in the process and transporting it to the other end. You can cut the lengths of guide shorter, or if your installation requires it you can get longer lengths online and create the flattened ends by warming it with a soldering iron or lighter, then smooshing it on a flat surface to create the mushroom head. To prevent light leaks, you'll probably want to paint the exterior of the caps and perhaps wrap them with insulation tape to prevent leaks and secure the caps permanently. Here's a quick demo of my simple setup, which isn't bad considering it was knocked up as I was learning the ropes in a very short period of time with absolutely no forward planning on my part - I've named my technique "winging it". The colour is a little washed out in the video, but as I've not really created any videos in the past I'm using the "newb" excuse. The five lights on the right for example are blue to the naked eye, the centre two are purple, and the three chasing each other on the left are kind of pink. Finally, it's fairly obvious that the single fibre guide is green I hope. I found it pretty easy to get to grips with the interface using my tablet, and the only thing that gave me a moment's pause was initially when I set up a new Group, it didn't immediately occur to me to tap the name of the group to bring up the configuration details. Once that was out of the way it all seems pretty straight forward, but if you ever get stuck there are full detailed instructions on everything you could want from the system, including the different methods of controlling your finished lighting rig either via the built-in Wi-Fi, a third-party app that issues the http commands from a fancy User Interface (UI), or even your Home Automation (HA) device such as Amazon's Alexa or the Google Home devices, by using the IFTT (IF This Then That) app that you can download to your device and configure to work with your HA if you have the technological know-how. You can even operate your Inner-Light from anywhere in the world if you're able to open up the required port on your router and forward it to your device's IP address, but again extra details can be found in the detailed instructions. The system could theoretically support over 1,000 light chips, but with the standard 2 Amp RasPi power supply, up to 100 could be used before you begin to run short of power. Most models won't need anywhere near that amount however, so you should have plenty of power to spare. You can also connect up to eight physical control buttons, each of which will need an additional two wires to be run back to the control box, so placement will be crucial. You'll have to source buttons yourself, and some soldering is likely to be required unless you get the pre-wired for use on the RasPi's GPIO pins. The detailed documentation can be found here, where you'll also be able to find out details of how to update the system's firmware, which is the underlying code needed to make the system function and allows extra features to be added or updated in the future. This adds extra value to your purchase down the line at no extra cost to yourself. Importantly, the system should always be closed down using the app to ensure no damage or corruption occurs to it, and this option along with other useful functions such as data backup, reboot and even factory reset are found in the Options menu, sensibly enough. There is also a help button at the top of every page that directs you to the site to obtain the detailed help files I linked to above, but you'll have to re-connect to your own internet in order to visit if you have a problem. Chances are that you'll be sitting next to a device that's connected however, so it's not a major imposition. My tinkering was all done sat in front of my workshop PC but using my tablet, so anything I needed to know was readily accessible by switching focus to the big screen in front of me. That said, using the configuration system, you can change the Wi-Fi to allow the system to join your existing Wi-Fi network, after which you can access the device by using the IP address assigned by your router (assuming you have DHCP active, which most people do), or by going to http://il.local in any browser on the same subnet. That would have the benefit of being able to access the help files from the same device, and would also open up the HA and remote access options for configuration as discussed above. One improvement that I would like to see would be the option for bundling fibres on one light chip, as the current system only allows one fibre per chip, which could get very busy if you were building a Zvezda Star Wars Star Destroyer for example, which has hundreds of tiny lights in its superstructure that are best suited to fibres. You can of course make your own bundle from some tube and epoxy glue, but the key selling point of the system is its modularity. Maybe Andy could come up with something later on? I've mentioned it to him, and he suggested enlarging the hole in the cap (which hadn't occurred to me), but as modellers we're probably capable of making up a short tube and filling them full of fibres, then attaching it to a LED chip if we need more fibres on one chip. Here's a proper demo from their site, showing what you can do with the system once you're familiar with it and have a specific application in mind. Conclusion This system has the capability of being adapted to many situations, allows alteration of colours, effects etc. after the lights are added to your model, which has previously been very difficult or impossible, and previously required much more technical know-how than Inner-Light requires of you. Adding your own sound, light effects and colour has never been easier and instead of fishing around with wires, resistors, code and burning yourself on a soldering iron, you have a simple almost plug-and-play system that just needs you to answer a few questions and fiddle about with a few settings. Siting the control box will be an important aspect of the installation, but when you're done you can still fine-tune the settings as much as you want. Andy has reminded me that he's got a special offer for Britmodellers which entitles them to a £10 cash-back on their purchase of the Base kit (the subject of this review. Type in Britmodeller in the promo code box, and you'll get a discount, and Britmodeller will also get a small donation as a thank you from Scalectronics too. What on earth are you waiting for???? Highly recommended. Review sample courtesy of