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Synchronized Water Entertainment System

Contact Information

University: The University of California

Team Member(s): Newton Truong, Dylan Gwin, Aaditya Ramesh, Julian Brown, Manda Paul

Faculty Advisors:

Email Address:

Title:Synchronized Water Entertainment System


A multi-jet water fountain entertainment system, choreographed and controlled solely by real-time music signal processing. The SWE System comprises of a number software and hardware systems (using NI’s LabView, NXP’s mBed,  BlinkM’s MaxM LEDs) that integrated together to control water pumps, led lights, and music to recreate an entertaining water show similar the ones found in Atlantic City.

Products: NI LabVIEW, BlinkM LED’s, mBed microcontroller, DC water pumps, 

The Challenge:

Make a pleasing visualization algorithm using LabVIEW that coordinates the water jetting, light shining nodes in a way that is synchronized with the music being played.


We are using LabVIEW to recreate a fountain control system that is commonly used in performing water entertainment shows. These systems on a large scale can provide a dazzling display but can also prove to be quite an engineering challenge. It is truly an electro-mechanical control issue that is much more than churning a simple motor. We must be aware of the human condition, lags and pauses, which will result in a less enjoyable show. So our system must be synchronized perfectly. Also by the nature of its operating environment, sensitive components like circuitry and wires must be waterproofed.

System Architecture: Overview

There are three main stages in our project: LabVIEW stage, mbed stage, peripheral stage. The LabVIEW stage is involves the host computer that has the UI interface. This is where all the heavy processing is done and where the commands to the peripheries are generated. The mbed stage is a communication bridge between the host computer and the periphery devices. The mbed is rapid prototyping platform that has an ARM processor and we use it to translate between different serial protocols. The host PC connects to the mbed via USB, while the mbed connects to the peripheries two protocol I2C and SPI. The peripheral stage contains all the ultra-bright LEDs and the water pumps. It also includes the housing that is used to protect these devices and arranges them in an organized grid fashion. The System Architecture: Specific section will go into more detail about each of the stages.

System Architecture: Specific


Our software program is supported by NI LabVIEW. It is designed to accept audio files and transform into control commands for the peripheral devices. It takes the digital data and extracts the composite frequencies and their respective amplitudes. Given this information we can apply bandpass filters to examine relevant frequencies and simple thresholds to cue commands to be sent out. As an additional challenge, we want to have the program run in real time, meaning no pre-processing. The moment the user selects an audio file, the computer will begin playing music and generating the visualization commands. This means our system must run near instantaneous or at least without any perceivable lag.

NXP’s mbed:

    The mbed is a quick prototyping development board created by NXP. The editor and compiler is a web service, supported in the cloud. The core mbed libraries already support a number of communication protocols and peripheral devices like USB, TCP/IP, SPI, I2C. The development platform has a small form factor: rectangular 1’’x2’’. Along the side of the length are 20 pin headers. You can easily plug an mbed to any solderless breadboard and jump wire to the pins.

The mbed is used as a communication bridge between the host computer and the peripheral components. The mbed website provides a VI module that allows LabVIEW to send strings of characters to the device module. Even though the mbed is connected to the host via USB, the driver will make it show up as a serial communication port, which LabVIEW recognizes. For all intents and purposes, the mbed will act as a communication bridge between the PC and the rest of the peripheral devices that use separate communication protocols. The reason the mbed is being used is because the devices can easily support both I2C and SPI out of its general purpose IO pins. The mbed will run our own driver software that will constantly poll for commands from the PC and translate them to commands either for the pump or the LED modules.

BlinkM’s MaxMLED:

We purchased LED’s designed by BlinkM, which are 1000 times brighter than standard LED’s. They are I2C controlled and use 24-bit RGB display. BlinkM’s LED has an AVR microcontroller that runs preprogrammed firmware that drives the LEDs. We simply send ti valid commands to change the settings on the module.

Brushless DC Submersible Pump:

    We bought 16 brushless DC water pumps. Each runs at a range between 8 to 12 Volts. We can vary the power supply to the pumps using an LM380-LDO - a well-known linear regulator. The power comes from a modified ATX computer power supply to provide a steady 12 V. In the reference design of the LDO, there is a variable resistor that changes output voltage. We replaced the variable resistor with a digital potentiometer that runs off SPI protocol. As such, we can control the height of the water stream coming out of the pump by varying the voltage. In addition, we placed tapering nozzles on the pumps to increase water pressure and thus increase the height of the stream.


    We built the chassis in two parts. The first part is essentially a box without a lid. It holds water and the sixteen water pumps. The second part is a clear acrylic box that is suspended inside of the outer box. The clear box is waterproof and holds the 16 LED modules, each above one water pump. The acrylic box has through holes for flexible tubes to pass through it. The tubes guide the water from the pumps underneath to the surface above. This protects the LEDs and electronics from getting wet. The wiring will come out through a hole on the side of the acrylic box, which will be sealed.

Overall System Flow: (Adding Images soon or see attachment).

Future Works:

As you may notice the fountain in the image from the Overall System Flow section of this technical document is only a SolidWorks model. Due to some delays, we were not able to complete the project in time to be demonstrated for this year’s NI Student Design Competition. We have prototyped parts of the system, and it has shown a working promise. However as for the entire system integration, it will take more time and we are waiting on parts to be shipped. Other design decisions such as using a NI’s single-board RIO to optimize the communication bridge had quite a high learning curve for us. We may or may not consider using the single-board RIO in future works because we are unsure whether we need the additional complexity and hardware power. For these reasons we have stated, there is a lack additional media such as images and video of a completed product. However we are committed to completing the project and will submit our completed design for next year’s competition.

NI Employee (retired)

Hello there,

Thank you so much for your project submission into the NI LabVIEW Student Design Competition. It's great to see your enthusiasm for NI LabVIEW! Make sure you share your project URL( with your peers and faculty so you can collect votes for your project and win. Collecting the most "likes" gives you the opportunity to win cash prizes for your project submission. If you or your friends have any questions about how to go about "voting" for your project, tell them to read this brief document ( You have until July 15, 2011 to collect votes!

I'm curious to know, what's your favorite part about using LabVIEW and how did you hear about the competition? Great work!!

Good Luck, Liz in Austin, TX.