After a year that saw many events go on hold, children and adults alike are looking forward to a Halloween season that feels a bit more normal. Electrical and computer engineering alumni, Shaun Oaks, is putting together a Harry-Potter-themed interactive wand display to bring his community together.  

Oaks created a similar display in his front yard last year when recreation and entertainment were limited. The automated, “Nightmare Before Christmas”-inspired display was part of the senior capstone project he created before graduating with his bachelor’s in Electrical Engineering in December 2020. Through the ECE program, he partnered with AutomationDirect, who provided the necessary components and advice needed to bring the display to life. 

“2020 was exceptionally hard for many people including, school-age kids who had their lives uprooted by the onset of COVID-19,” Oaks told Automation Direct. “I decided to do something special for my senior capstone project. My goal was to engage kids and gain knowledge and experience in PLC programming to better market myself for a career in control engineering.” 

Oaks designed the display components utilizing programmable logic controllers (PLCs), similar to automated attractions found in Disneyland and other theme parks. The PLCs triggered several microcontrollers that enabled the display’s audio and lighting effects. He also designed a human-machine interface to alert if the air pressure fell below an optimal level and to track prop sequencing. The project challenged him in new ways and empowered him to overcome problems ranging from electrical and mechanical to logistical.  

General sequence control flow of interactive wand display.

This year’s display was inspired by a trip Oaks and his family recently took to Universal Studios in Florida where they visited the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and were particularly interested in the interactive wand portion. Oaks hopes to incorporate a similar design in his display by utilizing a click PLC and a Raspberry Pi. Users will approach a trunk, activating the PLC, causing it to open, and a large Dementor to release along with lights and sound. Participants will need to complete a spell with a wand created by Oaks that will be picked up by an IR camera controlled by the Raspberry Pi. When the spell is completed correctly, the scare sequence will be deactivated in the PLC, returning the dementor to the trunk.  

To see Oaks display from last year, click on the video below and check back soon to view this year’s display.