The naturalist Henry David Thoreau once wrote of water that it is the “finest worker” in industry: “the gentle touches of air and water working at their leisure,” he wrote, can do more to shape rocks and space than even the most well-whittled tools or metals like copper and bronze.
The idea in Thoreau’s mind and the connection he drew between water and industry is a fitting place to start when talking about the iconic fountains that dance outside the Bellagio. We’ve written most extensively here about larger-scale industrial application of LonWorks technology, but sometimes industry gets a prettier sheen to it than we’ve allowed so far. The robust implementation of LonWorks chips doesn’t just work in buildings and on trains. It appears sometimes in surprising places -- like within those waving, swaying turrets of water.
At the $1.6 billion Bellagio Resort Hotel in Las Vegas, NV, a lot of hard work lies behind the fountain’s stunning facade. There’s the tank holding 27-million gallons of water, the 7.5 megawatts of electricity required for each nightly show, and of course, the equipment needed to monitor and regulate the entire system in case of equipment malfunction. This last part is where a network of communicating devices becomes crucial.
The White Rabbit company helped the resort integrate all the components of the technology required to make this display possible. As Echelon engineers argue, that task is no small one: it demands industrial-strength reliability, even for an operation whose endpoint is purely aesthetic or entertainment. As White Rabbit President Robert Harvey says, “a feature that does not work, or that functions poorly, affects the upscale image of the hotel. The impact on revenues could reach millions of dollars a day.”
The system is outfitted with a large ring around the base of the tank, which connects the four underwater equipment vaults to a central board monitoring all operations. A motor controller is responsible for ensuring accuracy of the speed and pace of the jets -- which reach up to 80 feet in height. Echelon’s sensors track voltage, light, water temperature, water pressure, and water speed.
"Each time the fountains’ designers synchronize the water jets to another song, they’re essentially choreographing a new dance on one of the world’s largest stages."
Each time the fountains’ designers synchronize the water jets to another song, they’re essentially choreographing a new dance on one of the world’s largest stage. Or, perhaps even more accurately, they’re like engineering organists, tapping out the melody with musical precision.
One jet error could compromise the entire operation, says Echelon’s Brent Humphrey (and there are 1,175 jet-heads in the whole operation, along with 6,200 light fixtures). And a stray signal or poorly designed alarm bell could cost the hotel in a very big way. If the Bellagio had opted to use a standard, rather than inter-communicative, alarm system, they would not be notified in the event of an error within the system.
Getting into the wiring to fix it up is no small potatoes when you’re talking about a 27-million gallon tank: a professional scuba diver outfitted with the necessary know-how and underwater tools would have to descend into the water and scope out the issue. But smart sensors alert the system, and ensure that one node error doesn’t compromise the whole thing; instead, in case of an error, a home screen monitored by the hotel manager points out the issue, the exact node where the issue has arisen, and allows for cleaner fixes.
The whole operation needs to be as stable as possible so that the 30 or so engineers who maintain the operation daily can unleash their creativity on the part everyone really comes to see: the uncanny finesse of those swaying jets.