Nakatomi Plaza RFID reader prop

An attempt to duplicate the Die Hard vault RFID reader as a semi-interactive prop

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Inspired by last year's annual Christmas movie re-watch, and a desire to do some scratch-build modelling, I'm building the RFID reader from the vault in Die Hard.

It will be semi-interactive, using a real RFID reader to turn on the lights. I'm using neopixel LED strip clones for the lighting so I can tune the colour, brightness and fade durations easily in code (and this is the first time I've used them).

The main controller is a Pi Pico, also the first time I've used one, and this is the first time I've used MicroPython in anger. Holding the controller and RFID board together is an pair of awesome-looking custom screen-printed PCBs that PCBWay very kindly sponsored.

The chassis is 1mm thick ABS modelling sheet (known as "styrene" in the US), with a contact cement for most of the gluing and spots of CA glue for some extra reinforcing. Inside I overlaid some aluminum ducting tape to help block bleed-through. A couple of glued in ABS M3 nuts/spacers allows for reassembly as needs.

For the OPEN display, it's just a hand-drawn piece of paper behind a stack of acrylic plates. I'm aiming for as close to movie accurate as I can be, with the illumination delay and fade duration synchronized to the movie as close as possible. For the logo, I hand drew a vector diagram based on screenshots and it will be cut out of vinyl for the front of the box and the RFID card.

Whilst I suspect the audience for a rebuild of this is pretty small :) please let me know if I can share more info to help you with your version.

KiCad Circuit

The two KiCad circuit board files

x-zip-compressed - 299.72 kB - 03/26/2023 at 03:39


font dimensions.PNG

I made the OPEN sign text by hand (printer was being difficult) and these are the dimensions I worked to

Portable Network Graphics (PNG) - 126.78 kB - 01/22/2023 at 22:15



Fritzing file for the circuit diagram

fzz - 61.13 kB - 01/22/2023 at 21:18



Circuit diagram

Portable Network Graphics (PNG) - 318.48 kB - 01/22/2023 at 21:18


nakatomi rfid scanner.png

Basic dimensions for the prop

Portable Network Graphics (PNG) - 136.03 kB - 01/22/2023 at 21:15


View all 6 files

  • 1 × Pi Pico
  • 1 × MFRC522 RFID breakout
  • 2 × Neopixel LED strip

  • And we're done! (redux edition)

    Robert Wallhead03/26/2023 at 03:44 0 comments

    How good did it turn out with the boards installed?! I'm super happy with the final result, and I think Bruce approves too.

  • My first manufactured PCB

    Robert Wallhead03/12/2023 at 03:47 0 comments

    How good does this look!?

    PCBWay reached out and offered to sponsor a project and I *had* to do this! This pair of boards replaces the janky "vero" boards in the back of the Nakatomi Plaza RFID reader and I think they turned out great. I spent a lot of time finding the right fonts for the text etc so it's as close as I can make it to "canon" (when you consider RFID hadn't been invented yet... :D).

    This is my first manufactured PCB and PCBWay's quoting form was very easy to use, with the naming of the configuration options closely matching the settings of my design in KiCad (the first pic) so I could easily translate between them. PCBWay’s knowledge base was quite useful in getting the right Gerber files out of KiCad too and being able to upload them as part of the quote sped things up a lot. Whilst these boards were sponsored, the cost would have been a lot cheaper than I had assumed, and even the cheapest shipping to Australia took less than 2 weeks.

    I'll post another update once the board has been installed, but I’m really happy with the finished quality and how close they matched my vision. Thank you PCBWay!

  • Source code updates

    Robert Wallhead02/25/2023 at 20:58 0 comments

    While I'm waiting for the PCBs to arrive, I've made some minor updates to the Python code repository to improve the deployment process (I'm going to have to build a dedicated package for that soon...) and I've change the LEDs to be latching as it makes the prop stand out more.

    I also spotted RFID Journal did a fun write-up, thanks guys! :)

    Oh, and finally, if there's something from this build you want access to that's not in the GitHub repo or the uploaded files, let me know and I'll share it. The PCB Gerbers etc will be shared as soon as I confirm I didn't made any mistakes.

  • Coming soon... :)

    Robert Wallhead02/21/2023 at 05:22 0 comments

  • So, maybe we're not "done" quite yet! :D

    Robert Wallhead02/16/2023 at 01:10 0 comments

    The "vero" board internals are about to get a little upgrade... Here's a sneak-peek of what I'm drafting:

  • And we're done!

    Robert Wallhead02/12/2023 at 02:22 0 comments

    Take 2 of clear-coating and re-applying the vinyl logo went a lot better and I'm really happy with the finished prop:

    From here I'll add a structure on the back for wall-mounting, and I'm thinking of tinting the sign front so the OPEN text is a little less visible when the lights are off, but otherwise it's done.

  • Wow!

    Robert Wallhead01/31/2023 at 06:25 0 comments

    I wasn't expecting that, but I've had a pair of wonderful write-ups in Tom's Hardware and!

    In the meantime I've had to repair some minor paint damage (the wind blew it over while a clear-coat was drying...) but I'll be re-applying the logo (which worked really well!) shortly, re-clear-coating it, and installing it in our hallway :)

    This is how it looked just before the clear-coat-scratched saga:

    And here's the damage...

  • Video and inspiration

    Robert Wallhead01/22/2023 at 22:13 0 comments

    This is where I've gotten the project to so far, just need to work out the logo for the front and mounting hardware for the back.

View all 8 project logs

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    Become obsessed with Die Hard
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