How to use a Breadboard!

Used by hobbyists and professional engineers alike, breadboards allow us to quickly build all sorts of circuits!

Breadboards got their name because in a time long ago, engineers used to use wooden cutting boards! They would hammer in nails and wrap wires to make connections. Not only was it tedious, but the cooks got frustrated that their breadboards kept getting stolen and used for definitely-non-food-purposes, so eventually someone invented the plastic breadboard to keep kitchen utensils safe. Hooray!

Similar to wires, plastic breadboards use conductive metal and insulating plastic to create paths where electricity can flow (the metal parts), and breaks where it cannot flow (the plastic parts).

If we were to look underneath a breadboard and peel off the backing, we would see something like this:

What do you notice?

The middle of the breadboard is different than the outsides. On outside of the breadboard, on both the left and the right sides, there are two long strips of metal. These are called “Power Rails”, or “Power Buses”, and one of the strips by itself is called a “Power Bus.”

Flipping the breadboard back over, the top, where we make our circuit connections, looks like this:

Looking at our Power Buses, there are colored lines next to them. While these are just guidelines (ahhhh sorry for the terrible pun, lol), the colored lines are super helpful for keeping track of how we connect our battery or power supply to the breadboard. Typically blue means negative, or ground (“gnd”), and red means positive.

The middle gap of the breadboard is called the trench. This separates the two identical middle halves of the breadboard. The trench is sized so that components with more than 3 pins can fit across.

The rows of the breadboard are marked with numbers, in this case numbers 1 – 30. The columns are marked with letters A, B, C, D, and E. Each row has a set of 5 holes that are connected by the piece of metal we saw on the bottom, as well as metal pins on the inside that hold wires and component pins in place. Some of the hole groups that are electrically connected are shown on the photo above with red rectangles.

Now let’s make some circuits! We’ll need four (male-to-male) jumper wires and the following parts:

Next, we’ll connect the battery to the power rails. If your battery case does not plug directly into the breadboard, grab two jumper wires for this.

The battery case that you are using might change how you connect your battery to the circuit, and that’s okay! The important part is that you connect the positive side of teh battery to one power bus, and the negative side of the battery to the other. Be sure that both sides of the battery are in different power buses (if you feel the battery getting warm it may indicate that it is short-circuited, this would be the place to double check).

Next, let’s connect our light! Grab your remaining jumper wires and your LED.

Insert the LED legs so that both legs are in two different rows (reminder: rows are marked with numbers). Connect the positive side of the battery to the longer LED leg. Connect the negative side of the battery to the shorter LED leg.

Voila! If the LED is connected to the battery in a circuit, it will light up!

Try moving your LED to a different part of the breadboard. Observe what happens!

Does wire color matter? Try two different colored wires and see what happens!

Finally, let’s end our exploration by tracing the path of the electricity.

Electric current is defined to flow from positive to negative. That means our electric current, which is made up of moving charges, flows out of the positive side of the battery, through the wire and into the breadboard power bus. It flows through the power bus, then up and out the red wire to the breadboard row where it can travel up the LED where it does work (and loses some energy) to make the LED turn on.

Then the (less energetic) electric current flows out of the LED through the shorter leg, into the breadboard row where it flows into the black wire. It then flows out of the black wire and into the second power bus, through the power bus and back to the negative side of the battery.

Our circuit is a circle! The moving charges that leave their home must also come back, but they come back more tired and into the back-door (which is to say, the negative side!).

Other helpful terms:

  • Current: The amount of charge flowing past a point in our circuit.
    • Current units are given in Amperes/Amps, or A
  • Voltage: The potential energy, or pushing force, across a component in our circuit. A higher voltage means more pushing force.
    • Voltage units are given in Volts, or V.
  • Resistance: How much a particular component resists the flow of electricity.
    • Resistance units are given in Ohms, or O
  • Capacitance: How much current a battery can provide over time.
    • Capacitance units are given in Amp-hours, or Ah.

There are two ways to connect components:

1. In series: connect components in line with one another, or head-to-tail.

2. In parallel: connect components in loops, or head-to-head.

Going Further!

You are now ready to tackle more circuits! Try adding more lights, or using different components. What happens when you add different kinds of components together? How many ways can you combine multiple components ?What sorts of projects could you use these circuits for? Share your creations with us, we always love to see and share!

And of course, please let us know if you have any questions, we are here to help!

Other useful tutorials:

Happy making!

(Quick & Easy) Micro:Bit Magic 8 Ball Costume

90s kids unite! And build this super fun, easy, and interactive costume!

Ask a (yes/no) question, shake the Micro:Bit, and it displays a fortune (obviously accurate) to your deepest most pressing questions, like what is life, how do we solve climate change, and why are pineapples so difficult to cut open. Except you’ll do a better job with phrasing your questions as yes/no 🙂

Anyway….

Here we go!

Read Time: 7 min.

Build Time: < 30 min.

Project Cost: $15 – $20

Materials

  • Micro:Bit 
  • 2xAAA Battery Case
  • 2 AAA Batteries (plus some extras if you plan to wear the costume for more than 3 hours)

… Seriously, that’s it!

Oh, and to make it all aesthetically pleasing and on point:

  • Cardboard (like a 4″ x 4″ square)
  • Blue Paint

Step 1: Program the Micro:Bit!

Step 1: Go to www.MakeCode.org and open a new Micro:Bit project.

Step 2: Write a program to display randomly generated messages of your choosing!

Need more info? Here’s a more detailed overview 🙂

Go to Variables and create a unique variable for each message you want to send (e.g. msg1msg2, …msg42, etc).

Go to Inputs and drag out the On shake block. In On shake, add “set item to” from Variables, then go to the Math blocks and connect the “pick random 0 to..Change the random number range (i.e. the 2nd number) to reflect the total number of messages you are showing (e.g. if you have 5 messages, the random number range is 0 to 4 because there are 5 possible numbers: 0, 1, 2, 3, 4).

Almost done! Add an “If – Then” from Loops. In the first if, set the condition to: item = 0, then display the first message (“show string” block w/ the variable name for your first message (e.g. msg1)). Recommended to repeat the message at least once ’cause scrolling letters can be hard to read! Repeat the if statement condition for each random number and message, and viola, c’est fini! You can test the code in the simulation on the left side of the screen by clicking the Play button and then Shake (:

When you’re ready, download the code, plug in your Micro:Bit, and then drag the (.hex) file onto the Micro:Bit drive. The code is loaded when the power lights are done flashing!

Step 2: Optional Triangle Cover

Step 1: Make a cardboard triangle & paint it blue!

For most accurate imitation, go for an equilateral triangle (geometry for the win, woot woot!).

Step 2: Cut a 1 in. x 1 in. (2.5 cm x 2.5 cm) hole in the center for Micro:Bit LEDs.

Step 3: Attach Micro:Bit on back of triangle w/ glue or tape.

If using hot glue, avoid the battery and USB connector.

Step 4: Wear it & Share it, pretty bby!

Attach the Micro:Bit (& cardboard combo) to yourself or your clothes! You can use velcro, tape, or hot glue (although probably avoid using this one on your actual skin..) Or make straps w/ string, twine, fabric, etc!

Put on your favorite black outfit & you’re done! Quick & awesome & comfy Halloween costume for the winnnn 😀

Feel free to ask any questions in the comments section. If you build this or a variation, please share your creations, I’d love to see what you make!!

A Beginner’s Guide to Microcontrollers

What do remote controllers, routers, and robots all have in common? Microcontrollers! These days, beginner-friendly microcontrollers are easy to build with and program using just a laptop, a USB cable, and some (free) open-source software. The catch? There are like, 4324302* different microcontrollers and it can be daunting to get started, especially if you’re just getting into electronics. Where the heck do you start?!

Right here, bbies, I got chu. Whether you are looking to build some cool electronic projects, learn programming/tech, or wanting to teach others about electronics, this tutorial will help you figure out what microcontroller is right for your needs, goals, and budgets. Yay! Let’s get started!

Read Time: ~ 20 min

*Ok, ok, maybe not *that* many, but definitely a few dozen!

 

Wait…What is a microcontroller??

Maybe you’ve seen this word and were like “uhhh..?” but didn’t feel comfy enough to ask*. Totally fine, here’s a quick rundown:

A microcontroller is a “simple computer” that runs one program in a loop. They are designed to perform a single, specific task.

In this guide, we’ll be focusing on microcontrollers that have breakout boards, or a board that makes it easier to connect to and program the microcontroller.

On a breakout board, the microcontroller pins are soldered to a printed circuit board (“PCB”), headers or other connectors are added to the PCB, and some basic firmware, or permanent software, is loaded to prep the microcontroller to receive signals.

*Questions are always good even if they are “dumb” or “n00by”, just find a safe space — like this site or Instructables!

What’s the Difference Between the Raspberry Pi and a Microcontroller?

The Raspberry Pi is not only small and adorable, it is also a full-fledged computer! 😀

Computers have microprocessors AND microcontrollers that work together to perform many tasks at once.

The microprocessor is what does the “heavy lifting” in a computer. It performs the instructions and calculations that make the computer work. Microprocessors are much faster than microcontrollers, but they need external resources like RAM, Input/Output ports, etc., whereas a microcontroller is typically self-contained.

Computers (which are microprocessors) can run multiple programs at a time — you can surf the Internet, reminisce with old photos, write a paper, and have like 1000 tabs open all at the same time! Microcontrollers… not so much. You can do one of those things, but not all.

To learn more about the Raspberry Pi, check out the last section of this tutorial!

Arduino (Uno)

A robust, open-source microcontroller and programming environment designed for beginners with some knowledge of circuits.

Recommended Ages: 12+ (or kids comfy with programming and algebra)

Difficulty: Intermediate

Average Cost: ~$35

There are lots of different types of Arduino boards. This is the Arduino Uno, the best fit for beginners! There are boards that are larger, smaller, wearable, and for specialty use cases like robotics.

Being familiar with Arduino boards and programming maps well to projects and careers in computer science, engineering, and design.

Hardware Features

  • The Arduino Uno has 14 Digital Input & Output (“I/O”) pins, 6 Analog I/O pins, 2 Power Out pins (3.3V and 5V), and 3 Ground (GND) pins.
  • Power input can be anywhere from 5 to 12 VDC
  • The ICSP header (right side in both photos) allows you to connect a ton of different add-on boards called “shields”.
    • For example, you can add a WiFi shield to connect your Arduino to the ‘net!

Example Project: 

Robot Mini Golf Obstacles

Motion-Reactive Shake the Maze Game!

Purchase/Learn More: Arduino Website (www.Arduino.cc)

Micro:Bit

A friendly lil’ microcontroller handy for kids and folks just getting started with coding and hardware.

Recommended Ages: 8+ (or kids comfy with circuits and simple tools)

Difficulty: Beginner

Average Cost: ~$15

The Micro:Bit is a great tool to start learning how to code, teaching others, particularly elementary school students, how to code, and making simple and quick electronic prototypes.

The Micro:Bit is a collaboration between Microsoft and the BBC to bring educational computers into classrooms around the world.

Hardware Features:

  • The Micro:Bit has 3 Digital and Analog I/O pins, 1 Power Out pin (3.3V), and 1 Ground (GND) pin
  • Power input should be 3 – 5 VDC via micro USB cable or battery pack connector.
  • It also has lots of onboard inputs, outputs, and sensors!
    • 5×5 (25) LED matrix
    • Two (2) Pushbuttons (A, B)
    • Radio Transmitter and Receiver
    • Accelerometer
    • Compass
    • Light and Temperature Sensors
  • For more I/O pins, grab a Micro:Bit breakout!

Example Project: 

Text Messenger Puppet!

Purchase/Learn MoreMicro:Bit Website

Circuit Playground Express

A versatile microcontroller great for kids and folks just getting started with coding and hardware.

Note: There is also the Circuit Playground Classic — the hardware is nearly identical, but this board is programmed in the Arduino IDE.

Recommended Ages: 8+ (or kids comfy with circuits and simple tools)

Difficulty: Beginner

Average Cost: ~$25

The Circuit Playground Express, or CPX, is a helpful tool to learn how to code, teach others how to code, and make quick prototypes for beginners to experts alike.

The Circuit Playground Express is a powerful and versatile microcontroller created by Adafruit Industries.

Hardware Features

  • The CPX has 7 Digital/Analog Input & Output (“I/O”) rings that are also capacitive touch!
    • 1 “true” Analog I/O ring
    • 2 Power out ring (3.3V)
    • 3 Ground (GND) pins
  • Power input should be 3 – 5 VDC via micro USB cable or battery pack connector.
  • There are also tons of onboard inputs, outputs, and sensors!
    • 10 Mini Neopixels (can be all colors)
    • 2 Pushbuttons (A, B)
    • 1 Slide Switch
    • Infrared Transmitter and Receiver
      • Can receive/transmit remote control codes, send message between CPXs, and act as a distance sensor
    • Accelerometer
    • Sound sensor and mini speaker
    • Light and Temperature Sensors

Example Project:

 Minecraft Gesture Controller!

Purchase/Learn More: Adafruit Industries

Makey Makey

An interactive introductory microcontroller great for young kids and folks new to electronics and coding, especially for those who want to play with technology without having to build circuits and code.

Recommended Ages: 5+ (or kids comfy with simple tools)

Difficulty: Beginner

Average Cost: ~$50

The Makey Makey is a great first step into electronics and technology — no programming required! Connect alligator clips to the pads and then connect any somewhat conductive material, like hands, fruit, or metal objects, to trigger certain keyboard and mouse keys.

The Makey Makey is an Arduino-compatible board, meaning that you can also reprogram it using the Arduino Integrated Development Environment (“IDE”).

Hardware Features

  • The Makey Makey has six (6) capacitive touch pads on the front of the board:
    • Four control the keyboard arrow keys,
    • One controls the spacebar, and
    • One controls the left mouse click.
  • On the back of the board are header pins for more controls (also capacitive touch):
    • Six (6) pins that map to letters,
    • Four (4) pins that map to arrows,
    • Two (2) pins that map to mouse keys, and
    • One (1) pin that maps to the spacebar key.
    • There are also three (3) general I/O pins, a 5V power pin, and a ground pin.

Example Projects

Beginner: Floor Piano

Intermediate: Interactive Survey Game!

Purchase/Learn More: Makey Makey website

Other Common Boards

There are waaaay too many microcontrollers to cover in one tutorial. If you have a super specific specialty need, there is probably a microcontroller for that (just like apps!). To get a feel for some of the other boards not mentioned in this tutorial, peruse the inventories of SparkFun Electronics and Adafruit Industries and/or ask folks in the field!

Here are a few of my favs:

Particle Photon

Similar to the Arduino Nano, the Photon is a WiFi connected microcontroller that can be programmed wirelessly. The easiest setup uses a (free) smartphone app, but if can also be programmed directly via USB in almost the same language as Arduino*.

Recommended Ages: 12+ (or kids comfy w/ circuits and coding)

Difficulty: Intermediate

Cost: ~$20

For more info and to get the Photon setup, visit the Particle online store here.

Example Project

IoT Industrial Scale

*Wiring is the code framework, so most Arduino code will work without modifications. Can also write in C/C++ or ARM assembly

Adafruit HUZZAH ESP8266 Breakout

A super small, super cheap (and currently very popular in the IoT* community) WiFi microcontroller. You’ll need an FTDI or console cable. You can use the Arduino IDE to program this board or NodeMCU’s Lua Interpreter.

Recommended Ages: 14+ (or kids comfy w/ hardware & software)

Difficulty: Intermediate++

Cost: ~$10

For more info, visit the HUZZAH Adafruit product page.

(SparkFun also has a similar board, the “ESP8266 Thing”, which you can find here for ~$15.)

*IoT stands for “Internet of Things”, which is the term that refers to connecting and controlling various hardware devices, like sensors and household electronics, to the Internet.

Adafruit Trinket M0

A teeny tiny yet powerful microcontroller that blurs the lines between computer and microcontroller (it has an ATSAMD21E18 32-bit Cortex M0 processor). It can be programmed with Circuit Python or in the Arudino IDE.

Recommended Ages: 14+ (or kids comfy w/ hardware & software)

Difficulty: Intermediate

Cost: ~$9

For more info, visit the Adafruit product page for the Trinket M0.

There are a TON of other M0 boards, similar in scope to the Arduino Zero connectable microcontrollers. If this doesn’t suit your needs or your fancy, search around on the Adafruit and SparkFun websites!

Wearable Microcontrollers

There are also a handful of microcontrollers designed for wearable projects!

What makes these special is that they can be washed, so you don’t have to rip them out of the awesome project you made (but do remove the battery!).

Wearable microcontrollers also have special I/O pins that make it easier to sew into clothing and stitch circuits with conductive thread. Here are a few of my favs:

Adafruit FLORA

A circular sewable microcontroller with 14 inputs and outputs. Can be washed (but def remove the battery).

Recommended Ages: 12+ (or kids comfy w/ circuits and coding)

Difficulty: Intermediate

Cost: $15

For more information, visit the Adafruit FLORA product page.

Arduino Gemma

A lil’ tiny sewable microcontroller with 3 inputs and outputs. Perfect for hiding, connecting to small objects, and creating jewelry.

Recommended Ages: 12+

Difficulty: Intermediate

Cost: ~$5

For more information, visit the Arduino Gemma product page.

Arduino Lilypad

A circular sewable microcontroller with 14 available inputs and outputs.

Recommended Ages: 12+

Difficulty: Intermediate

Cost: ~$25

For more information, visit the SparkFun product page for the Lilypad.

 

Raspberry Pi 3

The Raspberry Pi, or Pi for short, is a credit-card sized computer* that runs a special version of Linux and can be programmed to control hardware.

Recommended Ages: 12+
Or kids comfy with coding and algebra

Difficulty: Intermediate (easy as a computer)

Average Cost: ~$35

The Raspberry Pi computer, or Pi for short, can be used as a “standard” computer or as a controller for all sorts of hardware projects. It is a great first computer for kids to use and learn to code on, and is widely used by hardware experts to build all sorts of electronic projects, from robots to 3D printers to home automation systems!

The Raspberry Pi has changed the way we build electronics! There are a few different versions, the most recent is the Raspberry Pi 3 and the Pi Zero, a miniature version of the Pi 3 for just $10.

Hardware Overview

  • The recommended Operating System (“OS”) is a special version of Linux called Raspbian.
  • The Pi has 40 General Purpose Input and Output (“GPIO”) pins.
    • 26 Digital I/O pins (no Analog I/O)
    • 4 Power Out pins (two 3.3V and two 5V)
    • 8 Ground (GND) pins
    • 2 Specialty Pins (I2C ID EEPROM, advanced use only)
  • The Pi also has most standard computer features:
    • 4 USB Ports
    • 1 Ethernet port
    • 1 HDMI port
    • 1 Audio Jack
    • 1 Camera Module Port

Example Projects

Local Cloud Server

IoT Pet Monitor! (Raspberry Pi Zero)

Impact Force Monitor

Purchase/More InfoRaspberry Pi Foundation

*The Pi can be used similar to a standard microcontroller AND can also control microcontrollers! Basically, the Pi is super awesome and I *have* to include it even tho it is technically a computer 🙂

Final Thoughts

If you are just getting started and want to build all sorts of projects, I’d recommend the Circuit Playground Express. It’s super easy to get up and running and has a ton of onboard gadgets.

If you are super interested in computer networking, AI, or connecting things to the Internet (e.g. making a “Smart Home”), I’d suggest the Raspberry Pi.

If you want a sturdy, stable, and reliable board to build a wide variety of projects, go with an Arduino.

If you still have no idea where to start and are totally intimidated, start with the Micro:Bit — it’s only $15 and has plenty of snazzy things on it to play with. Plus, if you get one for your friend, you can send lil’ messages back and forth 🙂

The best advice I can give you is to find a project you are passionate about and build it! There are tons of tutorials online so search around for someone who has built the same or similar project. Build off of their findings and adjust as you please!

And of course, leave any related questions in the comments and I’ll do my best to help!

Happy hacking!

Anti-Facial Recognition Wearable No. 1

Every time we leave our homes, we are photographed and videotaped in public and private spaces. Facial recognition software identifies our unique facial features and can be used to tag us in photos that are taken with or without our consent. This tutorial is about exerting our right to control our personal privacy. It is our choice and our right to decide if we want to be identified by cameras that photograph us in public and private spaces.

There are many approaches to anti-facial recognition makeup/wearables. This is my first approach based on some background research, chatting with fashion-minded friends, and my own personal artistic and electronic interests.

The purpose of this project is to make it more normal (& fun!) to wear privacy enhancing fashion so that if/when it is needed, folks who are using it for legitimate protection are not targets.

Follow along or use this as inspiration for your own anti-facial recognition wearables! If you design your own, pleasepleaseplease share it in the comments so other folks can learn from and be inspired by you!

Difficulty: Easy

Build Time: 1 – 2 hours (+2 hours for glove controller)

Cost: < $15

Quick Overview of Facial Recognition Software

Computer Vision, or “CV” for short, is a software method that breaks down images into a series of black and white pixels, and then attempts to extract meaning from patterns in the pixels. Since human faces have the same characteristics (two eyes, nose, mouth, & chin), these characteristics can be broken down into patterns that a software program can look for.

For example, pupillary distance, or the distance between the pupils of each eye, varies from about 54 to 68 mm for adults – a CV program would look for black pixels separated by that distance range and log those as one layer. There are tons of patterns that a CV program can search for and locate, then go back and analyze the layers together to ensure they match up. All of these values are stored as variables that can be used for comparison with other images.

The more images a CV program analyzes, the better it gets. By comparing CV-found patterns to patterns in existing photos tagged on social media, CV programs may also tag an individual regardless of where that photo was obtained. CV programs are incredibly accurate, can select a face from multiple angles and backgrounds, and can identify a person’s emotions.

Check out CV Dazzle to learn more about anti-facial recognition makeup and other styles!

 

Materials & Tools

Materials

Optional glove controller:

Tools

  • Liquid Latex
  • Scissors
  • Wire Strippers
  • Soldering Iron (recommended for glove controller)
  • Hot glue gun (or other fabric-safe glue)

 

Step 1: Attaching the Flowers

Use the flowers to cover up distinguishing facial features. Eyes, eyebrows, and nose bridge are three primary regions of the face that are used by facial recognition software to identify and tag a face.

1. Cut flower stems off (unless you want ’em on for aesthetic purposes).

2. Pour a small amount of liquid latex into a container.

3. Figure out where you want to put the flower, then dab the base of the flower into the liquid latex. Let it dry for a few seconds, until it feels sticky and less liquid.

Be sparring with this stuff, it can be kinda painful to peel off, especially after 30 flowers.

4. Attach the flower to your skin. BUT FOR REAL THOUGH avoid your hair!! It is a huuuge pain (literally) to get out.

5. Repeat 2 & 3 until your face is adequately covered.

You can check your progress using a Snapchat or Instagram filter: If the filter can’t find your face or looks wonky (like sunglasses on your forehead instead of your eyes) then you’re all set!

 

Step 2: Adding LEDs!

To add freestanding LEDs, grab a coin cell, and push the two LED legs over the coin cell battery sides (longer LED leg on the positive battery side). Dip one side in the liquid latex, let dry for a few seconds, and then smoosh onto your skin just like with the flowers (again, avoiding precious and sensitive hair).

If you’re using the glove controller (see next step), run the LED wires up your arm to behind your ear, holding them in place with rubber bands or hair bands. Arrange how you want the LEDs to point, then pin the wires in place with bobby pins. That should be sufficient to hold them, if not add some liquid latex to the ends of the LEDs.

The LED + coin cell combo should last ~ 12 hrs.

 

Step 3 (Optional): Make a Glove Controller

This is a good option if you want to save battery life or to be able to turn on/off the LEDs. The thumb is the battery case, with conductive thread on the top as the positive connection. The fingers are the positive connections for the LEDs.

This takes ~ 2 – 3 hours to build.

1. Attach wires to the LED(s).

Measure out two (2) wires per LED to span from your head, down your neck, and to your wrist. Add 3″ to this measurement to allow for movement. Cut wires and strip both ends.

Mark the positive side of the LED with a pen, then twist one end of each wire around the LED leads. Solder the LED leads to the wire. Use a red wire, or mark the positive wire with a pen.

If available, use heat shrink tube to make a poke-less connection. Or just coat it in epoxy or hot glue or some other liquid adhesive.

Repeat for each LED you want to add to the glove.

2. Using conductive thread, make the negative side of the circuit: a negative connection for the coin cell and a “ground bar” for the LEDs.

Put on the glove, and mark where the center of the battery will go. Sew about 10 layers of conductive thread over your mark — this is the ground connection for the coin cell battery.

With the thread still attached, sew down to the base of the glove and stitch back and forth until there are a few layers of conductive thread in a line — this is the negative connection for the LED connections.

3. Make a coin cell battery case on the thumb of the glove.

Cut out 1 square of regular fabric, and 1 square of conductive fabric.

Cut a small hole in the regular fabric and then stitch the conductive fabric square over the hole (with regular thread). Run over this a few times since the conductive fabric tends to fray.

Using normal thread, sew 3 of the 4 sides of the regular fabric over the negative connection for the battery, so that it makes a lil’ pouch for the coin cell. (You might want to sew down the 4th side a bit to hold in the battery, or use a safety pin).

4. Attach the positive side of one LED to a glove finger and make a conductive pad.

Sew the positive LED wire onto the glove (regular thread)

Still using regular thread, sew a square of conductive fabric over the stripped end of the wire.

5. Attach the negative side of the LED to the glove ground pad.

Wrap the stripped end of the wire to the conductive thread ground pad and/or use conductive thread to secure it.

6. Repeat 4 & 5 for all LEDs.. or until you run out of fingers.

7. Epoxy or use fabric glue to adhere all of the connections.

 

Step 5: Test & Deploy!

Test your privacy enhancing getup by opening Snapchat or another filter app and check that it can’t identify that there is a face in the image. At the very least, if it does identify a face, be sure that the filter it adds is hilariously broken.

If you want to get real serious, you can download the OpenCV library and test it against your wearable — this is my long-term goal, but for now I’m happy with sticking flowers and LEDs on my face for V1.0.

Stay tuned for more of these anti-facial recognition wearables and please share your awesome creations!

Renewable Energy Technology: What is it and How to Use it!

Now more than ever, folks like you and me have to step up and take a stand to protect and preserve our environment (and, quite honestly, our species). One great way to do that is to incorporate renewable energy technology into projects that use electricity.

Even if the environmental aspect isn’t enough to get you on board, you should still use renewable energy tech because the simple truth is that eventually we will run out of coal and natural gas. Besides, renewable energy tech is cleaner and more cost-effective in the long term, AND it means that you rely less on external sources for electricity — super handy in case there’s a severe storm or a solar flare that temporarily knocks out your local power grid.

First of all, what is renewable energy technology? Basically, it encompasses any technology that generates (electrical) energy from effectively renewable sources. For example, from our perspective, the sun is essentially an infinite power source since it will be around long after we are gone and produces more energy than we could possibly hope to consume in our lifetime.

Coal and natural gas are NOT renewable because they are finite, meaning that there is only so much of it available for us to use. Once we’ve used it up, we’re pretty much sh** out of luck, as the saying goes.

Now that I’ve convinced you it’s a good idea to use renewable energy technology, what are your options and how do you actually go about incorporating them into your projects?? Well my friend, read on to find out! This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it does cover the most common and easily accessible types of renewable energy tech.

Also, this guide assumes you have a basic knowledge of electronics, so please ask if there is a term or concept that you’re unsure about and I’ll be happy to expand or provide you with more thorough resources. Happy building!!

Photovoltaic Panels (aka Solar Panels)

Solar panels are awesome! I put these first because they are one of the most common and, in my opinion, the easiest to incorporate into all kinds of different electronic projects.

How Solar Panels Work

Solar panels convert incident radiation (aka sunlight) into usable electrical energy via the photoelectric effect. Basically, a photon (light carrier particle) knocks into an electron and transfers its energy to the electron. By making solar panels out of special materials called semi-conductors, one with extra electrons and one with missing electrons (aka “holes”), the free electrons are attracted towards the positively charged material (and repelled by the negatively charged material). When an external load is connected across the solar panel, it creates an effective current.

Since the current output depends on the amount of sunlight hitting the panel, the highest power output occurs when the panel is in full, direct sunlight (and is free of dust and debris).

How to Use a Solar Panel

  1. First, solar panels output Direct Current (“DC”), which is ideal for computer/microcontroller projects. For household applications, you’ll need an inverter to convert the DC voltage into AC.
  2. Second, since we’ll only get energy generation during the day, we’ll (most likely) need to use a rechargeable battery to store the energy for use at all hours of the day and night. Calculate the battery capacity that you’ll need by multiplying the electric current consumption of your project by the number of hours it will be on and consuming power without any external charge. For example, if my project consumes 0.20 mA of current and I want it to be able to provide power all night (~ 12 hours), I’ll need a battery with a minimum capacity of: 0.20mA * 12 hours = 0.0024 Ah (2.4 mAh). Also, the battery voltage needs to be lower than the solar panel voltage for current to flow from the panel into the battery.
  3. Third, use a diode for trickle charging or a charge controller for higher power applications to protect the solar panel from backwards current flow.
  4. Finally, to choose the right sized panel, figure out how much power your project consumes (P = I * V) and pick a panel within a reasonable range. For example, the power consumption of a 5V, 0.50mA microcontroller is 0.0025 W, so a panel between 1W and ~ 7W would be more than sufficient. For larger power panels, be sure you have sufficient circuit protection to avoid blowing out your microcontroller or other electronic device(s).

For more information, here is a helpful guide.

Wind & Water Turbines

Wind and water turbines use pretty much the same mechanism to generate electrical energy, so I lumped ’em together. Of course, depending on what medium you’re using, you’ll want a different turbine size and shape.

How Turbines Work

Turbines are a mechanical device that rotate when an external fluid passes through the blades of the turbine, whether it’s water or wind (whoa what air is a fluid?! yes, yes it is :D). The turbine is connected to a drive shaft that spins an electric generator to produce electrical energy. 

How to Use Turbines

  1. Turbines are location dependent, so first you’ll want to figure out if it’s feasible: Do you have a stream, waterfall, or other moving water source nearby? Does the location of your project get steady wind?
  2. Turbines also output DC current, so you’ll need an inverter for household appliances.
  3. As with solar panels, you will likely want a rechargeable battery to store the power for use anytime during the day or night, regardless of weather conditions. Calculate your needed battery capacity using the same method as for solar panels.
  4. Use a diode for low-power projects and a charge controller for larger projects to protect the energy generator from backwards current flow.
  5. Determine the power output for your turbine by calculating the power consumption of your project in the same way that’s outlined for the solar panel.

There are tons of DIY wind turbine projects on the interwebs, including on Instructables! Find one that fits your project needs and try building your own!! 😀

Here’s a link to more information on wind turbines!

 

Thermoelectric Generator

Thermoelectric generators (“TEGs”) are super cool, but generally have a very low power output. That said, they are not weather dependent, don’t have any moving parts (aka are essentially maintenance free), and are very reliable. Thermoelectric generators can be super handy for small projects like charging smartphones or powering LEDs.

How Thermoelectric Generators Work

Ok, so these things are somewhat complicated — basically, special materials with high electrical conductivity and low thermal conductivity can generate an electric current when there is a temperature gradient (aka a temperature difference between one side and the other). So if you heat one side of the thermoelectric generator and cool the other side, a current will flow. It also works the other way around — if you apply a current to the generator leads, it will cause one side to heat up and the other side to cool down.

A super simple thermoelectric generator is shown in the photo above: a junction of two different metals (copper and iron) is heated to produce a current output between one end of the copper wire and the head of the nail. It’s too little current to be of much practical use, but it’s a great educational project!

How to Use Thermoelectric Generators

  1. Another DC electrical energy generator! Get at those inverters for AC power applications.
  2. Since these are super low power, I’d suggest a rechargeable battery just like with solar panels and turbines, and maybe even an amplifier like a transistor.
  3. Since these will likely stay low power, you shouldn’t need a diode to protect the TEG, but be sure to have adequate circuit protection for your particular electronic load.
  4. You can purchase TEGs that have specific power outputs, typically for camping purposes, or you can rig up your own using peltier junctions. Consider connecting a few in series to get a higher energy output.

Here’s a great overview on how TEGs work, check it out and be inspired!

 

Other Types of Renewable (& Clean) Energy Technology

Ok, so that’s it! We’ve covered 3 of the primary renewable (and clean) energy technologies! There are TONS more out there but they are either 1) super involved, 2) super expensive or 3) both. Here are two of the more common ones to give you a sense of what is possible in the wonderful world of renewable energy technology!

Geothermal Power Plants

Geothermal power plants use hot water deep in the earth to run a steam turbine. This requires ridiculously deep wells (~ 1km) to pump up the hot water, run it through a heat exchanger (or directly through a steam turbine if you’re lucky enough to be close to a water source that hot), and then push the water back into the earth or let it seep back down naturally.

These are super cool because there are no negative consequences of energy generation — no pollution is generated (only steam!), no water is lost, and it the water will heat back up naturally over time.

Nuclear Power Plants

These are a bit controversial due to the radioactive waste byproducts of nuclear fission, but nuclear power plants do in fact generate renewable, clean energy. As long as the waste is properly stored and there are safeguards in place to prevent meltdowns, nuclear power plants are relatively safe and well understood.

Currently, nuclear power plants use the process of fission, which involves breaking up an unstable atom (e.g. uranium) to get out high energy electromagnetic radiation (aka light). That energy is usually converted into heat and used to run a steam turbine.

Ideally, we’ll figure out fusion somewhere in the near future, which is the process of fusing two simple atoms together (usually two isotopes of hydrogen). Nuclear fusion generates electromagnetic energy and inert particles like helium. This is what stars do! Except they are much, much more efficient as they are insanely hot and high pressure.

Fusion does NOT produce any radioactive waste, so it would be a perfect solution to our energy crisis. Now to just figure out how to get a net positive energy output….

For more info on fusion, check out this awesome article by the folks at Industrial Quick Search Directory.

Go Forth & Build!

Now you know what renewable energy technology is and, generally speaking, how to incorporate it into your personal projects. It’s also a great way to charge your gadgets while out and about, make your projects portable, and have a backup power source in the event of a power outage.

Please feel free to ask any and all questions! My goal with this is to empower you to feel confident in using some sort of renewable energy tech in your everyday life, whether you purchase it or build your own.

Remember, it’s ok (and encouraged) to start small and simple! Use a solar panel to power a small motor, use a wind turbine on your bike helmet to power a bike light, or use a thermoelectric generator to light up some LEDs while camping!

If this tutorial inspires you, I’d love to see any projects you made, share ’em in the comments below!!

Build & Play Robot Mini Golf!

Introduction

Create, build, and play an obstacle course for Brush Bots! This is an activity for all ages that teaches the basics of circuits and design thinking while encouraging and inspiring creativity, discovery, and collaboration. Most importantly, it’s super fun! (But seriously though, watch the video it’s adorbs and will make you smile)

This tutorial will show you how to build (and source parts for) a Brush Bot, how to design and build mini golf inspired obstacles, and how to use the design thinking process to create a Brush Bot that can accomplish each of the obstacles. Go forth and build your own Robot Mini Golf course!!

 

 

Tools & Materials

Tools

  • Scissors
  • Hot glue gun(s) + hot glue sticks
  • Wire cutters/strippers
  • Masking Tape

Materials

1. Electronics

2. Brush Bot Body & Feet

Since there are tons of ways to build the body, no list is absolute. Here are some suggestions (upcycling materials are highly encouraged & also cut down on cost!):

  • Toothbrush bristles
  • Styrofoam/plastic/paper cups
  • Paper plates
  • Cardboard
  • Tupperware
  • Toothpicks and/or wooden skewers
  • Popsicle sticks
  • Styrofoam pieces

3. Obstacles

  • Cardboard, cardboard, and more cardboard!
  • Art supplies
  • And maybe throw in some electronics in there also (see Step 4) 🙂

 

What the heck are Brush Bots??

Brush Bots, or Bristle Bots, are the simplest possible form of a robot: a motor with a counterweight and a battery attached to simple body. The counterweight causes the motor to shake, which, in turn, causes the body to shake.

The name “Brush Bot” comes from
a common design that uses toothbrush bristles as the “feet”. The term has been adapted to refer to any simple robot based on the counterweight motor design. Another super fun variation are Art Bots, which use markers or other materials to draw while they wobble around!

There are tons of ways to build a Brush Bot. A couple of approaches are shown in the photos. What other ways can you invent to build a Brush Bot?

 

Building the Obstacles

My obstacles were inspired by mini golf and through my experience in teaching Brush Bots and seeing various approaches from students and educators. I wanted obstacles that would be fun, accessible, and interesting for kids and adults, so I came up with four obstacles of varying difficulty.

Obstacle 1: Enter the Arena

Starting from 1 – 2 feet away, the Brush Bot must enter the opening to an arena. This can be made by marking an arena with tape, or by building a simple fence from cardboard.

Obstacle 2: Spiral Maze

The spiral maze is a crowd favorite and is a great obstacle for younger kids to tackle. Build the spiral maze by scoring a long piece of cardboard (~ 4 feet), then gluing it in a spiral pattern on a 2′ x 2′ cardboard square.

I decorated mine to look like a galaxy by spray painting the outside gold and the inside black, then gluing glow-in-the-dark stars on the inside.

Obstacle 3: Ramp

Although easy to make, this obstacle has proved to be the most challenging. I recommend using a low incline (less than 15 degrees) and adding a rough surface (e.g. sandpaper) on top of the cardboard.

Build the ramp by cutting out two identical triangles and then adhering a cardboard square on top.

 

 

 

Obstacle 4: Robot Head

By far the most fun, but a bit more complicated. I wrote a quick Arduino sketch to move a servo motor and added an IR breakbeam switch to trigger some LEDs when a Brush Bot goes into the mouth.

Recreate or modify this Robot Head or create your own whimsical obstacle!

Building the Brush Bot(s)!

1. Dismantle and gut an electric toothbrush! Your mission: find the motor.

For the Assure-brand “Soft Bristle Electric Toothbrushes” that you can get at the Dollar Store (just $1 woot woot!), twist off the bottom, pull out the battery holder, and pull out the motor. You may need to tap (or hit) the open toothbrush on the floor to get the motor out, or (gently) use pliers to pull it out.

2. Grab (or build!!) a battery box, and connect the positive side (red wire) to one of the motor leads*.

3. Connect the negative side of the battery box (black wire) to the other motor lead.

Orientation doesn’t matter — try switching them and see what happens!

4. Design and build a body for the lil ‘bot and give it a way to move. Iteration through different designs is recommended and encouraged!

Some common and easy ways to make the Brush Bot move are to use toothbrush bristles, toothpicks, or popsicle sticks to make legs/feet. Try different objects and object placements to see what happens.

*The motor leads are those gold tabs with holes by the white cap of the motor.

 

Conquering Obstacles W/ Design Thinking

Design Thinking is a problem-solving method. Traditionally, it’s applied for design of hardware and software products in various engineering disciplines, but this process can be applied to pretty much any aspect of life. The Design Thinking process comes in variety of flavors, here is a common breakdown:

1. Design: Who is your audience? What, or who, are you designing for? What are constraints for your product/project?

2. Ideate: How can you solve this problem? Come up with at least 3 – 5 different approaches — impossible solutions are totally acceptable in this phase.

3. Prototype: Choose one of your (possible) solutions and build it.

4. Test/Observe: Test your prototype and observe how it behaves. Does it solve your problem? If not, what’s wrong with it? If it does, can it be done in a simpler or easier way?

5. Adjust: Change your prototype based on your testing and observations.

Repeat steps 3 – 5 until you’ve arrived at a solution that solves your problem, satisfies your audience (or teacher), and meets any design constraints.

For Educators:

You can go through the design thinking process before, during, or after the workshop. One of the benefits of having obstacles to conquer is that it motivates students to naturally go through this process without having to sit and think about it.

 

Compete & Add Prizes

That’s it! You’re ready to tackle and challenge your students, friends, and/or family to a game of Robot Mini Golf!

A bonus feature would be to add prizes for anyone who successfully completes either one or all of the obstacles. My favorite method is to give out small prizes (e.g. stickers or buttons) to anyone who builds a Brush Bot that completes at least one of the obstacles, and a larger prize for anyone whose Brush Bot successfully completes all of the obstacles. This is a great way to adapt this into a workshop for folks of all ages — older kids and adults can try to conquer all of the obstacles while the younger kids still get to participate and have a blast! 😀

Please feel free to share your Robot Mini Golf stories in the comments! Would lovelovelove to hear anecdotes of how this activity went with students and/or to see photos of your unique Brush Bot(s) and obstacle course creations!

A Few of Our Favorite Brush Bots

 

Make a Light-Up Holiday Card!

Light-up cards incorporate two of the best worlds of making (electronics and crafts) with the added bonus of making somebody smile. Heck yes!

Here’s my approach to light-up cards and my favorite recent discoveries: pop-ups and cotton balls.

Read time: ~ 5 min.

Build time: ~ 30 min -1 hr (mostly crafting the card)

Cost: < $5

 

Materials!

Gather up the following materials:

  • One or more LEDs!
  • Copper tape (~ 20″)
  • One coin cell
  • One paper clip
  • One pushpin
  • Colored paper
  • & any other craft materials your creative heart desires!

 

Build the Circuit!

 

 

1. Cut out a pocket for the coin cell.

 

 

 

2. Add copper tape to cardstock!

Stick 2″ of copper tape just above the battery pocket, so that the bottom of the battery rests on top of it. This is the negative (-) side of the circuit.

Stick another 2″ piece of copper tape on the underside of the pocket, so that it touches the top of the battery. This is the positive (+) side of the circuit.

 

3. Add a switch!

Cut a small line at the end of the copper tape, push paper fastener through the slit and hook the paperclip under the paper fastener (it might also help to add copper tape to the end of the paperclip). This makes an “on/off” switch!

 

 

4. Connect the LED!

The longer LED leg connects to the positive side of the circuit. The shorter leg connects to the negative side of the circuit. Be sure that these two sides of the circuit do not cross, or it “shorts” the LED and drains the battery.

 

 

Design & Make the Card!

1. Plan out where the light is going to go!

This is super crucial if you want the light to be in a specific spot, like the top of a tree, as a nose, etc. It’s helpful to make a super simple drawing of what you want before you try, or at least have extra materials on-hand for second (or possibly third) versions. Check all the things before you glue stuff down.

2. Craft the card!

Since it’s the December holiday season, I’m making a bunch of holidays cards for friends, woo! I like incorporating re-used (or upcycled) materials, so for this card I cut out the cover of an old calendar and folded the edges under to make it 3D (oooohhh now we’re gettin’ fancy!).

Another fun option are pop-ups! Cut out thin strips (~ 1/2 inch) and fold them accordion-style, then use ’em to prop up your cutouts and drawings!

3. Add in the LED!

You can either hide the circuit under the cover, or inside the card. For this card, the circuit slips under the cut-out, and the LED, covered by a lot of cotton balls, sticks out the top to light up the clouds!

 

 

Final Touches & Beyond!

Close the switch to the LED and stand in awe at your awesome creation! Write a heart-felt note on the inside and give it to your favorite family member/friend/coworker/neighbor/etc!!

There are tons of other ways to make the LED circuit! The photo to the left shows a method using magnets (ohhhh magnets!). What other ways can you come up with to make the circuit? Post your creations in the comments below!! 😀

How to Use (and Choose) a Multimeter!

Checking your car battery life, debugging circuits, and finding that pesky short are all super useful functions that can be performed with just one awesome tool: the multimeter!

First of all, what the heck is a multimeter??   Excellent setup question! It’s a handheld device with bunch of different electrical meters — hence, multi-meter!

Measuring voltage, current, resistance, and continuity (aka electrical connection) are the most common uses of a multimeter.  Read on to learn what this means, how to do it yourself, and how to choose your very own multimeter!

Choosing a Multimeter!


There are a few key differences between multimeters, the main one being analog versus digital:
Analog multimeters show real-time changes in voltage and current, but can be difficult to read and log data.

Digital Multimeters are easier to read, but may take some time to stabilize.

There are also auto-ranging multimeters, that automatically detect the measurement range, and manual ranging multimeters where you have to choose a range yourself (or start with the highest setting and work down).

Other than those two main differences, you’ll want a multimeter that has separate ports for current and voltage measurements (this is a safety issue, both for the meter and for yourself).

Next comes the fun part: features! Multimeters all have voltage and current meters (otherwise they’d just be called voltmeters and ammeters!), and most can also measure resistance. There are a variety of other “extra” features depending on manufacturer and cost (e.g. continuity, capacitance, frequency, etc.).

Second-to-lastly, there are a ton of different types of probe leads, including alligator clips, IC hooks, and test probes. Can’t decide? Here’s a kit that has four different types!

Lastly, always check the multimeter maximum voltage and current ratings to be sure that it can handle what you want to use it for.

Using a Multimeter!

But first! A quick overview of voltage, current and resistance!

My favorite analogy for electricity is the “water flowing through a pipe” analogy. In this analogy, voltage is similar to the water pressure, current is like the water flow (except with current you have electrons instead of water molecules!), and resistance is akin to the size of the pipe. Check out this tutorial for an awesome and thorough overview of electricity.

Keeping these analogies in mind helps us to figure out how, and what, we are measuring.

Measuring Voltage:

A voltage measurement tells us the electrical potential, or pressure, across a particular component.

Voltage is basically the “oomph” in our circuit, s so we want to avoid drawing any power from the circuit when we take a voltage measurement. This means we need to measure voltage in parallel with a particular component using infinite (or really, really high) resistance to prevent any electrical current from flowing into the meter.

Using a multimeter to measure voltage across a component (or battery!):

1. The black multimeter probe goes into the COM port, and the red probe into the port marked with a “V”.

2. Switch the dial to the “voltage” setting (choose the highest setting if you have a manual ranging multimeter).

3. Place black probe on negative side of the component, and red probe on positive side (across, or in parallel with the component). If you get a negative reading, switch the leads (or just note the magnitude of the voltage reading).

Read the meter output and you’re done! Not too bad 🙂

Measuring Current:

Taking a current measurement tells us the amount of electricity flowing through a given component or part of a circuit.

To measure current, we need to measure all of the flow in our circuit without consuming any power from the circuit and reducing the current measurement. This means we measure current in series with a component and we want our meter to have zero resistance.

Using a multimeter to measure current through a component:

1. The black multimeter probe goes into the COM port, and the red probe into the port marked with an “I” or an “A” (or “Amp”).

2. Switch dial to the current setting (choose highest setting if you have a manual ranging multimeter).

3. Connect red probe to current source, and black probe to the input of the component, so that the current flows from the source, through the meter, to the component (in series with the component).

Read the meter output! If you’re not getting a reading, switch to a lower setting.

Measuring Resistance: 

Measuring resistance is pretty straightforward, but you do have to disconnect individual components from a circuit to get their actual resistance, otherwise the rest of the components in the circuit can interfere with your measurement.

Using the multimeter to measure resistance of a component:

1. Put the black probe in COM port, and red probe in the port marked with a “Ω” or “Ohm” — it should be the same port as the voltage port.

2.  Switch dial to setting marked with a “Ω” (may have to choose approximate range for manual ranging multimeter).

3. Place probes on either side of the component (orientation doesn’t matter).

Read the meter output and you have conquered resistance!

Bonus: Measure Continuity!

The continuity measurement checks if two points in a circuit are electrically connected, otherwise known as a conductance test. Before measuring continuity, be sure that the circuit power is OFF.

Using the multimeter to measure continuity: 

1. Place black probe in COM port, and red probe in voltage port.

2. Switch dial to setting marked with an audio symbol.

3. Place probes at points you want to check — if the meter makes a beep sound, it means the two points are connected.

Le fin!

Go forth and measure all the things!

Now that we know how to use a multimeter, get crackin’ on all those at home, DIY projects! To get you started, here are a few quick, practical, & fun projects:

1. Measure the resistance of your skin! Change the distance of the probe leads and see how resistance changes. Lick your fingers (or dip them in water) to see how moisture affects resistance!

2. Measure the voltage across AA, 9V, or other batteries around the house/workplace/school to locate dead, or dying, ones.

3. Make a lemon battery and measure the voltage and current output.

4. Use the continuity setting to check if different materials conduct electricity.

 

Looking for more info on multimeters?

Check out this in-depth guide by the folks at Tools Critic!

Prototyping Magnetic Boots!

Walking across large, metal pipes in search of urban adventure, my inner voice joked, “Hey, magnet shoes would be handy right about now.” Well, no arguing with that! Off to build my very own magnetic shoes!

This tutorial gives an overview of my build process for a magnetic boot prototype in hopes of inspiring you to build and test your own whimsical ideas! ‘Cause seriously, making ideas come to life feels like a superpower.

 


Materials


— Sturdy Boots
These had to secure my feet (aka no slipping out) and withstand my body weight. I found a pair of sturdy (although rather large) snowboard boots at a local thrift store which work as a first prototype.

— Rare earth (neodymium) magnets
Small, thin-ish (< 1/4″ thick) magnets with a 10 – 15 lbf rating (see previous step).

— One screw per magnet (or per magnet hole)
Use screws with a length shorter than the sole of the shoe (so they don’t poke your lil’ feetsies.. or add some sort of rubber sole inside).

— Suggestion: One washer per magnet
Supposedly, the washer helps increase the magnetic field of the exposed surface. I haven’t calculated this or done any serious research, so at this point it’s just a design suggestion.


Tools



Drill

— Ruler

— Pen/pencil.

CNC Router and a 3/4″ drill bit

 


Build Process!



1. Level bottom of the boot with a CNC router (or other available method).

Clamp the boots to the CNC table with the bottom facing up — a piece of wood was helpful to keep the boots straight.

Set the zero point of the CNC to be the lowest point on the sole of the shoe, then use a large bit (ours was 3/4″) and level the sole of the shoe to the zero point.




2. Mark boot with tape for location of magnets.



3. For each magnet, drill in screw, magnet, and washer into the bottom of shoe.


Testing!


To test the boot, I stuck it on a roof beam and pulled downwards. I added more magnets and repeated this until I couldn’t pull the boot off by hand, then (slowly) tried to hang from it.

Lessons learned during testing:
1. I ended up using waaay more magnets than I thought, so it is probably worthwhile to calculate how the individual magnet fields are adding together.

2. Magnets need to be level to maximize the total magnetic field strength.

3. There is a limit to how close you can place each magnet depending on the shape and size of its magnetic field. Smaller, round magnets are easier to work with than large, rectangular magnets.

4. Don’t place magnets close to parking passes (or other electronic devices). Also keep them far, far away from large containers of screws.


Results & Next Steps!


At this point, my magnetic shoes are more magnetic “gloves” (lol thanks @jayludden :D). But! I can successfully hang from one boot, so the concept works!

The lessons learned from testing will help improve this prototype design. Currently awaiting more magnets for the second boot (used most of them for the first one), trying different magnet orientations, and searching for a spot to test them upside down.

Stay tuned, will have them up and running, er, well, hanging, soon!

Many thanks to: Tinker Tank at Pacific Science Center for being my build and test center, and to Richard Albritton for the CNC help!

Faraday Cage Phone Pouch

This Faraday Cage phone pouch blocks all radio signals coming in or out of your cellphone. Material costs are about $10, it takes ~ 30 minutes to build, and it can fit in your pocket!

The purpose of this pouch is to prevent access to your phone and its data (e.g. location) if and when you so choose. Before placing in the pouch, be sure to put your phone in airplane mode as the phone will drain its battery trying to find a signal.

Materials

  • Conductive fabric
    Sized to fit your phone + a top flap. For an iPhone w/ a (giant) case, I needed about 7.5″ x 3.5″.
  • Thread (regular, any color)
  • Button (any type)
    Alternatively, you can use velcro, a safety pin, or any other means to hold down the top flap.

Tools

  • Scissors
  • Ruler
  • Needle or Sewing Machine (preferred)
  • Safety pins (optional but helpful)

Build it! Pt. 1

  1. Measure the width, height, and depth of your phone (+ case, if you have one).
  2. Add 1″ to your phone width measurement and 2″ to your phone height measurement. Cut conductive fabric into a rectangle of that size.
    For example, the iPhone 5 is 4.87″ tall, 2.31″ wide and 0.30″ thick. Thus, you want a rectangle that is at least 6.5″ tall and 3.5″ wide.To double check your measurements, mark where you plan to cut the conductive fabric w/ a pen or pencil. then wrap the fabric around your phone. Be sure that you can fold down the top of the conductive fabric.
    Helpful tip: It’s always better to leave extra room. Measure twice, cut once, and so forth.
  3. Place phone on one side of the conductive fabric and fold the fabric over the phone. Safety pin sides together.Leave an inch or two above the phone so the top can be folded over like an envelope.

Build it! Pt. 2

  1. fw4y1vmi5p7kgsn-largeSew bottom + sides of conductive fabric together using small hand stitches or a sewing machine.
  2. Turn pouch inside-out to hide stitching.
  3. Place phone inside pouch, fold top down and mark where the button will go.
  4. Sew button on & cut a small slit in the top flap to attach.Remove excess fabric as necessary, but be sure that the conductive fabric completely encases the phone when the top flap is folded down.

img_0260

Done!

Place phone inside the Faraday Cage pouch whenever you want to cut off all radio signals coming in and out of your phone.

For another awesome version of the same concept, check out my friend’s scarf project here.

Curious as to how this works? Awesome! In super simple terms, a Faraday Cage “traps” radio waves in the wires that make up the cage. In this design, the conductive fabric threads are the metal wires that form the Faraday Cage. Due to the small mesh size (aka wires are super close together), this design will block any electromagnetic radiation with a wavelength larger than visible light. 🙂

Here’s a good overview on what a Faraday Cage is and how you can build a different version.

And here’s the Wikipedia blurb on Faraday Cages, an excellent source if you want to learn more!