LED TREE

After seeing a small artistic tree made with polished stones, I was inspired to create one with LED as a nightlight for my daughter. The trunk and branches are made with enameled (magnet) wire. The LEDs are automatic rotating RGB so they change colors over time. The first tree used “fast blink” LEDs which change color about once per second, which looking back at it (and when looking directly at it) was somewhat seizure inducing. Later refinements used “slow blink” RGB LEDs that slowly changed from one color to the next over about 5-10 seconds. Interestingly, when powered on, all the LEDs go through the same color shift pattern, but fairly quickly small differences in timing cause the LEDs to be all different colors at all different places in the sequence. It’s quite soothing and almost difficult to tell that they are changing at all.

The hardest part of this project is tinning the magnet wire. Each end of the wire must be stripped of the enamel coating and soldered before (easier) or after (harder) twisting the trunk/branches together. Using two different colors of enameled wire make it easy to discern the positive and negative leads to solder to the LEDs.

The Tree was powered by a 5V 0.5A USB power block for charging cell phones – we called them marshmallows. The real trick there was cutting the USB cord and attaching the tiny little wires to the base of the tree.

In spite of may people wanted a tree, few people made them due to the time involved. But it was a great “learn to solder” project because of so many solder joints required, the low quality required, and the fast feedback loop. We soldered this kit “hot” – the power was connected the whole time you were soldering, so you knew if it was working or if you made a mistake right away. That’s a much better way to learn to solder.

With all that potential Ben and Mike create a much smaller scale kit that was immediately popular. The tree could be built in a single visit to the Makerspace and enjoyed at home that very night. The problem was that it to a lot of prep work to build a kit! The tinning was a pain – I purchased a solder pot, and we even bought an electric enameled wire stripper (if results with thinner wire).

There are a lot more pictures over in google photos

Compressed Air Rocket Launchers

5 or more compressed air rockets launchers on a table
We’ve made a few compressed air rocket launchers through the years

When it comes to making your own launcher, it’s hard for me to do much better than the Instructable I put together a few years back.

If on the other hand you are looking to make rockets, fast and furious, check on my video on YouTube is the place to be. There is also another video where I make a high pressure rocket in about 2 minutes.

Compressed Air Rockets and Launchers at MakerSpace Charlotte

Firebot

small robot shooting fire

At RobotsConf in Florida Ben was struggling to find a way to make his bot competitive. All the bots started as identical laser cut kits. Whatever to do? Hairspray! Well hairspray and a pilot light that is. The firebot was born. But it didn’t look the part… but that’s a story for another post.

Prosthetic LIghts

multi colored lights in a dark room as if plotted on a graph...but as a long exposure photo

While working with a prosthetist (someone that designs, creates and fits artificial limbs) to record and analyze the behavior and performance of of amputees wearing prosthetics, we discovered that we could do more than just capture the information with gyroscopes and accelerometers… we could display it in real time. But that was too much for the human eye to handle. Using a programmable LED strip we were able to strobe different colors representing different axes and motions. And by taking a long exposure photograph in an otherwise dark room we were able to capture rather striking images of the exact data we were seeking to plot. It was real life data visualization.

Dry Ice Jenga

Group watch a man play jenga with tongs and dry ice over an empty aquarium

Jenga is a pretty simple game… that gets a wee bit trickier when you can’t use your hands. In particular playing with tongs to handle the dry ice means that if you squeeze too hard the dry ice will squeal as it sublimates under the tongs and the tongs move as you squeeze and the gas escapes. It just seems to make people more nervous, but it looks cool – especially if you add blinking LEDs. Using a mitre saw with a simple jig is a good way to turn out uniform pieces in short order.

Flip Flop

The basic flip-flop circuit or astable multivibrator (try telling a bunch of middle school kids that’s the name of this thing). This version was built after the Feltronics Flip Flop, but make so all the components could be used with feltronics. The negative voltage across electrolytic capacitors and the initial race condition meant that this was never the best first contact teaching tool, but that only inspired us to come up with something better. (ssh – this picture isn’t really a flip-flop, can you figure out what it really is?)

Who needs a fiberglass substrate? Paper circuits for the win!

Ben

Of course we have made the flip flop circuit many different ways

Head Manufacture of Felt Integrated Circuits

Giant Jenga

Large Jenga set made from 2x4s

Bored kids at home demanded something to do. 20 minutes in the shop yielded a few hours of fun. Shoes required, and your head must remain out of the fall line. Super easy to make, but one component is not to be missed, the stacking jig to help set things up. We took Giant Jenga everywhere, including MakerFaire Atlanta at Georgia Tech among many other places. This also started a trend for us of making giant versions of simple games and toys.

Feltronics Radio

The first radio created with Feltronics, while functional, was a bit complicated. And as can be seen in photographs of our early days, we did not have a consistent product. All of the pieces were cut by hand, and some individuals did a slightly better job. But it worked! A working radio transmitter in felt!

Felt circuit schematic symbols on whiteboard in the form of a radio circuit
Early feltronics circuit with a mix of hand-cut and laser cut parts.

The second iteration of the Feltronics Radio was a work of simplicity. Working with large fuzzy components is great for the the whiteboard in front of a large classroom. But whiteboards are still only so big and complex circuits lead to very busy schematics that also happen to be difficult to comprehend. The answer was to boil a radio down to it’s most essential components. Thus the 5 component transistor radio transmitter was born… in felt. This particular radio puts out a 1Mhz signal. There is a bit of drift as is to be expected in such a simple radio, but that just makes it easier to pick up on a receiver (no phase lock loop radios please). Kids can understand what each of the 5 components do individually and can even work out how then affect each other. Kids literally have the “I know kung fu” moment, and never look back.

Felt circuit schematic symbols on in the form of a radio circuit connected to oscilloscope showing generated 1Mhz waveform
A much simplified radio… with proof of life!
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