Author Archives: Lori Crotser

Enginursday: Disembodied Doll-Head Lamp

via SparkFun: Commerce Blog

While working with a board a while back, I noticed I was having trouble seeing what I was soldering. Once I had more light, it was smooth sailing, so the need for a lamp has been in the back of my mind for a while. I made myself a quick and dirty “lamp,” which was essentially our ultra-bright LEDs on the end of wires I could position in any direction I needed. As I used those lights more and more, I figured it was time to make something that would be less of a fire hazard.

One of the benefits/side effects/anomalies of working here at SparkFun is that we often have quite a few strange things just hanging around. On my desk I had some super-bright LEDs, a bunch of solid core wire and some doll heads. Doll heads? Yup. Doll heads. Stolen from small dolls. It’s a long story, but the nice thing about these doll heads is that they fit perfectly over the ultra-bright LEDs such that when I only need a couple of the LEDs, the others don’t blind me. With Halloween fast approaching, a project was born.

Tree lamp on the desk

Every single person who has seen this says, “creepy.” I think they’re adorable. Maybe a little creepy. But perfect for Halloween, no? The tree is 3D-printed ABS from a design on Thingiverse - I figured the Tree of the Dead from Sleepy Hollow was perfect for disembodied doll heads. I modified it on TinkerCad to have a hole through the center of it for the “branches” (we have a GREAT tutorial on editing in Tinkercad here). The base was then measured and I used MakerCase to download an SVG I could cut an acrylic box from.

Solderable breadboard with jumpers and resistors inside acrylic box

Just using the wires didn’t give me the positionability I wanted, so I wrapped the wires helically around armature wire for support; these were then colored and shrink wrapped. I used our Solderable Breadboard for the wiring with a rocker switch between the two power rails, and the jumper wire kit made the connections all pretty. (Seriously, can I just give a shout out to this jumper kit? It makes my little OCD heart happy.)

Individual LED lit up

Once I had everything soldered together, the tree went onto the box and I flipped the switch…

Lamp on, off gif

Soooooo… it’s an art project, but it is a useful one – the best kind. I can freak out my co-workers AND see what I’m doing when I’m soldering teeny tiny things together. Win! Many thanks to Feldi, Maya and Gella for their creative input!

What are your Halloween projects? How are you creeping out your neighbors and co-workers? Let us know in the comments!

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Enginursday: Unicornium

via SparkFun: Commerce Blog

So… let’s talk about the dearth of women in engineering. Generally speaking, there really aren’t a lot of us. Being one of that minority, I feel it incumbent upon me to get someone inspired, set a good example - that sort of thing. Alas, I have no daughters of my own but I have three amazingly beautiful and intelligent nieces that I am constantly trying to get involved in electronics. Perhaps I am a bit overenthusiastic, but with a little know-how and a lot of SparkFun you can make SO MANY COOL THINGS (cue evil laugh).

One of my darling little relatives LOVES unicorns (for real, who doesn’t?!) - so we decided to make light-up unicorn slippers, because LEDs. And unicorns. And warm toes. It is also a really, really simple project, which means the munchkin can help me put this together.

unicorn slippers with rainbow led mohawks

It starts with a RedStick, a skinny LED strip, a LiPo battery, and some basic soldering skills. The addressable LED strips have a wonderful hookup guide that we followed to make this happen. I soldered JST connectors onto our RedSticks, and attached silicone wire to pin 2 and the LED power supply pins. After that, the kiddo helped me out. We determined the “Rainbow Cycle” code was the prettiest (rainbows, YAY!) so we uploaded it to our RedStick. Then we attached wires and batteries to test!!

All together now: OOOOOH! AAAAAH!

gif of prototyped pretty rainbow LEDs

Once we decided we liked our setup, we went to work attaching the LED strips to the unicorns' mohawks and creating “saddle bags” for them to carry the LiPo batteries and RedSticks.

plush matching saddle bags that contain redstick and lipo battery

The back of the LED strips is peel-and-stick, so we attached them briefly that way and used fishing line to sew and secure. We cut the wires to fit the pockets with minimal overlay and then spliced the correct lines together and shrink-wrapped the connections to prevent shorts. We then plugged in the LiPo batteries and VOILA!

gif of dancing shoes

I love watching little faces light up when they complete a project! Have you done projects with your kiddos? Let us know in the comments!

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Enginursday: The Dug Collar

via SparkFun: Commerce Blog

It’s no secret that SparkFun loves dogs. Well-behaved mavens of the canine variety accompany us to our desks, force us to take healthy breaks from sitting, and inspire us to create ridiculous projects like this.

Like many people (maybe), I have often wished that our dogs could talk. As I was watching Disney’s Up for the umpteenth time, I thought, “I work at SparkFun and we can MAKE THIS HAPPEN.” So I put together a “Dug Collar.” It’s not the same as giving our pooches a true voice, but it’s pretty close. And it’s funny.

Meet Lucy. She is not my dog, but I wish she was. She is a therapy dog in training who visits SparkFun with me every Thursday, and has her own fan club. She may be the best dog ever. She is certainly patient.

Lucy the Golden Retriever

I originally prototyped this thing with a SparkFun FTDI Basic Breakout to program an Arduino 3.3V mini, a SparkX Qwiic MP3 trigger board, a couple of buttons, and our RFM69 radio modules. Easy enough but oh my gosh, the WIRES, y'all. Even without power it was unruly.

So many wires!

BUT THEN! SparkX to the rescue!

If you haven’t heard of SparkX, it is basically a tinkerer’s heaven. They get an idea, make it work, and then send it to market on a short run. It’s not polished and has little to no SparkFun support (i.e., don’t call tech support), but they make some seriously cool stuff. This time they created the SparkX Pro RF - RFM69 915MHz, which is basically a Pro Micro and an RFM69 module built into one, with a Qwiic connector port! And a JST connector for my LiPo battery! And a charging circuit! I need more exclamation points!

Look at the difference. SO much better.

Pro RF has so many fewer wires

Programming was straight forward. I mashed up the code examples for the Qwiic MP3 and the SparkX Pro RF and added a couple buttons to increment an internal counter to determine which track would play. I recorded and uploaded a few tracks that would be similar to what Dug/Lucy would say.

I think in future iterations I would make this shinier - probably add an OLED to see what increment I’m at and/or add hardware so I could talk to people (as Lucy) in real time instead of using pre-recorded clips. But for a quick (Qwiic, ha ha) and dirty project, this was good.

A note on safety: While this is a fun project, I would not recommend leaving a LiPo battery attached to a pet for any length of time. Lucy had great fun wearing this for short periods of time, but I immediately removed the collar when we were done. Keep your furry friend safe!

Have you used SparkX products? Have you done any projects for your pets? Tell us about them in the comments!

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Enginursday: LilyPad and Minecraft Heads

via SparkFun: Commerce Blog

It is widely acknowledged that children love Minecraft. They also tend to love things that glow. So why not combine these into a super-mega-happy-awesome project? Behold, the Enderman head:

Enderman Costume

Spawned from an overabundance of cardboard boxes, a few extraneous Pixel Boards, and some spray paint and fancy sewing, we now have a glowy-eyed Enderman head that brings all the neighborhood kids to the yard.

To make this project, I used the following:

LilyPad Arduino USB - ATmega32U4 Board

Lithium Ion Battery - 850mAh

Conductive Thread Bobbin - 12m (Smooth, Stainless Steel)

LilyPad Pixel Board


The LilyPad line has some pretty amazing documentation - I followed the LilyPad Pixel Board Hookup Guide to get my board and pixel boards all hooked up. There’s also a wishlist in this hookup guide that has pretty much everything you need!

LilyPad Pixel Board Hookup Guide

If you’ve never worked with e-textiles or the LilyPad line, I recommend starting here:

Getting Started With LilyPad

In addition to the hookup guide wishlist, you will also need the following:

  • A box that fits your child’s head (SparkFun boxes are PERFECT)
  • Some black foam board
  • Black spray paint
  • Glue, tape, or a glue gun
  • Two opaque acrylic rectangles
  • A child

For the box, we glued the top flaps shut for the painting and left the bottom open for ease of assembly. Once we were all painted up, we cut an appropriately sized hole out of the bottom for the head to fit through. We also measured about halfway down the box and cut holes for the acrylic eye plates. Keep in mind that you will need to cut another hole above these eye plates so your kiddo can see out of the box. Also - don’t mount those acrylic plates yet!

Box and foam board cutouts

Now for the fun stuff! The Pixel Boards, Arduino and LiPo battery are all mounted on a foam board strip inside the box head.

I cut the foam board strip a little longer than the box width to help with mounting. I centered it on the box and folded the ends back as flaps. Once it was folded and in place, I marked where I wanted the glowing eyes from the front of the box.

Once I knew where the Pixel Board eyes would go, I set about sewing the Pixel Boards as well as the Arduino to the foam board strip. I mounted the Arduino controller on the backside of the strip so that the lithium battery could also be mounted on the back of the strip. This makes for easy access to the on/off switch and for battery charging. Again, refer back to the tutorials listed above if you have never worked with conductive thread.

Foam Strip with Arduino and Pixel boards

After verifying that the circuits were working and my Pixel Boards glowed a beautiful purple color, it was time to mount everything!

Start with the acrylic plates. I just used clear tape on the inside of the box to affix these guys into place. I also used spacers - three sets of them - to offset and stabilize the foam strip carrying the Pixel Boards. I used the same foam board (four thick) and my trusty glue gun to fix these into place. I then glued the Pixel Board flaps into place and switched it on.

Box Interior Lit up

A few notes:

  • Before sewing the circuits, I used a ballpoint pen to draw the connection lines on my foam strip to ensure connections would be made appropriately and that there would be no shorts. I also used the needle to poke holes along those circuit lines so that the actual sewing would be easier.

  • After sewing the circuits, I used a glue gun to seal the loose ends to the foam board. This prevents shorts from happening!

  • While I used clear packing tape to set both the acrylic eye plates as well as the battery in place, I used a glue gun to secure the foam board spacers as well as the Arduino and the flaps of the Pixel Board strip.

  • We ended up using black yarn to sew a baseball cap into the interior of the box (which was no small feat) to keep the box from sliding around on the kiddo’s head. We also ended up cutting an eye slot above the glowing eyes and putting a black mesh on the inside of it to keep his face obscured.

We had a great time making this project and it was a great way to get a kiddo involved and learning about circuits! What projects have you made with LilyPad? Let us know in the comments!

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