Ditch the Batteries with this Crank Operated Flashlight

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You need a flashlight. So, you tear the entire house apart until you finally find one. You go to flip the switch and no light comes on. Checking the battery compartment, you remember that you had to repurpose the batteries for your TV remote. Next, you tear the house apart a second time looking for a couple of batteries.

No longer do you need to go through this destructive process. Thanks to Instructables user Brunoip, you can build your own crank-operated flashlight without batteries. It may not look pretty, but it gets the job done.

You’ll need a handful of spare parts for this project. This includes a small stepper motor for creating energy and a large pile of capacitors. Other materials include cardboard, a small piece of plastic, LED lights, and spray paint.

The capacitors were pulled from a couple of old PC motherboards. In total, Brunoip used 40 capacitors. They were placed in four rows of 10 capacitors each and then soldered together.

Solder the capacitors together

brunoip | Instructables

After connecting the capacitors together, you’ll create a box out of cardboard. Draw the box out on the cardboard, trim the excess parts, and then fold along the lines. If you decide to check out the full project, you’ll find a downloadable PDF template for creating the box.

Flashlight housing made of cardboard

brunoip | Instructables

Once the cardboard is cut, folded, and taped, it’s spray painted. Brunoip painted his black. Obviously, you could choose another color. The spray paint helps to seal the box, preventing moisture from getting in and making the flashlight look a little more presentable.

Paint the cardboard housing

brunoip | Instructables

Next, it’s time to prepare the motor connector. The four diodes are soldered to the contacts of the individual coils of the motor. A small piece of wire connects the four coils.

Soldier diodes to motor

brunoip | Instructables

At this point, you can start putting everything together. The output of the four diodes on the motor connector is soldered to the positives on the capacitors. The wire from the motor connector gets connected to the negative. The entire contraption is placed inside the box.

Complete wiring assembly slides into the cardboard housing

brunoip | Instructables

A plastic holder is cut out to hold the LED lights. This piece of plastic should fit the front of the cardboard box. Two holes are placed for the LED holders. Resistors are soldered to the positive terminals on the LEDs.

LED lights mounted to a thin piece of plastic

brunoip | Instructables

A zip tie is used to attach the motor to the cardboard box. The motor is then connected to the capacitors. You’re almost done with the project at this point.

Secure the motor using a zip tie

brunoip | Instructables

The last step is to create the crank handle. A small piece of plastic with spacers seems to do the trick. The handle is connected directly to the motor using paste.

Creating the handle and attaching it to the motor

brunoip | Instructables

Assuming everything got soldered correctly, you now have a hand-crank LED flashlight. The perfect tool to take camping or hiking. Or, keep it around in your garage for a spare light.

Good luck on your project. Have fun building your own flashlight. If you’d like to take a look at the detailed instructions, then visit Instructables and read the entire step by step guide for building a crank-operated flashlight from Brunoip.

Your Dog Can Now Let Himself Out with this Bark-Activated Doggy Door

By | Pets, Technology | No Comments

They say puppy love is unconditional. But there are certainly times when it gets put to the test, like when you get awakened every night at 3 am from a dog that needs to go out. As a new owner of a yapping dog, a very sleep-deprived David Hunt created Pi-Rex, a bark-activated door opening project using Raspberry Pi. Although he admits this project isn’t the most secure or a substitute for training your dog, he saw it as an opportunity to experiment with the application to solve a specific dilemma.

Raspberry Pi is a miniature computer. The size of a credit card, the Pi can be used for a wide range of purposes. It features inputs for a keyboard or mouse, along with outputs to connect the device to a monitor or screen.

For this project, the Pi is being used to control several components – the bark detector, a motor driver, and a pulley system.

Bark detector setup

David Hunt

The bark detector is wired to the input of the Raspberry Pi to detect when your dog barks. The motor driver circuit unlocks the door and the pulley system opens the door.

Pulley system that opens the door.

David Hunt

David started this project by purchasing a DIY audio detection kit. A basic audio detection circuit should suffice. It just needs to be able to pick up the noise and then signal to the GPIO on the Raspberry Pi. Instead of adding a buffer circuit between the audio detector and the GPIO, David simply connected the audio detector directly to the GPIO.

David mentioned that this project could be improved by finding a way to sample audio using the Raspberry Pi in order to compare known barks. For now, the device will simply open when it detects a high enough sound decibel.

Next, you’ll need an actuator to unlock the door. David used a 12V central door lock actuator that only cost a few dollars. This is connected to a makeshift locking system.

Door actuator mechanism

David Hunt

The locking system includes an angle bracket and several pieces of metal fused together with the actuator. You’ll need to examine David’s example closely to get a good idea of how to build your own locking system.

The actuator needs to cover two positions – locked and unlocked. When fully extended the locking system will catch the door bolt. When activated, the locking system will allow the door to swing open.

Door opening system

David Hunt

Once you have all the components, you can finally put the entire project together. David mounted all the boards and the Raspberry Pi to a clear acrylic board.

Electronic components mounted to an acrylic board.

David Hunt

The Raspberry Pi was placed in the center with the audio detector on one side and the motor driver on the other. For wiring, David used Dupont connectors with 2.54mm pitch.

You’ll need to connect the motor driver to the pulley system. The pulley system needs to be able to allow the door to swing open and pull it closed. Before the pulley system can return to the latched position, the door must be closed.

For the code that you will read in the GPIO, you’ll need to follow the specific code provided on David’s post – unless you have programming experience.

Now, Fido can let himself in or out with a bark-activated door opening system using Raspberry Pi. This is just one example of what you can do with the Raspberry Pi. This minicomputer has been used to make handheld arcades, cameras, and dozens of other items. In fact, David has a few other DIY projects on his site that require the use of the Raspberry Pi.

If you want to learn the details of this DIY project, check out the full article from David Hunt on how to make a bark activated door system with Raspberry Pi.

Build Your Own Life-size BB-8 Droid For Just $120 in Parts

By | Geek, Play, Technology, Workshop | No Comments

We all seek different things in our friends – companionship, encouragement …or a “bleep-blop” talking robot and intergalactic partner in the fight against the Dark Side of the Force. To have the kind of relationship that Luke Skywalker had with R2-D2 was my ultimate bestie goal so when I saw the first videos for “The Force Awakens” featuring a new droid whose body rolled effortlessly across any terrain while its head remained upright, I was immediately asking “what sorcery is this?”

Like many other curious tech enthusiasts, I found myself on the waiting list for one of Sphero’s BB-8 toys. But 17-year-old engineering hobbyist, Angelo Casimiro, just couldn’t wait. These toys were even harder to come by in the Philippines and cost over $200! Instead, he decided to build one for his toy-collector father as a Christmas present. What Angelo quickly learned was that the greatest gift his father received was the time they spent building together the week of Christmas.

What I like about Angelo’s method is that he doesn’t use fancy 3D printers, CNCs or milling machines you typically see for these types of projects. With a few tools, a little bit of Arduino circuitry, a free remote control phone app and creative use of household items, this father-son duo brought their favorite droid to life!

Build the body with a beach ball and paper mache.

Photo: ASCAS | Instructables

For the body, Angelo took a low-tech approach using a fully-inflated beach ball as a mold that he then fortified with newspaper strips and paper mache – sort of like making a pinata. Once dry, he smoothed out the surface with wood putty and a bit of sanding.

The head is made from a styrofoam ball cut in half.

Photo: ASCAS | Instructables

The head is a big styrofoam ball cut in half, hollowed out and also smoothed over with wood putty and sand paper. A Christmas ball ornament, cut in half and painted black from the inside made up the large glossy eye piece.

Painted BB-8 head with eye.

Photo: ASCAS | Instructables

Using photos and videos online as a reference, Angelo’s dad transferred the robot’s designs to their creation using a compass for curves and tailer’s measuring tape for straight lines. After a few coats of orange, black and gray paint, the body and head looked like the real thing!

BB-8 Arduino circuitry

Photo: ASCAS | Instructables

As for the “brains” of the droid, an Arduino Uno micro-controller board communicates with other boards that control a set of wheels inside the body allowing the BB-8 droid to move around with the same agility as in the movie. Arduino Uno receives its commands via Bluetooth from a free phone app designed for remote-control cars to steer the droid around. The head remains upright and rolls effortlessly over the body through a set of speaker magnets holding the two pieces together.

Head mechanism for BB-8

Photo: ASCAS | Instructables

To make it easy to replicate his project, Angelo includes all the artwork templates, Arduino code, droid sound bytes as mp3s, and wiring schematics as downloads in his step-by-step tutorial.

No more excuses, it’s time to fulfill my childhood friendship goals!

Check out Angelo’s DIY Life-Size Phone Controlled BB-8 Droid on Instructables for all the details to build your own.

Make a Battery-powered Jar Lantern for Emergencies

Stylish Modern Jar Lantern Provides Ambient Lighting at the Flick of a Switch

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What started out as an art project for randofo on Instructables after being inspired by the rays of sunlight refracting through a glass water bottle, turned into a quest to capture the magical wonder he felt holding a jar of light in a way only a gearhead knows how. Here’s his contemporary take on the traditional gas lantern.

What You’ll Need

  • Glass jar with twist top (big enough to fit an average CFL bulb)
  • CFL bulb
  • Disposable camera
  • AA battery holder
  • Switch
  • Roll of magnet wire

Prepping the Circuit Board

Use a screwdriver to pop open the disposable camera case and access the circuit board inside. Be careful not to touch the capacitor cylinder – it’s charged and can potentially give you a nice jolt.

Jar Lantern - Disassemble Disposable Camera

randofo | Instructables

Once you pull out the circuit board, cut off the capacitor and flash tube. Discharge the capacitor by bridging the leads with a long screwdriver that you don’t mind scarring – and obviously, don’t touch the metal part of the screwdriver while doing this. Alternatively, you can use a resistor and touch the leads to form a closed circuit.

Depending on the size of your jar lid, cut away any parts that stick out from the board like battery terminals and extra wiring and trim off excess plastic where there’s no circuitry.

Jar Lantern - Solder Wires to Circuit Board

randofo | Instructables

Fire up your soldering gun because this is where the magic happens. Pop off the push tab on top of the flash charge switch and solder the switch’s terminals together. Cut 2 pieces magnet wire 3″ each and strip off 1/2″ of insulation from each end. Solder one wire to a ground terminal and the other to the terminal of the inverting transformer that the diode is connected to.

Mounting the Switch

Splice in the switch to the red wire of the battery holder. Drill a small hole in the jar lid and push the switch through it from the underside of the lid and lock it in place with the mounting nut.

Jar Lantern - Circuit Board Assembly

randofo | Instructables

Solder the red wire from the switch to where the positive terminal of the battery was connected on the circuit board. Solder the black wire to ground. Hot glue the entire assembly as flush as possible to the inside of the lid. While you want to use a generous amount of glue, be careful not to get it on the threads of the lid or it won’t twist shut properly.

Prepping the CFL Bulb

Use a pair of cutting pliers to punch a small hole in the plastic body where you could stick a screwdriver to pry the base from the glass tube.

Jar Lantern - Prep the CFL Bulb

randofo | Instructables

Unwind the CFL tube’s wires from the posts on the circuit board until the glass portion is free. Scrape the coating off the wires coming out of the CFL bulb with a razor blade, twist the wires together and solder.

Completing the Jar Lantern

Solder the magnet wires coming out of the circuit board to the free leads coming out of the of CFL bulb. Insert a AA battery into the holder inside the lid and test your light. If you soldered everything correctly it should light up when you flip the switch. Twist the lid onto the jar and enjoy the warm light shining through the glass.

Jar Lantern - Complete Assembly

randofo | Instructables

Expect to get 2-6 hours of light depending on the battery and camera circuit board!

For more step-by-step photos and wiring details check out randofo’s Jar Lantern project on Instructables.

Brighten Dark Spaces with this Car-themed Animated Night Light

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When Marko’s young car-loving nephews asked for a night light in their room, he decided to tap into his inner gearhead to come up with something they would truly enjoy. He found this cool image from the popular Need For Speed video game that he could light up but wanted to take it a step further to really wow the boys. The end result was a “living” scene with animated headlights and sidewall arrows.

He accomplished this by printing 2 versions of the image, one in full-color and a black and white (grayscale) version, both the exact same size. He then cut out the portions he wanted to light up in the grayscale version of the image and laminated both sheets together, the uncut colored image on top of the grayscale one with cutouts making sure they lined up.

Cutting Out Portions of the Image to Animate

Marko238 | Instructables

The case to house all the wires was made at a local woodworking shop but you can make your own or purchase a pre-made box at a craft store. Another option is to buy a shadow box picture frame which are made to display items so they are deep enough to house wires.

A QT140 sensor gives the night light the ability to turn on and off with the touch of your finger and the animation is controlled by a ATtiny2313. Although he admits the wiring could look nicer, he hasn’t had any trouble with the light yet.

Wiring for Animated Car-themed Night Light

Marko238 | Instructables

If you’re interested in creating your own, check out Marko238’s tutorial on Instructables.

Additional Tips for Finding Images

The best place to start your search are desktop wallpaper sites. Those images come in large sizes so you get a better resolution (sharpness) when it’s printed out. If you have a scanner, you can also look through some of your favorite magazines and scan the images you like. Magazines have print on both sides of the sheet and when you shine a light through it you’ll be able to see both sides so you can’t just cut them out and use them as is.

If you want to go big and create an animated piece of wall art, you’ll have to buy a poster and then use a copy center like Staples or Office Max to make a grayscale copy of the same size. You can’t just blow up an image you find on the internet because those images are always low-res and will look all pixelated when you try to stretch it out beyond its original size.

Do you own some killer rides? Why not light them up? Take some photos of your car against some nice backgrounds, put them on a disc or thumb drive and take them to a copy center to print them out any size you want.

Photo credit: Marko238 | Instructables

Make Your Own Halo or Angel Eyes on a Budget

By | Automotive, Technology | No Comments

All the hottest custom cars are flaunting these edgy yet alluring angel eyes and they continue to take the industry by storm. Whether you’re strapped for cash or can’t find a pair to fit your specific application, this video is an informative guide for making your own. Below are a few additional pointers for getting the best results and to clarify some of the steps.

1. Tips on Turning Rods into Rings

You should be able to find clear plastic or plexi rods at your local hardware store. I know I’ve seen them in the window blinds section as the rods used to open or close your blinds when you turn them. Some are smooth all the way around while others are hexagonal. Either one will work fine.

You’ll have to calculate the circumference of the housing that your ring will cover so you know what length to cut your rod. To do this, measure the diameter of your housing and then use this formula to get the circumference:

Circumference = 2 x 3.14 x radius

So if your diameter was 4″ (which equals a radius of 2″) then your circumference will be about 12.5″.

It’s a good idea to cut the rod a bit longer so you have “handles” to work with. Perhaps the most most difficult part of the process is to find a mold to use that’s as close as possible to your measurements – jar lids, circular cd cases, liquor bottles, pencil holders or different diameter pipes may do.

After pulling the rod from the oven you’ll notice that it starts hardening pretty quickly so it may take a few back-and-forth sessions in the oven to get the shape exactly right.

2. Tips on Making the Refractive Cuts

Normally, light travels in a straight line so if you didn’t make the cuts as shown in the video then the light from your LED would simply travel through the rod and out the other end like a fiber optic cable. In order to achieve the angel eye effect, the light has to escape the ring through the various grooves you cut.

If you want your ring to look like a circle of defined LEDs then make your cuts about 2-3 mm apart. If you prefer a continuous light ring like what you see with a CCFL then make your cuts even closer together.

Only make cuts on the backside of your rod or on one of the flat edges if your rod is hexagonal. If you start cutting additional edges then you’ll let too much light escape before making it all the way around your ring.

To get the cuts looking perfect, make them when the rod is still straight before going into the oven.

3. Tips on Wiring your LEDs

LEDs are the perfect choice for this (over halogens) because they last long and don’t get very hot which could deform the shape of your acrylic ring. They also come in a variety of colors including red, blue, orange, yellow, green and some can blink through a variety of colors.

Also, unlike halogen bulbs you have to use a resistor because LED bulbs only need a small amount of current to light up. In order to calculate the ohms you need, use the voltage and amp information of your LED along with this formula:

Ohms = ( Battery Voltage – LED Voltage ) / LED Amps

Attach the resistor to the positive terminal of the LED bulb. Alternatively, you can first connect a wire to the positive terminal and then solder your resistor further down the line so it doesn’t have to sit in your housing. The advantage of having access to your resistor is that you can switch it out for a lower resistance if you want to have a brighter ring later on.

4. Tips on Securing the LED Bulbs Inside your Rings

Once inserted into the ring, your LED bulbs will be visible. The best way to hide them along with any portion of the ring you don’t want to use is to first wrap those portions with aluminum foil (to reflect light back into your ring) and then use electrical tape to secure the bulbs and hide the foil. Using electrical tape alone will make your rings appear dimmer.

Heat shrink tubing also gives you a more professional look.

If you’ve made your own and have feedback or have any ideas for improvements, post them below!