In making our LED disco ball for the new year, it will be necessary to transition from the flat planes of Adalight and Adavision into the three-dimensional world. This has been a humbling experience in the KISS principle: “keep it simple, stupid!” The first tries did not end well…
Our initial attempts involved taking existing 3D forms (globes, salad bowls and lamp post diffusers, among other things) and drilling holes over the entire surface for mounting LED pixels. This is not an entirely rotten idea, but it falls short of one of our goals: we might like to offer kit packs in the future…or at the very least, readers should be able to follow along at home! Asking would-be customers to drill a precise geodesic pattern of holes into anything wouldn’t be a great PR move. (By way of comparison: you might be familiar with the Hoberman Sphere toy…but few recall the earliest version to land in stores: a bag of eleventy bajillion nearly identical plastic parts, to be assembled by the customer…or, just as likely, to be half assembled and either returned or flung in the trash in frustration. Later editions came pre-assembled, and the rest is history.)
Disco ball FAIL!
Two additional factors pushed us toward an alternate approach:
A kit should be easy to package and efficient to ship.
Laser-cut acrylic is the bee’s knees for holding LED pixels!
Our next approach then was polyhedral in nature, inspired by the geodesic domes popularized by Bucky Fuller. The shape would take care of itself…but, applying the Hoberman lesson, what we needed to figure out was a relatively painless way of fastening all the parts together. Something durable, but neither time-consuming nor requiring great precision. Quite a few existing approaches were looked at…
Some require adhesives (and time, and patience), others call for hardware (and dainty fingers), while still others need nothing more than their own friction, but have no “give” to make assembly easier. In the end, we went our own way, arriving at a solution that met all our criteria for strength and simplicity:
Cable ties! Dozens upon dozens — a veritable plethora — of cable ties! Cheap and plentiful from the local hardware store. If you can live with the “orange pomander ball” aesthetics of the finished shape, this works remarkably well…our polyhedra started out entirely flexible as they’re first put together, then gradually firm up as all the ties are cinched down, finally resulting in a sturdy, solid shape (the ties are then trimmed flush). Not super-precise where the edges meet, but ample for our needs. And they’re just fun to build! (Math teachers and tabletop gamers take note.) So we’re going to run with this as the plan…stay tuned…
Adafruit publishes a wide range of writing and video content, including interviews and reporting on the maker market and the wider technology world. Our standards page is intended as a guide to best practices that Adafruit uses, as well as an outline of the ethical standards Adafruit aspires to. While Adafruit is not an independent journalistic institution, Adafruit strives to be a fair, informative, and positive voice within the community – check it out here: adafruit.com/editorialstandards
Stop breadboarding and soldering – start making immediately! Adafruit’s Circuit Playground is jam-packed with LEDs, sensors, buttons, alligator clip pads and more. Build projects with Circuit Playground in a few minutes with the drag-and-drop MakeCode programming site, learn computer science using the CS Discoveries class on code.org, jump into CircuitPython to learn Python and hardware together, TinyGO, or even use the Arduino IDE. Circuit Playground Express is the newest and best Circuit Playground board, with support for CircuitPython, MakeCode, and Arduino. It has a powerful processor, 10 NeoPixels, mini speaker, InfraRed receive and transmit, two buttons, a switch, 14 alligator clip pads, and lots of sensors: capacitive touch, IR proximity, temperature, light, motion and sound. A whole wide world of electronics and coding is waiting for you, and it fits in the palm of your hand.
Have an amazing project to share? The Electronics Show and Tell is every Wednesday at 7pm ET! To join, head over to YouTube and check out the show’s live chat – we’ll post the link there.