Quick Saturday hack – the RGB LED push-button

The context

It’s been a long time since my last post and since it’s always difficult to get back at it I will start the year with an easy tutorial.

I’m working on a design in which we have incorporated a big illuminated green push-button, the kind that you see on arcade machines. It is the main UI element of our project. Unfortunately my local hardware store‘s choice in green illuminated push-buttons was limited to really big or really small ones (that it compared to what we had in mind).

They did however have the perfect model, but equipped with a white light. No problem, I thought to myself. I can just take out the LED and replace it with one of my choosing. Going through my LED bin I came across a NeoPixel PCB and realized that it was the exact same diameter as the LED holder of my push-button. An RGB-enabled button was not the original idea but after all, the effort would be the same and the option would be there to be used on the prototype if we needed to test different UI ideas.
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Know when to pee with the ATtiny! (badum tss)

This project was born from a very common problem: our office’s floor is equipped with one bathroom that can’t be seen from every desk. Ensues unnecessary back and forth when someone walks to the bathroom only to find it occupied.

The solution ? A simple bathroom monitoring system composed of two devices:

  • An emitter placed on the inside of the door of the bathroom to monitor. An infrared sensor is directed toward the lock’s knob. A piece of black tape is applied on the knob. The idea is the following: when the door is unlocked, the knob’s metallic surface is facing the sensor and reflecting a fair amount of IR light. When the door is locked, the taped part of the knob is now facing the sensor. Since the tape is black, the amount of IR light reflected decreases: we know that the door is locked. We use a radio emitter module to send the value read from the sensor to the receiver. A small Atmel microcontroller (the ATtiny85) acts as the brain of the system. The device runs on 4 AAA batteries and is put to sleep 5 seconds every time a reading is sent in order to save power.
  • The receiver is used to display the status of occupancy of the bathroom remotely. It is built around the same microcontroller as the emitter. A RF receiver picks up the readings from the emitter. Depending on the value received, we light up an RGB LED in green or red. This device runs on a wall wart since the LED is constantly turned on.

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Volumetric display and data visualization : 4 animations for the L3DCube

The L3DCube

The cube falls into the category of volumetric displays, meaning that it can be used to represent 3 dimensional shapes. It is composed of 8*8*8 512 RGB LEDs, namely the very popular WS2812 that you can find in Adafruit’s neopixel product line.

It is sold by a company called Looking glass factory. It is still a product at the kickstarter stage. You can read about the story of its development on this instructable.

They make an 8*8*8 and a 16*16*16 version. The small version will set you back 399$, not something that I can afford. I was able to play for a while with the one from WearHacks. The solution for you can be even more rewarding: build your own! You can start by having a look at these Instructables.
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Making-of a hardware product: the Cloister


A while ago I worked on a project that I called “The anti procrastination box“. The idea was to have a box inside which you could lock down your sources of distraction for a predefined amount of time (weather it be your favorite video game cd, your cellphone…).

Shortly after I had published a tutorial on the project, someone contacted me on reddit asking me if I’d be willing to create a product from the project. I immediately accepted as I had wished to enter the entrepreneurial world for a quite a long time.

9 month later and the project and the project is at a dead end. Why ? Reasons. Mainly because my partner and I both wanted to concentrate on what we liked. For me it was prototyping, for him web development. But nobody wanted to handle the requirement when undertaking such an endeavor, which are basic field and market research, robust strategy planning etc.

Since I don’t want all the work done to be lost for everyone, I’m releasing the plans and schematics involved in making the prototype along with a little narrative of the prototype process. Feel free to use any of this material.
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The hack-o-lantern project


I recently got involved with an organization called Wearhacks.

WearHacks is an international non-profit organization headquartered in Montreal, focused on the promotion of innovation and entrepreneurship in Wearable Technology and Internet of Things all over the world.

They asked me to make a fun and seasonal project intended to be used at the Los Angeles Hacktoberfest event in order to introduce high schoolers to the world of IoT.

The result is – behold – the Hack-o-lantern.

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Make an automated tea steeper- with Arduino

What we will be making

I recently got an opportunity to present my first workshop and thought that it could be interesting to share the result. It’s an introduction to Arduino for beginners during which we will be making a automated tea steeper. I chose this project because it provides a good way to introduce basics concepts of embedded programming, from lighting up an LED to dealing with an analog input, controlling a servo motor and keeping track of time, plus it was already very well documented (see the sources).
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Make a connected barometer shield for Arduino Uno – using an ESP8266


I’ve never really considered connecting my projects to WiFi since the price of the shields was so high. The HUZZAH from Adafruit will set you back $39.95. Sparkfun sells this shield for $84.95. Way to expensive.

So you might imagine my excitement when I first heard about the ESP8266 through hackaday. A WiFi module for less than $5, that sounded ideal. I started to read about it, checking out the projects that flourished around this newcomer. It seemed easy enough to use, and I was already imagining how I would start this article. Something like :

“Meet the great ESP8266, a low cost, plug&play device that will allow you to easily connect your projects to the web”.

But things did not go as planned…The first module I bought was defective, and it almost drove me nuts trying to figure out what was it that I was doing wrong. When I started to think about leaving electronics behind forever and starting a new life as a shepherd in South America, I decided that spending an additional five bucks for a new module just in case mine was broken from the start was not too much.

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Control your home appliances from the web – using a Raspberry pi


I recently moved in a new apartment in which the living room lights could be controlled with a remote. Having already played with IR signals in order to incorporate remote control to some of my projects I knew that I would probably be able to emulate the signals sent by the original remote and thus operate the lights of my living room from a web based application.

My first reflex was to think of using an Arduino with a wifi/ethernet shield. I could have used the ever usefull aRest library in order to build a REST api on the microcontroller. The web-app would have been hosted on a remote server and used as an graphical interface in order to make the right calls to the Arduino.

But this time I wanted to take a less low-level approach and it was a perfect opportunity to get my hands on a raspberry pi. With its computing and networking capabilities plus a direct control over the GPIO pins, the pi allows me to run the web-server and manage the IR signals from the same device. Furthermore I can use packages that will make my life so much easier, and use the full potential of the Pi to create a very complete hub for my domotics needs.
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How to turn an Arduino based proof of concept into a final prototype

Make an anti procrastination box – with Arduino

I had a spare segment display and wondered about what I could make out of it. Hence was born the idea of the anti-procrastination box : for those of us who are a little too close to their smartphones but need to stay away from it from productivity reasons, put the phone in the box and set the interval during which the box ought to stay locked.
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