All posts by BillBall

Developing the tinkerlight: lamp module

I am developing a project for people with 3D printers who are looking for a functional design they can use around the house. The project is a LED lamp module that uses power from a USB cable. The module and a switched cable will be available on eBay at low cost with mounting screws and a lens. That will be accompanied by a series of free designs for different type of lamps posted to Thingiverse for people to download and print out to go along with the lamp module.

The process of designing an prototyping the lamp module will be the focus of this post.

In developing the lamp module there were at least 11 goals, which is a lot for a simple little light:

  1. Small size–a smaller module would mean smaller and thus faster prints for the end user.
  2. Low cost–I wanted to make this as accessible as possible, not to mention appealing for purchase.
  3. Minimal part count–fewer parts keeps cost down.
  4. Design for manufacturing–although I will be hand assembling these, I want to use manufacturable components such as surface mount electronics.
  5. High light output–the brighter the light, the more useful it will be.
  6. Neutral light color–since this may used as decorative light that shines through a 3D printed part it was important to keep it a neutral color (around 4000k color temperature).
  7. Good light dispersion–a nice wide field for decorative use but an even narrow beam for reading or task lamp. An accessory lens provides this flexibility.
  8. Appropriate power consumption–I did not want to exceed the 500mA limit for computer sourced usb, although I will not be encouraging people to power this from a computer.
  9. Acceptable heat generation–a bright LED in a small package generates heat concentrated enough to melt a 3D print, which is obviously unacceptable.
  10. Flexibility for different applications–I wanted to keep the type of lamp the module would be useful in as open as possible.
  11. Ease of use–I wanted to come up with a lamp module that could be attached to a wide variety of 3D prints with minimal hassle.

It took a couple of months of tinkering with LED modules, heat sinks, resistor values, circuit board designs, usb jacks,  lenses, and even types of mounting screws to come up with a final design. The big bear was #9, heat generation. It took a combination of juggling all of the above plus the design of the 3D printed mounting ring to arrive at a lamp module that would not melt PLA.

A big pile of failue
A big pile of failure, necessary to develop a good design.


LEDs were evaluated for color quality and heat output.
LEDs were evaluated for color quality and heat output.


Tinkercad was a handy way of visualizing how all the parts would fit together prior laying out the circuit board.
Tinkercad was a handy way of quickly visualizing how all the parts would fit together prior laying out the circuit board.


tinkerlight board
The PCB was done in Frtizing with large copper pads all over just to help distribute the heat.


The final design is certainly not perfect but functions well enough that I ordered 50 PCBs and 50 sets of components to make up a batch for testing and test marketing.

On to the lamp designs for 3D printing…………….

Rapid Prototyping project lamp

I am starting to teach a 12 hour course on introduction to rapid prototyping at various maker spaces. The course is project-based, with each student designing a building a small, programmable accent lamp for their project. In order to provide an example for students to further develop, I have put together the lamp described on the RP Lamp 1 page. Brief build instructions, materials list and design files, and a few more details on the course are available for now. I have also uploaded a step-by-step tutorial on creating the example lamp base in Tinkercad on Youtube.

rpl_sidecone rpl_assembled

Walky Thing for Orlando Makerfaire

Here is another little toy for Orlando Makerfaire 2015. It’s more derivative that the things I usually make but still fun. The original is Theo Jansen’s Standbeest sculptures. The more immediate inspiration was a motorized toy one featured in Servo magazine awhile back.

This uses two continuous rotation servos to drive the legs, steered by two Sharp IR sensors and controlled by an Arduino pro mini.


Blinky Thing for Makerfaire

Orlando Makerfaire is a lot of fun. But with approximately 2000 people a day passing by your table, you just can’t interact with everyone. So I wanted to bring a couple toys this year that could pretty much run by themselves. The first is this part machine, part tree, part eyeball thing (described in greater detail on the one-offs page).

The closer you get the more frantic it gets. If you get all the way up to it at present it just gets calm again, but I am planning to add a surprise or two for makerfaire.


The Bean: a stand for phones and small tablets.

As an experiment in extending 3D printing technology out to more traditional production techniques, I developed a composite stone stand for phones and small tablets. The project page includes all the details, including materials, resource files, process, and my failed experiments. I have also included a 30+ minute video of the casting and finishing process.

A limited number of these stands are available on Etsy. Or you can print yourself one in plastic using the 3D file on the project page.

Acetone fumed ABS 3D printed buck, silicone mold in 3D holder, and final product in cold-cast composite stone.
Acetone fumed ABS 3D printed buck, silicone mold in 3D holder, and final product in cold-cast composite stone.

A big pile of boards. Want one?

As a first experience in creating a manufactured circuit board I decided to design a small prototyping board optimized for the type of project I typically undertake–one which uses an Arduino Nano along with a motor driver or other ICs and some components for sensors. I put together a page providing details of the board along with my first time experience in designing one and having it manufactured. The page also contains a link to the Fritzing project file for the board. I am putting 75 of these up for sale on Ebay. I will also bring some to Factur and the Orlando Makerfaire, so just ask me for one if you see me at one of those places.

In the meantime I have this neat box of boards sitting on my desk just asking to be put to work in projects……

A big pile of boards.
A big pile of boards.

Tutorial, tutorials

I have started  a page of links to maker skill tutorials published by others here. It is a highly curated list of tutorials that I feel are accessible to beginners, relevant to the kind of maker projects provided on this site, and from reliable sources. Moreover, the focus will be on basic processes and components of commonly used hardware rather than projects, complex systems, software, or specific brands. At the moment, it contains a good list for electronics. I will be adding other subjects over time.

A page of one-offs

The primary purpose of the robot50 site is to share full materials lists and build instructions for introductory to intermediate level projects that people can build. However I have built a number of one-off projects, mostly interactive toys for maker fairs, that I thought I would post in summary form. They have their own page and are presented for inspiration and with some cautionary notes on things that didn’t work out the way I planned.