Blog - Sketching with Hardware

Team 1 – Solar Lamp System

Published on: | Author: Philip Hanke | Categories: 2015b, Best Projects, Projects

solar lamp system_logo

Finding a suitable “old thing” to work on:

To find an interisting “old thing” to work with we chose an object-centered approach and started to think about antique objects that changed over the years but are still irreplaceable in today’s modern and connected life.

One of the first objects that came into our minds as we heard the topic “Internet of old things” was a lamp which your grandma could have owned back in the days – something like the lamp we drew into our sketchbook:


It soon became clear for us that we wanted to keep the key functionality of the lamp and use the lighting aspect to display a dataset.

Brain(sun)storming is key to light up your mind:

As lighting played a key role in our idea we decided to combine our lamp with data from the biggest light source we could think of – the SUN! This is how the basic idea for the Solar Lamp System (SLS) was born.

If you ever wondered what is going on somewhat 90,000,000 miles above your head, the SLS is THE thing to light up your mind. The SLS automatically downloads information about sun activity during the last week and displays it daywise – and there is a hell of sun activity in a week, believe me!

Our initial idea consisted of one lamp representing the sun, but we soon adapted our idea and came to the conclusion that we wanted to depict our solar system with its planets. Although this added more work to our already cramped todo-list we love our planets. (And pluto – he didn’t quite make it though…)


Old but gold? First steps of SLS!

As we wanted to have more than one “planet-lamp” we decided to make our own DIY-inspired-by-the-last-century¬† lamps – and the crochet skills in our team came in handy! The following pictures show how our lamps evolved, first comes the lamp shade, then some wire is added to make the perfect planetary lamp.




You have to admit that they do look old! Old but gold!

Parallel to producing adorable lamp shades we looked for a suitable API and consultated the NASA homepage, where you can find a bunch of interesting APIs for all kinds of data. An ESP8266 Wifi-controller was connected to the Arduino and set up to perform simple HTTP GET requests.


Parsing XML on an Arduino? Well…NO. Just NO!

We picked the Heliophysics Events Knowledgebase API (HEK) which provides a XML or JSON – whatever you prefer. The data provided by the API looked promising, so we started to work with it – but our Arduino Mega didn’t really like parsing XML. There are things that run perfectly smooth on an Arduino – processing pretty large text files is not one of them.

Seems like we simply overestimated the capabilities of our little 16Mhz and 8KB SRAM workhorse…

To solve this little problem we decided to place a PHP-file on a server, do some preparsing there and only pass on relevant data to our Arduino – which turned out to run really smooth.


Light ’em up!

The next task for us was starting to use LEDs in order to bring our solar system to light – we decided to use WS2812 RGB-LED strip for our purpose – which worked perfectly with the Adafruit NeoPixel library. In addition to that we built our own LED-strip and added it to the same data source to get a nice lighting effect.

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As everything worked fine on the evening before the final presentation we went home happy – just to see some random LEDs started popping in our final stages of testing…

Good news to start a day with about two hours until the final presentation was going to start, don’t you think? After some debugging on our circuit we added a capacitor before the LED strip which did the job – if you’re thinking about using a LED strip in your own project: ALWAYS add one. Lesson learned!

Let the (light-)show begin:

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The color of the LEDs represent the quantity of sun events whereas the frequency of the flashing represents the intensity.

If you’re thinking about adding the course “Sketching with Hardware” to your class schedule: Do it! The experience was awesome and we learned a lot about electronics, soldering and programming with limited hardware resources – just think about 16Mhz and 8KB SRAM!

linked categories 2015b, Best Projects, Projects


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