DIY

Experimenting with EL wire: A Stickfigure Costume

Experimenting with EL wire: A Stickfigure Costume

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Like most people on the internet, I saw this video leading up to this year’s Halloween. Unlike most people, I thought “I need to make one of those, but adult male sized!” A quick bit of research led me to realize that normal LED light strips as used in the video are a little impractical for a suit my size. They cost more than 4x as much per unit length compared to High brightness EL Wire and they appear to consume far more power as well. Not wanting to carry piles of spare batteries around when I go out for Halloween, I decided to use EL wire and settle for the few tradeoffs it has. The most major tradeoff is that EL wire doesn’t hold up as well to repeated flex in the joints or tight bends. I may regret the choice to use EL wire if it fails on the dance floor, but for now it seems like the smarter choice.

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The Parts:

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The Basic Design:

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The suit consists of five separate strands of EL wire of varying lengths all connected to the inverter and power source. The hood of the suit is held into a circular shape using an aluminium ring that was salvaged from an old tomato cage. The inverter and battery pack is crammed into a small reusable container that has been cut up and modified to house the components.

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Preparing the Electronics:

The strands of EL wire that I purchased both come with jumpers preinstalled, but since I needed five separate strands it was necessary to cut off the extra strands from the ends and manually solder new connections to them. There were three of these new strands to be soldered using the male in-line connectors. A few images of my soldering efforts are included, but the adafruit guide to soldering EL wire is far superior to anything I could reproduce here.

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After cutting the EL wire to size and soldering on the jumpers it was time to prepare some of the other wiring essentials, like a Y shaped extension cable for the arms. This was done by simply cutting the female end of the in-line extension cord off, and then resoldering it with a the second female connector attached. The junction was then sealed up tight with a little heat shrink tubing that I slid on before I soldered everything.

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And finally, as far as the electronics are concerned, all that needs to be done is assemble the power supply and inverter box. The box, contrary to my measurements, unfortunately didn’t quite fit the battery pack and inverter. To fix this I decided to modify the box with a little lighter and X-acto knife surgery.  After that, it was necessary to drill a hole for the toggle switch I planned to install. Technically I drilled the hole in the wrong place originally, and had to drill a second one. It’s not a mistake, just ventilation!

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After getting the box ready to house the electronics, it was time to get soldering again. The connections are all really simple, I just soldered the two black leads together and then protected the joint with some more heat shrink tubing. After that the red leads were connected to the two terminals of the toggle switch I harvested from something too long ago to remember what it was. Once again, the connections were wrapped up tight with heat shrink tubing and then for good measure I placed a small bead of hot glue between them.

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With the soldering done, I just had to fit it all into my box. This was really just as simple as screwing the nut onto the threaded bit of the toggle switch after sticking it through the hole that I had drilled, then squeezing the battery pack and inverter into there. Everything fits so snug that I didn’t need to do any fastening of the components to the inside of the box. Lucky me.

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Attaching it to the Clothes:

Okay so the electronics are done, and everything glows nicely. Now we jut need to sew it to the clothing. But before that, I decided I wanted a nice round stick person head. To achieve this I went and pulled a nice firm aluminium  ring from an old tomato cage then stuck it through the drawstring part of the hood.

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To sew the EL wire on I used transparent thread, but that’s really just a fancy marketing gimmick used to sell 6 lb fishing line to the sewing demographic. I used a very simple rib stitch that wrapped around the EL wire then through the fabric over and over again. After this was done I decided to ensure the EL wire stayed put by further tacking it on using a few blobs of strategically placed hot glue. It’s okay, no one will notice in the dark.

I then started to sew on one of the arms, but due to my generally incompetent sewing skills, it failed to hold the EL wire in place after repeated movement. A little fed up, I resorted to the hot glue gun again. By putting little beads in places where the EL wire wasn’t moving too much and leaving high movement areas like the joints free I managed to get a solution that holds the EL wire onto the clothing well while still maintaining a good degree of freedom of movement. I repeated this process for the other arm and both legs, with the added benefit that it is much faster than sewing.

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All that remained to be done at this point is to hook up the EL wire to the power box. This is where the 1 to 4 splitter comes in handy to connect to the torso/head, two legs, and the Y extension to the arms. All of this wiring is hidden inside the hoodie and threaded through a hole on the inside of the front pouch pocket where I’ve hidden the power box.  That’s really all there is to it, and the costume is ready to go for Halloween.

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Posted by Everett in Electronics, 0 comments
Beaglebone: Making a Case

Beaglebone: Making a Case

I recently purchased a BeagleBone with the intent of using it to make a home server and media box that could run constantly without costing a small fortune when the power bill arrived. I originally intended to make this project using a raspberry pi, though they’re having serious issues satisfying the demand, and I have other projects a raspberry pi can be put to use on that would make better use of its video capabilities.

The first thing I wanted to tackle when my BeagleBone arrived was creating some sort of enclosure. For those who’d rather shop than build, there are options available, though I’ve always been a more DIY kind of person. In regards to DIY BeagleBone cases, there are obvious solutions like an Altoids tin which the board fits into perfectly. This is not necessarily as simple as it seems though, since the Altoids tin can conduct electricity and could cause a short circuit if one isn’t careful. I considered this, and decided to pursue a different approach inspired by these computers. This had the added benefit of reusing the shipping box my BeagleBone arrived in, and effectively eliminates the risk of a short occurring. In summary; it is simply several layers of corrugated cardboard glued together with plain white glue, a set of self adhesive rubber feet, and some 1/2 inch 4-40 screws, nuts and nylon standoffs. At each step I also traced a rough template for that layer (seen below) which may be of use to anyone who wishes to replicate this project.

The Basic Template

Rough guide for layers 1 – 4

Rough guide for layers 5 – 7

The beginning of my template

I started by cutting the shipping box into several pieces for each of the layers in the case. I used the outline of an Altoids tin as the basis of my template since I knew the BeagleBone would fit snugly within that. This outline was scanned into my computer and modified it to create a general template with an inner area large enough for the BeagleBone.

For the base we need two layers; the bottom piece with large holes cut which will accommodate the tips of the screws and the nuts, and the upper piece which has holes just large enough for the screws and a notch for the USB client. I did not realize this notch was necessary until after I had already glued these two pieces together, and had to cut it in with an Xacto knife after the fact.

The two bottom most layers of the case, along with a couple template stencils.

To make the upper layer, I used my base template to trace both the outlines onto the cardboard, but did not cut out the inner area. Instead I centred the BeagleBone in the centre with the screws and nylon standoffs attached and firmly pressed down on the screws until they made light indentations on the cardboard. Using a nail with the same approximate diameter as the screws I then punched holes into the cardboard at these points so that the computer could be firmly attached when the case was finished.

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Letting the glue set

Next, it was necessary to glue these two pieces together, which was accomplished with a judicious amount of white glue (the kind you’ve probably used in elementary school). Once the glue became tacky, I wrapped a few elastic bands around them to keep them firmly pressed together and left them to dry for about half an hour.

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Cutting out the next set of layers

While the glue set, I went to work cutting out several pieces for the remaining layers, which were all derived from the base template with the inner area also removed. To remove the centres, I simply used the Xacto knife again with extra care around the rounded corners. I then cut out portions of these to make layers 3 and 4. Only one copy of the 3rd layer was necessary, while layer 4 needed to be repeated several times (the number of times will depend on the thickness of the cardboard used).

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Building up the walls of the case

Like the two base layers, each of these remaining layers was glued to the base one at a time and the glue was allowed to set before the next layer was added. A set of plastic clamps were used because these layers have significant portions cut out it is not possible to use the elastic bands to hold them in place. This process should be repeated until the walls of the case come high enough to clear the Ethernet port on the BeagleBone.

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The case with the fifth layer added

After all this had been accomplished it was necessary to add a copy of the fifth layer to the top, which was simply one of the pieces I cut out earlier without any modifications. In my haste I neglected to double check that the walls of my case were high enough, and the fifth layer did not quite clear the Ethernet jack. I fixed this by cutting out the portion of layer 5 that stretched across the open area for these ports. This modification of the case can be seen in the image at the top of this post. It was also necessary to create a lid for the case, which was made by gluing together one copy of layer 6 and one of layer 7. I also had to cut a notch out of layer 6 to accommodate the Ethernet jack. If the correct number of copies of layer 4 are added, these modifications should be unnecessary.

Some basic hardware holds the board firmly in place.

After finishing the case the last step was to firmly attach the BeagleBone to it using the nuts and washers. The nuts should be gently hand tightened so that they will not come undone while at the same time not crushing or damaging the cardboard where they connect. At this time I also added the rubber feet to the bottom of the case so that it would lift the cardboard off the surface and prevent it from sliding around.

Below are several images of the finished case, including a little bit of decoration I added to the lid a couple days later. I made it using a stencil based on this image, which I simply shaded in using a green felt marker. At the end of it all The case is not the most beautiful or elegant way to house a BeagleBone, though the fun I had designing and making it myself all while recycling the packing material makes up for that in strides. I also enjoy the texture the corrugated cardboard gives to the case, which is best seen in the profile view below. Lastly, the ease with which it can be decorated and customized to your liking is definitely another nice touch. All things considered, I am extremely pleased with how this project turned out.

A side profile of the case

With the lid on

The case and board in action

Decorative elements can be added too

Posted by Everett in BeagleBone, Electronics, 1 comment