Add a Little Life to Light

I enjoy including light into just about any project I create. There’s something innately beautiful about the presence of light, possibly because without it we have no color. More specifically, I’m referring to the subtle use of light, whether that is something found in a photograph, a painting, or another work of art. And, I believe this use of light applies equally well to projects one might do in robotics, electronics, and making.

LEDs (light emitting diodes) are fascinating to me. They are reasonably inexpensive for maker projects, come in a variety of colors (even multi-color, or RGB) and sizes, and can be programmed for brightness, on/off frequency and sequencing together. However, in their raw state they are just pinpoints of light, and when viewed head-on can be extremely, almost painfully, bright.

For these reasons, I set about to create a few objects that can diffuse this light while at the same time serve a purpose in a project. They could become a pair of eyes, flowers in a pot, diamonds in a treasure chest.

While LEDs come in a few different sizes, generally 3mm, 5mm, and 10mm, I have designed my “LED caps” to work with 5mm as they are the most common.

Starting simple in Tinkercad, I first created the shape that would become the hole for inserting the LED. Using a cylinder, I made the dimensions 10mm tall with a diameter of 5.25mm. The extra .25mm ensures that the LED will slide inside comfortably. I also added a small rim at the bottom, 1mm x 6.25mm, to accommodate the same shape on an LED.

Screen Shot 2018-04-01 at 9.08.36 AM
Hole shape for LED, 10mm x 5.25mm with a small rim at the bottom

With the hole shape ready, I began to build around it. The first few designs came directly from the Basic Shape library, like cylinders, half spheres, and diamonds.

Screen Shot 2018-04-01 at 9.13.14 AM
Basic shapes set to transparent so that the LED hole shape is visible within.

Gradually, I worked up to more complex pieces to create eyes and flowers. To learn about creating complex shapes, visit my free Tinkercad tutorial series.

Screen Shot 2018-04-01 at 9.18.00 AM
Complex objects are created by combining basic shapes, as well as subtracting shapes from each other.

With Tinkercad’s recently added Part Collection feature, I can add these new shapes to my personal library for later use, and for sharing out. Even merely sharing the LED hole shape to my students allows them to design new parts for their use. If you would like to download the .STL files to print for yourself, I’ve posted them on Thingiverse.

I am ready to apply these LED caps in future projects. They will lend themselves well to work with the Hummingbird Robotics platform, where I can control up to four single color and two multi-color LEDs on a single board, get them to react to sensors and work in combination with servo and hobby motors. Hmmm, what can I design to work with the servo and hobby motors?…

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