HackSpace magazine

Review: Electromaker kits

By Ben Everard. Posted

Electromaker has four kits available to buy: an LED mood lamp, an LED disco helmet, a GPS tracker, and a wireless charging stand. We tested out the first two of these. They combine electronics, 3D printing, and Arduino programming to create projects that are both fun and useful. 

We tried the lamp project first as that was listed as being easy and completable in two hours. The kit comes with all the electronics you’ll need, but you need to supply the 3D printer filament yourself. The base and stand can be any colour, but the diffuser really should be white (or close to white) to allow the LEDs to shine through properly. The first job, then, is to print it all out. This takes quite a while – combined, there’s a total print time of about 24 hours, so this is a job to do ahead of time.

Fortunately, once that’s done, it all gets a bit quicker. The lighting is provided by Adafruit NeoPixels, and a strip of these is glued around the lamp upright. There are a few connectors and buttons to solder onto wires, but the soldering part of this is all very straightforward. Finally, all this is connected to an Arduino Nano via a breadboard.

The code is provided, but you’ll need to compile and upload it yourself. Finally, there’s a little assembly to do, and everything should be good to go.

We really like the look of the lamp. The low-poly stand looks great and catches the lights. At first, we were a little unsure about using a breadboard for the Arduino. It’s not the most secure attachment, and there is the potential for a wire to fall out. However, it is very flexible and gives you the opportunity to upgrade things easily as your skills improve. We can definitely imagine upgrading our lamp with an ESP32 or other WiFi-enabled controller and use it to display some data.

Once we had our lamp up and running, we moved on to the disco helmet. In many ways, this is a similar kit – there’s an Arduino Nano controlling some NeoPixels that are mounted on a 3D-printed body. Perhaps the biggest difference is that the 3D printing is a much bigger job: it took us around 60 hours. Note that if you follow the instructions, some prints take a long time (20+ hours), so you need to run your printer overnight. If yours is too noisy to do this, you’ll need to either print at a larger layer height (the above timings are for the suggested 0.15 layers) or print it in smaller sections and glue them together. Since the helmet is already printed in sections and glued together, this isn’t too much of a problem.

The soldering on this project is slightly more fiddly than on the lamp because you need to connect sections of LED strip together at 180-degree angles. This isn’t too hard, though complete beginners might struggle a little.

Following this, there’s a little modification to components as legs have to be trimmed to make everything fit in the small space, and a bit of hot glue to keep everything in place and you’ve got one of the coolest party pieces around.

What really makes these projects work for us is the clear, step-by-step instructions. Take a look for yourself at hsmag.cc/e3eGsB and hsmag.cc/y5ine3. These guide you through the complete build.

We really like the interaction of the light on the low-poly lamp base

There’s no denying that both of these projects are involved builds. The skill levels, listed as ‘Easy’ and ‘Moderate’, are relative terms. The mood lamp could, perhaps, be completed by someone with no experience, but they’d probably have a difficult time purely because there are a lot of new skills for them to work with – slicing the model for their 3D printer, soldering, and getting set up with the Arduino IDE. That’s a lot of new things in one project – none of them are particularly challenging on their own, but together there’s a lot of potential for frustration. However, if you’ve already got some experience in one or more of these areas (as you most likely have if you’re reading this), then it shouldn’t present too many problems.

As well as the parts you buy, you’ll need access to quite a bit of kit – not least a 3D printer and soldering setup. However, the flip side of this is that the end results are complete products. Many electronics kits leave you with bare circuits that often get left in a drawer after they’ve been built. The final results of both of these projects are genuinely good-looking pieces that you can be proud to display and use in your day-to-day life. What’s more, there’s scope to go beyond the basics and learn a bit more about the underlying technologies. Both of these provide an interesting backdrop for experimenting with NeoPixels and Arduino boards. Whether that’s adding a control board with WiFi connectivity to control the patterns from your phone, or adding some capacitive touchpads to switch patterns with your fingers.

We’ve had great fun with these kits. They’re fun to build, and the final results are great for both impressing your friends and facilitating further learning.  

VERDICT 

If you’ve got a 3D printer and soldering iron, these kits are fun to make and they’re visually impressive.

9/10


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