Picture of Kids
This instructable will show you how to build a spaceship control panel prop for young kids from inexpensive, readily-available materials.  The interactive light-up panel adds a little excitement to those cardboard "spaceships" that seem to appear after you buy some large appliance.

Qty-2    8x10 Plexi Sheet (0.093" thick) (Available at HW stores for <$2
Qty-3ft   1x2 Pine (preferrably the higher grade that has square edges, this makes the frame look
                 better than if you use the more common rounded-edge 1x2's)
Qty-9  Single-pole (SPST) toggle switches
Qty-16  Red/Green flashing LEDs
Qty-4    Automotive (12v) paddle switches
               (mine were lighted, but that's not really necessary)
Qty-8    12V LED Panel lights
Qty-1    LM7805 voltage regulator
Qty-8   390ohm 1/4watt resistors
Qty-1    9V battery clip

Aluminum Duct Sealing Tape
18-20gauge wire
solder + Soldering iron (15-30w)

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Step 1: Build the Frame

Picture of Build the Frame
The supporting frame is built out of 1x2s and 1 1/2" screws.  (Yes, the carpenters among you can cringe and wish I'd built a better-looking  frame.  Not to worry, this all gets covered up with aluminum tape, so these corners won't show).  Note that frame is size just a tiny bit larger than the 8x10 plexi sheet itself.

Step 2: Lay out the Panel

Picture of Lay out the Panel
I just used Powerpoint to lay out the switch locations and provide a more high-tech background for the light.  Suitable function labels for the switches on our intrepid explorer's spaceship were also added.  The alien text used below the NASA logo is "Vorlon" in case you don't have a Klingon font handy...

I measured each switch and light to ensure that I had the right diameter circle for each one, and sized the circles in powerpoint accordingly.   Don't forget to include the crosshairs on each circle.  These are a lifesaver when you're trying to align your drill bit properly, and it makes the resulting display look a lot nicer.  REMEMBER to do a test-placement on the plexi while it is ON THE FRAME.  You don't want the switches to bump up against the frame when you go to mount it.

Once you have the overlay done the way you like, print this out on some translucent adhesive-backed paper.  On my panel I printed it out and attached the sheet on the "front" side of the Plexi.  If I had to do it over again I would reverse the layout and text and attach the sheet on the BACK of the Plexi.  This would make the panel shinier, and prevent little fingers (and big ones) from tearing the sheet while you're drilling the holes and installing the switches.  Its also hardier in regular use.

Now is also a good time to pre-drill the mounting holes in the 4 corners.

Step 3: Install Switches and LEDs/Lights

Picture of Install Switches and LEDs/Lights
Once you have the holes drilled, insert the switches and Lights into their respective holes.  The 12V switches and lights are threaded and come with a collar that allows you to screw them onto the panel easily and firmly.  Same goes for the switches on the LED array (the 8 red switches in the picture below). 

I bought LED panel mounts to keep the LEDs in place.  An LED panel mount is a 2-part ring that you insert into the hole from the front side before inserting the LED in the back.  A retaining ring then slides onto the assembly from the back, locking the whole thing in place.   (Sounds good, eh?)  In practice, it was very hard to get the retaining rings on because the Plexi is thicker than most (metal) panels.

Step 4: Wiring it up

Picture of Wiring it up
Switch wiring closeup.jpg
switch wiring closeup-2.jpg
Once you have the Panel lights and switches physically installed, it's time to start wiring things up.
One trick that can save you a LOT of time (and wire) is to bend the leads on the LEDs so that they
connect  to their neighbor (to the right for the positive terminal, and to the neighbor below for the negative terminal).  Be VERY careful not to let these vertical and horizontal wires touching, or you'll short out the LEDs.  This probably won't kill the LED, but it will keep them from working. 

Similar to the LED grid, you can save some wiring time on the top "control/status lights"
(top section) by threading a single wire (stripped) through the holes in the lamps' leads, and THEN soldering each lead to the 9V or Gnd wires all at once.  (See the pictures of the back of the unit)

Step 5: Attach the Panel to the frame

(Sorry - no pictures for this step, but its pretty straightforward if you've pre-drilled the holes
in the 4 corners).

After you've wired (and tested) the panel, it can be simply screwed on to the wooden frame.

EXTRA- For a more high-tech look, you can cover the wooden frame with Aluminum duct tape.  The material is pretty forgiving (you can always add another layer to cover up mistakes) and it dramatically improves the appearance.

I've also added another sheet of plexi to the back to protect the wiring from little hands while leaving the inner workings visible.  In fact it looks just as good from the back as from the front!

Step 6: Finished Panel

Picture of Finished Panel
The finished panel and the action video!
MVI_0756.AVI(160x120) 4 MB
TurdFurgasen5 months ago

I can't seem to find the right 12v panel lights. Can you recommend the place you got them?

ARJL (author)  TurdFurgasen5 months ago
Hard to find! can see why you had problems finding this.
Anything that operates on 9-12v and is roughly 12mm round will work and "look right". You would just have to adjust the sizes of holes you drill, and adjust them in the powerpoint template i provided also. The ones I bought were ~$4 each.
Search EBAY for "round "indicator light" 12v led to find more.

Here's one that's very similar, but you have to buy 15 to get good price:

Here are some examples- 1 is very similar but more $$$, the others would also work.
Also look cool:

ARJL (author)  TurdFurgasen5 months ago
Let me have a look. I got them from a local store. The search term would be "12v LED panel light". I'll respond in a little while when I find an equivalent online supplier.
TurdFurgasen ARJL5 months ago
That would be great! Thank you.
sarahmh1 year ago
Is there any way I could purchase one of these from you - I am not very handy and LOVE this for my son's space room?
inezneal2 years ago
ok so for the panel .we buy the the plexi and then send it through a printer with that layout pdf? is that how you got the picture on the plexi?
ARJL (author)  inezneal2 years ago
You don't print directly on the plexi. At office supply stores you can find clear sheets with sticky back to print on. You can then peel off the back and stick it on to the plexi.
inezneal ARJL2 years ago
thank you for responding. im serious about attempting this .
ARJL (author)  inezneal2 years ago
One other comment. I printed on translucent sheet and affixed them to the "front" side of the plexi. In retrospect, I should have taken regular WHITE "letter-size self-adhesive laminating sheets" (like by Avery or Post-It) and put the (reversed image) sheet on the BACK of the plexi. That way the shiny side is on the front, and the printed sheet is protected...
ARJL (author)  inezneal2 years ago
Good luck! it's a neat toy, a particularly good starter. I had intended to make other panels and put them together into a rocket mockup, but my kid's interests went another direction.
chipper353 years ago
Nice!! I've been looking for something like this!!
Ddraig4 years ago
You could add one of these cards to it and properly wire it up and it would work as a usb joystick on the computer. Then you could use something like pinnacle game profiler to set the buttons to run various computer commands.
Wasagi4 years ago
I would love to make one of these and mount it on my wall, all I need is some better soldering experience and a run to the shops!
ARJL (author)  Wasagi4 years ago
Fortunately, there are instructables for that too!
Wasagi ARJL4 years ago
 haha, yep!
great writeup! looks like the kids will have a blast with that
ARJL (author)  xerodesolate5 years ago
Thanks!  It's ultimately planned to be 1 of 3 panels on a larger frame.  This was the easiest of the 3 since it doesn't have a microcontroller on it.
pun intended