Introduction: Laser Ball

Picture of Laser Ball
Watch out LED Cube there's a new sheriff in town and his name is Laser Ball...

Truth be told it's actually a Rechargeable Remote Control and Programmable Laser Ball... whoa!

So what's a Laser Ball?
Well it's sort of like the Death Star... OK, maybe that's a bit over-dramatic... a Laser Ball is like a programmable disco ball... or a cat-toy for humans (that sounds about right)... or a personal laser light show... the most fun you've had throwing a tennis ball in years(yeah!)... a 21st-century ship in a bottle... the most sophisticated poi or juggling ball ever seen... maybe a first-generation lightsaber training droid?... or maybe it's all of them! Check out the video to see how it works and how to make one then tell me what you think.

I thought this project was a good idea for an Instructable for a number of reasons:
  1. It's fun to build!
  2. The building blocks are easily accessible ( much?) and there's a 5-min version that is lot's of fun too
  3. The project builds upon the open-source and DIY community
  4. Laser balls can be assembled in an afternoon
  5. There are a lot of potential variations (batteries, laser color, laser count, etc...)
  6. If you think lasers are cool (or any blinky light for that matter) than a Laser Ball will blow your socks off!

Step 1: Project Overview

Picture of Project Overview
Before getting starting on building a Laser Ball, let me begin with a brief explanation on the format of this Instructable. The first step here will list out scope of the project. The next step shares a little background on Lasers and their unique qualities (sort of an editorial piece). Then the main Instructable begins... Steps 3-8 describe each component in the Laser Ball with some useful information and complimentary links. Step 9 describes the assembly process which was shown in the video. Step 10 is a sort of "mini-instructable" on how to build a "5-min Laser Ball". Some useful details for taking laser pictures are in Step 11, and the process I went through to build this Instructable is described in Step 12. If you just want the details on how to build the laser ball jump to the Assembly step.

To start here's a breakdown of the specifications, steps, timeline, parts, cost, suppliers, tools, and wiring diagram for a full Rechargeable Remote Control and Programmable Laser Ball.

Laser Ball Specifications:
  • Total optical power: ~70mW
  • Current draw (max): ~300mA
  • Operating voltage: 3.3V
  • Battery life: ~2.5hrs (but its rechargeable!)
Steps and Timeline:
  • 1.00 hr - Preparing and gathering materials/tools
  • 0.25 hr - Thinking through the design
  • 0.50 hr - Preparing the Teensy
  • 0.75 hr - Cutting and installing diffraction gratings
  • 0.50 hr - Drilling the tennis ball
  • 0.50 hr - Installing lasers
  • 1.00 hr - Soldering lasers, Teensy, and JST connector
  • 0.50 hr - Squeezing components into tennis ball
Total time:
  • 5.00 hrs
Materials:Total cost:
  • $78
  • Soldering iron
  • Dremel
  • Wire strippers/cutters
  • Hobby knife
  • Masking tape
  • Marker
  • Scissors
  • Tweezers/Forceps
  • Helping-hands/alligator clips

Update: As part of this overview I've also included two additional images showing the wiring diagram and schematic.

Step 2: From Light Bulbs to Lasers...

Picture of From Light Bulbs to Lasers...

Skip this section if you don't want to hear my dramatic soliloquy about lasers and lightbulbs

Laser editorial:
Lasers have captivated people's imaginations for years, in fact, 2010 marked the 50th anniversary of invention of the laser (way to go laser!). Since then, lasers have blossomed into a industry of both entertainment and science, and generated countless new innovations across the world. I'd only crossed paths with the occasion laser pointer before I started my engineering career (...and of course I unkowningly used them in things like DVD players, but that doesn't really count...). However, it wasn't long before I was able to understand why lasers represented something much more than just a replacement to a pointing-stick.

For me, it wasn't until I grasped the concept of etendue and semiconductor manufacturing that I could really appreciate, not only the potential of the laser, but why it will remain an everlasting tool for generations to come. So first let me briefly the concept of etendue.

Etendue is a funny little french word which translates to something like "extended" or "expansive." However it describes a very fundamental idea; something along the lines of how light spreads out from its source and illuminates over a volume, (...that's the wikipedia definition, anyway) but the the idea of etendue is much simpler to understand.

Let's imagine back around 1880, Edison tucked away in his lab testing filaments for his light bulb, each filament he tested glows hotly as electricity completes its circuit. The soft warm light being generated from his small filament is at the time a very profound way to generate light but if you think about it... it's quite crude... (warning: exaggeration ahead) it's equivalent to popping a balloon to create a breeze or using a stick of dynamite to dig a hole.. sure that's one way to do it but it makes a mess, light goes everywhere, you're covered in light and there's no way to clean it up! (...etendue is basically the optical equivalent to the second law of thermodynamics... you can't create more energy than you put into the system, so even if you add mirrors and lens the etendue can never be decreased... its invariant!)

So let's change the scenario, now we've got a laser and we can picture it buzzing out a little hole and shooting across space as a pencil thin beam of light. It's certainly very clean looking, but what did we change? Well we did a couple things, in simple terms: 1) we made all the light a single wavelength/color and 2) decreased the etendue of the light by many, many orders of magnitude,(...we're talking lots of zeroes here folks), the light has high optical power, emitted from a small source, and well defined in angle. We have rays of light playing together in harmony, synchronized and smooth, rather than a dissonant collection of rays blasting out notes of dissonant frequencies in all directions.

With a laser we've basically captured the genie the in bottle; a way to make light in a pure form, a perfectly smooth undulating wave of light whose collection of rays travel in one direction in perfect synchronization. This means a laser is more or less light distilled into its basic element and packaged to make it easily controlled and distributed; it's Henry Ford's assembly line mixed with the 1's and 0's in a microprocessor... so this is where the semiconductor manufacturing comes in.

Semiconductor manufacturing has created a world built on silicon. The particularly amazing aspect (and there are many) about semiconductor manufacturing processing is its unique ability to scale production and manufacturing. This is what differentiates the laser from the light bulb. The laser is the computer chip of the lighting world (with its little brother the LED). Lasers can be manufactured in ways that rival the best cellphone camera, microprocessor or accelerometer.  Semiconductor manufacturing is a batch processing technique so individual lasers can be assembled quickly and inexpensively in much the same way millions of microchips are built each year. Vacuum tubes died with the advent of the transistor and so too shall the light bulb.

So this is why the laser (and we are already seeing it with LEDs) will emerge as the new  standard in for illumination. Lasers to the future!

Step 3: Lasers

Picture of Lasers
Laser's aren't toys!... no wait... maybe they can be? As Ralphie's mom might say, "You'll shoot your eye out!" I think we all understand by now that lasers and retinas don't always play nice but that doesn't mean we still can't have fun with our Red Ryder BB gun.

The lasers used in the project are not the kind that will light matches, pop balloons, or cut 007 agents in half. They are low power and relatively harmless (check out the links at the bottom for more safety info). Lasers can be a lot of fun if you treat them with respect! Even with that said, read about laser safety, understand the risks, maybe lasers aren't for you but then again maybe with just a little more research and experience you'll see you can still have fun while being safe!

Common features and how to buy?
  • Lasers come in many shapes, sizes, powers, and colors (wavelength).
  • Understand that most "lasers" you can buy are "laser modules" rather than just the pure laser diode.
  • Always go with the "laser module" which includes housing, collimating lens, and driver/current controller
  • The component in a laser pointer is a "laser module"
  • Lasers are rated for optical power not electrical power so when you see a 5mW or 10mW laser module its referring to the amount of light being produced rather than the amount of electricity being consumed.
  • In a circuit, a laser is acting just a like a diode, in other words, treat a laser module just like you would treat an LED
  • Red laser technology is more mature than green and blue. As a result, red lasers tend to be lower cost, smaller, and more efficient than green or blue.

Laser Ball laser specifications (from Aixiz):
  • 650nm (RED)
  • 5mW (optical power)
  • 3.2V
  • 20mA (this is comparable to any modestly bright LED)
  • Datasheet
There are definitely no shortage of lasers to be found online. Laser pointers are easy to find but require you to disassemble the pen (which I show in the "5-min Laser Ball step) so its preferable to just buy the modules. DealExtreme is popular. I used Aixiz. You can even find some on Sparkfun and Digikey but they tend to be higher priced.

Check out these links for more information on lasers:

Step 4: Diffraction Grating

Picture of Diffraction Grating
Diffraction gratings are a wonderful pieces of optical technology. They allow us to manipulate light based on its wave properties (rather than the particle or ray properties). The classical physics demonstration of diffraction goes something like this: send a beam of light at a dual-slit structure (two small holes) so that as the light passes through it diffracts and creates an interference pattern characterized by bright and dark regions, akin to the peaks and valleys of a wave. Diffraction is most pronounced when the object the light is striking has similar dimensions to the wavelength of the light, if we consider the wavelength of red light is around 650nm then the microscopic diffraction structure is tiny, we're talking sub-millimeter (micron) to get dramatic effects

What's a diffraction grating?:
So if you want to diffract light, you need a diffraction grating. Perhaps the easiest way to visualize a diffraction grating is to think of a picket fence, except many orders of magnitude smaller. It's a periodic structure (which just means its repeating along its length) and so if we shine light through the slits in this picket fence, the passing waves will interfere and add and subtract to create a unique projection pattern. By changing the period (frequency) of the posts in the fence then we can also change the intereference pattern as well. This is metric is often mentioned as the number of "line pairs/inch"

Where do you see diffraction?:
Diffraction is all around us, the most common place you've probably noticed it is on the surface of a CD or a hologram. The rainbow of colors is created by the diffracting surface composed of tiny ridges and troughs. Recently there's been an emergence of rainbow glasses that create a sort of "color explosion" when you look at light sources. Those are simply thin pieces of diffraction grating with small ridges that have been most likely embossed onto the plastic surface. You also might have seen "star" caps for laser pointers. These are also small pieces of diffraction grating that have been glued into a laser pointer cap.

Why is it in the Laser Ball?
Why have just one beam per laser when you can have many? It's a laser party so bring your friends! The diffraction grating will distribute the optical energy from the laser into different spatial frequencies so rather than just creating a beam directly on-axis, multiple beams are created at specific frequencies (i.e. angles) matched to the periodic structure of the grating.

Check out these links for more information on diffraction gratings

Step 5: Teensy

Picture of Teensy
I think everyone agrees that Arduino has forever changed the landscape for DIY, makers, hackers, artists and engineers. It didn't take long after hearing about Arduino before I had one and was making LEDs blink and motors spin. But it took me awhile to realize there were other options out there, ones that were nearly identical to the Arduino (and in some cases better) but in much tinier packages... welcome to the world of the Teensy! (by PRJC)

What's a Teensy?
It's a small breakout board for an Atmel microprocessor, just like an Arduino... in fact they are so alike you can run a Teensy as a Teensyduino and use the Arduino IDE, making it easy to incorporate into any project. The biggest difference you'll notice between the two is the fact that the Teensy is way smaller!. The Teensy uses the 16Mhz Atmel 32u4 chip which has the nice feature of including a built-in USB port, which enables a very compact form-factor.

What will the Teensy do?
In the Laser Ball the Teensy will allow us to take the input signal from the IR remote through the IR reciever, decode the results, then sequence/animate the lasers. This is really a bonus feature (along with the IR remote), that really makes the laser ball an entertaining piece of technology.

Check out these links for more information on Teensy:

Step 6: Battery

Picture of Battery
Battery technology comes in a lot of different varieties but the kinds that run your smartphones and ipods are the rechargeable lithium-ion variety. I'm no battery expert but for consumer-style electronics it seems this is the only way to go. Just be careful with the charging method because no one wants a flaming battery on their hands...

How to pick the battery?
Of course the Laser Ball could be driven with another style of battery but it's important to weigh out the characteristics and make a smart decision based on different trade-offs they offer. Let's think through the important factors in choosing a battery for the Laser Ball.
  • It needs to fit in a tennis ball
  • It needs to provide sufficient voltage (3.3V-5V) for the Teensy
  • It needs sufficient capacity (amp-hours) to provide a reasonable battery life
  • If needs to have a large enough discharge to provide sufficient current for the lasers and Teensy
  • It needs to be rechargeable... trying to remove the battery pack from a fully-assembled laser ball is like trying to machete your way through a tropical jungle... bad joke, i know, but I think it paints the right picture.
Understanding the specs...:
I chose to use the 3.7V 850mAh Polymer Li-ion Battery from Sparkfun so lets see why...
  • It will just barely fit in the tennis ball
  • 3.7V gives me enough voltage for the lasers (3.2V) and the Teensy (3.3V)
  • Its 850mAh capacity means a couple hours of battery life are possible if the Laser Ball draws ~300mA (850/300=2.8hr)
  • It's max discharge rate is 2C which will provide enough current to run the Laser Ball. The C-value is just the capacity divided by an hour, so in this case a 2C rate is equivalent to 1700mA. The nominal discharge rate is 0.2C which is 170mA so the Laser Ball requirement (300mA) sits nicely within this range.
Get a charger:
Keep it simple and buy a basic Lithium-ion charger. There are lots available in the open-source community. They are simple circuits that can regulate the charging conditions for the lithium-ion batteries and provide a nice simple USB interface. Try this one from Sparkfun: LiPo Charger Basic

Check out these links for more information on battery technology and lithium-ion batteries:

Step 7: IR Remote Control

Picture of IR Remote Control
Frankly I don't know much about Infrared (IR) remote control protocol... there's a long history going back to our old friend Tesla and his work in radio technology... but before the Laser Ball I'd never built a remote control system. So what did I do?... I turned to the web and the open-source community to see what people had been sharing... and there's lots!

And what did I learn? There are plenty of other remote interfaces like blue-tooth or wifi but frankly I don't think IR can be beat for its simplicity, low cost, and ease of use. The IR remote control interface works simply by detecting sequences of light pulses produced by the IR LED and detected by the photo-sensitive receiver. Basically each button is represented by a string of 1's and 0's (either the LED is ON or OFF) and the string represents a code word that can be identified in software. Check out the resources at the bottom of this step for more resources and tutorials on IR remote control systems.

Why does a Laser Ball need a remote control?
Well I guess technically the Laser Ball doesn't need a remote, but it adds a nice bit of functionality to compliment the Teensy. A simple push button could serve the same purpose but I hesitated to go down that path because if it were mounted on the surface of the ball I'd think there'd be a fairly high risk of damage during games of Laser toss and accidental button pushes during Laser Ball juggling.

Choice of IR remote and IR receiver?
There's no right answer for this. Adafruit and Sparkfun both have options for IR remote control. The Adafruit remote looks like its intended for a car stereo system but that doesn't mean it can't find its way into any project. The IR receiver and remote are a great combination but have two main limitations: 1) The receiver needs to be in the line-of-sight of the remote (which is true of any IR remote control system) and 2) As I mentioned the remote is most likely intended for use in a car, so the output power of the LED is relatively weak and as such the system range is limited to short distances (a couple of feet in most cases).

Adafruit IR remote control specs:
  • Mini remote control with 21 buttons
  • 38KHz NEC code output, 940nm IR LED
  • 40mm x 86mm x 7mm (3.4" x 1.6" x 0.3")
  • Runs on CR2032 battery, included
What about the software side?
Adafruit has some great tutorials on the fundamentals of IR remote controls. You could certainly develop your own software libraries to decode the signals coming from your remote... but we are living in an open-source world so why not get a head start by using the resources we have available. That's exactly what I did when I found Ken Shirrif's IR remote control library for the Arduino (link). It worked great "out of the box" and within a couple of minutes I was able to test out functionality on a simple breadboard circuit. I liked it so much I ended up incorporating it into the Laser Ball source code. Go team!

Check out these links for more information on IR remote control:

Step 8: Tennis Ball

Picture of Tennis Ball
Tennis balls are a great little piece of hackery. Imagine all the things you could use a tennis ball for? If I type "tennis ball" into Instructables I get over 5000 hits, which is pretty amazing for an unassuming fuzzy ball. Tennis balls aren't just any old rubber ball ... they have standards. The "official" tennis balls have guidelines on diameter (65.41-68.58 mm) and weight (56.0-59.4 g) and undergo "bounce" tests (a 53in bounce from a 100in drop ain't bad!).

Why not a bigger ball?
Hey I got an idea!... pick a bigger ball and you can fit more lasers in it! Imagine a Laser Basketball... or a football... whoa!... let's save those for a future build. The choice to use the mild-mannered tennis ball was not my first choice, I admit. I built several early versions with a dollar-store foam ball, but then it hit me... I want a ball with standards! The tennis ball is so universal that I thought I would be a good metric to gauge not only this Laser Ball but any future generations that it spawned., plus the tennis ball has the right kind of "feel," just ask any juggler or Poi practitioner. And on top of that I like to think of the tennis ball as the "bottle" to my laser "ship"... full steam ahead!

How does everything fit in there?
What goes on in the Laser Ball stays in the Laser Ball... I made a quick and dirty Google sketchup model of the Laser Ball and frankly there's not a lot "free space" in there! Honestly, looking at that picture how not sure how it all fits in there... but it does!

Check out these links for more information on the tennis ball... wait, it's just a a tennis ball... what else is there to know? Find out!

Step 9: Assembly

Picture of Assembly
The assembly process is very straightforward and succinctly demonstrated in the video. The following steps basically walk-through the process shown in the video. I've also included some helpful hints at the bottom of this section which highlight some of the challenging areas.

Assembly instructions:
  1. Download and install Teensyduino software (link)
  2. Download Laser Ball source code and upload to Teensy (link)
  3. Charge Polymer Lithium-ion battery
  4. Disassemble laser modules
  5. Three-hole-punch diffraction-grating (~6.3mm dia.)
  6. Insert diffraction-grating pieces into laser module caps and reassemble
  7. Mark laser holes in tennis ball with masking tape guide lines and marker (14 laser holes)
  8. Dremel laser holes into tennis ball (~8mm dia.)
  9. Clean tennis ball (not shown in the video)
  10. Mark and cut main opening (~2.5 in)
  11. Insert battery
  12. Thread lasers and label their position (but don't press them in yet)
  13. Cut IR receiver hole (~5 x 7 mm) (not shown in the video)
  14. Solder wire leads to IR receiver
  15. Thread IR receiver
  16. Solder lasers to Teensy 
  17. Solder IR sensor to Teensy
  18. Solder JST connector to Teensy (+5V and GND)
  19. Wiggle Teensy into tennis ball
  20. Focus the lasers by adjusting the screw cap (not shown in the video)
  21. Press lasers into laser holes
  22. Connect Teensy JST with battery JST to turn on the Laser Ball
  23. Wiggle JST connector into tennis ball
  24. Use remote to change Laser Ball patterns
  25. Impress your friends!
Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

Helpful hints:
  • The three-hole punch will get jammed on the diffraction grating frame so cut out the diffraction grating from the frame before three-hole punching.
  • The diffraction grating sits between the lens and the cap not the lens and the spring.
  • The Dremel tool is probably not the ideal way to cut the tennis ball. The rubber will tend to melt if the grinding cone is spun to fast. The tape will help prevent this and avoid gooey tennis ball from splattering all over the place.
  • It's helpful to mark the hole locations with marker and the laser leads (with tape and marker) in order to try and cut off as much wire as possible and to figure out how you want to split them onto the Teensy.
  • Split the laser positions into hemispheres in order to solder them intelligently and avoid wire blockages.
  • Split the laser ground leads onto two busses to avoid a big solder blob.
  • Solder the V+ leads of the lasers to any of the Teensy I/O pins. The pins can then be 'activated' in software. I soldered the fourteen lasers to pin#'s 4,6,7,8,9,10,12,13,14,15,16,21,22,23).
  • Solder the IR receiver to one of the interrupt pins on the Teensy (pin 5,6,7,8) to use an interrupt to detect the IR remote rather than just continuously polling the receiver.
  • The recommend making the main opening slightly larger than your battery width to give more room for squeezing-in wires.
  • Put the battery in first! It will be extremely difficult to get it in there if the laser wires are in the way.
  • Don't press the lasers all the way in before inserting the Teensy. You will probably break a lead
  • I used some hotglue, rather than heatshrink/tape, to isolate the solder connections on the lasers and IR receiver and to strengthen the solder joints
  • There's really no easy way to get the Teensy and leads into the tennis ball. Take your time and try to avoid putting to much stress on the components.
  • Make sure to insert the Teensy with the USB port near the opening in case you want to reprogram it later.
  • I used JST connectors as a physical switch but there's probably a way to make this more compact.
  • Turn on the laser ball while trying to press in the lasers to see if you break any leads. That way you can fix it before you're stuck with a laser ball with a broken laser.
  • Focus the lasers before pressing them in. The lens must be positioned using the screw cap/spring. I used a bit of hotglue to hold the cap in place after focusing.
  • There's probably a nice way to seal the main opening but I've basically left it as a seam in order to gain access to the guts in the future
  • I'm not sure what the best way is to reprogram the Teensy after its been inserted. Accessing the USB port is fine but pressing the reset switch is not.
  • Test the Laser Ball after soldering but before inserting the Teensy and lasers. The earlier you catch any dead lasers the better.
  • To recharge the battery: remove the JST connectors from the tennis ball, disconnect the battery from the Teensy JST and plug into the Li-Ion charger JST. Then plug the Li-Ion charger into a USB port/charger with the appropriate USB cable.

Step 10: 5-min Laser Ball

Picture of 5-min Laser Ball
Maybe you've got a laser pointer and tennis ball but not all the other goodies, well don't fret, you can still have yourself a Laser ball in a matter of minutes. This is a min-Instructable on how to build a basic Laser Ball from a laser pointer, some AAA batteries, a bit of wire, copper tape, electrical tape, and of course a tennis ball.

  • Pliers
  • Soldering iron
  • Hobby knife
Assembly instructions:
  1. Remove the laser module from the pointer with two pliers by using a twisting motion
  2. Unscrew cap and housing
  3. Remove the switch
  4. Solder switch leads together (you could also just tape the switch down)
  5. Solder some wire to small pieces of copper tape
  6. Attach the other ends of the wire to the V+ and V- leads on the laser module
  7. Use a longer strip of copper tape to connect the V+ and V- terminals on the two batteries
  8. Cut a hole for the laser into the tennis ball
  9. Cut a slit for the battery pack into the tennis ball
  10. Thread the laser leads through the tennis ball
  11. Connect the copper tape to the open battery terminals and use electrical tape to make a small battery pack
  12. Tuck the battery pack into the tennis ball
  13. Shine on!

Step 11: Photographing Lasers

Picture of Photographing Lasers

Laser Ball? Check. Point-n-shoot camera? Check. So now what? How do you capture the laser-awesomeness? There are basically two ways I know to photograph laser beams: 1) Use a fog machine or 2) Use a long-exposure setting on your camera and a piece of white paper/card. I think most people have seen long-exposure light painting, which can work just the same with lasers. But the difference with lasers is the question: how do you capture the razor-thin beam of light and not just the flare from the source?

Fog machines are fun...:
You don't need an expensive fog machine to capture a laser beam with a short exposure. The fog machine I used came from grocery store of all places... in the Halloween isle! The fog will create microscopic particles that cause the laser beam to scatter in all directions, some of which find their way into your camera. With fog you can keep the exposure short which is great for capturing video but you'll want to dim the lights in order to pull the beam out of the ambient light background.

Long exposure with a piece of paper:
The idea here is to position a scattering/reflecting surface (a simple piece of white paper works great) in front of the beam and uniformly move it down the length of the beam during a long exposure shot. If we think about it in a discrete-sense, we are imaging little slices of the beam as the card reflects the laser spot. By moving the reflector and keeping the laser beam in a fixed position we assure that the reflector will be blurred (almost ghost-like) and the laser beam will dominate the scene.

Camera settings:
It's pretty simple: turn up the exposure to several seconds (this is often labeled as -2 to +2 in terms of f-stops on point-n-shoots) and lower the ISO setting to avoid grainy images. Normally you'd turn up the ISO setting in a dark environment to capture more light but this will create unwanted graininess in the dark regions of your images.

Step 12: Behind the Scenes, Making Of...

Picture of Behind the Scenes, Making Of...
So at this point you might be thinking, "wow that Laser Ball is cool but so is this instructable, I wonder what it took to put this together?" So just in case you were wondering what the Instructable process was like, here's a bunch of one-liners in regards to the build and Instructable process.
  • I made my first Laser Ball about four months ago.
  • This Instructable was made over a two-week duration.
  • There were many separate photoshoots to get all the pictures.
  • I shot about 7 hours of footage (for a 5min video!...)
  • The video took about 2 days to edit.
  • I used a standard point and shoot camera - Canon SD780 IS
  • I made a cheap and dirty photostudio box from a roll of butcher paper and a piece of foam board.
  • I used a 65W spotlight and a 300W bulb mounted on tripods for illumination.
  • I used a sheet of white acrylic for the build surface.
  • All the annotations in the images were made in Photoshop.
  • I used a combination of free video editing sotware: Pinnacle Videospin (Download), Videopad (Download), and Windows Live Movie Maker. For example I did the all the cuts in Videospin, extracted stills with Videopad, and increased the video speed of the title with WLMM.
  • The "Laser Ball" title uses a public font called Lynx. (Download)
  • I used the Sparkfun Delux Toolkit. (Sparkfun)
Get in touch with any questions or comments: or
Check out my blog at

I also just want to thank the open-source, DIY, maker community. Without you guys this wouldn't have been possible.

And a special thanks to Instructables for hosting such an awesome website and service.



michael.lopez (author)2017-06-08

Does anyone have an updated code to this? the link I found on GitHub is way outdated

EvandroC5 (author)2017-05-30

Beautiful. Program link does not work.

1amazing (author)2016-01-10

im wondering if the lasers are damaging to the eyes

DIY-Guy (author)2015-12-22

Very artistic!
Just a note from one of my Laser Engineer friends from the old days,
0.5 mW lasers are usually considered eye-safe. Going up to 5 mW is not recommended for direct exposure or repeated exposure.

The basic rule from long ago is:
0.5 mW = OK

> mW not OK.

kjlpdx (author)2015-12-22

I would leave the lights on while poking them in so as to know immediately if a connection broke.

DiveCayman made it! (author)2014-02-17

I built this inside a coconut because it offers far more room than a tennis ball. I used magnets to hold the bottom on. There is one small error in the two pictures you added. They have a laser hooked to pin 11, it should be pin 21 from the pins assigned in the program. I also added more patterns and a way to cycle through them all. The Teensy has plenty of memory to go wild with patterns. These instruction are very complete, mine worked the first time. I'm taking it to a party with a pirate theme. Thanks for a great Instructable.

tisaconundrum (author)DiveCayman2015-12-22


tisaconundrum (author)2015-12-22

Total make it glow winner

venny2k07 (author)2015-10-22

Hey guys...I'm new here...looking for a way to make a "star shower" laser blink!

Any hints?

Thanks guys!

P.S. Don't want to hijack thread if so please let me know how to start one. Thanks again

damianatx (author)2015-10-04

I want to make it completely sealed and to do so i need to be able to turn it off and back on with the IR remote, but ive never writen code before. Would you be able to help with this step? Ive got everything together and working (still waiting on the remote to show up). ive added an inline charger and 8 UV Leds i was able to write in to the code. im going to be using these as poi for a performance later this month.

ArtTech86 (author)2015-01-09

Great instructable! I'm not able to watch the video in my country due to copyright grounds.

wired365 (author)2012-03-13

I just found this project and have been working on it for a week now off and on. I am having an issue with getting the lasers to turn on. I have soldered everything to what I think is correct and I charged the battery. When I have the Teensy attached to the computer I get no errors when uploading the code but there is no blink or anything from the ball itself.

I double checked that the Teensy reset and that my Arduino software is set to Teensy 2.0. I have no idea as to why the lasers will not light at all. Please help.

LeoneLabs (author)wired3652012-03-15

That is strange as another user is reporting similar symptoms. Have you tried running the "Blink" example for the Teensy. If you can get that bit of code to work than that's a good sign everything is being uploaded correctly. When I first started working with the Teensy I had some initial trouble telling if the code was being uploaded correctly... using the "Teensy loader" and RST button can create some confusion.

wired365 (author)LeoneLabs2012-04-24

Sorry about such a late response I have been busy starting another term. I did upload just the blink sample from the arduino site and the code uploads and runs perfectly. This also means that my wiring is correct, at least for the lasers, because the light is blinking. Thank you for the response by the way it was helpful.
I am not sure what to do when uploading the laser ball code, because the ball is till unresponsive after uploading. Do you happen to have an updated sample of the code or the most recent working version that you could send me or post a link to?

LeoneLabs (author)wired3652012-04-30

This is the latest Laser Ball code I've developed.

It corrects some minor errors in the other version and makes it a bit easier to make custom patterns.

Good luck and let me know how it turns out.

pintail120 (author)LeoneLabs2015-01-02

that link is broken, any chances of restoring it?

ozone333 (author)2014-12-31

I guess I can't watch the video either.. it says "This video contains content from SME, who has blocked it in your country on copyright grounds." Interesting...

Biscuitus (author)2014-12-31

It warmed my heart just seeing an honest to deity Mitutoyo pair of calipers!

Well done my man, well done! I think I'll make two for the wife...she's a sucker for such things.

Magic2001 (author)2014-07-16

Is a 5mW laser not dangerous for the eyes? Would work a 1mW also?

A Arduino Mini clone is cheaper as a teensy and not more bigger :)

But this Ball is very great!! thanks for that instructable!!!!

The AixiZ 5mW modules are eye safe, but if you buy them anywhere else, there is a chance they could actually be 35mW or more. See this discussion. They can still cause eye damage, though if you stare into them long enough. Never look into lasers! Running them at 3V like this, they don't even put out 5mW.

No blue laser currently made is eye safe. That is not to be confused with BluRay, or 405nm lasers, which are actually near UV. None of those should really be considered eye safe because wavelengths that short can cause damage by other mechanisms.

Green lasers should never be considered eye safe unless they have been lab tested. The ones that are truly eye safe will be over $75. I have heard of some Chinese pens being over 200mW fresh out of the box. Others are 0mW. Some can even be 500mW of very dangerous infrared that is nearly invisible.

dwleo (author)2014-12-30


I wonder if Kim Jong-un can read it? :-)

Momable (author)2014-12-30

Best Instructable I've ever read! So much fun and valuable information. Well laid out. Love all the details. Sorry for you Canadians - this is not to be missed.

mack_jigger (author)2014-12-30

I'm curious as to why did I get this 3 years old instructable this morning on my "daily" newsletter? And I live up north to the USofA (I'm in Canada) and the video isn't available for my country. Do I live too far? Never had to make this sort of commentary, but on a positive way: I do it with a smile, so for the "be nice policy" I am smiling and please, let's construct something that works. ;-) <<==-wink smiley

cbiffo (author)mack_jigger2014-12-30

Just a nice response that I too cannot view the video... Good thing us Canadians are so nice!

rainger (author)cbiffo2014-12-30

Popular projects often get recirculated if pertinent to an upcoming holiday or season.
I live South of the Nicest Nation, here in the USofA, an I too am blocked from viewing the video because of my country... maybe it's only good in Elbonia?

asteinmark (author)rainger2014-12-30

It's not a regional thing. It apparently contains copyrighted content and was blocked on those grounds from all viewers. Disapointing.

dapackers made it! (author)2014-10-28

What an awesome project!!! Thank you so much for all the time and effort
you put into documenting and sharing this project with the
Instructables community! This was my very first time trying out an
Instructable and also using a microcontroller, but your detailed
instructions got me through it!

The only problems I had were not putting Ken Shirriffs IR Remote Library
into the Arduino
Libraries folder
at first. Then the super cheap remote I picked up sent different
signals, but thanks to your code I was able to decipher them using
the serial monitor and then update them in the code (Then I also
noticed Ken includes this ability with his library examples). All works great!

Thanks again and what a great project!!!

rataweb (author)2014-10-26


I have problems compiling the sketch:

IRremoteTools.cpp:5: error: 'TKD2' was not declared in this scope

Please, could you upload the .hex file of the project?


expertnoobz (author)2011-12-03

Im having troubles uploading the code to the teensy. i get a notification when i try to upload that says "'IRrecv' does not name a type" and then the code IRrecv irrecv(RECV_PIN); is highlighted. i know next to nothing about codes for the teensy, and would greatly appreciate your help, as a really want to make this amazing project!

wunder-bar (author)expertnoobz2011-12-04

I had this same problem. You need to set the Arduino software to Teensy by going to "Tools" and then select the Teensy 2.0. That should fix your problem!

rataweb (author)wunder-bar2014-10-26

Hi, I've problems compiling the sketch:

IRremoteTools.cpp:5: error: 'TKD2' was not declared in this scope

Please, could you update the .hex file?


LeoneLabs (author)expertnoobz2011-12-05

You may also be missing the IR remote library the code uses to read the IR signals. I see I didn't put a reference in the Instructable (but its commented in the code) but here it is... Ken Shirriffs IR remote library . It needs to be unpacked in the Arduino Libraries folder. Follow the tutorial to get it up and running. 

I'll add this to the soon-to-be update... 

PS - thanks for helping wunder-bar

expertnoobz (author)LeoneLabs2011-12-28

Thanks, i got it to upload now! but i just soldered all the wires on, and i have checked many times to make sure they are correct, but when i plug it into the battery, the lasers don't light up! please help, i'd hate all the money i put into this to go to waste!

osprey-npt (author)expertnoobz2012-02-02

I think I'm having the same problem.... I need step by step instructions with the programming parts! There are so many things that can be missed or go wrong. I saw a note to change something for Arduino 1.0 on Ken's page, for example. I'm getting 2 errors when I try to upload the IRemote code. Something about a loop and main.....

so, if the lasers don't light up is that mainly because the program is not on the Teensy? will they only light up at all if the programming is perfect?

It's 2 things to upload to the teensy, right? Source Code and Remote codes???

I got the hex files to upload to the teensy to do fast or slow blink. Does that mean I did something right??

Please help. I'm making this for a friend who is using it in a high school play in less than 2 weeks!

Thanks in advance,

expertnoobz (author)osprey-npt2012-02-04

if your still getting errors before uploading it it, you probably haven't changed the board under tools to teensy 2.0. also, be sure you have downloaded and unpacked the remote library from ken into the the library folder of the arduino software. this is wear i had to find and download an older version of the library, for some reason the new one wasn't compatable.

LeoneLabs (author)expertnoobz2012-02-06

@expernoobz - Thanks for helping!

@osprey-npt - the programming can be tricky at first but I'm sure you'll get it with a bit of tinkering. If you've got the "Blink" program examples working then that's a good first step. As expertnoobz pointed out there may be some compatible issues with Ken's IR library and the latest version of the Arduino but it should be manageable. It might also be helpful to run through Ken's IR examples to make sure everything is connected up correctly.

Just for posterity, when you click "upload" all the tabs in the Arduino sketch are transferred to the Teensy, but the "remote codes" are there just for your programming reference in case you want to add some functionality.

Good luck!

wunder-bar (author)LeoneLabs2011-12-05

Ah, yes. That was something that took me a bit of digging to do and totally forgot about. I believe you mentioned it in the IR part of the Instructable but not in the assembly.

I have some programming experience from collage and have always wanted to get into the hardware side of things. I never really found a project that really spiked my interest, but the Laser Ball sent it above and beyond! I'll help in any way I can. I love this Instructable and can't wait to post a pic of the final product!

cbraga3 (author)2014-07-16

hola quisiera saver donde encuentro los materiales necesarios que se muestran en el video y tambien el costo

por fa

randomlol561 (author)2013-11-10

This project is truly amazing, I'm just not too experienced with electronic diagrams. So I would be really grateful if someone could please post a really basic diagram or picture of where each thing is connected to. I'm using a JST connector instead of connecting it directly to the battery. Sorry for being a rookie. Thanks

azharz (author)2013-07-16

Salute your creativity man

prenominum (author)2013-05-20

Hi leonelabs love your instructable. I was just wondering how to ease the soldering of the grounding of the lasers I have been twidling with it for some time now and if you have some pictures on the soldering in some better quality or something I would really appreaciate it. / thanks you´re awesome

Perspective Image (author)2013-05-02

This is one of the best instructables that I've seen. Really well done explanations about all aspects regarding what I personally hope for in a comprehensive instructable: scope, background, construction, and extended project ideas. Excellent!

Thanks! I appreciate the complement, it took quite a bit of work, I'm glad you liked it!

fireball9919 (author)2013-02-28

the way you have this set up is completely mobile. but i would like to know if its possible to skip the remote step, and add some sort of blue tooth or just some sort of a wireless component in order to be able to control the speed of the laser changes and patterns from a laptop.. if this is possible how would i go about doing so??

LeoneLabs (author)fireball99192013-03-03

It's possible and certainly a nice idea. Off hand I couldn't tell you the best way to do it but I'm sure an Arduino bluetooth module exists out there. That would probably be a good place to start.

beeyach (author)2013-02-10

I am definitely making this project, already ordered the lasers. I have some questions though, the teensy 2.0 needs 5V to run, how does it work with only 3.7V from the battery? It doesn't look to have a regulator onboard.

I was planning to try this with an Arduino Pro Mini because I've seen cheap knockoffs of these on ebay for $6.20 delivered from HK, but I'm not sure they'd work from such a low voltage, they say they need 5V on the specsheet. Oh well, I guess I'll find out when I try!!

If I ran the nano board from 5V and hooked up these 3.2V laser modules to the outputs, I'd think it would break them.

Any ideas on this?

luisazmouz (author)2013-02-04

What an awesome idea! Great work!

zegan92 (author)2013-01-13

This is an amazing concept. What woul happen if I added more lasers?!?! Should I use a bigger battery? I was thinking about 15-20

andrea biffi (author)2012-12-13

great instructable, I couldn't imagine it more complete...

alexanderall (author)2012-11-24

This looks awesome.

About This Instructable




Bio: I'm an artist and engineer living in Jackson, WY.
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