Introduction: Old Tech, New Tricks
Smart mirrors are two-way mirrors with background displays such that you can simultaneously use it as a mirror and as an information source. It uses customizable widgets, a personalized interface, and has the ability to incorporate artificial intelligence as seen in many "big-named" company products today (e.g. Microsoft's Cortana, iPhone's Siri, Amazon's Alexa, and Google Assistant).
So why make one? Well, the smart mirror market itself is projected to reach 1.2 billion USD by the year 2022. The automobile, retail, hotel management, and consumer sectors have begun implementation of this product, and/or test trials using it. The benefit to smart mirrors themselves are the fact that their essentially all unique, depending on the producer and application. The customizability of the product itself makes it so that they're easier to DIY, than mass manufacture. Anyone can make a smart mirror. Instructables are available on the internet, in layman's terms, and are generally step-by-step guides on why and how to build one. A quick online search will typically yield over 30 links to proficient and helpful instructions.
Making a smart mirror is not only easy, but economically beneficial to the person building it. Resources, parts, and other materials are incredibly attainable. One can go to their local library or Goodwill, and find open computer areas, free of charge to look for instructables, and they can find extremely cheap monitors, computers, and other potential electrical components useful to their particular project at a Goodwill or neighborhood electronic store.
Usually you would start with a design and let that drive your purchases, however we are on a budget. The goal is to make the best smart mirror we can as cheap as possible, so that we can make the most money when we sell it. Even small smart mirrors made with cheap or second hand materials can be sold for over $200. So what are you waiting for? Go build a smart mirror, sell it, and make some money!
Step 1: Acquire Materials
One of the best places to find old computers is at Goodwill. They could have literally everything you need for multiple mirrors. The monitor in this mirror was only 10 dollars. If you have a local electronics store, they may have old computers/laptops to sell. Mom and pop shops are typically more willing to sell old computers than larger company's, but if you can convince them, you're golden. Another place to try are computer recycling centers, sometimes they will give them to you because you are trying to make something from it and prolong its life.
You're looking for the cheapest, yet still functional computer parts you can.
First, you need hardware
Laptops/ or netbooks work great. They are already thin, lightweight, and work well because they are practically a pre-packaged smart mirror minus some TLC. Right now a lot of people are trying to get rid of their old laptops that could only run windows XP. Luckily for us, we can throw a lightweight version of Linux on there and restore it back to tiptop shape. If you find a good monitor at a fair price, it might still be worth it. Old small desktop computers can be striped of its casing and re-packaged inside of the frame that you made or modified. This is more difficult and takes some ingenuity to make work well. The mirror displayed here doesn't even have a computer attached to it, its just a monitor and a tablet. It was designed to be sat on a desk and hooked up as a second monitor for a laptop when necessary. So, keep in mind that this is an option, but it will likely make it harder to sell.
Tablets work really well too. Android tablet even have multiple apps that people have made specifically for this purpose.
Second, you need a frame
Picture frames lend themselves well to this. The deeper the picture frame, generally, the better, but it depends on what you are putting in it. A laptop will require less space than trying to shove the motherboard of a desktop PC into the back of one of these things. This is an area where spending a little money to buy something that looks nice could pay off. A great first impression of the mirror could definitely mean the difference between a sell or not.
You can also custom make your frame. This obviously requires some more tools and know how, but the personal touch can really make the product your own. If at any point you get the change to build a mirror for a specific application, this can make a world of difference. This also gives you complete control over how the hardware is mounted.
Next, you need mounting materials
These are the things you are going to use to stabilize the hardware in the frame, and the frame to the wall. Styrofoam works well, because you can cut and mold it to exactly the shape you want, be careful to let the electronic components breath a little. These things are going to be on 24/7 and that means they can get hot. You do not want to be responsible for a house burning down. I recommend only holding things in critical locations and not forming a "mold" around the electronic components. If you find that the mirror is getting too hot or is not getting enough air flow, consider adding a small computer fan. Remember that this will make your mirror make noise, an undesirable outcome.
Last, you need a two way mirror
For budget mirrors, you really only have one option, two way mirror film. A roll of this film should cost between 10 and 30 dollars depending on quantity and quality. A nice piece of two way mirror glass, can easily be more than 100 dollars. Take the glass/acrylic out of the picture frame, clean it really well, get it wet, apply the film, push all of the water bubbles out from the center and trim the excess. If you have the option glass is pretty much always better than acrylic. Acrylic won't hold its shape very well and without proper support; your mirror can look like a fun house mirror.
Step 2: Design Your Smart Mirror
Once you have what you believe is sufficient materials, it's time to start planning. You need to figure out how you are going to put this thing together. Some things to consider that might effect how you build it:
1.How is it going to used?
2.Where will it be?
3. Who will see it?
4. Is there information that this individual might consider important enough that they always want to see it (e.g. The time or weather)?
5. Will it be so large and heavy that no one will want it?
It's really hard to give advice here; the design space for things like this are just so massive that there really aren't good rules of thumb. It's okay not to know exactly how it's going to come together. The important thing is to know if it's possible and figure it out when your staring at the problem so you can explore all of your options and pick the right one. For example, you can't fit a 22 inch monitor inside of a 4x6 picture frame.
Step 3: Add Software
At this point, the sky is the limit. You can be as basic as to use software other people have made or go full out and write a custom application. Open source smart mirror software has been written for Linux, Android, and Windows. Some implementations take advantage of Microsoft's Corona, Amazon's Alexa, or even my favorite, Google's Assistant.
It's pretty common to need a way to interface with the smart mirror. Voice commands make this pretty simple. Another option is use something like Unified Remote which it an app that lets you control any computer you want with your smart phone.
Step 4: Conclusion
I hope this helps point you in the right direction to building and making smart mirrors cheaply. If you're anything like me, and love working on projects, but hate putting a ton of money into them, then this is the project for you. This was my stab at something that almost everyone thinks is cool; on a college budget. I would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions on cheap projects or ways to make money by re-purposing old electronics. It both reduces e-waste in landfills and makes you money!
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