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This instructable is for solar powered LED blinky awesomeness. It is a kit version of our popular blinky red square. It measures about 1.25" by 1.25", not counting the USB tab. It has a few holes through the board, making hanging easy. Wear it as a necklace, earrings, bond on a pin, or hang it in a window. The possibilities are up to you, and we'd love to see what you do with them.

Square Kit02.mp4 from Robin Lawson on Vimeo.


The schematic and parts list are included. You are welcome to wire up your own, copying is the sincerest form of flattery. We also have the kit available in our Store.

If you have soldered projects before, this will be easy. There are only 20 pieces to solder onto the board, and all are through hole. Depending on your soldering savvy it may take anywhere from 30 to 45 min.

So lets begin!

Step 1: Tools

Here's what you need:

A soldering iron
Solder
Diagonal cutters

Helping hands are optional, but helpful.

Step 2: Schematic and Parts List

Schematic is above.

Parts list is below, in the suggested order of assembly.

C1 - 47uF ceramic capacitor (medium blue one)
C3 -10uF ceramic capacitor (little blue one)
C5 - 0.033uF Timing capacitor (TINY tan one)
U1 - MCP6542 dual micro-amp comparitor
R6 - 330ohm resistor
R1, R3, R4, R5 - 10M resistor
SC1 through SC6 - BPW34 photo-diode
D1 and D2 - red LED to blink
Switch - SPDT switch 3-pin 0.1 spaced
C2 and C4 - 0.5F 2v7 can super cap


Step 3: Capacitors

Start with the three small caps. You may need to bend the leads to make them fit. They may all look similar, but it is important that the correct one go in the correct slot. BTW, they don't have a polarity, so once you figure out which is which you can't get it backwards. Below is a short description of how to read the numbers on them, but for more detail check out this cool electronics wiki.

C1 is the medium one. The tiny numbers on it read "476". The first two digits are the value, the third is the multiplier. Capacitors are measured in pico-Farads. So 476 is 47*10^6 pico-farads.

C3 is little, and has 106 written on the side.

C5 is TINY and has 333 written on the side. Our picture shows a blue capacitor, your kit may have a Tan one so it isn't confused with C3.

Solder on the top side.

Step 4: Chip

Next the chip. Be very careful of stray electric shocks, they may fry the chip. We know this from experience, ouch. Ground yourself before handling the chip by touching a large metal object first. We find the bolts on outlets are usually grounded, and often nearby.

Line up the chip on the board, U1. The cutout on the chip should match the square on top of the board chip footprint. You can see it in the picture. You may have to squeeze the leads on each side to get it to snap in.

Solder on top as usual.

This is also a good time to flip it over and trim leads, before things get too busy.

Step 5: Resistors

Next the resistors. Bend the leads so they fit, and pull them through the board so they are nice and tight.

We recommend starting with with R6, its the orange odd one out. Check out this handy dandy link for how to read resistors. Unfortunately, they are tough for color blind people to decipher. But, I hear there is an Ap for that. ;)

Again, solder from the top.

The remaining 4 resistors are all the same, brown black. Pull them through and solder them from the top.

We recommend flipping it over and again trimming the leads.

Step 6: Photo-diodes (aka Mini Solar Cells)

Next the photo-diodes, aka the mini solar cells. It really REALLY matters that these are put in correctly. The positive end is marked on the board with a +. The positive on the photo-diode has a TINY dot, as well as a metal end which turns into the pin. Match that up with the + on SC1 through SC6, and solder them on from the top.

Step 7: LED! Blinky!

Now for the fun part, the blinky bits! D1 and D2 are the blinky LED. It is also important that they be soldered in correctly. But luckily it is easy to tell the polarity. The circle around their holes has a flat side. Line that up with the flat on the LED and you have the polarity correct.

We recommend soldering while upside down, as the LED covers the pads on the top. Flip it over and solder it on.

What is the best part about this step? If you are in a bright naturally lit room, and soldered it all correctly, IT WILL NOW BLINK! Check out the video, neato huh? The LED's are running directly off the ambient light collected by the photo-diodes. Or for even more power, stick the USB tab into any available socket and they'll REALLY shine. WINNING!

Square Kit01.mp4 from Robin Lawson on Vimeo.

Step 8: Switch and Storage

Next solder on the switch. It doesn't matter which way you put it in. As before, we recommend flipping it over and soldering from the back side.

One warning, the switch is made of low temperature plastic, so it will easily melt if the soldering iron touches it. By this time you should be a pro at soldering so I wouldn't worry too much about overheating the pins and melting the switch.

And finally, the two SUPER CAPS! These puppies keep your cute little red blinky square going for several hours after dark. The negative lead is labeled on the body of the cap by a -sign on the grey band. The positive lead is labeled on the board. Another way to tell which lead is which, the positive lead is the longer one. Again, solder on the back side and one final trim.

YOU'RE DONE!!!

Step 9: FUNction!

The first time you charge your lovely piece we recommend conditioning the super caps. What does this mean? Charge it above and beyond full capacity and store this for a few hours. It keeps the caps from having a memory and undercharging. We also recommend cleaning off the flux with orange clean. The flux may corrode the leads over time. See the next step for details.

But you are probably impatient to PLAY WITH THE BLINKY!! We understand. The operation of this project is super simple. It has two modes of behaving controlled by the switch. We call them "Store" and "Direct:

How to play:
1. Switch into “Direct” mode (unlabeled). The piece now gets its energy directly off the surrounding light. If it’s dark, NO blinky. If it’s bright, blinky awesomeness for all!
2. Not all light sources are the same, have fun figuring out which ones make the piece blink.

How to charge:
1. Switch into “Store” mode (labeled).
a. USB – plug it in. Wait 2 minutes till its really, really bright. If the LED's are constant, its full.
OR…
b. Solar – find a light source it likes and leave it under for 10-15 minutes. See step 2 of “How to play” to figure out what light it likes.
2. Enjoy the blinky awesomeness now.
Otherwise…
3. Store the charge for later by flipping the switch to “Direct”.

Endurance: In “Store” mode it'll run about 3 hours on a full charge in complete darkness. In “Direct” mode it'll blink as long as the room is bright. It's powered by SCIENCE!

Cleaning: Wash it with a warm damp soapy cloth. It may stop blinking when wet, don't panic. Let it dry out and it will start blinking. Do NOT put it in the dishwasher or washing machine (if you can help it). Both are too hot and may damage components.

Step 10: Extra Credit

You are welcome to string up your blinky awesomeness as a necklace, pair of earrings, key chain, or simply window dressing. You can also bond a pin onto the back and wear it on a backpack or shirt. However, make sure there is an insulating layer of epoxy or glue between the metal pin and the back of the circuit board. The red square is very low power, and can easily be shorted out by touching the back (or sweating on it, ew.) A metal pin will short out the square and it won't work properly.

If you want to go the extra mile you can seal it in epoxy, which is easy to do. Here's how:

1. Clean it. Its best to remove the solder flux before sealing, so it doesn't discolor over time or corrode the metal.
a. The project must be completely dead before cleaning. Let it run down overnight or in a dark place, and keep the switch in "Store". Then when cleaning flip the switch to "Direct" so it doesn't re-charge.
b. We recommend full strength orange clean and a toothbrush to remove all the flux. Scrub it thouroughly.
c. Rinse with cold water
d. Allow it to dry overnight.

2. After cleaning, do your best not to touch it with your fingers. Rubber gloves are recommended. The oil on your skin may discolor the metal, and interfere with the epoxy adhering to the parts and board.

3. Clear 5 or 10 min epoxy will work great for sealing. Just work fast, it gets gummy quick and hard to work with. Mix up a small batch, not more than an ounce. You can always mix up more if you need it.

4. Using a disposable brush seal one side. Avoid sealing the switch and USB tab. Everything else can be covered with epoxy and continue working, even the photo-diodes.

5 Allow the epoxy to completely cure. You'll know its done when it stops being sticky. This usually takes 24 hours, however don't be too impatient as un-cured epoxy will retain your finger prints. You want your blinky to be shiny don't you?

6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 for the other side. You're done!


About This Instructable

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Bio: We’re life-long tinkerers, siblings, and fourth generation engineers. We’re not quite sure which of us had the idea of putting LED’s on ... More »
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