Introduction: Interactive Foam House Reacts to Light and Sound

This is a surprisingly easy-to-build project for kids, and the end result is a small toy house that can be made to react to light or sound (or pretty much any sensor input). We adapt wearable technologies like conductive thread and sewable electronics into a foam structure.

I guess the idea is adaptable to other kinds of toy/doll houses or even tree houses. The screen based, schemer programming environment also encourages children to learn some simple programming as they learn to customize the behavior of their projects.

Step 1: Ingredients

The pieces are a result of my PhD  research in ambient programming. My objective is to give novices  to programming and electronics, ultra-easy and robust tools to start making craft projects and to learn from.

What's really cool about working with these components is that (1) they have been designed to be very easy to hookup (most parts have only two wires), and programming them is done directly from a webpage, with now extra software or hardware to get.

In this picture, you just have to connect all the top holes together with conductive thread or wire, and do the same with all the bottom holes. All the components have an ID that tells them their roles, when to turn on, and when to send data. This greatly simplifies wiring, since you only need two wires going to everything.

These pieces, also available on our website, are:

  • schemer - web programmable button
  • sound sensor board - easy to use sensor
  • lightboards - simple led boards that fade and blink
  • plastic battery holder and battery
  • conductive thread

Of course, you'll also need a house to decorate :-)

Step 2: Hooking Up

First build up the structure of the house according to the instructions, and figure out where you want your components. In our case, the schemer site by the little chicks, and lightboards and microphone will be arranged on the hedge.
Next, connect the plus of the battery holder to the plus of schemer, and then connect the minus of the holder to schemer. To better hide the thread, do short stitches on the top side, and long stitches on the bottom side. You can later cover them with decorations. If you insert a battery, you will see a default flashing pattern to let you know that it's working.
Next, arrange your lightboards in order from 1 dot, 2 dots, all the way to 5 dots. Now connect all the holes with dots together to schemer using one length of thread, then connect all the minus holes.

Basically, you need to connect all the top holes of the lightboards with the top dot on schemer (gray lines), and do the same thing with the bottoms holes (black lines).Get more details about how to hookup components here.

Hooking up the sound sensor is also pretty easy. Just connect it to the lightboards by sewing the holes just as if you were attaching another lightboard. We attach it to the back of the hedge opposite the lightboards.

Step 3: Final Steps

What, we're done already?! Pretty much... all the hard work of configuring,  sensing, PWM control, bus protocol has already been done, and the idea is to mix and match the components to get the effect you want. Cool huh?

Well, finish up the house by mouting the hedge and placing flowers in front of all the lightboards. It helps to cutout small circles in the middle of the flowers so all the lights are more visible.  

Step 4: Programming

When you first hook up your schemer, it will flash a blinking pattern. To make it react to light or sound, go to the programming page, on your computer or iPhone/iPod touch. There you can change adjust the settings to look like this, and follow the steps on that page to send your program.

To reprogram it,              
  • Press the touch pad for 1 second until it goes into programming mode.
  • Put schemer in front of the yellow flower.
  • Press "Send".
  • Hold it still until the web browser finishes sending the program

  • If there's a problem, hold schemer closer to the screen or make the display brighter. Then try again. If you can't get schemer to flash 3 times when you touch the pad, try wetting your finger and make sure your finger is touching the touch pad and the bottom hole marked minus (-). As a last resort you can use a paper clip instead to improve the conductance.

    To make your house sleep at any time, press the touch pad to go into programming mode, as before. Keep holding it down and eventually it will "fade off to sleep".
    Your house can also automatically sleep after some time of inactivity... just press the touch pad for about 1 second to wake it up.

    As always, go to if you have any questions or issues.
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