Solar Powered Wireless Detector by Mark Dixon




Introduction: Solar Powered Wireless Detector by Mark Dixon

As part of the VELOCITY Festival of DIgital Culture, artist Mark Dixon has developed a solar powered version of Network, his wireless detector artwork, as on online workshop for instructables and folly. An array of these devices were installed in the Furness & Midland Hall at Carnforth Railway Station on the 31st October 207 as part of a Halloween Film Night.

The original version was presented at Enter festival in Cambridge as a major site-specific installation for the temporary festival domes in the park. Network explores the visualisation of the wireless information that surrounds us but is rarely acknowledged. Using 3000 wireless detectors and 6000 ultra bright LEDs he created a work that visibly responded to mobile phone use in a public environment. Each day, workshop participants were actively encouraged to hack and to add to the lighting array that was visible all through the night. On the last day of the festival Network was broken down and handed out to festival goers and distributed throughout the city.

Step 1: Here's How They Look En Masse!

Step 2: First You Get Hold of a Solar Garden Lamp...

As an online workshop for instructables, I was asked by folly to create a solar powerd version of the wireless detector that I used to make some of my art installations in the last year. At first this seemed a reasonable request and fun to do. However it took a while before I could find a cheap and readily available solar power unit that was compatable with the wireless detector. So, sorry about the waiting around. Basically what I am doing here is to replace the onboard button batteries on the wireless detector with a hacked solar garden lamp.

There are all kinds or shapes and sizes of solar lamps on the market, and many available very cheaply at this time of year (November) because there is not a lot of sun in the UK winter months. Armed with a screw driver I took apart seven examples ranging from garden spike variety to Hanging lanterns. The samples which I pulled apart fell in to two camps. The ones with a single re-chargeable battery providing about 1.2 volts and the ones with Two AAs providing about 2.5V. It is the later that is more useful, so I have chosen one of these to explain this relatively simple hack. All we are going to do here is replace the LED lamp with a pair of trailing leads fitted with crocodile clips. After that (providing you have a enough sun) you should be able to power a whole host of 2.5V to 3V gadgets, ranging from small motors to circuit boards and some MP3 players. You can also string these hacks together to create more juice.

Step 3: So What Do We Need . . .

I bought this Churchill Solar Lantern for 6 GBP from a large hardware store (B&Q) Similar products are available worldwide. Check the original manufactures website

A pair of wired crocodile clips available from electronics shops ( Rapid Electronics, Maplins, etc). I chose a red and black pair so that we can identify the polarity of our new power supply.


Soldering Iron, a de-soldering iron or solder sucker if you have one. If you do not have one, this would be a great Christmas present for the would be hacker.

Suction pads for windows.

A wireless detector (more about those later)

Firstly remove any warranty stickers and throw them away. Take a screw driver and remove the complete solar unit from its outer product housing.

Step 4: The Hack

On this example you can see that the manufacturer has kindly given us a circuit board showing the polarity of the output led. Positive is marked with a +. Unscrew or detach the retaining screw and inspect the way that the LED is fitted. In this case the LED needed to be de-soldered from the board. If there is no polarity marking on your example, you should be able to find a small flat on one side of the LED body, indicating the negative or cathode side. It is useful to take a quick reference snap with a camera or mobile phone so that if a any wires from the batteries to the solar-cell become detached, you have a record of where to solder them back on. I have found as a general rule taking snaps of products as part of any hack process forms a useful tool for future reference anyway.

Step 5: After De-soldering and Removing the LED...

After de-soldering and removing the LED...

Step 6: ... Fit and Solder Your Trailing Crocodile Clip Leads. and solder your trailing Crocodile clip leads.

Step 7: You Should Have Something That Looks Like This...

You should have something that look like this...

Step 8: Test You New Wiring With the Now Removed Led or a Multi-meter.

Test you new wiring with the now removed led or a multi-meter.

You may need to cover the solar cell to fool it into thinking it is dark, it will then switch to its output mode. I have simply laid it face down to activate the output. There you go, you now have a useful and very cheap solar power supply.

Step 9: Wireless Detector

The mobile phone flashing indicator module I am using here reacts by flashing tiny superbright onboard LEDs when a mobile phone rings. I simply removed the two 1.5V button batteries from the Flasher module and attached the croc clips to the battery connector mounts.

folly, the Lancaster based digital arts organisation ( has a limited stock of Network devices to give away for free (one per person) - to get yours send a self addressed stamped envelope to folly (Network Device), 6.4.4 Alston House, White Cross, Lancaster, LA1 4XQ, UNITED KINGDOM. Or you can buy larger quantities online at (Product code 13-0668)

The module responds to either incoming or outgoing phone signals by flashing a 20 second light sequence through 2 LEDs. Up to 4 additional surface mount LEDs can be added to the circuit. The module can also be used as an input module for other circuits. It has a built-in antenna but this can be extended to increase the effective distance from the phone to the module.

Step 10: The Last Bit of the Hack...

The last bit of the hack, suggested by Mark Daniels of , was to attach a suction pad. You can now hang the whole unit in the window, to await that elusive sunlight.

Step 11: Manufacturer Spec for Solar Lamp Unit:

Manufacturer spec for solar lamp unit:
Solar cell (origin of country: USA/Germany)
The power of solar cell: 0.45W
Solar cell type: mono-crystalline solar panel
Running temperature: -30 degrees Celsius~60 degrees Celsius
Battery types: Ni-Cd
Battery capacity: 2 x 1.2V/600mAh
Operating time: up to 12hrs

Step 12: A Tiny Led Sculpture Powered by a Pair of Hacked Solar Lantern Units.

A tiny led sculpture powered by a pair of hacked solar lantern units.

Mark Dixon October/November 2007

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    3 Discussions


    9 years ago on Introduction

    Does each "packet" respond to just one cell phone. Or do they all flash or respond from just one phone or different cell phone numbers?


    12 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks for your comment Apologies that this was not clear on the posting originally - I have amended it now so that Step 9 reads: folly, the Lancaster based digital arts organisation, has a limited stock of Network devices to give away for free (one per person) - to get yours send a self addressed stamped envelope to folly (Network Device), 6.4.4 Alston House, White Cross, Lancaster, LA1 4XQ, UNITED KINGDOM. Thanks! Jennifer Stoddart Programme Coordinator folly


    12 years ago on Introduction

    cool. looks kinda awsome. Just wondering, how can i get my hands on a free network device? ~Twisted