Introduction: Where in the World Are Mom & Dad?

About: Petroleum Engineer working in Tulsa, OK. Started messing around with electronics in 2014 when I purchased an Arduino Uno. I think I'm hooked now, always trying to think of something else to build.

My wife and I recently went on a winter getaway and left our two small children behind (praise the lord). In the past when we have gone on trips we have discussed where we are going and pointed it out on a map and sometimes we have drawn where we would be flying into, driving, etc. It was fun to talk to them about it when we called to check up on them or just say hi. Now that I have found myself constantly tinkering with electronics in my spare time I decided it would be way cooler to have an "interactive" map. Enter the "Vacation Tracker".

When the idea came to me I quickly came up with the easiest way to make the project a reality. Using some LEDs and an IoT based microcontroller I had the project completed in about 3 hours. This was pretty much slapped together on the fly one night so it isn't the prettiest wiring or craftsmanship I have ever put forth but it looks pretty good from the outside.

The IoT device is one I got free from Instructables in the "Coded Creations" contest for my Fake TV

Step 1: Gather Materials

For this project I used:

  • Spark Core (now and the closest comparison is their Photon)
  • Mini breadboard
  • Female to Male jumper wires
  • Craft paper
  • Printer paper
  • White LEDs (6)
  • Resistors (6)
  • Scrap wire
  • Tape
  • Paper towel tube
  • Vinyl
  • Vinyl Transfer paper
  • Frosted window film
  • Old ca
  • Display case - any size will do, mine was sitting in a closet for years

Tools used:

  • Printer
  • Silhouette Cameo
  • Soldering iron
  • Hot glue gun
  • Wire cutters
  • Scissors
  • Craft knife

Everything I used was stuff I had on hand and already at my disposal. I purchased no additional items to complete this project. You don't need anything quite as exotic as what I used, scissors and razor blades can easily take the place of the Silhouette Cameo and soldering is not required. Drawing with sharpie easily takes the place of the vinyl, etc.

Step 2: Design Your Display

You will need to pick a map/image for your

project. My wife and I were travelling to the Caribbean so I hopped on Google Maps and took a screen shot of the island we were visiting. I pasted this straight into Silhouette Studio and began drawing icons for various activities that we would be doing on vacation.

I grabbed images off of the internet and traced them out in Silhouette for the activities. I placed the icons in the general area where the activities were taking place and lined everything up. The red lines shown in the attached images indicate where the Silhouette Cameo will cut the paper. The airplanes looked good enough to cut out on their own as they were just perimeter traces. Other icons contained interior cuts that would not show up unless they were otherwise mounted as a “mask” and thus the circles cut around them and the window film plus vinyl.

I moved the icons to a separate file to be cut out of vinyl versus paper.

Step 3: Cut Out Your Display

Now print out your display image on printer paper, load it onto the Silhouette Cameo cutting mat and proceed to cut all shapes out. Now load a piece of dark construction/cardstock paper and cut out the identical pattern on it.

Take the cardstock and lay it over a panel of your junk cardboard box and trace the inside perimeter of the icons (planes and circles) onto the box. Lay the display case over the same and trace the inside perimeter of the case onto the cardboard. Now roughly cut out the shape of the icons with a hobby knife, it does not have to be perfect because our cardstock will define the shape we see on the front panel. Cut out the outer perimeter, leaving some flaps to help secure it to the inside of the case.

Load the vinyl (no cutting mat) into the Silhouette Cameo and cut out the vinyl icons.

Step 4: Attach the Icons and Diffusers

We will be using frosted window privacy film as a diffuser to keep the light even and distributed across the icon face. I have used this on several projects in the past and it always seems to work well.

Take the vinyl icons and apply a piece of transfer paper (just paper with mild adhesive) then peel them off of the vinyl paper back and apply to the window film. Cut out the window transparencies in roughly 1.5” x 1.5” squares with the vinyl icon in the middle.

Now tape the window film over the openings (planes just have blank piece of film) with the icons aligned properly in the middle.

Glue the construction/cardstock paper over the back of your front display paper ( the copy paper one with the image). Now tape blank window film over the same holes on the back of your cardstock. This will help smooth the light out further with two films and a bit of separation.

Step 5: Assemble the Layers

Test fit the cardboard into your display case and trim slightly as needed. Now glue or tape the cardstock and copy paper display face onto the cardboard. I used a light I had on my workbench behind the cardboard to assist in lining everything up properly. I then cut a separate border from cardstock to “finish out” the display face to make it look flush and more professional.

Step 6: Install the Light Filters and LEDs

Since I did this on a whim one night I used what material I had laying around. The icon shapes were of the right size that a paper towel tube would be perfect for fitting around the icons, containing the light and giving sufficient spacing for the LEDs from the diffusers.

Cut your paper towel tube at approximately 1-1/2”. You will need one for each icon that you designed for. Now take the paper towel tube and place it onto a piece of cardboard scrap. Trace the interior perimeter the same number of times as you have icons. Six in total for me. Cut out all of these circles.

Cut a hole in the middle of each cardboard circle and press fit an LED in place, then remove. Place the cardboard circle into the end of the paper towel tube and hot glue in place. Now put a dab of hot glue on an LED and insert into the hole. Repeat this for each tube.

I chose to bend down the cathode of each LED for easy identification later.

Now affix the light filters/mounts to the backside of the cardboard so that they cover each icon. This keeps the light from one LED from partially lighting another icon.

Step 7: Wire It All Up

Insert the Spark Core into the mini breadboard so that the

pins on the side with the digital pins is one the breadboard and the analog side hangs off. We only need digital pins here and the analog side will be unconnected.

Place 68 ohm resistors (dependent upon the forward voltage and current of your LEDs) across the center gap from pins D0 through D5, these six will be the only digital pins we use in this project. Now take a male to female jumper cable and plug the male side into the breadboard and the female side over the anode leg of the individual LEDs.

I chose to wire all cathodes together to a common ground to make wiring simpler. I soldered these together quickly but it is not required if you don’t have a soldering iron (you could just use male to female jumper wires for each as we do for the anodes). Connect the common ground line to the ground of the Spark Core via the breadboard. I used a male-male jumper wire here and just soldered one end of it to the common ground and plugged the other end into the breadboard.

Plug the Spark Core in via micro USB to a USB port or power adapter.

Step 8: Use the Tinker App

Use the Tinker app from on your smart phone to

control the individual LEDs for the activity you are doing. I simply made note of which pins (D0 through D5) were associated with each activity in the notes app on my iPhone and I was ready to use.

Simply turn D0 through D5 to digitalWrite and turn the appropriate HIGH (ON) or LOW (OFF). You can toggle these from half-way around the world with an internet connection!

You are done, the kids will love it when they walk by the display and see that it has changed and they will know what Mom and Dad are up to on that much needed trip away! Our kids loved it and were eager to ask us about our activities when we called.


Full Spectrum Laser Contest 2016

Participated in the
Full Spectrum Laser Contest 2016

Homemade Gifts Contest 2015

Participated in the
Homemade Gifts Contest 2015

Arduino All The Things! Contest

Participated in the
Arduino All The Things! Contest