Sunshine Alarm




About: I'm an inventor / maker / designer based in the Bay Area. My background is in residential architecture, film set design, animatronics, media arts, exhibit design, and electronics. I use digital design and fa...

Every day when I wake up, my first thought is destroying the source of that horrible noise next to my bed. Once upon a time, humans woke up with the sun. We should still do that, because it's hard to get angry at sunshine.

With littleBits, a Smart phone, and some off-the-shelf building toys, you can wake up with a smile every day!

Step 1: Tools & Materials




DC Motor

USB Power


Building Toys

Thames & Kosmos Physics Pro

Tamiya Universal Arm Set


• 4-40 Machine Screws & Nuts

Zip Ties


• 3/4" Plywood

• Wood Glue

• 1" Ø Wooden Dowel

• 1/4" Acrylic

Step 2: Assemble the LittleBits

They make it impossible to mess up this step. littleBits snap together with built-in magnets and male/female posts on the ends, so there's only one way two parts can go together.

Going from IN to OUT:

1. USB Power + 2. cloudBit + 3. Wire + 4. Motor

Step 3: Set Up the Cloud Bit

Setting up the cloudBit is also pretty much foolproof. Once it's plugged into the USB Power Bit (that's important by the way, it won't work with the 9v-12v power bit), go to this link in a web browser on a wireless network.

The page walks you through the process which involves switching wireless networks and waiting for colored light changes on the cloudBit.

Once the cloudBit is set up, you can test it through the setup page. Push the button and move the slider, and watch the output (in this case, the DC Motor) respond.

Step 4: IFTTT: If This Then That.

IFTTT is (incredibly simple) means of programming the cloudBit. After setting up an account and linking your newly setup cloudBit, you create what they call a Recipe. Under "This", you choose the input for your program.

First set up a test recipe to make sure everything is communicating the way you want it to. My test recipe is as follows:

IF: Send any SMS to IFTTT from my number

THEN: Set output level of cloudBit to 100 for 20 seconds

This way you can instantly test the connectivity of the cloudBit and make sure IFTTT is working with it.

The alarm recipe is as follows:

IF: Time is 7:30 PM (or any other time). I used the IFTTT clock which you can set using their app, but there are a number of options for time-realted triggers on the site. You could use Google Calendar or iOS reminders for example, and achieve the same result.

THEN: Set output level of cloudBit to 100 for 20 seconds

Step 5: Mechanics: Testing

Now that the programming works, it's time to figure out the mechanics that will make the motor open the blinds.

The Physics Pro kit has a number of easy to use parts that let you create simple gear assemblies. I didn't want to over-stress the DC motor, so I decided to step up the torque for the connection to the blinds' wand.

I used one of the smallest gears (there are three sizes) and one of the largest gears to make a little linkage using one of the base plates.

The axles have a "cross" shape in section, which almost perfectly fits the plastic end piece that comes with the littleBits DC Motor. With a little bit of filing, the plastic end cap fits snugly on the end of the axle. Since I want to step the torque up, I attach the motor to the smaller gear's axle. That way, the output axle spins with high torque and low speed.

After testing out the mechanics by taping the output axle to the end of the wand, it's clear there is plenty of torque and very low strain on the motor.

Step 6: Mechanics: Fixturing

Now that I know the basic mechanics will work, it's time to fixture the parts together for a more permanent situation.

First, I used the Physics Pro fames and connecting parts to enclose the axles. Once they were secure, I started using the Tamiya parts and machine screws to fix the motor in place, aligned with the driver axle. This part took a little tinkering, but I found the simplest way to make the project work was to play around with these parts until they fell into place.

With a combination of the brackets and linear linkages from the Tamiya kit, the DC Motor was securely fastened to the Physics Pro frames with machine screws and washers.

Step 7: Mechanics: Wand Clip

Next, I needed a way to be able to snap the blinds' wand in and out of place so that I could control them manually when I didn't need an alarm. I did this by using a screw-in cable clamp as a clip, attaching that to the top of a Tamiya L-bracket, and gluing that to the end of one of the Physics Pro pulleys. That way, the end of the output axle of my assembly could easily be snapped on and off of the wand.

Having all the mechanical parts fixtured, I zip-tied the rest of the littleBits to the top of the gear assembly frame. This made for the entire electronics and mechanics of the Sunshine Alarm.

Step 8: Enclosure

To keep the Sunshine Alarm in place at the side of the window, I whipped up a plywood enclosure with an acrylic top that could screw into the window trim.

I won't go into detail on this step, it's woodworking 101. Suffice it to say, I made a 6 1/2" cube with an open side, and an acrylic top with a hole in it for the output axle. I put the box on a wooden dowel that connects to a wooden bracket, allowing me to adjust the angle so that aligned as much as possible with the wand.

You could easily make the work with some shelf brackets from a hardware store, or simply using more of the Physics Pro parts.

Step 9: Wake Up Smiling

This is so much better than an alarm clock, or that tone on your phone that you quickly learn to hate. Do yourself a favor.



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    40 Discussions


    4 years ago on Introduction

    A nice detailed instructable.

    However, I cannot stop myself from going after some critical weaknesses.

    * All the parts you mention are sold only in Britain. It is true that a resourceful person could eventually mail-order all this, but overseas shipping would take the project from 35 Pounds, up to $148. Extremely cost-prohibitive, even if the user lives in the UK. I honestly thought the idea of Instructables was to make stuff from bits in the junk drawer, or maybe the reserve pile, for almost zero money.

    * Not everyone is lucky enough to sleep in a room which faces the sun.

    * Not everyone is lucky enough to own a room facing the sun, which is unimpeded by other buildings, or by local hills, or by trees, or by parked vehicles.

    So, in summation, for the one-half or one-sixth of 1% who live in the UK, this may be practical. For that even more isolated collection of sun-facers in the UK, this may be worthwhile.

    However, on my generic search for "loud alarm clock," I found this an odd distraction.

    Again, a super instructable!

    3 replies

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks for the compliments, but...

    Sold only in Britain? I live in San Francisco. I'd love to see how you could make this project with the same parts for £35! It cost me about $120.

    If the idea of instructables is to exclusively post projects that cost almost no money, I'm in the wrong place! Doesn't that seems like a bad limitation to put on this diverse, creative community? If that's what this place was about, we wouldn't have awesome projects like this:

    We're trying to inspire people here, not necessarily post projects that people will recreate themselves verbatim.

    That being said, there are clearly thousands of great instructables that present projects that can be made out of a junk drawer. I'd love to see what you've got in that arena!


    Reply 1 year ago

    Ah, San Fran, that explains it. You're on the same parallel as the Mediterranean, more-or-less. Very little seasonal variation in daylight hours.

    In winter the sun doesn't rise 'til 11AM in the UK where I'm at. In summer it rises at 5AM. This isn't really ideal.


    Reply 1 year ago

    I lived in London from May to September in ‘08, I hadn’t realized how high the latitude was! You can have a lot of fun when the sun sets at 10:00...


    1 year ago

    Mate if I woke up with the sun, I'd be waking up late for work six months out of the year.


    3 years ago

    In the good old days, when a single transistor cost a week's pocket money, I made a sunrise detector from a torch reflector with a phototransistor (OC71 with the paint scraped off) switching a relay. The relay turned on the (valve) radio.

    3 replies

    Reply 2 years ago

    ah yes the old OC71. I think I still have one, next to my BY27 :-)


    Reply 3 years ago

    Of course not. I was 16 at the time (1960) and not into photography until later. But I changed the design and put a blob of mercury on the hour hand of a clock to make a very low contact resistance connection to switch the (valve radio) heaters. It was much more reliable.
    BTW: as a child I had a book of poetry and eventually found that the poem "There's a magpie in my wireless" was true after I poked my fingers in the back of it.


    3 years ago

    Amazing instructable, but, unfortunately, it is completely useless for those who work nights.

    3 replies

    Reply 3 years ago

    Rubbish! Bigger lights and longer duration = Awake!



    3 years ago

    Great idea! I always wake up in a good mood when the sun is shining in my window too.


    3 years ago

    Great instructable. If you could incorporate a small LED panel to simulate the sun for people who are waking up(in the dark), or without a sun facing window - would be nice.

    1 reply

    Reply 3 years ago

    Good idea. It's been so long since I've thought about this project, it's probably time to revisit it for improvements!


    3 years ago

    very nice, but i see a problem: alarmlocks are there to also wake you up when it is still dark. Yours reacts to sun only

    3 replies