The Sunshine Alarm




About: Hi! I'm Star Simpson! I'm a real me! See more at []. photo by [ Jeff Lieberman] ( stasterisk - my name is Star, and when I was 13 I ...

Not to be confused with the biological warfare whistleblower's group, the Sunshine Project. This is an alarm clock that wakes you up with light!

All Electronics was selling a whole pile of 125VAC switching timers, salvaged from old Mr. Coffee models, available here.

I'm not a huge fan of kitchen robots that stew coffee for me at too-early in the morning. The first thing that popped to mind was, "wow, I could use those and have an alarm that let me wake up to a real sunrise!"

It's none-too-sunny here in Boston, and I'm an extra big fan of sunshine. So I'm delighted to be able to control my own sunrises. I'm also a light-sensitive sleeper with two roommates and I feel a little uncivil just blasting my favorite tunes to myself wake up when I could use the SUNSHINE instead!

The first time the lightbulb went off over my head, I knew I had to replicate it, multiply the effect by sixteen, and do that every single day!!

So I set out to build the sunshine alarm!

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Step 1: Urban Recycling

Here's how this part of the instructable is free!

The alley behind my house fills up with all manner of cast-off junk on trash days - windsurfer masts, foam Sox #1 hands, dishwashers, lamps, and more. Every single week. So I waited around until someone threw out one of those tree lamps and harvested its three low-hanging Edison socket-fruit.

Free Edison sockets!! Did you know light bulb sockets were called Edison sockets? I didn't. I like the term a lot.

I didn't exercise the patience to wait for another trash day, though, and just picked up the rest for around $0.40 each at the Urban Ore Ecopark, which is this gigantic urban recycling center that takes, sorts, and resells useful junk of every color, in Berkeley, CA. Go there.

Why aren't there more of stores like the Urban Ore Ecopark?
People are throwing away your future sunshine alarm, every day!

I also salvaged someone's old motion-sensor flood light. Those things are sweet! I saved the timer/photodetector assembly for some other project. I think it's cute that part of my fake-sunshine project is fed by a device that was previously used to turn lights on with the sunset.

The other things I used for this project were, a big flat piece of wood to mount everything on, and a bunch of solid state relays that I got for cheap at so I could control the individual lights with a microcontroller (optional but cool).

Step 2: Scaffolding

I put sixteen holes on a grid into a plate of plywood.

I started having visions of different microcontrolled sunshine modes, including red, blue and green lightbulbs, and the possibility of playing "snake" on the alarm clock when I wasn't just trying to wake up. Maybe if I added a UV blacklight, I could even get a little sun-tan from my alarm clock, in January in Boston! Hah, music-wakers!

With a little more forethought, and I would have remembered to add a slot for the Mr. Coffee Timer's button/clock interface, and a place to hold a bunch of solid state relays.

Step 3: Test

To test out if the Mr. Coffee Timer worked, I put the two hot lines on the inputs (marked Line N and Line L), and connected just one lightbulb socket (with lightbulb) to the hot and the "HTR" output.

Sure 'nuff, the thing works! I can switch 120V AC when I say it'll switch! I harness the power of Tesla!

Later on, I read this in the datasheet:

  • This device was designed for use in a "MR COFFEE" coffeemaker. It is designed to automatically turn on the unit at a predetermined time. It turns off automatically after two hours. It can be adapted for use with other 120 Volt devices that operate on 10 Amps or less.
  • Caution: Be careful when working with 120 Vac lines. You can get a severe electo-shock which can be painful or worse. Do not touch bare wires. Keep wires from touching each other. Unit in should be housed in an enclosure to prevent contact with live wires.
  • Connection: Connect 120 Vac source to terminals marked Line (N) and Line (L). Connect 120 Vac device that you wish to operate (Load) to terminals marked Line (N) and Heater (HTR).
  • Set clock to current time by pressing hour and minute buttons.

Cool! So, the two-hour shutoff means it may not burn down the house. Or at least, other engineers have thought about it so I don't have to.

I'm a bit concerned about the amp rating, though. Some quick math: if I use 60W bulbs, which at 120V draw a half-amp each... I can run 20 of them without tripping this thing out. Awesome! I guess that goes to show exactly how much power gets chewed up by your appliances that produce heat! Thank goodness it still seems important to change your incandescent lightbulbs to CFLs while running your dryer, shower, and electric range to save energy and the environment!

Next step: connecting ~20 light bulbs!

Step 4: Caulk

So, what do 16 light bulbs mostly produce?

A: A lot of heat.

And that's why I can't use hot-glue on these light bulbs sockets!

Don't use hot glue, or do, and find out why.

I normally use hot glue for everything. This calls for something else. The glue options in my house include: hot glue, superglue, wood glue, gorilla glue, rubber cement, and caulk.

None of the rest will really bond sockets to wood holes in quite the way I want, except the caulk. I load the gun with a fine tube of brilliant white acrylic glue with silicone, and smoosh it in big gobs around the sockets, Two hours of curing later, and I have some fine bonds.

Step 5: Wires

Now, 16 more times!!

I soldered the incoming power lines (wall plug) on the timer, and then ran separate "hot" and "on" lines to each light socket.

The best thing you can do while doing all that soldering is listen to the Capstan Shafts ask "Negative Man, what's the Anti-matter?" and profess, "You run the disco of my heart!"

How do you connect 16 "hot" socket wires, and 16 "on" socket wires to the power? WIRE NUTS! They're the best ever! You can just screw them onto a bajillion wires, and bam! They're all connected!

I'll make an insulating plastic box for the timer later. You could use a metal box instead, as long as you grounded it.

About halfway through the wiring project, I think about how little I'd like me or my roommates to get shocked by 125VAC as an alarm clock, and electrical tape everything metal.

That's it! Set the time and go! Wake up basking in the glory of your winter-sunshine!

Step 6: Microcontrol

Okay, so it all works, but I want to go the extra mile.

Today this whole stack of solid-state relays arrived! These little guys let you switch really high voltages. I got some 1.5 amp relays for around $3 each on jameco.

I rip the plastic bag and spill the new relays out on my desk like delicious little silicon candies.

Now I can use an AVR microcontroller to program in any light pattern I want! I can wake up to mad-flickering, circle-chasing, vintage "snake", or Times-Square light chaser modes!

If I switch the lightbulb on-and-off fast enough (PWM), I can even get it to appear to dim and slowly turn on.

I can just unscrew one the wire nuts and connect each lightbulb to power via one of the solid state relays. Then, I control the relays with some swift AVR programming, and I'm set to rock & roll!

Maybe the easiest way to do make a light-alarm would be to just connect the timer to a big neon sign. eit!!

Speaking of which, does anyone know how to make neon signs? Can someone make a glass-blowing instructable?

I haven't taken any pictures or videos of the final thing working, yet, so.. that's it!


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    14 Discussions


    10 years ago on Introduction

    "Maybe the easiest way to do make a light-alarm would be to just connect the timer to a big neon sign. eit!!

    Speaking of which, does anyone know how to make neon signs? Can someone make a glass-blowing instructable?"

    Try out EL-WireEL-Wire :)

    1 reply

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Glass blowing is an art best learned by doing. I could write an instructable a mile long and most would still never be able to do it without an instructor and hands on experience. Not only that but it's expensive to just hobby around with, if your not planning on doing it for money then be prepared to go broke. It's an addictive hobby at that. Besides that, you gotta know how to apply the gas to a neon bulb which is difficult to say the least if you don't have a machine to do it.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    incandescent? really? try metal halides!
    pretty good idea, i might do this once i have the resources


    9 years ago on Introduction

    Like the idea. I usually wake up before the normal alarm clock. That beeping is so hideous that I dread it going off. I've actually woke up early on the weekends because I "thought" the alarm would sound soon. (sounds weird, it is, but true.)

    As an aside, I found an alarm clock that uses chimes, cathedral bells or other sounds to wake you up. Also, it does so relatively quietly at first and increases in volume over maybe 15 seconds.

    But I do like your method much more.

    Lance Mt.

    9 years ago on Introduction

     Hows bout a giant arrow moving towards the door for the pattern of lights. Very encouraging XD 


    11 years ago on Introduction

    Awesome! I wish I could make it dark instead of sunshine here in NM. Someone should make one that kicks or steps on me. Nothing else wakes me up. Its hard for me to fall asleep, but once I'm asleep nothing wakes me.

    4 replies

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    I hear ya on that, I need one that will turn my bed over so I can wake up. I have a horrible time waking up, light doesn't do it sound barely works.


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    Awesome! This is right up my ally. I love to wake up by light and now that fall is already fast approaching, my mornings are not bright and it's harder for me to wake up when it's dark around me. I would love to see a vid of it in action! I would love to have mine start off dim and have it get brighter. That way, the light wouldn't shock me. lol Great Instructable!


    11 years ago on Introduction

    Hey thats cool i really need one of these for the dark winter mornings !