“When are you coming back, Mommy?” – “Just look at your lights, sweetheart.”
While squeezing his little arms tightly around my neck, my little man whispers in my ear: “Mommy, when are you coming to pick me up? How long will it take until you’ll be back? I miss you, mommy. I don’t wanna…” It gets me whenever something big like this happens.
Vico’s first day of school is coming up, so worries and stress lurk around the corner. This will be the first time he’ll set foot in a new school building, with a new teacher and new kids who probably are as nervous as Vico, which doesn’t help the situation at all. The biggest stress trigger for Vico does not know when I’m coming back to pick him up. Time for an Arduino project to help my little boy through his first week(s?) of school!
Here’s the plan
In this blog post, I’ll tell you about my don’t-worry clock Arduino project. Vico can’t tell time yet, and I thought of a solution to help him get a sense of how long it’ll be until school is out. The plan is to use an Arduino microcontroller together with an 8×8 dot matrix module to create a countdown clock. I know what you’re thinking right now: What are you talking about, Francesca! This is too technical! Don’t worry, it isn’t that complicated. The dot matrix is just an 8×8 grid with LED lights, and the Arduino is a microcontroller that controls the LED lights. (You can read more about an Arduino in my earlier article.)
From idea to reality
First of all, I thought: Ok Fran, think… How are you going to make this happen? I am an Arduino newbie, so I had to figure out how the Arduino and the LEDs work before I could create a clock out of it. I decided to make a small animation that turned columns with eight LEDs off with a certain delay. The idea was that when all LED columns are turned off, the school day is over. This animation was pretty easy to make with all the example code, and YouTube video’s out there on the internet.
Wireless power. But how?
I was wondering how to create wireless power because I wanted to build the LED clock inside or onto Vico’s backpack. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be able to take it with him to school. The internet to the rescue! While browsing around, I discovered Adafruit. A very, very, VERY cool New York City company, founded by Limor Fried, also known as Ladyada.
“Her goal was to create the best place online for learning electronics and making the great products for makers of all ages and skill levels.”
Because of the high shipping and customs costs, I decided to search for a Dutch online electronics shop that sells Adafruit stuff. Luckily I found one, so now I can finish my toddler clock Arduino project!
Above: PowerBoost Shield 500 by Adafruit (Some soldering needed, but don’t let that intimidate you. It’s just welding two pieces of metal together with a hot metal rod.)
After a very long wait, my shield and battery finally arrived. And I can proudly say that I’ve made it! The night before his very first day of school my sons’ toddler clock came to life! Read all about it in part 2.
I really like to hear from you, so leave a comment. What do you think of this toddler clock idea? If you have tips, questions or cool ideas, please let me know!