Gizmodo University: Flippin' SwitchesS


It's Saturday, it's noon; that can mean only one thing: It's time for Gizmodo University! We've got an action-packed lesson today as our intrepid Sparkle Labs host (and proud new papa) Ariel takes a look at switches, sensors, and detectors!

We hope you enjoyed the guest lecture last week and now have a stronger grasp of the basics of electronics theory because, hoo boy, are you going to need it! Now that we've entered the second half of the course, it's time to turn up the voltage to our thinking hats (making sure to use the proper ohm-rated resistors) and dive into the meat of the course. To start, we're going to build some interactive circuitry.

Buttons and Switches

Buttons and Switches from Sparkle Labs on Vimeo.

When you think about it, most everything we interact with on a daily basis employs buttons and switches of one sort or another; from the power button on your iPad to the keys of your keyboard, modern electronics are simply packed with them. How many have you pushed so far today?

Pots and Resistive Sensors

Pots and Resistive Sensors from Sparkle Labs on Vimeo.

Say it with me: Potentiometer. It's like a variable, controllable resistor; not unlike a dimmer switch. You can see some rather, er, unconventional uses for these devices in the Drawdio video posted in last week's comments section.

Making A Dark Detector

Dark Detector from Sparkle Labs on Vimeo.

So with only the addition of a simple transistor, you can effectively reverse the function of a light detector. That's pretty slick! It certainly beats the dark detection system my father taught me, "Hold your hand up in front of your face. Can you see it? No? Then it's dark. Aw hell son, open your eyes and try again."

Connecting Wire

Connecting Wire from Sparkle Labs on Vimeo.

Ok, that's it for this weekend! Tune in next Saturday at 12 noon Eastern for our final lesson! You know, the one where we put everything we learned together and build a light-sensitive Atari Punk Console. That's right, Atari. Punk. Console. Why yes, yes it is just as cool as it sounds.

Homework: Which Switch is Which?

Extra Credit: Build a prototype NES (8-bit) controller out of your breadboard and any necessary parts you have to scavenge. It should include a 4-way d-pad and the A & B buttons should each light up a separate led when pressed (bonus points for including the Select and Start buttons too). Post your video proof in the comments section!