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April 23, 2017

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We have moved!

We are pleased to announce that we have moved!  Until now, we have been working out of MakeWorks, which is a co-working space in Toronto.  Due to our tremendous growth, we needed a little more space, so we moved to a new office in Bloor West Village.

As a result of this move, our process for local pickup orders has changed.  Our friends at Cards & Such, located at 2336 Bloor Street West in Toronto, have agreed to let our customers pickup orders from them.  For this service, we must charge $1.50 for pickup orders under $100.  The good news is that pickup hours are now dramatically expanded, as shown in our About Us page.  

As always, thank you for your business and your support!

April 20, 2017

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Escape Room Part 3: Health Monitoring Vests

This post is part of a series I am writing about my senior thesis project. Please check out the other parts of the series to learn even more about my project: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

It was a very arduous process, but I finished making the first vest for my escape room. This was my first experience actually working with wearable devices so it involved a lot of trial and error. The components I used were a Particle Photon, a Photon Wearable ShieldRuby Red and Emerald Green LED Sequins, a Piezo Buzzer, a switched JST connector, 3 ply conductive thread, regular threadneedles, jumper cables, a 1200 mAh Lipo Battery (with charger), a hot glue gunwire strippers, and a soldering iron (with solder).

I started by sewing the Wearable Shield into the upper left pocket of the vest and the switched JST connector into the lower left pocket of the vest. I then attempted to connect them using the conductive thread, but the distance between them was too long and not enough power could get from the battery attached to the JST connector to the Wearable Shield. So, after ripping out all the conductive thread from my first failed attempt, I decided to cut the ends off of some jumper cables and use them to connect the JST connector to the wearable shield. I soldered the wires to the JST connector, wove them up the inside of the vest, and then soldered the other ends to the Wearable Shield. I held the Wearable Shield in place with regular thread and used hot glue to secure the JST connector (I sewed the Wearable Shield in upside down so the VIN and ground connectors I needed would be closer to the JST connector).

After I had a reliable power source setup, it was time to sew in the LED Sequins and Piezo Buzzer. I did this by sewing the ground connectors on all of the components together with the conductive thread and connecting them to the ground connector on the Wearable Shield. I then connected the positive ends of the LED sequins to D5 and D6, and connected the other end of the Piezo Buzzer to A4 (one of the pins that supports the tone() function).

The vest is currently set up so that the green LED is illuminated while the player's health is above 25%. When the player's health drops below 25% the green LED turns off and the red LED and buzzer turn on. The Particle code includes a Particle Variable for the health that can be accessed by the Node server I created. The server gets the player's health once every second and stores it in a Firebase database. The web app is set up to allow the player to input their name and vest number. Once they do this, a health bar displays the health associated with their vest from the Firebase database. The health bar is green if the player's health is above 50%, yellow if it's below 50% and greater than 25%, and red if it's below 25%. There is also a faux EKG, but that's not working yet (I decided not to use the pulse sensor because I was having trouble interpreting the data from it and it was not comfortable enough for long term use). The styling of the web app is also not final and I still have to add more features unrelated to the vest (such as a heal feature and hint system). Additionally, I have to add on to the server to accommodate for the other four vests when I finish them. Here is the code for anyone who wants to see how I programmed the back-end of my vest system. I removed all personal info from the code such as API keys, auth tokens, and Firebase URLs.

Overall, I am very happy with how the vest came out. The process was extremely time consuming and at times painful (thanks to the sharp needle), but it was worthwhile. I now have a system in place that will allow me to create the rest of the vests in a more timely fashion. The vests will be a nice touch for the final room and provide for a unique experience that most escape rooms don't offer.

April 10, 2017

Posted in projects

Solar Powered Beckoning Cat

I picked up a battery powered "beckoning cat" on a to Shanghai, and it has consumed 3 "AA" batteries over a period of 36 months.  Seems like a silly waste of batteries, right?

With spring upon us and some sunny days in Toronto, I decided it was time to put one of our Adafruit Solar Badges to work.  These little badges output 40 milliamps @ 5 volts in direct sunlight, which seemed like enough for our cat.


The cat was originally powered by a single AA battery, which provides 1.5 volts.  Being a good engineer, I thought it would be best to give it around the same voltage.  One way accomplish this is with voltage dividing resistors.  

 I won't get into the theory here, but I knew that using lower resistance would consume less power, so I went with 10 ohm and 18 ohm resistors.  This would provide 1.79 volts.

You can learn more about this calculation at


It turned out that my efforts to match the voltage were in vain, as with the resistors the cat's arm barely moved in direct sunlight!

Resistors dissipate energy, and it turns out that even these low impedance resistors were sapping too much energy. 

I thought about it, and realized that the reason the cat had an AA battery probably wasn't due to delicate electronics that could only tolerate 1.5 volts...rather, it was for cost savings and packaging.  So I thought, why not just hook the solar cell directly to the cat.

It turns out that this is all the cat needed!  

 The cat even works in lower levels of sunlight:


Here's a picture showing how I soldered the wires to the AA battery terminals:

March 27, 2017

Posted in store news

Saturday April 1: Arduino Day Canada!

We are pleased to announce that we are co-hosting Arduino Day Canada with Rogue Robotics at our co-working space, MakeWorks Toronto.  Come visit us between 10:00 and 3:00 to see demos, learn more about Arduino, and meet other Arduino fans.  Please RSVP at EventBrite so we know how many people are coming.   This event is held in conjunction with the global Arduino Day celebration!

We will have limited stock of Arduino Uno, Mega, and Starter Kits on hand.  If you want to pick something else up, please order online, select "Toronto Local Pickup" at checkout, and let us know you would like to pick up the order at Arduino Day.
March 03, 2017

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Escape Room Part 1: Pulse Sensor

This post is part of a series I am writing about my senior thesis project. Please check out the other parts of the series to learn even more about my project: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

I am in the process of starting a relatively large-scale project for my senior thesis at school. I will be creating an escape room for which I will be transforming the lighting studio at my school into an abandoned hospital lab. I will be putting players through a scenario in which they must retrieve blood samples from the hospital to help scientists create a cure for a mass contagion that is wiping out humanity. My escape room will contain a variety of puzzles and challenges and will make extensive use of Arduinos and Particle Photons. One of the main components of my escape room will be vests that players wear that will essentially monitor their health as they are exposed to the contagion. You can find more information about my thesis on my website.

The first component of my escape room that I will be working on are the health monitoring vests. They will monitor both the players' exposure to the contagion and pulse. The pulse will be important because if the players' exposure level becomes too high they will have to get their pulse up in order to circulate a temporary antibiotic through their body. In order to monitor the players' pulse, I will be using the Pulse Sensor Amped. The Pulse Sensor Amped is an open-source product that we developed by a company called World Famous Electronics, LLC. The Pulse Sensor Amped can work with any Arduino and can be used to display heart rate data using Processing.

For the vest in my escape room, I will be connecting the Pulse Sensor Amped to a Particle Photon so that I can transmit the pulse data over WiFi and display the data using p5.js in a web app. However, for today I will be using a SparkFun RedBoard just so I can experiment with the Pulse Sensor Amped and learn how it works. The RedBoard is one of my favorite physical computing tools. It functions exactly like an Arduino Uno but costs a fraction of the price. You can also get it as part of a Tinker Kit that gives you everything you need to create basic physical computing projects. The RedBoard will be perfect to allow me to get data from the Pulse Sensor Amped and display an EKG using Processing. The Pulse Sensor Amped comes with several components: there's the Pulse Sensor itself, clear stickers to protect the Pulse Sensor from water, Velcro and a strap to attach the Pulse Sensor to your finger, and a clip on earring to attach the Pulse Sensor to your earlobe.

To setup the Pulse Sensor Amped you can follow the Getting Started Guide on World Famous Electronics website. They have two versions of the guide there: a new one that links to a GitHub project and an old one that they say is there for archival purposes. I will mostly be following the new version of the guide, however there is a section of the old guide that talks about sealing the back of the Pulse Sensor Amped with hot glue to protect the electronic components from moisture and skin oils. This seems important to me so I will be doing that. So, the basic setup process is to cover the front of the Pulse Sensor Amped with one of the clear stickers that came with it and to seal the back of it with hot glue as mentioned in the old guide. After doing so your Pulse Sensor Amped should look like this:

From here you can stick one of the Velcros on it if you want to use the finger strap or you can attach it to the earring using a small dab of hot glue. For my project I will be using to finger strap so I put one of the Velcros on it. There are two main tutorials on World Famous Electronic's website: one that lets you blink/fade an LED in time with your heart rate and display pulse data using a serial plotter in the Arduino IDE, and another that lets you display pulse data in Processing. These tutorials include all the code you will need to get up and running with the Pulse Sensor Amped. It's important to note that before doing the Processing tutorial, you must first setup your Pulse Sensor Amped with the Arduino code from the first tutorial. You should connect your Pulse Sensor Ampled to the Arduino board of your choice as follows: red to 5v, black to ground, and purple to A0.

After hooking up the Pulse Sensor Amped to your Arduino board you can grab the code from GitHub and you should be good to go. You will know everything's working if, once you upload the code to your Arduino board and attach the pulse sensor to your finger/earlobe, the built-in LED next to pin 13 starts blinking. This blinking corresponds to your live heart rate. Then after setting up the Processing sketch (don't forget to change the outputType variable in the Arduino code from SERIAL_PLOTTER to PROCESSING_VISUALIZER) you should get a nice visual representation of your heart rate.

Overall, I was very impressed by the Pulse Sensor Amped. The setup was super simple and I was able to get up and running quickly using the tutorials provided by World Famous Electronics. The next step in my project will be adapting the demo code to make it work using a Particle Photon and p5.js instead of an Arduino and Processing. I will also have to use a shield to make the Photon wearable and integrate it with the other system that the vest will be monitoring which is the level of exposure to the contagion. However, as of now I am pretty confident going forward that I should be able to get everything working!

March 02, 2017

Posted in store news

New reduced Canada Post rates!

We are pleased to announce reduced Canada Post shipping rates!  We have reduced our Canadian shipping rates by 10% across the board.  We are shipping hundreds of packages per month now, so Canada Post was nice enough to give us a discount.

Thank you for your support and enjoy the new rates!

February 25, 2017

Posted in projects

Hungry Hippos

This project is a digital remake classic board game Hungry Hungry Hippos. I decided to try and recreate the motion of the hippos from the game at the push of a button. I knew going into this that the hippos had two main motions: the forward and backward motion of their body and the up and down motion of their head. I figured that I could use a servo to control the body motion and a solenoid to control the head motion. I decided that would program my hippo using an Arduino Mega 2560 R3. I started by 3D printing a head for the hippo and a rack and pinion that would represent the hippo's body. This was an iterative process (it took a few tries to get the pinion to fit on the servo), but I finally ended up with a set of parts that I was happy with.

The next thing I had to do was connect the head to the rack. I knew that the head had to pivot up and down in order to "eat" the marbles, so I attached it to the rack using a hinge and some superglue.

I then started working on attaching the solenoid to the rack and head. I was going to glue it to the rack and use a piece of copper pipe to attach it to the head. However, I quickly realized that the solenoid drew too much power to be powered by the Arduino alone. I was able to resolve this problem using a 9V battery adapter and a TIP120 transistor. (Side note: when working with transistors, make sure you use the right one for your project. I thought I could get away with using a transistor that I had laying around in an electronics kit, and when I went to touch it after hooking it up I almost burnt my fingers.) I then encountered another setback: the solenoid did not have enough pullback force to lift the head. I realized that I either had to get a larger solenoid (which may or may not have solved the problem) or come up with another way to move the head. Since I was short on time, I ultimately ended up putting the solenoid aside for another project.

In the mean time, I got to work on setting up the pinion attached to the servo since I was confident that my rack and pinion system would work. I pressure fit the pinion on the servo and taped the servo on the underside of the box lid I was using as the base for the project. I cut a hole in the box lid so that the pinion would be able to connect with the rack.

At this point it was time to wire everything. I decided to make two hippos so I got everything setup and taped all the wiring and components in place on the bottom of the box lid. I used standard push buttons as the controls and a 9V wall adapter to power the Arduino. The wiring was a little bit messy but it was functional nonetheless.

I then put the finishing touches on the hippos. I realized that I needed more weight on the body in order for the rack and pinion to work so I glued an eraser on top of the rack. As for the new head movement, I found out that if I glued a string to the top of the head and tied it back, the tension would cause the head to move.

In the end, everything came together and I was very pleased with the result. The hippos functioned as expected although they were not great at picking up marbles. Still, they properly recreated the motions of the hippos from the actual games. Check out the video below!

Overall, this was a pretty simple project. I would definitely recommend experimenting with servos. In addition to the 180° servos I used for this project, there are also continuous rotation servos that rotate a full 360°. Servos come in a variety of sizes and can be fitted with a variety of attachments. You can basically handle any type of rotational motion you need using a servo. They are very easy to program as well. For more information on this project, please check out the documentation about it that I wrote for my class on my website. You can also see the code I used to program the hippos on GitHub.

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