If You’ve Never Thought About Building a Drunk Lamp, Read This:

If You’ve Never Thought About Building a Drunk Lamp, Read This:

Q and A with our TinkerTechie of the Month, Lillianna Blair


Can you tell me about a project or two that you have been working on at TinkerTech, and what your process has been?


The project I went to TinkerTech the most for was my automated foosball scoring system. It was my very first project, so I was doing a lot of Googling and trying to figure out where to get parts. That's when I learned about TinkerTech. I went in not really knowing what to expect but found a lot of answers and inspiration. 


What do you enjoy about tinkering, and the creative process of it?


I enjoy learning and I've found a lot of joy in making overly-complicated-but-almost-entirely-useless robots. I think most of my motivation comes from wanting to see those ideas come to life. I also think a lot of my satisfaction comes from taking a daunting task and breaking it down into smaller steps... at the end, I usually have something I thought to be way over my head in the beginning, and that's a really good feeling.


My process usually involves a lot of Googling, trial and error, and a few trips to TinkerTech for questions, parts, and inspiration. Right now I'm working on a (hilariously useless) helium-less balloon. It involves a 3D printed bracket, motors, propellers, and a few sensors for balancing. In the end, I'm hoping to have a very underwhelming and over-engineered floating balloon. This one is taking a while because I keep on messing up the brackets, so I have to re-print them again.


You call the project hilariously useless, but the drunk lamp that I’ve heard about seems to have a great possibility for use! Can you tell me more about that project, and how it is going? What would be your best possible outcome?


The drunk lamp actually started as an idea about some sort of electronic device that would only work under some weird conditions. At first, I thought about making a lamp that would only turn on if you yell at it. It turned out my sound sensor only measures whether or not there is a sound, not how loud the sound is. So I started browsing the internet for different types of sensors. That's a great way to find inspiration - just google something like, "fun Arduino sensors" and see if anything inspires you. I came across one called the MQ-3 gas sensor - it's a $5 sensor, which is pretty expensive in Arduino-sensor-land. I realized I had an RGB LED strip from my starter kit - it's a strip of LEDs that can light up all different colors. I was on the lookout for a good lamp and happened to find a rechargeable one at 5 Below, and I had a bunch of buttons and switches and things from my first trip to TinkerTech. 


The nice thing about Arduino is that you can find tutorials for just about everything. So I made each component work separately before putting them together - by googling things like "MQ-3 gas sensor tutorial," "how to detect button presses Arduino," and "RGB LED strip tutorial." It's usually easy to find tutorials that even include color-coded pictures of working circuits, so I started with those. Then I put it all together with some basic rules in my code - there's a switch that turns the lamp on and off, and a push-button that activates party mode (a little colorful animation on the LED strip), but only if the gas sensor has detected a certain amount of alcohol in the air around it. I think this one turned out pretty great, and I've had a few people tell me I could sell it... but it seems like a truly terrible product to bring into the world - I don't want to motivate people to drink more. Now it's just sitting on a shelf in my house. I guess my goal is to keep learning and just bring a little joy to people who see my creations.


The lamp seems like it could be interesting as some sort of simplified breathalyzer that gives people a pause before driving home from a house party or something.  I’ll be watching to see if it makes its way off of your shelf.  


 What about TinkerTech as a makerspace works well for you?


I thought engineering in any capacity was way out of my league for most of my life, and I think a lot of young people are feeling the same way now about robotics, programming, or tinkering/making in general. What I like most about TinkerTech is that it makes engineering fun, accessible, and less daunting for anyone who's interested in getting started. I can't think of anywhere else like it, and it's certainly brought me a lot of inspiration.


You mentioned, “I think a lot of young people are feeling the same way now about robotics, programming, or tinkering/making in general."  If you do not mind sharing your age and background (are you a student, studying what? working -- in what field?) hat would be helpful!


I'm 27 now (will be 28 on Wednesday) and I started college at EMU back in 2010. I started undecided on my major, and for a little while was leaning toward Sociology. I avoided taking Calculus in high school because I figured I wasn't smart enough to understand it. At some point in college, I decided to take Calculus... and I fell in love with it. From there I changed my major to Mathematics and graduated in April of 2016. Then I didn't really know what to do - my options were to figure out some sort of teaching gig or go back to school. I heard about coding bootcamps from my cousin, and decided to check that out. So, in Oct of 2017, I started a JavaScript Bootcamp at Grand Circus Detroit, and landed my first job as a software engineer in January of 2017. I stayed at that company for about a year, and almost wanted to leave tech (because of discrimination and such), but ended up being hired as a software engineer in Ann Arbor where I've been able to learn some embedded stuff. I bought my first Arduino Uno back in June and have been having fun tinkering and thinking about silly projects since then.



A helium-less balloon created by Lilli Blair

The inner workings of the world;s only Drunk Lamp


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