Wake Up to Bubbles by Making the World's Most Gentle Alarm Clock
Since the invention of the mechanical clock, enclosure of the commons, and proletarianization of labor, the alarm clock has been the bane of our existence. While not actually evil, it does represent the constant and uncompromising glare of our owners shaking a patronizing finger at us, telling us to get to work so they can use our labor to grant themselves bonuses.
Because of this subconscious relation between the alarm clock and wage slavery, it can be hard to obey the alarm when you finally have a day off. Sleep is wonderful, but climbing a mountain on your day off feels even better!
In a search to find a way to wake up gently, I decided to whip up a bubble blowing alarm clock. This alarm will go off only when it's light out, saving you from having to wade through the bubbles to turn off the alarm in the dark winter mornings.
- Bubble machine
- Bubble solution
- 1K resistor
- Light dependent resistor (LDR)
- PNP transistor
Step 1 Inspect Bubble Maker
This is my favorite part of any project—ripping apart consumer electronics. The great part about electronics is that most of the real work has already been done for you over the last few hundred years. All we have to do is throw the right component in the right spot and it will work. Anything electronic can be thrown into your circuit.
To hack out bubble machine, we will need to investigate how it works. I got this particular bubble machine because of the helpful package illustrations. Well thought out instructions usually mean a well thought out machine.
The other thing that convinced me to get this particular bubble maker was the giant shiny ON/OFF button. There's really no project that's not made better by the addition of a giant red button.
When I opened the box, I found the handle and wheel components. This bubble machine is supposed to act and sound like a lawnmower. As we will not be pretending to mow the lawn, we can save these plastic parts for a future project.
Below is our bubble machine. It has a reservoir in front to hold the bubble solution. The yellow bubble wands rotate and are dipped into the solution before being brought up to the black air pump exit.
Underneath the main body we find a black plastic box containing the battery holder, the giant button, and the motor for the fan and bubble wand.
This machine takes three AA batteries for a total of 4.5 volts. This is perfect because it is close enough to 5 volts that we can interface it with an Arduino quite easily! While there will certainly be Arduino bubble projects coming up on the Blog, I made this alarm clock as simple as possible.
The green plastic top took some effort to get off. A pocket knife and some pliers are usually enough to open up plastic toys.
Before we open up the black box and take a look at the electronics, detach the yellow wand wheel from the inner motor. It screws off easily. Be sure to save the screw.
Step 2 Inspect Electronics
With the top shell off, you need to gain access to the button wires. If you can get to the button wires without taking apart the rest of the machine, that's great! There was no obvious way to get to the wires, so I cut around the button support and pried off the plastic.
There are three wires near the button. The black wire is ground and is connected directly to the negative side of the battery pack. The black wire is not part of the button. The other two wires are the input and output for the button. One red wire leads from the battery pack to the button. The other red wire leads from the button to the pump and motor.
Now that I see the wires, I need a closer look to figure out which is the motor wire and which is the battery pack wire. I had to unscrew the battery pack from the blue shell to gain access. Lots of toys will have screws hidden under the batteries. Be sure to check there.
Step 3 Cut Wires
Once all of the wires were exposed, I noticed that there is only one power connection on the pump/motor assembly. Upon closer inspection, I realized that there's one motor running both the bubble wands and the air pump simultaneously. Awesome!
Cut the wire leading from the button to the motor.
Cut the ground wire in the middle so that the motor and the battery pack still have some wire to work with. Strip the ends and being your battery pack over to your breadboard.
Step 4 Circuit
We will be using a light detecting circuit to set off our bubble alarm. On those vacation days when you don't want to get up, you certainly do not want to get up before it is light out!
The circuit diagram below is the same we used for our food alarm project.
Instead of the large round buzzer, we will add in the motor for the bubble machine. Test your circuit on a breadboard first to make sure all the components are working. When testing circuits, I usually use an LED instead of the real output. My LED lights up when there is light and turns off in the dark. Perfect.
Once the circuit is working, replace the LED with the motor. If it doesn't work with the motor but does with the LED, you have probably broken the motor somehow.
I love this motor enclosure! Air pump on one side of the motor shaft, gear box on the other.
Step 5 Solder
You can make a custom board if you like, but with only three components in our circuit, a perfboard will work just fine. Layout the components however you like.
Solder all the components according to the diagram. Be sure to add the battery power and ground, as well as the motor wires. Below, the battery holder is on the right and the motor is on the left.
Is it just me or does this board look like an abomination of a beetle?
Feed the board up through the hole we made to gain access to the button.
Replace the battery pack and motor housing, making sure they are screwed in tight.
Run the wires out one side of the button enclosure and replace the top of the button. Now we can turn the bubble machine on and off rather than have perpetual daytime bubbles.
I highly recommend hot-gluing the button enclosure back on. Duct tape works in a pinch. Luckily, the top green plastic shell will hide the duct tape.
I fed the sensor board up through the top green plastic shell so it could be in the center of the machine. If you're not placing you alarm clock near the window, you may want to add some extra wire to the sensor circuit so you can reposition it.
There we go! It's all installed and ready to test. Bring your bubble machine outside and turn it on.
Mine worked even in the shade, which is perfect for windowsill application.
I strongly encourage everyone to include bubbles in their projects. One microcontroller pin could run this entire machine perfectly.
I have used a good number of bubble machines and this is the best one yet. The tiny bubble guns usually work great except that they leak all over the place. The bubble mower has a solid plastic trough perfect for holding in the bubble, bubble, toil and trouble.
What would you do with an automated bubble machine? I personally have a dream of my car one day shooting bubbles from the tail pipe. Share your ideas in the comments and help inspire your fellow scientists! If you are having a problem with your particular brand of bubble machine, I am happy to answer questions in the forum or by private message. I am here to enable your mad science!
Don't forget! We are currently accepting entries into our photo contest for a chance to win your very own lucid dreaming goggles kit! Just post a picture on the corkboard of a project you have made or are currently working on. All projects are welcome. Here is my example entry.