5 Projects That Make You Want To Be Better At Electronics

If you've ever wished you were better at electronics, things are about to get worse. What follows are five purely awesome DIY projects built with basic hand tools, some solder wire, and a few electronic components.

Air Guitar

Why play Guitar Hero when you can rock out with a genuine micro-processor controlled, 9V battery-powered air guitar that you've built yourself? Designed after a right-handed guitar, the left-hand glove changes between four notes and a stick held in the right hand activates strumming. The distance between the glove and the stick determines the pitch of the note – allowing you to play real songs!

The author bears no responsibility if you take it to Wal-Mart and join in when they play Journey.

Defusable Clock

How cool would it be to build an alarm clock that looks just like the dynamite bundles that we always see in movies? It's not just a regular alarm clock though; this is one that really does force you to wake up properly. Just hitting snooze doesn’t work with this one.

  • A microcontroller to program the clock and effects
  • A detonation sequence with a 10 second countdown timer
  • Four randomly assigned defusable wires: two are dummy wires, one stops the timer, and the last detonates the bomb immediately!
  • Alarm and Snooze functions
  • Setting that makes alarm function as a countdown timer which requires defusing

Requires some basic hand tools and a $30 kit which contains all necessary components. The fake dynamite bundle is not included in the kit and must be made on your own.

Don’t be stupid with this though – It’s an alarm clock, so it sits by your bed, don’t take it out in public, people will not have a sense of humour about it and you risk putting yourself in real danger.

Mind Control Nerf-Gun

The weapon of evil geniuses everywhere is here: the mind-controlled Nerf gun. This one requires that you've already modified your Nerf Stampede gun so that you have external power (rather than the 6 heavy ‘D’ cells) and some way of firing other than the trigger.   You also are going to need an Arduino microcontroller have “Auto-fire Mindbullets” Arduino software. Other parts required are a modified Nerf Stampede and an expensive NeuroSky Mindset headband.  The Arduino is there to take the input from the headband and get the gun to fire and you’re going to need to get out the wire strippers and digital multimeter and some time to put it all together.  This is a fairly complicated build, the adaptations to the gun alone will be at least 2 hours for an expert and a full day for a rookie and with a price tag of $330, the mind-controlled Nerf gun doesn't come cheap – but taking over the world rarely does.

Warning: I’m not kidding about this; this project really isn't for rookies.

Mindbullets (Chris Meyer) / CC BY-SA 3.0

Botanical Twitterers

Finally, those of you cursed with a brown thumb can rejoice! The DIY Twitter kit from Botanicalls monitors the moisture level in your houseplants. When your plant needs watering, it sends you a Tweet to let you know it's thirsty. After you water it, the plant will send you another Tweet saying thanks, telling you to water it more, or even to stop!

The Botanicals kit is well documented and I didn’t find it difficult to set everything up.  If you’ve already got through the Mind-control Nerf gun project, you’ll have no problems here.

Required equipment:  solder wire and iron, extra hands, computer with ZTerm or HyperTerminal, Arduino, and Twitter account.

Spatialized Umbrella – No Rain Needed!

The Spatialized Umbrella plays raindrop sound samples and flashes LEDs around the umbrella, increasing in speed the closer you are to an object. If you get close enough to any object, a “lightning strike sequence” is triggered and white LEDs flash at the top of the umbrella. The best part of this gadget is that even though you don't need rain, it's safe to use when the rain is real.

This is another project that needs some skill with a soldering iron and experience wiring up breadboards.  There are some soldering accessories that you can get to make detailed jobs a little easier.  I swear by my little flux pen, if you’re trying to avoid large blobs of solder (especially when you need to cram parts on a small board) it’s invaluable.

So whether you're getting tweets from houseplants or zapping people with a mind-controlled gun, any of these projects will make you wish you were better at electronics.

Written by:

Christopher Parkinson’s interest in electronics stem from an early age, I remember watching my father using a multimeter to test my Scaletrix which had stopped working.  At that time this was the most fantastic thing I had ever seen bear in mind I was 6 and so very easily impressed.  I went on to study microprocessor design theory before working for a company repairing mobile phones.