Champaign-Urbana Community Fab Lab
Illinois Informatics and School of Information Sciences
Champaign-Urbana Community Fab Lab

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Final Project – Choropleth Chicago

After rereading my write-ups, something I’ve noticed about myself as a learner is that I rarely make the exact thing I originally intended or envisioned to make. I’ve never really reflected on this before, but this approach to projects and work is how I go about doing a lot of things in life. When I am pressed up for time or when I realize that something is not going to work out, I change the course of what I need to do without much hesitation. And it’s not so much that I am giving up, but rather, I am willing to adapt quickly as the situation changes. This is something I think I have always done, but reflecting on our labs and assignments in makerspace made me call it out. Actually, one of my learning goals for this final project was to try and achieve the original vision for the project (which I failed). However, looking at that learning goal now, I really shouldn’t have set that goal because I like that I can adapt to change and different obstacles. I also appreciate that makerspace does not chastise us for changing the project, making mistakes, or failing. The freedom gives me the space to try more or different things that might be perceived as “risky” for a school project.

For my project, I made an interactive choropleth map of Chicago. There’s a joystick attached to an Arduino which control neopixel lights that display different colors or strengths of color through the acrylic or geographic areas of the city to represent values/quantities in the area. These values or quantities come from public datasets; example datasets would be population density, median income, number of bike racks, number of home burglaries, etc.) Although I didn’t have everything hooked up properly during the showcase, there’s supposed to be an LCD on the board and it’s supposed to show the user what dataset they’re looking at.

I had a lot of challenges along the way, but I guess the biggest challenge was lack of time – I felt incredibly rushed through the entire project which ultimately impacted the resulting product. I typically like to do substantive research before buying, building, working on a project, but I had to order parts (like neopixels, capacitor, etc.) without much due research. Fortunately, most of the things I ordered worked out all right – though I kind of wish I didn’t get lines of neopixels, but rather, programmable LED strings. Also, I was rushing when I was buying my materials at the FabLab and bought clear acrylic when I should’ve gotten frosted acrylic, and for the showcase/presentation, I had to back the clear acrylic with computer paper that was packaging taped to the board.

For my first goal, I said it would be really nice to be able to code datasets (e.g. median income, population data, number of bike racks, etc.) to the LED display. I kind of met this goal. The reason why I didn’t have the datasets coded into the Arduino and the LEDs by the day of presentation was actually because of technical difficulties I was having with the mapping software (GIS). That’s kind of funny because I am (supposed to be) way more adept with GIS than Arduino things, but that is what happened. Although I did not have real datasets for the project during the presentation/showcase, I know for sure that all of it could be set up quite easily once the datasets are prepared.

For my second goal, I said I want to make something that I would be proud to display, even if that means I have to reiterate parts of my project. I definitely failed this. In hindsight, this was an awful learning goal to set since it was a relatively complicated two-week project during finals. Iteration and the contemplation of design/process of making takes a lot of time. I learned that it’s really easy for me to say that I will do iteration (because we all know iteration results in insights and better results), but when it came down to it, I just didn’t have the resources (ie. spending more money on material for redoes) and time.

Even though I did not meet both my goals, I still really like my project and I see the value in this big interactive choropleth map as an aesthetic/teaching piece. At first, I wasn’t very happy at all with the product I had to present during the day of the showcase. But as I received more comments from people who saw it, I liked what I made more and more. I appreciated all the praise and critical feedback I received, and over the course of the day, I came to own that I spent a lot of time working on a pretty cool project that wasn’t completely finished.

I’ve never heard of the “maker” identity before this class, but I’ve been “making” things for a while now, so was I a “maker” before this class? Before this makerspace class though, I never “made” so many projects (ie. physical things) in such a short amount of time. Every week, we just thought up of something and started making. Before this class, I had a lot of hesitation when starting a new project. Doing new projects every week with Makerspace has definitely helped rid me of this mental barrier. I think I am/was often discouraged to even start a project because I feared that I would not end up with perfect results, but this class has really taught me that I should forge on because trying and making something – even if it’s not what I originally thought it would be – is so much more rewarding than not having started anything. If it wasn’t for this class pushing me to work on all these projects, especially the final two projects, I’m sure the barrier would’ve been too high for me. Now that I have traction for picking up materials and fiddling and making, I’m sure I will be making with less hesitance.


My capacitor started leaking because I plugged it in the wrong way… #noob

Yikes, rastering took about an hour


Testing out the neopixels

LCD wasn’t working. Duncan told me I should’ve used the “backpack.”

Geographic Information System (GIS) is the bane of my life.

Held up by packaging tape but it works

Showcase product

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Iteration Project – GearBox

This week’s assignment was iteration — redoing something we’ve done before with a new approach and a combination of tools/methods. I chose to reiterate the name tag cutting project. The picture below is my laser cut name tag from the laser cutting week. The reason why I decided to reiterate the project was because I really like the laser cutting machine — I like how precise it is. I thought the name tags we created were really simple so I wanted to see if I could do a project that was more complicated with the laser cutting machine.

I’m not sure exactly where I got the inspiration from – but I thought it would be cool to do something with gears. I looked up a simple design on the internet. Some people in my lab session were also talking about shadowboxes and press fit boxes so I planned for the gears to be in the press fit box. It is meant to be an aesthetic piece. I also thought it would be pretty neat if the gears turned by themselves with a servo motor (powered by Arduino).

The first thing I did was plan out the gears. I found a super useful website – – that helped me create the gears I needed. After editing the design of the gears on Inkscape, I laser cut them out. Only two of four gears were cut out correctly on my first attempt. It was a pretty frustrating process because the machine was super busy and I was starting to realize this was a bit of a complicated project because the gears needed to be in precise positions to work. After messing around with the other two gears, I finally got them to cut out properly. The next step was cutting out the press fit box which didn’t turn out as messy or unpredictable as the gears. At this point, I wasn’t sure whether or not I should laser cut holes through the press fit box (to hold up the gears) or drill through the back of the box. I asked James for advice and he told me to use the drill press. After some guesstimates on where the gears should go, I used the drill press. These initial guesses were wrong because the gears overlapped (see picture 2), but I just used the drill press again and this time, they were more or less correct. I feel like I should’ve taken more of a scientific procedure (ie. precise measurements) to ensure that I was drilling into the right place, but it worked out in the end.


After I got all the gears into the holes, I immediately ran into my next problem. While the gears turned when I twisted the nut of a bolt in the back, the nut would screw into the bolt and started tightening/pressing against the back of the box. I showed my handy-dandy roommate my gearbox and told him about my problem, and he had a fix for it! He works a lot with bikes which is why he knows a bit about certain mechanical mechanisms. He told me that I just needed to double nut the bolts from the back so that the bolts are tightened against each other and won’t move towards the back of the box. THAT WAS A SUPER HELPFUL TIP! I really wouldn’t have figured that one out by myself.

At this point, I have my gears in my pressfit box and they’re spinning fine. The next obstacle I had was that I wasn’t sure how I was going to attach a servo motor to the bolt/nuts. They’re quite small. Duncan told me to talk to the in-house electronics consultant, Brandon. He looked at my project and recommended that I 3-d print a worm drive and attach it to a motor (super smart!). He told me how it could bet set up on my box and helped me 3-d print a worm drive. I didn’t think the threads would be able to print that well, but it came out looking a lot better than I thought it would.

(3d printed worm drive)

I hot glued the bottom part of the worm drive to one of the bolts, but I wasn’t sure how to set up the other part of the worm drive. Also, I wasn’t sure if the top component of the worm drive was turning the bottom part, so I dropped the idea of completing the worm drive. In the end, I also decided not to attach the servo motor to the 3d printed knob because I knew I wasn’t going to keep/devote an Arduino board onto the gearbox and I didn’t want to rip a servo piece off the 3d printed knob after the project.
This project caused me quite a bit of anxiety because there was a lot of planning and uncertainty, but I’m satisfied with the end result. In the near future, I might ask Brandon how I can get the motor-powered worm drive to the press fit box.



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This week, we had to make a walking pom-pom bot using Arduino, servo motors and everyday items. When I read this week’s assignment prompt, I knew it was going to be a challenge because I am below average when it comes to conceptualizing mechanisms. So I looked at the prompt and drew the first thing that came to mind. This initial concept consists of two servo motors taped together with one popsicle stick strapped onto each motor (Picture 1). I thought the two popsicle sticks would act like two angled legs. Will it work? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Picture 1



It didn’t work (Video 1). The bot stayed in the same place, chopping around. At this point, I wasn’t sure what I needed to change to get it to start moving its position (because I also generally suck at physics). I looked at my friend’s bot (which was going places!) and I noticed her motors were turning very fast. It also had shorter popsicle “legs.” I then noticed that my “legs” probably needed to turn more. So for my second prototype, I decided to cut half the popsicle legs off, set the servo motors to turn faster, and set the motors to turn for a greater number of degrees. The plan was to propel my bot forward using momentum. Increasing the speed of the motor through the code wasn’t a problem. You can see in Video 2 that the updated pom-pom bot design/mechanism is an improvement from the initial design because it’s slowly going somewhere. In my head though, I thought my pom-pom-bot was going to move forward a lot more because of the alleged momentum.

I also added some decorative feathers and googly eyes to give my pom-pom-bot some personality.

Video 1


Video 2



For my final pom-pom bot (Video 3), I really wanted to keep trying for that “momentum” action. I added an additional, short, popsicle “leg” on each motor. This leg is positioned between the arc of the two legs. I thought it might help with the push forward by giving the bot a bit more arc from the ground. I also changed my code so that it would iteratively push forward quickly and retract slowly. The final bot’s movements weren’t as symmetrical as the bots from the 1st and 2nd design, but this third bot certainly went farther faster than both of the previous bots. Because I didn’t want to use too many materials or take apart my first and second bots, my redesigns were relatively simple part additions or subtractions to the bot. For that reason, my final pom-pom bot looks a lot like my first design, but with a few extra legs and flair.

I wasn’t sure how to code different motors to go different speeds/positions at the same time. At the time of the project, this wasn’t essential to my pom-pom-bot design so I admittedly did not google a fix to this curiosity. If I wanted to improve or redesign my bot, I would probably have three or four motors, and at that point, I would definitely have to be more precise and strategic with the coding.

Video 3


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Ardweenoe – Urban Sensor Storyboard

Getting the opportunity to be introduced to Arduino is one of the main reasons why I took this class so I was pretty excited that we finally got to learn it! I’ve known about Arduino for a few years now but I was always too busy with other things (*cough* lazy) to invest my time and money into it.

A couple years ago, before I started school here, I saw this guy, Eric Maundu, operating an Arduino-powered, urban aquaponics farm in West Oakland ( And I thought it was the COOLEST thing ever! After Maundu set up his farm, he just goes into the warehouse once in a while to collect the crops and do basic maintenance. Arduino does everything else for him (checking pH levels, adding more nutrients, feeding fish, etc.). When something is off, like the water’s pH level, the system sends a status tweet to a twitter account that Maundu checks. Anyways, I was inspired to set up a solar-powered automated hydroponics garden because of Maundu, but I didn’t have the appropriate space at the time. After I graduate however, I will probably do it! Especially now that I know Arduino is not intimidating at all.

In our lab session this week, we used Arduino to make blinky LEDs and set up an ultrasonic distance sensor. I thought the “INFO 490 Arduino Intro Spring 2017” guide was super informative which was why doing something new, but complicated, was an easy task. The programming part was easy especially since I can google any syntax problems I run into. However, I would like to take some time to thoroughly understand what’s happening with the hardware/circuit board (the circuit, voltages, resistors, etc.) Below is an image of a relay sensor I was playing around with after finishing the lab.

Image 1

The image 2 below is my storyboard for a sensor set up that a neighborhood or city might be interested in. The idea is to deploy a whole bunch of sensors to monitor different factors in the local urban environment (eg. how many people are walking by, how many cars are going by and what speeds, temperature/humidity). Such data would be valuable in instances where we question whether particular, newly built developments have been successful in attracting people to the neighborhood. Ideally, you’d have to deploy sensors at critical positions before and after the development’s construction. Chicago is actually the first city to set up a urban sensor network – it’s called the Array of Things ( It’s where I got this idea from. However, the sensors in Array of Things are set up in very limited locations across the city thus far.

Image 2

I set up a quick prototype of this urban sensor (image 3); it only has two sensors — the ultrasonic distance sensor and DHT11 sensor. I frankensteined the Ping example code and a DHT script I found online. I’m not sure why but the temperature/humidity sensor registered wonky numbers every now and then. I wonder if it was my code or the hardware. I’d need to hook up a couple more sensors to complete the urban sensor (so far, I’m thinking: temperature/humidity sensor; laser emit sensor OR ultrasonic distance sensor; linear hall sensor (to measure vehicles/how fast they are going); DS-3231 RTC sensor to keep track of day and time).

Image 3

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E-Textile – Pouch!

For the last two weeks, we’ve been working on digital embroidery, soft circuitry, and sewing. The assignment calls for an embroidered design incorporating at least two LED lights on a pouch. Before I begin working on an assignment in this class, I like to think about whether or not what I’ll be making can serve a purpose in my life. I’ve been needing a bag for my GoPro knock off and its equipment, so I decided to approach this assignment for that intention.

I grabbed a camera silhouette from Google and modded it a bit in Inkscape. The embroidering worked out without a hitch but I realized while the machine was embroidering that I didn’t think about where my LEDs would go. It makes the most sense to have the LED lights go where the “flash” on the camera should be. However, I didn’t appropriate enough space for two LED lights in the “flash” area — I should have made modded the image so that there was a huge flash on the camera. I consider this a negligible mistake though.


After the embroidery, I prepared my fabrics (two inner lining squares and one outer square and one outer embroidered square) and sewed in the soft circuit. I wanted my battery and battery holder(?) to be on the inside of the bag lining but the LEDs to be between the inner lining and outer canvas. The circuit looks really simple, but I actually had a sort of difficult time sewing the circuit together — probably because I’ve never really hand sewn anything before.


When I showed the finished bag to my friend who sews and he suggested was to make a fabric cover/flap for the battery pack and thread that were inside the bag since they are vulnerable to anything I store in the bag. I think that’s a fantastic idea and I intend to sew a protective flap in when I get a chance.

I tried my hand at using a sewing machine a couple times before but I was always intimidated by the threading process because the machines that were available to me didn’t have the 1-2-3 step tutorial labeled on the machine. Now that I’ve learned how to set up the thread on the fablab’s sewing machines, I’m going to be less intimidated in the future by other sewing machines. Overall, I’m really happy that I got this chance to learn how to embroider with a machine, learn how to use a sewing machine, and prepare a soft circuit.


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3D Printing!

My 3D models were made with a range of software this week: TinkerCAD, Sculptris, AutoDesk Meshmixer, and 3D scanning.

Model 1 (did not print out): I first started tinkering on TinkerCAD using one of the prompts — unique dining utensils. Upon thinking about the prompt, I remembered one of my favorite Chinese parables called “A Trip to Heaven and Hell.” Chopsticks are extremely, extremely long in this story so I thought I would make really long chopsticks. If I wanted to 3D print these chopsticks, they wouldn’t have came out right, so I thought that it’d be cool to break them up and put screw parts and holes into the object. This was my first time working with TinkerCAD and for a really simple user interface, I thought it was a bit frustrating to work with because I couldn’t get things to snap or fit the way I wanted them to. It was a very slow going process. However, I eventually created a chopstick model that I initially imagined so I was very pleased about that.


Model2 (did not print): I don’t like Sculptris. The program felt like I was molding a block of clay except I think it is more difficult because I’m not using my hands but a computer mouse. Because Sculptris starts the user off with a ball, I thought I’d make a head. Initially, I thought I would try making some sort of a demon. But just like when I work with clay, as I kept molding the figure, I came up with different idea. In the end, my figure looked a bit like a cat-demon.



Model3 (PRINTED!): I printed out a dish to hold a small air plant. When I saw the prompt for something to go on a coffee table, I immediately thought of air plants. They’re by far my favorite type of plant. The thing about them is that they look even more amazing when they’re in a cool container/environment. I thought about how I might be able to make a “pro-earth” theme container. My biking helmet just so happened to be near me when I was brainstorming and I thought it would be great if I made a biking themed container. The initial plan was to make my helmet the main container (air plant would sit in it) via a 3D scan. Then I would tack on “bike things” onto the model as decoration. The first and second picture below shows my drawn concept and the helmet being set up for the scan.

I really didn’t know much about the limitations of 3D printing before these last two weeks. As you can see in my drawn concept model, I had a little bike on the helmet’s edge as extra decoration. However, as I learned more about available printers’ general inability to print small details (without taking forever), I thought it would be better that I left the tiny bicycle out. While I was in the lab, one of the fablab workers (Clinton!) noticed my chopstick model with the screws and asked me if I was going to 3D print that. Apparently, I made the right choice to not print the chopsticks because the fab lab’s 3D printing machines generally are not able to print screws well because of the detail from threads.

The third and fourth picture show the model cleaning in AutoDesk MixMesher and “tinkering” in process. In my opinion, the end product kind of looks a bit like a junk heap. I thought it looked a lot better in TinkerCAD. It might be because the model printed out so small. If I were to change anything I did, I think I would change some of the placements and size of the decorative details on the helmet and make the 3D print larger.











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Foxy Copper Tape Assignment

This week in Makerspace, we worked with copper tape circuits and created three items.

  1. Basic paper switch (picture 1) – I think this might be my first time (maybe second) creating a paper switch. I don’t think I’ve ever used copper tape before. Albeit simple, I was really happy when my LED light lit up.
  2. Picture with two LEDs (picture 2) – It took me a bit longer to understand how parallel circuits work but I eventually got it.
  3. 3-d paper object with 2 LEDs – This project took way longer than necessary because I made a lot of mistakes…

We had a choice between a pop-up card or origami for this project. I wasn’t sure what I would do with a card so I thought I’d do origami. My idea was to have red LED lights for an animal’s eyes, and upon squeezing its tail, the eyes would light up because it is mad at the person. I looked on Youtube and saw a cute fox origami project. I’ve not worked in origami in many years and my inexperience really showed. I spent a long time trying to create a complicated fox piece but gave up after 20 minutes. I found an easier fox to make but that still took me a while (picture 3). After I completed the piece, I penciled in (while it was still 3-dimensional) where the LED lights would go, where the break in the circuit would be, and where the battery would be placed. After unfolding it, I planned out the copper tape circuit and piece placement.

The parallel circuit path proved really easy to plan (picture 4). I taped down the entire circuit and tried connecting the break. It didn’t work and I started panicking. One of my friends told me that the adhesive side of the copper tape was not very conductive. I peeled off the copper tape very carefully and twisted it so that the non-adhesive side would touch the LED stickers. It worked! Great. I folded the fox back up and tested it. The lights worked but it appeared that the LED stickers were not facing towards the sheet of paper but away from it. I had totally forgotten about that important factor. I think I was starting to lose it at this point. I undid the fox and tried peeling all the tape and stickers again. This time, the origami paper started coming off with the tape. It became a mess and I restarted. After another 30 minutes of folding and laying out the circuit path, I finally finished (picture 5 and 6). Next time I do a project, I need to plan more carefully.


[1] Series circuit                                                 [2] Parallel circuit                                                     [3] Easy-peasy fox



[4] Path drawn and laid out                                 [5] Finished project – unlit                                  [6] Pinch the tail and it lights up

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Stickers in FabLab

This week, we used Silhouette Studio (software) and a Silhouette machine to help us create stickers with vector images. For the first section of the assignment (Picture 1), we created a silhouette chimera. I melded huge butterfly wings to a pig. I think it looks pretty cute and whimsical. For the second section of the assignment (Picture 2), we were asked to create a decal. I found a picture of a donut and put little people in it (if you look closely, some of the “sprinkles” are actually people in disarray) and added some words on top of the donut. I like the colors I used for this sticker. For the third section, I made my friend (Picture 3) into a cartoon zombie. I wanted to make the sticker pretty intricate at first (Picture 4) but I didn’t want to end up using five colors for the sticker (seems excessive) so I opted for three colors. I’ve always been bad at pairing colors together and this sticker was no exception. If I had to do the sticker again, I would opt for two different background colors or maybe I wouldn’t have the outer circle frame. Also, I would try to find some way to prevent the air bubbles from popping up.



                                                    Picture 1: Chimera                               Picture 2. “Donut Worry”



                        Picture 3: Friend                      Picture 4: Inkscape — too many colors                  Picture 5: Third sticker



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Project 1 – Laser Cut Name Tag

This week, we used the laser cutter to create personal name tags.

I’ve never used a laser cutting machine before so the lab and assignment were really fun, educational processes. First, I started with the design. I wasn’t sure about the theme or sentiment I wanted my name tag to give off (funny, professional, dorky, cool??) so I started doing some sketches. As you can see in the first picture below, they’re all pretty basic. In the end, I went for the city silhouette border as I really dug the non-conventional borders on the name tags some of us did during the lab session. 

I used inkscape to create the design. Shoutout to Clinton Gandy (an inkscape pro) for helping me with the software! As I was making the design (second picture below), I thought the tag was looking sparse and I should add something else. Since it was a city themed name tag and I am from Chicago, I put the Chicago flag stars in there. I don’t like to put the Chicago stars/flag on any thing I create because I think they’re quite overdone but I thought they looked neat in this project.

I chose a two tone acrylic (red) and realized I would have to inverse the color I had set in my original design (picture two). Since I was not using wood, the raster from the laser cutter would not make the raster parts (black) darker, but lighter/white. If I wanted the red to pop out the way I intended it to, I needed to inverse the colors. A friend and a couple other people working in the lab helped me set the machine up to cut the name tag. I’m really satisfied with the final product — it came out a lot better than I thought it would.

               Sketch Ideas

         Creating on Inkscape

              Laser Cutting….

                          Awesome! End product.




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