Champaign-Urbana Community Fab Lab
Champaign-Urbana Community Fab Lab

Paper Circuit: Bobby Zahn

For my 2d in-class card, I used the quote “If you’re going through hell, keep going,” which was attributed to Winston Churchill. On the front of the card, you see a person surrounded by flames, and the card opens to reveal them walking out into a nice meadow. When you press the fire extinguisher to put out the last of flames, the person’s eyes light up to symbolize them making it out of hell.

The execution of my in-class card left much to be desired. The connection of the LEDs to the copper tape was finicky, so you had to press them down to make the eyes light. I also didn’t plan my design around the necessity of wiring the LEDs, so the circuit wasn’t integrated into the drawing very well. It was hard to wire the two eyes so close together without letting the wires tough, so I put in a little slip of paper to separate the two ends of each LED. I kept these issues in mind as I started my 3d project.

For my 3d project, I made a fire-breathing origami dragon. First, I found an online video tutorial of an origami dragon and followed it using a 8.5” square cut out of a piece of white printer paper to make my first prototype. I named him Ruth after the white dragon in Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series.

After finishing Ruth, I experimented with different origami shapes for his fire. I tried to make a longer, spikier version of the classic origami balloon. My first attempt looked interesting, but was rather prone to falling apart.

My second attempt made a nice diamond shape. Inspired by the Pokemon Charmander, I decided to give Ruth a flame at the end of his tail as well as one coming from his mouth.

Now that I had my paper bases, it was time to plan the circuit. Ruth took a pretty long time to fold, so I wanted to make a relatively simple circuit. I picked red and yellow lights to be flame-like, while also not needing any resistors. Originally, I wanted to have yellow lights at Ruth’s mouth and the tip of the tail, and then red lights for his eyes, but after thinking about my 2d card, I knew that would be too complicated to wire in the head area.  Instead, I decided to give Ruth spines like a stegosaurus, which would allow the circuit to be a nice, clean line down both sides of his body, with all of the lights in parallel to each other. The battery and switch are hidden between his legs. The switch closes by pressing the two halves of his body together, so that the copper tape touches the battery as illustrated below. I created a very simple circuit prototype on Ruth and tested the yellow LED inside my flame prototype.


Next, it was time to choose my materials for the final version. I wanted to make a bigger version of Ruth, so I used 12” square paper. I considered several different reddish patterns, settling on a subtle flower pattern which wouldn’t too busy on a moderately complicated folded dragon. I also really liked a certain green polka dot pattern, but I thought it would clash too much with the copper tape.

With this paper, I folded my second dragon, nicknamed Baby Ruth. As you can see, Baby Ruth is quite a bit larger than Ruth.

I picked a yellow tissue paper for the flame. I picked the tissue paper because it was thinner so I figured it would be more see-through than normal paper. However, when I tried to fold it, it didn’t hold its shape very well, especially at the ends. So instead, I used the tissue paper to make amorphous blobs for the fire.

I started wiring Baby Ruth with his flames. I originally wanted to wrap all the wires in copper tape to strengthen the connections, but when testing the spines I found that the connection worked perfectly fine without wrapping them, so the spine wires are not wrapped in tape like the flame wires are. After wiring Baby Ruth, I discovered that his lights were very dim, so I added a second battery in series with the first and he lit up much better. Here are pictures of Baby Ruth, both lit and unlit.

Overall, I was happy with how Ruth and Baby Ruth turned out. The paper I used for Baby Ruth was a little thicker than would be ideal, but he turned out okay. I were to redo it, the only glaring thing I would change is Baby Ruth’s mouth flame. If you look closely at his mouth, you can see that I hid the wires of the LED inside his mouth. This made the LED a bit too short to properly light up the flame, so the very tip of the flame wouldn’t light up much. I’m also a little disappointed I didn’t get to use the original flame prototype, since I really liked how the yellow LED lit up the white paper like a lantern, and I liked how Ruth looked with his white paper tail flame, but I prefer the tissue paper on Baby Ruth, especially when unlit. With the yellow tissue paper, it might actually be possible to use a white LED instead, since the tissue paper would make the light look yellow from the outside, but it probably wouldn’t make a big difference.

I also think it would be cool to experiment with hiding the copper tape inside the folds instead of putting it superficially on the outside of the body. In order to do this, you would have to put the copper tape on the paper before doing some of the folds, which would be interesting. I don’t think the copper tape would remain intact through Baby Ruth’s folding process, especially with such thick paper, but it could work for a simpler origami.

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