Design, The Softness of Things, Tinkering

Designing a Modular Lamp

The design constraint is to make something modular. The most rewarding feature of modular design is rearranging and experimenting with its form. We considered how this characteristic could suit the function of an object.

My instinct was to create a piece of origami that had circuitry printed on it with conductive ink. As you folded it to different configurations, the piece of origami would also change function in addition to its form. As a novice folder, I felt that this might be too complicated of an approach for an initial design.

Lara and I started experimenting with different existing fold patterns. It is not our intention to reinvent the wheel, but to adopt a system conducive to shaping an object of our liking. Here are some of our original studies with fold patterns and module types. As you can see, they were not very suitable for a user to readily swap in/out pieces.

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We had already seen some videos on Youtube featuring a nifty 3D origami fold pattern. This pattern results in a module that looks similar to a fortune cookie. We revisited this style because of its 1:1 characteristic, where as the other styles took 4+ pieces to make a single module. Here are some photos of a simple base built with this the modular 3D origami.

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Now that we have settled on the the modular 3D origami, we are keeping with the idea of a paper circuit to create a modular desk lamp. As these modules are attached or removed from the lamp, the intensity and color or light will change. I’ll speak more on the lights later. The beauty of these little paper fortune cookies is how easily they are connected together, a crucial factor in the interaction of the lamp.

How do the lights change?
The lights, RGB LEDs, are lights that have discreet connectors for their Red, Green and Blue values, where the average LED is one color, with a power and ground connection. If some of the lamp’s modules are conductive, power can be run through these conductive pieces, to the top of the lamp where the LEDs sit. The more modules between the LED and the power source, the more resistance, the dimmer the affected color.

Here’s a chart of how the colors mix.

This all works in theory, but how do you properly make these modules?

Right. This is where more research kicks in. First we have to figure out what kind of power our lights want. How high the voltage, current and range of resistance because we don’t want to burn out our little gippers.

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