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Project Page: Family Map

Project:  Family Map

States on MapFor each relative included on the family map a red LED marks their home.  A button labeled with their name lights the LED.   I made this map for my 6 year old with three goals in mind.  The first is to give her a sense of where in the country the other people live in relation to us.  The second goal was to remind her of people who are part of her life even though she rarely sees them.  The final goal was to help her gain basic geography knowledge, something Americans are notoriously lacking in.

The map idea was, of course, not an original one.  I’ve seen many such maps in my life.  The Museum of Science in Boston has one the size of an entire wall.  The electronics included are simple.  The big challenge was how to put together this custom map so that I could hang it on a wall as something presentable and functional.

Choosing materials

I originally thought of purchasing a U.S. map but was hesitant to spend much money because I could easily ruin it and have to buy another.  Downloading a copyrighted map was not an option.  I had the idea of looking for resources offered by the U.S. government and discovered that they have many maps available for free download.

PrototypeThe prototype was built on a pizza box with the map taped to it.  A single LED was mounted at Austin, Texas, and a switch and battery were wired up inside the box with alligator clips.  I learned that pizza boxes have good sturdy cardboard that works well for prototyping and smells like pizza on the inside for a very long time.

FrameThis setup looked good so I started thinking about what materials to use for the build.  My first thought was to mount the map onto a piece of wood and put it in a picture frame.  A regular frame, though, would not have room for the electronics in the back.  This problem was solved by using a "project frame" that is meant to hold more objects than flat artwork.  I was able to pick one up on sale at a local craft store.  This frame looked perfect, but how to mount the map and buttons?

On the pizza box prototype, the cardboard would give a little when the button was pressed.  This would not be acceptable for the real build, so I knew that if I used a flat piece of wood to mount everything on there would have to be some support between the wood and the rear of the frame, which is 1.25 inches deep.  Different ideas of how to mount the map and switches rolled around in my head until I came up with what I feel was the best solution.

PanelThey sell panels at art supply stores with a canvas-like face attached to supports, so it forms a sort of box open on one end.  The panel that I bought has the same depth as the frame, for a perfect fit.  The panel provided support and there was plenty of room to mount the electronics.  It was affordable enough that making a mistake and having to buy another would not have been the end of the world.  It was fun shopping for painting supplies and feeling like a bohemian artist even though I knew I was doing a mere electronics project.

The build

To mount the map on the panel I used spray adhesive and rolled it flat.  I drilled each LED hole and inserted black plastic LED holders.  I like using the holders to give a finished look.

SwitchesThe next step was to drill the holes for the switches.  I couldn’t just measure out a grid since the family member’s names are different lengths.  I printed labels for the names and shifted them around to get the best configuration and ended up with three on the top row and five on the bottom.  Some have multiple names associated with them.  All the electronics fit under the back cover, with a small bulge over the battery holder.

Girl with a map

Hanging MapThe final product now hangs next to my daughter’s bed.  I know that I could have developed a snazzy web app complete with a Google map with flags inserted on the relative’s homes, full zoom capability and their latest tweets and current facebook status displayed.  That is not what I wanted, though.  It was important for me to create something that would act as decoration in her room and that she could ponder and interact with during her alone time.

Parts Bin

Parts Bin

U.S. Map

from National Atlas

Artist Panel

from Utrechtart

LED holder