DIY with TI: Maker lights up smart home innovations

At TI, we celebrate the makers and hobbyists who enjoy creating and innovating on their own time. In our ongoing DIY with TI series, we share their incredible Do-It-Yourself inventions using TI technology.

One need not look far to find evidence of Johann Zipperer’s unrelenting fascination with electronics.

A stroll through his beautifully illuminated garden, for instance, hints at the years he spent designing and creating its 40-meter custom fence with built-in, remotely-adjustable LED lights.

Homemade 3D printerA glance at his workshop reveals his homemade 3D printer, which he used to make custom tools to reconstruct his DIY smart home. As you enter his house, you’ll find his home’s touch screen central control unit – integrated into a picture frame – hanging on the wall like an artistic masterpiece.

A garden fence like no other

Johann, who has worked as an engineer in our Freising, Germany office for the majority of his 25 years with TI, had long desired to develop an adaptable lighting system that would illuminate his garden without imposing upon neighboring properties. The project came together over several years.

In the first stage of the project, he designed and built a 40-meter fence made of stainless steel. He then added 17 posts with integrated LED lights spaced at 2.5-meter intervals, which were joined to the power supply via cabling built into the fencing.

Illuminated DIY fenceWith each fence post holding light actuators controlled by MSP430™ microcontrollers, the LEDs can be individually controlled to mix red, green and blue light signals and to adjust brightness and tone. For example, if there is snow on the ground, the lights can be adjusted to reduce glare; during a more festive season, the colors can be changed and brightened.

Johann initially designed the system to be controlled by a PC, but recently developed the framed touch screen central control unit.

Through his work on the project, Johann has developed several new processes and has several patents pending. These include a method for transmitting data on top of a 230V power line for the lights and the use of a system bus and MSP430™ microcontroller for live modulation of the lights.

At home with 3D printing

Tools made with 3D printerAnother project in Johann’s portfolio is a homemade 3D printer, which he uses to model and modify plastic components. He showcased this at our DIY with TI event in Freising in 2014.

Like the fence lighting system, the 3D printer makes use of MSP430™ microcontrollers, as well as distance sensors and switches for mechanical and optical pick-up.

One of the challenges in using the printer is selecting material that flows and sets in the right way, according to Johann. After some experimentation, he tends to use eco-friendly bioplastics, such as polylactide acid.

Johann Zipperer in home workshopJohann has used the printer to construct non-standard tools. The need for this arose while he reconstructed his house – adding, among other things, a solar-thermal exchanger for heating and hot water. This required non-standard wrench sizes (42mm, 60mm and 65mm) for various tasks such as tightening a heater outlet or cutting a thread.

“Making your own wrenches is not rocket science,” Johann noted, although NASA is looking into similar manufacturing methods, he said with a smile.

Johann has also used the 3D printer to produce covers for fans installed around his home. The smart rooms in his house feature humidity and temperature sensors which work with MSP430™ microcontrollers to activate fans if needed. However, the fans presented aesthetic and practical issues – they didn’t look great, and the curtains would tend to get caught in them.

3D-printed grid coverThe solution: a grid cover to stop the curtains from getting caught and make the fans more attractive. Johann designed the covers – measuring 25 centimeters (about 10 inches), before constructing them with the printer.

Bringing a maker mindset to solve customers’ problems

Johann’s DIY projects allow him to look at engineering more broadly than his day-to-day work, he said, which, in turn, helps him bring a deeper understanding when solving our customer’s challenges. For instance, an understanding of fluid dynamics isn’t required in Johann’s daily work, but the knowledge he has gained on this topic through DIY projects could be helpful in developing the supporting technology for a water meter.

Johann takes pride in solving common problems with his DIY prowess – and he is committed to creating documentation and bills of material that can be shared so others can learn and draw from his projects. His appetite for invention doesn’t look to be abating anytime soon. We look forward to seeing what emerges from his workshop in the future.