Energy Awareness Design Challenge

by littleBits

Published on April 23, 2014

Make something that conserves something

October is Energy Awareness Month! All around the world, people use energy everyday. From the lights we turn on in the morning, to the gas that is used to power our cars, to the computers we type on, to the stoves we cook our food on, to the electric alarm clock we set before we go to sleep-- we all are using energy. Are we using too much electricity?

Energy is essential to living, but often we waste electricity when we could be conserving it. The impact of our daily energy consumption has a negative impact on our planet. It's time to think smart about energy. What can students do to conserve energy and think about sustainable use of electricity?

This month littleBits challenges teachers and students to harness your inner inventor and dive into our littleBits Energy Design Challenge:

How can you use littleBits to bring awareness to everyday energy consumption? We can't wait to see what you dream up!

Overall project: 5 E’s

Before embarking on this integrated unit, we suggest students begin with a hands-on, open-ended exploration of littleBits, combined with a study of energy: What is energy?  Where do we get it? How do we use it? How can we best conserve it?

Engage: Ask students to brainstorm the ways they may be wasting energy in their daily lives-- at home and in school. Think: water, electricity, heat, etc. What behaviors or tools are you already using in your daily life that help reduce energy consumption?

Explore: Use littleBits to answer the Design Challenge. Merge littleBits with materials to begin iterating and inventing.

Explain: How is energy lost in a system? What is Vampire Energy? Why is energy conservation important?

Elaborate: What resources are you conserving with your invention? Can you use or alter your invention to measure energy use? What Dream Bit would you create to improve your invention? How might you use littleBits to create an energy generating machine?

Evaluate: Students should be able to explain key concepts and information acquired in the lesson.

Resources for Teachers on Energy Awareness Month:




Credits: littleBits Education

How To Make It


Examples of our Design Challenge Solutions:

Project 1.
How can you remind people to unplug appliances?

Solution: Vampire Energy Projector

Disclaimer: This project involves close proximity to an electrical outlet. Note, Bits should never come in contact with an electrical outlet! Adult supervision is required. 

Did you know that even when many common household electronics are turned off, if they are plugged into an electrical outlet, they are still using energy? Vampire Energy, also known as Phantom Load or Standby Power, is the wasted energy used by these products when they are turned off, yet still plugged in. 

The Vampire Energy Projector is made with littleBits and visually displays the “vampire” energy being sucked out through the plug when it remains in the outlet.

Are you curious to learn more about Vampire Energy? Check out: (http://www.howstuffworks.com/everyday-tech/vampire-power.htm) and (http://www.treehugger.com/gadgets/the-visual-display-of-vampire-information.html)


Start with this circuit: power + wire + roller switch + rgb led. Don’t forget to set the roller switch to close mode.


Cut a piece of cardboard into a 3in x 7in strip and make holes as indicated on the attached file (https://littlebits-production.s3.amazonaws.com/uploads/supporting_file/asset/211/vampire_mount.pdf). If you have access to a printer, you can print the file out and glue it to the cardboard as a reference. Make sure that the big rectangular hole fits the power plug you want to use (every power plug has slightly different shape and dimension, so you should double check it).


Feed your power cord through the X-shaped cut and the big rectangular hole. You may need to pull the sides of the zig-zag-shaped cut to widen the cardboard and feed the plug through.


Fold and glue the cardboard strip as shown in the picture. The surface with two rectangular holes faces the power outlet. The circuit sits on the blank surface on the other end.


Tape the circuit in place. The roller switch should poke through the small rectangular hole so that it touches a wall when you plug the power cord into an outlet. GlueDots are our favorite when we do things like this.


Draw a vampire on construction paper and cut it out. Put it on the cardboard mount near the rgb led. Consider that the shadow will be much larger and distorted when projected on a wall.


Make a 5/8 inch rectangle out of cardboard and place it over the red LED on the power bit.


In some cases, the roller switch does not reach to the wall. If you need, add a couple of layers of cardboard to the wall to meet the roller switch.


Now, you will can visualize the vampire energy you are using when you keep electronics plugged in to the wall.


Project 2.
How can you measure the power of different light sources?

Solution: Light Reader Box

How bright is your bulb? Test the effects of an energy-saving bulb and compare it to a regular incandescent lightbulb with the same wattage.

The Bottle Bulb is the brilliant invention of a Brazilian mechanic named Alfredo Moser. In 2002, Moser discovered a way of lighting his house during the day without using any electricity. He used little more than plastic bottles filled with water. In the last two years Moser’s innovation has spread throughout the world. It is expected to be in one million homes by early 2014.


We made a small dark chamber with a light sensor and a bargraph in order to measure how bright a light bulb is. The brighter the light bulb, the more LEDs on the littleBits Bargraph light up.

TEACHER RESOURCE for Bottle Bulb: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-23536914



Build this circuit: power + light sensor + wire + bargraph. Set the light sensor to light mode.


Cut out a small window in the box. It should be the size of the bargraph + one connector on the wire. The window should be no bigger so that the modules fit tightly in the side of the box.


Put the bargraph and wire in the window you just made. Tape them securely. The bargraph should be facing outward so that we can see how many leds are on from the outside of the box.


Tape the rest of the circuit down inside the box.


Make a hole in the top of the box. This hole should be big enough to let your plastic bottle pass through, but small enough to keep the inside of the box dark. The hole we cut is about 4inches in diameter.


Set the light sensor to its maximum sensitivity using the small purple littleBits screwdriver. You may need to adjust the sensitivity according to your circumstance and test parts.


When you close the box, the light sensor will measure the amount of light coming in through the hole from different light sources. Compare a solar bulb to an electric lamp.


Make a solar bottle bulb: http://aliteroflight.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Liter_Of_Light-How_to_build_a_Solar_Bottle_Bulb-English.pdf. These instructions are pretty simple but you can simplify them even more - just use a plastic bottle and aluminum foil!


Project 3. How can you create a reminder to use less energy?
Solution: Daylight Reminder

Saving Energy by Day: We don’t need electric lights all the time. Daylight usually does the trick, but it is often habit to turn lights on during the day. How can we be more thoughtful about our energy use?

For this project we created a circuit that lives on the windowsill and on your light switch. When it is bright outside and you flip the light switch, the lamp questions you, “Are you sure? Why?”


Build your circuit: power + light sensor + pulse + wire + pressure sensor + wire + bargraph.


With this circuit, the light sensor sits near your window and the pressure sensor sits on the switch that turns a lamp on, so if the sun is up (triggering the light sensor) and you try to turn on a lamp in your house (activating the pressure sensor), a pulsing question mark appears (bargraph).


Attach the pressure sensor to the switch on your lamp. We used a glue dot to do this. We also made a casing out of a cardboard tube to make it look like it is part of the lamp.


Make the blinking question mark. Cut off a section of a cardboard tube. Place the bargraph inside.


Cut 2 circles out of paper that are the same circumference as your tube (hint: trace your tube). One circle should be colored paper and the other should be white. On the colored circle, cut out the shape of a question mark. Then, lay the white circle on top of the it and tape them together.


Tape or glue the paper circle to the top of the cardboard tube. You will now see the question mark show up through the white paper when the bargraph blinks.


Place the circuit in a strategic location where it can sense sunlight, and think twice about turning on that lamp.

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