DIY New Year’s Ball Drop

by littleBits

Published on April 23, 2014

A sparkling ball on a string cascades down a pole and is controlled by a DC motor and a series of pulleys. At the stroke of midnight, the ball triggers a roller switch that sets off flashing lights and two servo-controlled confetti cannons. The inverter, latch and double OR modules provide the logic to complete the interaction. Ring in the new year with littleBits!

How To Make It


Build the circuit first. Take a look at the circuit diagram, but feel free to make modifications.


Find a cardboard box and cut off the flaps so that it looks like a basket. Then stand the box up on one of its sides.


Cover three walls inside of the box with black paper and decorate it as you like.


Make a “floor” for your box out of black presentation board. This will sit on the bottom wall of the box. Cut some strips of black foamcore, and position them around the edge of the floor. This will leave a hollow cavity underneath the floor in which to place the modules.


Make a pole for the ball to slide on. Cut a wooden dowel to the height of your box. Then make a hole at the center of the top of the box and do the same in floorboard as well. Make sure these two holes are so aligned so that the pole stands up straight.


Cut a tunnel through the center of a foam ball and let the pole passes through it. In order for the pole to slide freely, the tunnel should be wider than the pole.


Decorate your New Year’s ball! We encourage you to get creative.


Cut the number ‘2014’ out using the template file. We used a laser cutter to cut our letters out of acrylic. Make sure to cut out a notch at the base of the numbers so they can attach to the floorboard while still sitting on the base of the box. You will need to cut a slot in the floorboard for the base of the numbers to sit on.


Let’s make the pulley chain. Plug a motormate on the tip of the dc motor and put a lego wheel on it. Take off the rubbery part from the wheel so that you can see the channel on the rim. String will sit in and around this channel. Position two pulleys with wheels (sans rubber part) on the ceiling of the box. We cut square holes in the ceiling of the box and had 2x2 lego bricks pass through them. On the exterior of the box, we snapped a larger Lego block to hold the 2x2 bricks in place. The pulleys were connected to the 2x2 blocks.


Tie a black thread to the first wheel on the dc motor and wind it several times (otherwise it slips too much). Feed the thread through the two pulleys on the ceiling and tie the other end to the foam ball.


Place the circuits under the floor (except for the servo). Make sure the roller switch sits just below the foam ball so that the ball pushes in the roller switch when it reaches the bottom. Bright LEDs and bargraph modules should sit just below the number sign. Cut holes out of the floorboard so you can access the button, slide dimmer, dc motor and its wheel, roller switch and power switch. (I know this is tricky...)


Test if the ball works with the button and the roller switch. Time how long it takes for the ball to travel down to the floor and press the roller switch. Ours took 18 seconds from the top to the floor.


Make two catapults from popsicle sticks and rubber bands. Glue a small disposable cup at the tip of the sticks and load confetti flakes inside. (http://4.bp.blogspot.com/--S3wPpEgOKI/Tclfklc-_aI/AAAAAAAAAH8/qW2kD1QgWUo/s320/New_Catapult.jpg ).


Secure the catapults to the top of the box. We made two slits on the top of the box and wove the popsicle sticks going through to make a very tight connection.


Make catapult trigger using the template file. We cut ours out of acrylic with the laser cutter, but you can make these clips out of other materials too - try paper clips or binder clips. Put the servo in the middle of the two catapults. You may need to cut a hole in the backside of the box through which to pull the wire. Prepare the catapults by placing the clips on the ends of the loaded popsicle sticks and running a string to each side of the servo. Tie the strings to the ends of the servo arm, so that when it moves, the clips fly off the popsicle sticks.


Build a small wall on the top of the box to hide the catapults from the audience’s sight.


Press the button to wind the ball up. You can switch the direction the DC motor turns by flipping the small switch on the board. When the ball gets its highest position, stop it by pressing the button again and change DC motor’s direction. Make some confetti flakes and put them in the cup of the catapult. Load the catapults and attach the clips.


At 18 second before the new year, press the push button and begin your countdown.


Celebrate the moment with a surprise!

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