Thinking Of You Page

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Nov 25, 2015

My family and friends are increasingly spread out across the country or even across the globe and keeping in touch can be a problem. This is especially true for someone like myself who doesn't really like to talk on the phone much. In addition, there are problems with people's hectic life styles and conflicting schedules. When you think of your friend or family member you may be too busy to call them that instant or if you do they may be to busy talk. Thus the spontaneity of the thought can and usually does fade away. I was thinking about these issues in relation to my sisters who are located across the US. I wanted something that would virtually instantaneously let my sisters know I was thinking of them but that was
totally non intrusive. I wanted them to know without having to disrupt what they are doing with a phone call or text message. And vice versa, when the thought struck them they could let me know they were thinking of me as well. With these thoughts in mind I designed what I call a Thinking of You or ToY device. These are small Internet connected devices meant to be used in a home, apartment or work place. They should be placed on a desk at the office or in the living room at home where they can easily be seen and interacted with. Each ToY device has a single push button switch and an RGB LED for user interaction.

ToY devices were designed to be used in groups. For example my family's group is made up of three ToY devices: one for myself and one for each of my two sisters. Each ToY device is programmed with WiFi info for each group member and assigned a colorful lighting pattern for the RGB LED that identifies the member within the group. When these devices are powered up (they are meant to be on all of the time) they connect to the local WiFi network and wait. When someone in the group presses their button (indicating they are thinking of others in the group) his/her pattern is displayed on each device no matter where they are in the world. When other members of the group press their buttons in response, their patterns are appended to the pattern being displayed so all members of the group know who responded. The ToY devices then continuously displays the concatenated patterns for 30 minutes and then extinguish themselves until someone starts the process

The ToY devices are built using an inexpensive module called a NodeMCU Amica that incorporate a ESP8266-12 WiFi module with embedded application processor. I highly recommend you read my article “Meet the ESP8266: A Tiny, WiFi Enabled, Arduino Compatible Micro Controller" from the October 2015 issue of Nuts and Volts for background information on ESP8266 devices. ToYs are really cool, easy to build, little devices that I plan on giving my sisters for Christmas. Maybe you should consider building these for your family as well.

I published an article entitled "Thinking of You" in the November 2015 issue of Nuts and Volts Magazine. The article goes into detail about the hardware and software and how to package the devices. The text above was excerpted from this article. The full article and the accompanying code are available here.

Have Fun !

The NodeMCU Amica Module from is the brains of the Thinking of You devices. This ~$7 part has a 32 microcontroller and WiFi interface built in so no other application processor is required.

Here are all of the parts necessary to built two of the Thinking of You devices. The plastic boxes are from the Container Store.

Here is a fully wired up unit. You can see there isn't much to it.

A Thinking of You unit is smaller than my coffee cup and much more fun.

Here are three Thinking of You devices for my family: one for me and one each for my two sisters.

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