SparkFun Community Partnership Program

SparkFun is proud to partner with students, makers and hobbyists to support their work through the donation of hardware and expertise. We believe that sharing great ideas, inventions and initiatives helps the global maker community continue learning and innovating.

Here are just a few of the individuals and organizations who have become SparkFun Community Partners. We look for partners who embrace the values of open source, collaboration, playfulness, learning at all levels and making the world a better place.

Do you have a great cause, a great need and a great story?

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Featured Story


An Innovative Solution for Food Waste in Urban Restaurants

On the heels of International Compost Awareness Week, students at the Engineering and Science University Magnet School (ESUMS) in Wallingford, CT, presented their in-vessel composter at the 15th annual Connecticut Expo Fest May 19–20. Built in the shape and form factor of a dumpster to facilitate food waste disposal for urban restaurants, the Wasteless Composter took first place in the New Media category and went on to win the international Paradigm Challenge!

When researching potential innovative designs for the competition, students in the technology program discovered that some cities are passing legislation requiring certain restaurants, hotels and universities to separate food waste into a separate bin for pickup. According to the NYC Department of Sanitation, approximately one-third of the waste that businesses in the city generate is organic, including food waste, food-soiled paper and yard waste. If taken to a landfill, this organic matter is unable to biodegrade and releases methane, a greenhouse gas which harms the atmosphere if not converted into energy.

New York, Seattle and other big cities have programs to compost this waste, but the problem is, additional pickup and transportation of food waste to composting facilities adds to our carbon footprint in the form of increased emissions. Not to mention the logistical challenge of waste collection in those congested cities. Furthermore, the temporary storage of food waste adds to the rodent and insect problems that many restaurants already face.

A team of 28 students in the ESUMS technology program and their esteemed adviser, Leon Tynes, took on this challenge, housing a composter in an inconspicuous reclaimed/refurbished dumpster that would provide soil to farm-to-table restaurants and community gardens without increasing emissions.

Using Blender, the students 3D modeled the parts of the composter and developed a schematic for the electrical design, building a small working prototype of the circuitry. To show the app development side of the composter while keeping it disguised as a dumpster and therefore less likely to be tampered with, the team designed an application in MIT App Inventor to emulate the functionality of the application with the hardware SparkFun donated for the actual device. The biggest obstacle was to connect the Arduino Unos via Bluetooth to the MIT App Inventor interface and mobile tablet (watch this video to learn more about the app). After many attempts with three different Bluetooth adapters, they finally got the JY-MCU unit to connect with the tablet and the MIT program. Once that was complete, they had just 24 hours to program the LEDs for the different functions such as Start and Stop, and were able to interface the temperature and humidity sensors with the application.

Featured Story


Can You Escape through Electronics?

Hundreds of patients who had contracted a mysterious virus were quarantined, but a security breach has allowed the disease to spread into society at large. It is now resulting in thousands of deaths per day!

You are an agent on a hazmat team that must retrieve blood samples stored in the now-abandoned hospital to be analyzed for a cure to save humanity. You must find the blood samples and get out as fast as possible before you become the disease's next victim!

This was the challenge posed by Hospital Escape, an interactive experience designed by Jack Frey, a May graduate from The College of New Jersey.

“I want to show people how technology can enhance a typically nondigital experience, such as an escape room, and to expose people to multiple forms of technology,” Frey said.

Frey transformed the lighting studio at his school into a hospital lab using a variety of set pieces and props. Players were first sent into the dark room with a flashlight and had to find a circuit breaker to turn on the lights. After solving a chemistry challenge, players had to look up the atomic number of elements that appeared on an OLED screen and enter those numbers into a keypad synced with a magnet lock. The Photon controlling the keypad would then communicate with the Photon controlling the PowerSwitch Tail II using Particle's publish and subscribe events. This would turn off the PowerSwitch Tail II, thus disabling the magnet and opening the cabinet containing a UV flashlight, which would then be used to solve a puzzle with invisible ink...and so on.

SparkFun donated the PowerSwitch Tail II and Particle Photons, along with Photon Wearable Shields and various buttons, switches and sensors. The custom web app was built using HTML/CSS, JavaScript, Bootstrap and Firebase. It also featured a basic web server made with Node.js, ParticleJS and the Firebase Admin SDK.

Each member of the hazmat team wore a vest that monitored how “infected” the player was becoming from exposure to the disease and displayed the player’s health in the web app on his or her phone. After prototyping with a SparkFun RedBoard, Frey moved on to using the Particle Photon and sewed a Wearable Shield into each vest. He installed an alarm consisting of a buzzer and an LED that turned red if the player’s health fell below 25 percent. When the alarm started beeping, the player had to press the “heal” button in the web app and stand still for 30 seconds in order to reset the alarm and cheat death.

If players avoided fatal contamination, they were faced with the final challenge of cracking the code to a lock on the refrigerator containing the blood samples.

“All the players had a great time, and every group was able to solve it even if they needed to request a couple hints,” said Frey, who watched the action in the escape room via a live feed. “Everyone was intrigued by and had a lot of questions about how all of the components in my escape room worked.”

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Spreading Cheer Through IoT

Who couldn’t use a little extra light in their lives, especially on a rainy spring day? On April 1, the nonprofit DesignHouse brought precisely that to low-income students from the Austin Career and College Academy in Chicago.

Cheerlights is a shareware program that uses a Tweet-controlled app from ThingSpeak to change the color of a light to a ROYGBIV when a color command is sent via Twitter. Tweets can be sent from anywhere in the world to anywhere this program runs, reinforcing the power of Internet of Things (IoT) to connect individuals and devices around the globe.

In order to join the Cheerlights project, students had to build a display. SparkFun Electronics donated a Particle Photon, breadboard and wall charger, and mentors from local colleges, Hands On Training and Aeris, a leading IoT company, visited the school to teach students the basic wiring and technical skills that would transform those components and some LEDs into a gorgeous interactive light display!

A group of students and mentors came up with a circuit design for each pre-cut panel, and the panels were then assembled into one display that will live on at the school, reminding students how we are all connected when the colors change. Send out a tweet with @cheerlights and any phrase with a color to change it for them!

Try it yourself! Build your own Cheerlights display and spread the cheer!

The World at Your Fingertips

SparkFun was proud to sponsor MakerBolder’s third annual Rocky Mountain STEAM Fest on April 29–30, donating the SparkFun Inventor’s Kit, LilyPad Sewable Electronics Kit and Digital Sandbox.

More than 4,400 STEAM Fest participants had over a hundred activities at their fingertips, including art, engineering with cardboard, operating sheet metal machinery, solving math problems, building ships, and robot design and construction. MakerBolder, a nonprofit organization based in Boulder, CO, created the event because they believed there were too few opportunities for people to not only see new things, but actually roll up their sleeves and do new things.

“The Rocky Mountain STEAM Fest is designed to encourage people of all ages to have an experience of something they’ve never done before,” said Anne Fellini, one of the event’s producers. “Whether that’s creating your own flavor of bubbly water, or planting a bean seed – or battling robots and flying drones – everyone that comes here will find something new to do.”

MakerBolder hosts events throughout the year ranging from “Robots, Pizza and Beer” to “Meet a Maker” and “Girls Explore” workshops. These events aim to broaden exposure to career opportunities for people of all ages.

“We believe that people won’t choose careers that they know nothing about, or that they don’t believe they can master,” Fellini explained. “When people can have an experience of a STEM/STEAM activity, and perhaps meet someone that is like them, and who is already successful in a STEM career, they are more likely to open the door to that possibility for themselves.”

Creative Cabinetry with a Cause

This may look like an adorable mini arcade cabinet, but it’s much more than that. This box is full of drawers, mysteries and secrets intended to be shared with a select group of “nerdy cultural influencers” who designer Mike Rios of MotherFather Design Studio hopes will take up the call to reinvent the “College of the Creatives” and protect publicly funded art in the United States.

Rios has developed more than a dozen prototypes since he took up residency at the Supplyframe DesignLab in Pasadena, CA. SparkFun donated an LCD monitor, potentiometers and other hardware for the prototypes. The trophy-sized arcade cabinet, powered by the Next Thing Co. C.H.I.P., is made out of walnut, masonite, MDF, 3D-printed resin and speaker fabric. It has multiple hidden mechanical puzzles and compartments that recipients need to find, solve and open to become “Lettered Members” of the College of the Creatives. Once the cabinet’s mysteries are unlocked, it becomes a fully functional arcade cabinet capable of wirelessly connecting to the Lexaloffle BBS, which recipients can use to download and play games.

What shows on the screen initially is a text-based choose-your-own adventure video game (programmed via PICO-8) that addresses recipients by name and inserts information from each recipient's social graph into a series of scenarios based on World War II, J. Edgar Hoover and McCarthy-era threats to arts and creative culture. Each recipient will receive the cabinet in an “Indiana Jones”-inspired plywood crate.

Visit the Kickstarter page, where you can nominate a celebrity or other recipient for a pledge of $10 or more.

Other Partners


Girl Scouts Celebrate World Thinking Day

Once a year Girl Scouts celebrate World Thinking Day (WTD) to remember that they are part of a worldwide organization, WAGGGS. WTD is technically on Feb. 22, but due to a busy cookie season, Girl Scouts of Colorado postponed their event to April 8. Female engineering students from the DECTech (Discover, Explore, Create Technology) outreach program at Colorado School of Mines came to Lakewood to introduce several hundred girls to STEM subjects and do hands-on activities.

SparkFun donated 300 paper circuit pins as an activity to teach girls the basic principles of creating an electronic circuit. The International Student Exchange, National Park Service, Association for Women Geoscientists also sponsored the event.

Ocean County Library Makes Waves With Electronics

The Ocean County Library in Lakewood, N.J., has been a hotbed of soldering and circuitry since librarians got their hands on some beginner kits through SparkFun’s Community Partnership Program.  

Librarians and several middle and high school students dove right into the SparkFun Inventor’s Kit, completing circuits 1, 2 and 4 (which they thought was the prettiest) the first day. They had a few hiccups and learned the importance of LED polarity awareness. Over the next few days, librarians used the kits to introduce Arduino to middle school and elementary Maker Clubs and also tried their hands at soldering with the “adorable” Weevil Eye. They plan to keep the momentum going with a summer of making!

Students Rock in Jam Session of the App Variety

AppJam+ is a program developed by Dreams for Schools to engage students in mobile app development, game design, graphic editing and sound editing. This year, more than 120 middle school students from 24 teams at 5 different program sites participated in the Spring Program and Showcase Finale at UC Irvine on June 8. SparkFun donated Makey Makey Kits as prizes.

Dreams for Schools partners with UC Irvine to recruit college undergrads from computer science or engineering fields to help middle school students gain technical skills for potential STEM career paths. Mentors and their teams have 8–10 weeks to design and build an app during a two-hour, twice-a-week after-school program that culminates in the AppJam+ competition.

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