Project Daffodil: Teaching Electronics

A Pop-up Adventure with Dragons, Princesses... and Circuits

By Danielle Roof

Daffodil The proportion of women working in computing fields is lower today than it was 20 years ago. Down from 35% in 1990 to 26% in 2013. Sian Geraghty, Robert Foster, and Christine Ho were shocked to learn this, and as a team they set out to disrupt this stereotype with their Masters in Multimedia thesis project at California State University East Bay.

The result, deemed Project Daffodil, is a pop-up book about a princess named Cassie who must go on a journey to fix the lights in her castle. Sian explained that the idea of a pop-up book came from a desire to create a tactile, interactive product that incorporated circuitry. The book embeds circuits on each page, with the story incorporating different electrical problems that Princess Cassie and her dragon, Sparkie, must solve throughout their journey. The team hopes that their work will make electronics a more appealing and accessible field for young girls.

Designing popup books is an interactive process, and each page needs to be made by hand. Adding circuitry obviously added further complexity. Making a durable product was a huge priority for the team. They wanted to make something that wouldn't break under the abuse of young children.

An early problem the team had to solve was the need for low profile, flexible sensors that could be worked into the book's structure and the structure of each popup. The team spent many late nights soldering and perfecting their design. They report that Jameco helped along the way. The book is wired with sensors and LEDs to give these future engineers a taste of what all engineers live for: flashing lights! A power source, however, was a more elusive challenge. The Project Daffodil team tried many different ideas including putting batteries into the spine of the book, but ultimately realized that it would be much more manageable to use an external power source possibly creating the first plug-in paper book.

A small, 3D printed version of Sparkie the dragon (with a battery inside) and little copper pads on its feet is included with the book. On each page, a pair of footprints marks a spot where the dragon should be placed to light up the circuits on the page. The filament used to 3D print Sparkie contains carbon powder, making it conductive, and thus the act of holding the dragon in the right place completes the circuit on each page. Each page has a different type of circuit and incorporates pieces such as resistors in different ways to teach basic electronics concepts. The use of different circuitry and electronic elements is connected to the story, making the book simultaneously entertaining, tactile and educational.

The project is still in its early phases with each book being hand-made. Sian says she wishes she had "gotten into more of these types of things as a kid," since the tech industry "can be intimidating" for young women who walk into classes and workplaces that are predominantly male. She and the rest of the Project Daffodil team hope their product can help to dispel this notion and teach young girls that electronics is as much their field as it is their male classmates'.