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LED Throwies, pioneered in 2005 by Graffiti Research Lab as a kind of electronic graffiti, instantly became a classic maker project. Consisting of nothing more than an LED, battery, magnet, and ahesive or tape, these simple circuits can be assembled in mere seconds. They stick to any ferro-magnetic surface, making buildings, bridges, and other public structures glow!

Since then artists and makers have taken the concept and ran with it, creating indestructible waterproof lanterns, filled a hundred helium balloons and tethered them all together to create an etheral, floating sculpture, and connected them with Integrated Circuits that blink Morse code. We’re revisiting and updating this project with Extreme LED Throwies, the latest in our series of fun and simple Weekend Projects. Watch the project video below for the basics of building Throwies, followed by examples of Lanterns, Swimmies, and Floaties – with more examples and ideas on the project page.

And should you create your own extreme throwie build, be sure to let us know – we might feature your project here on the MAKE blog!

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Nick Normal

I’m an artist & maker. A lifelong biblioholic, and advocate for all-things geekathon. Home is Long Island City, Queens, which I consider the greatest place on Earth. 5-year former Resident of Flux Factory, co-organizer for World Maker Faire (NYC), and blogger all over the net. Howdy!


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Comments

  1. Ben says:

    One of the downsides of the whole ‘maker culture’ thing that is going on are projects like LED Throwies. A lovely idea, but not thought through very well. pretty for a few days, then you have a bunch of dead lithium cell batteries corroding quietly on whatever theyve been thrown at. not to mention the waste of expensive to manufacture rare-earth magnets (currently there is a world shortage of neodymium). I love art – especially street art – but this kind of thing is just dumb unless you go back and clean up your dead throwie mess – something that the nature of the throwie makes incredibly unlikely.

    1. Nick Normal says:

      Some questions for you Ben: Have you ever bought a piece of electronic with an LED embedded in it? The first LED circuit I ever wired up exploded, or popped the LED – not enough understanding of the circuit; am I guilty of “waste” for trying to understand how things work? Could Shuji Nakamura, the inventor of blue, green, and white LEDs, have arrived at his revolutionary work without some experimentation? Will the next inventor or thinker be restricted from inventing without experimenting? Must they theorize and conceptually understand all their formulas before applying them? Do you only appreciate street art made with water-soluble soy inks, applied with natural hair bristles fashioned onto sustainable wood handles? Where does the definition boundary of “waste” and creative use exist (for you, for me, for makers)? How do we thoughtfully engage that conversation while not ridiculing the exchange as “dumb”?

      1. ike gently says:

        Nice strawman! But it’s a little different to try to figure out circuitry and generate some waste rather than throwing a bunch of batteries all over the place. Similarly, saying that someone who thinks throwing batteries around is equivalent to someone who thinks you should only paint with soy based paint is ridiculous. Try to see the world with gradation rather than in black and white. There are degrees.

        Use materials. Dispose of the responsibly after use. Don’t throw hazardous materials out into the world without thinking about where they are going. Keep making things. Keep inventing. But if you are using a hazardous material in your inventing and making, please don’t throw it out on the street or into a river when you are done. Not too much to ask.

        1. Nick Normal says:

          I’m trying to understand to boundaries of regulation here. I for one don’t want to regulate any creative expression, wasteful or not – I’m all for shades of grey. But you’re saying that it’s not okay to “throw batteries around”, but that other creative expressions employed by humans for thousands of years are okay, as long as they go an clean it up afterwards? I agree, don’t throw it in a river when you’re done, but I’m also not saying “don’t wire up something to a lithium battery if you don’t include a switch and resistor and absolutely get maximum life out of the circuit for creative understanding.” Do I read you correctly or not?

          1. ike gently says:

            I think the original commenter’s point is that LED throwies are often thrown and left, which results in batteries corroding and leaking, and is not really that cool. As you post: “They stick to any ferro-magnetic surface, making buildings, bridges, and other public structures glow!” While making surfaces glow with throwies seems cool, there is an environmental impact that I, and others, think outweighs the coolness factor.

            That is the only point being made. I am totally fine with people experimenting and trying things out and I understand that there is waste inherent with human existence.

            I do not agree with the formulation you give for my comment of ““don’t wire up something to a lithium battery if you don’t include a switch and resistor and absolutely get maximum life out of the circuit for creative understanding.”

            I do agree with this formulation:

            “Don’t glue magnets to batteries and throw them onto buildings and bridges where they will power LEDs for a little while and then leak hazardous materials into the environment. Play with your LEDs and batteries in another way. When your battery is dead or you have simply tired of playing with it, please dispose of it correctly. Don’t even just throw it in your trash. Look up the way to dispose of hazardous waste in your neighborhood and do your best to follow the instructions. That way, you can keep making cool things, I can keep making cool things, and we can try, at least a little bit, to leave the earth in such a state that our children and our children’s children can also have fun making cool things.”

            Sorry if that is too extreme a position for you.

        2. Nick Normal says:

          I actually concur with your formulation – I recycle all my batteries, I take metal to a scrap yard (by way of hand cart), I compost my food, my city has plastic, paper and e-waste recycling, I bike instead of use fossil fuels (don’t have a vehicle, don’t have a choice). I just don’t concur with calling a project “dumb” (not your words, Ben’s) because the project doesn’t line up exactly with my viewpoints of regulation. Like I say, I’m all for shades of grey.

          I want to be clear that my line “They stick to any ferro-magnetic surface, making buildings, bridges, and other public structures glow!” refers very specifically to that moment of epiphany in 2005/6 when Throwies emerged as a cultural expressive phenomenon – that’s why it’s in the first paragraph, about their pioneering emergence by GRL.

          Have I built Throwies without resistors, yeah. Regretted it, sure, they die quickly. Recycled the batteries, you betcha. Decry others as “dumb” for building a Throwie without a resistor, Never. I try and educate, but ultimately leave people to come to terms with their own formulations.

          1. ike gently says:

            I don’t think Ben was talking about regulation, unless you mean self-regulation (i.e. the choice not to litter). And whether or not you use a resistor in your throwie, if you don’t pick it up after you are done, you are littering. Which, I agree with Ben, is pretty dumb. Maybe you recycle all your batteries. Great. Not dumb. But I think most people who make throwies throw them at something and then leave them. I don’t think that’s a cool project. Oh well.

  2. mathieujjava says:

    What the ? The new Maker trend is to pollute and forget ? I agree with Ben, this is the “it’s fun to use a lot of materials for random projects” part of the maker movement that I don’t like. They should have taught how to do batteries with potatoes and 2 rods of different metals (is it possible ? enought current ?)

    1. Nick Normal says:

      Please read my questions for Ben, and feel free to respond to them on your own.

  3. beardy241 says:

    I concur gents. I’m liking the idea of doing it with home-made cells. I’ve done potato and lemon batteries but they didn’t perform well. Maybe experimentation with copper and zinc plates with salty electrolyte is warranted!

  4. No making this weekend: Autonomous Vehicle Competition at Sparkfun in Boulder. I’ll be taking my 6-month-old granddaughter to her first real maker event.

  5. Mark says:

    I agree with Ben ^
    I posted something similar on FB. I really wonder why this sort of thing isn’t more thought out and responsibly looked at before posting. This is the exact opposite of what we need to teach the younger generations about responsible practices regarding the one Earth we have to live on. I try not to get too irate over this sort of thing, but when do we start drawing a line and actually NOT crossing it? I LOVE this magazine, the ingenious ideas you find and share with us, the inspiration you provide to many young minds, and the usually respectable re-use of and re-purpose of many gadgets and parts to make something fun and interesting. Please stick to formulas that work, and try hard to filter out what can be harmful to the small planet we share. I am certain you could make many a young mind more aware of what is right and responsible when it matters most.

    Sincerely, Mark

  6. Sebastian says:

    I also agree with Ben!
    In the city its okay to use that kind of art. Somebody will clean up for you. But to throw batteries in a lake or somewhere else in the nature, without pick them up later, is irresponsible!

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