DIY LED Graffiti

This is so cool, because I had a dream about something like this—twenty years ago. Imagine small lights, artificial lightning bugs, that you can distribute in trees, shrubbery, walls, etc., or just scatter from a helicopter!

LED Throwies are almost exactly this thing I saw in my dream! Small, cheap, magnetic LEDs, suitable for scattering. And it’s all published in an open, DIY version.

What’s not to like?

Well, unfortunately, quite a bit, when I look at the details.

These are basically one-use, throwaways. The battery lasts about a week, give or take, with little possibility for recharging or replacement.  (The web site punts on recycling, pointing to the generic “where to recycle batteries” web site.  This is not a plan.)

However beautiful the effect (and surely tastes will differ on that), these devices are dark, mute, useless junk within a month. Just as they are easy to make and deploy, they are difficult to clean up and recycle.

Once I started thinking about this, I realize that I have little idea what is inside these Throwies, or where the materials come from. Sure, each one is tiny, but they are designed to be spread by the hundreds and thousands. What are we sprinkling on our city? What costs (energy, pollution, human misery) are unseen?

I guess this is the difference between a DIY “just do it” approach, where “it could be done, so we had to do it”, and real engineering. Doing the latter would think about safety (kids and animals swallowing them?) and life cycle of the materials (where do the parts come from? Where do they go?).

I have done both, and each has its place, but they should not be mistaken as the same thing.  And only engineering is really socially responsible.


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