There are innovations all around us from the time we wake up until the time we go to sleep. Some are brand new and others have existed since long before we were born. However, putting a new spin on an old innovation can lead to a breakthrough product. Take electric lighting for example. The “flameless candle” has been around for over 100 years, but the idea has evolved massively over time. Edison came up with the original carbon filament bulb, and there are now myriad lighting options with varied technologies that are on the market. Edison Nation member and inventor Peter Goncalves is hoping that his new take on the flameless candle, called the Stem Light, will be the next must-have product in interior lighting. As a part of Enventys, (Edison Nation’s in-house engineering team) my colleagues and I had the pleasure of helping him to bring it to life.
Pete Goncalves is a 3D graphic artist. He was born in Portugal, but has lived in Connecticut for most of his life. He has a passion for drawing, as well as 3D graphic arts. With a naturally-curious personality, Pete wondered if he could create a light that had a great modern aesthetic, while being customizable to suit the desired mood in an interior space. After researching LED lighting and a few weeks of creating concept sketches, the Stem Light was born.
The Stem Light consists of a vase and a series of stems with LEDs in them. The vase has two electrical contacts, one in the base and one along the upper rim. When a stem is placed in the vase, it makes contact with the center electrical contact in the bottom and the upper contact on the rim. This powers the LED in the stem and turns the light on. To change the mood, the stem can be removed from the lower contact and placed along the lower edge of the vase. This breaks the contact and turns the stem off, so it is a completely customizable lighting solution.
Pete had a great idea on his hands, but he needed to create a prototype. As an Edison Nation member, Pete was familiar with our engineering capabilities, so he enlisted our help to bring his great 3D concept models from idea to functioning prototype.
Pete’s product is pretty unique in that the technology was pretty straightforward, but it just needed some fine tuning and a good aesthetic. Since it did not require a lot of testing or background research, we were able to put it on an accelerated path. Pete had plans to launch a Kickstarter campaign for the product once finished, so we were able to use our tools to go from CAD to a functioning prototype ready for filming in just 4 days.
The first thing that needed to be done was to spec the lights that were going to be used in the prototype. Initially, I wanted to use an off-the-shelf candelabra bulb. So I went to a home improvement store and bought a couple of LED candelabras in different sizes and intensities. I wired them up and showed them to the rest of the team, only to discover that we had three problems. The first was that the candelabra bulbs were either way too bright or way too dim. The second was that even the smallest bulb was too big. Finally, and most importantly, the bulbs all ran on 110 volts A/C power from a standard wall socket. This presented an electrocution hazard if a piece of metal created a connection between the two contacts in the vase. So it was back to the drawing board. Fortunately, I had a box of 5mm square LEDs in the shop leftover from another project which would run on 5 volts D/C, were a medium intensity, and had a wide beam angle. I quickly wired one up and showed it to Pete. He approved of both the size and the intensity, and we decided to use these for the light in the stems.
With the lights chosen, I started designing the vase. I specked out a piece of acrylic tubing for the body, and roughed in a base for it to sit in. The electrical contacts needed to be conductive and decorative, so stainless steel was the obvious choice for the material. Since we were on a limited budget and accelerated time scale, I knew that machining custom shapes for the contacts was out of the question. So I went to the store to look for some existing products that we could hack. I found an acrylic container with stainless steel lids for the upper contact, and I found a stainless steel canister that was the perfect size and shape for the center contact. With these in hand, I finished the design for the base of the vase from the geometry of the canister, and I added a trough around it to hold the bottom of the stems when they are in the “off” position.
Then, I started designing the stems. First, I laid out the circuit board with the LED and the resistor on it, as that would drive the dimensions of the rest of the stem. Then I used the styling cues from Pete’s 3D renderings and created the flute shape for the light to sit in and a clear lens to sit on top of it. Next, I added a stainless steel tube for the length, with a bullet-shaped piece of stainless for the lower connection point and a piece of non-conductive plastic between them to keep them from shorting out. From there, I ordered the shelf components and sent the custom-designed parts to our SLA 3D printer that was provided to us by 3D Systems.
The design was done in less than a day, and parts started arriving the next day. On the first day of the build, we pulled the parts off of the 3D printer and did some test fitting. The base of the vase and the flutes were sanded, primed, and painted with a paint that replicated the look of stainless steel. The lenses were sanded using 220 grit all the way to 2000 grit sandpaper and then polished to make the lenses transparent. In the meantime, engineer Patrick Bailey soldered the circuit boards together while engineer Heyward Moore cut out some stainless steel pieces on our Omax waterjet cutter. On the second day of the build, we trimmed and assembled the stainless rods for the stems, and prototyping guru, Chris Gabriel, turned some parts on the lathe. We finished assembly on the vase and hooked it up to a power supply. We did a test run with one of the stems to make sure everything worked. There were no issues and the final touch was to glue the lenses to the flutes. Then we put all four of the flutes in the vase and ran them all together for the first time. Everything worked perfectly and the prototype looked great. We sent some pictures to Pete, and he was ecstatic to see his vision come to life.
The Stem Light has come to life with a great prototype, but as with all projects, the next big challenge for the Stem Light is to get funding so that it make it to production. Pete has created a Kickstarter campaign to accomplish this, which you can view and support here.
The Stem Light is a great example of how efficient our engineering team can be in going from concept to a functional prototype. It is also a great example of how looking at an existing product or innovation in a new way and finding a new way to deploy the technology can lead to a totally new product. While it takes teams of scientists and researchers to develop products like pharmaceuticals and complex electronics, sometimes all it takes is a critical eye and a moment of inspiration to make existing technology into a brand new, functional and great-looking product.