• New open-to-the-public workshops are now available. Learn More.
Member Login

NextFab’s Electronics Supervisor, Matt Garfield, had a brilliant idea for a holiday gift. While working on a contract project, he had explored inductive coupling for wireless power transfer. It wasn’t the right fit for the project, but it got his gears turning, and as the holiday season rolled around, he found a wonderful application for this exciting technology.

NextFab staff participated in a “Secret Maker” gift exchange in December. Similar to a “Secret Santa” exchange, only in fine NextFab fashion, all of the gifts were designed and built at NextFab.

Garfield was excited about inductive coupling and saw a way to apply it to an exquisite gift.

He relates, “I wanted the design to be simple, elegant, and seemingly magical. Wireless power transmission can seem somewhat magical on it’s own, but combining that with magnetic levitation could really accentuate the effect by ‘stacking’ two ‘magical’ principles. This is where my design process began.”

How does it work?

Two neodymium magnets are oriented in opposite polarities in two short wooden cylinders (a base and a top) to repel each other and create the levitation effect. An inductive charger is set to wirelessly transmit power from a USB cable plugged into the base unit and receive it in the hovering top unit. A strip of LEDs illuminate the top unit when it’s receiving the wireless power.

Inside the hover light
Bottom power unit and top lamp unit

“To create the simple, elegant enclosure, I combined Padauk, an exotic wood, and acrylic. I used the ShopBot to carve my cylindrical design out of wood. I used the laser cutter to precisely cut the white translucent acrylic caps that top the wood cylinders, and had a little bit of help from the metal shop using the lathe to cut the clear acrylic tube to the appropriate size and notch out a space to plug the USB cable into the base.”

Close up Padauk wood cylinders, cut on the ShopBot CNC Router at NextFab
Padauk wood cylinders, cut on the ShopBot CNC Router

“Before I used the ShotBot to carve my design out of expensive Paduak, I wanted to verify that the dimensions I planned would create the effect I envisioned. If the top was too heavy, the magnets may not be strong enough to levitate the top unit. If the top was too light, it may levitate too far from the base and the power received by the top unit may not be sufficient to light the LEDs.”

“I started by using the laser cutter to create a stacked mock-up of my design and verified that the design would work as expected. Then, with the help of John Haggerty, I cut several cylinders out of Padauk on the ShopBot. We also used the ShopBot’s indexer to cut a precise opening for the USB jack and screw holes. I used the laser cutter to cut the caps out of translucent white acrylic. Matt Watson helped me cut the clear acrylic tube to the appropriate length and notch the opening for the USB cable on the metal lathe.”

Cutting the USB port hole on the Padauk base cylinder at NextFab
Cutting the USB port hole on the Padauk base cylinder

“With all of the pieces prepared, I installed the magnets and electronics and double tested operation of the device. With operation verified, I sanded and spray varnished the Padauk pieces as a finishing touch.”
Top light unit hovering weightlessly over the bottom power unit

Close up of the hover light
Top light unit hovering weightlessly over the bottom power unit

Needless to say, the gift was very well received by its recipient, staffer Stephanie Slaughter, and we are sure that it brightened her holidays in more ways than one.
Happy Holidays from all of us at NextFab! We look forward to great things in 2016.

Have an electronics-based project requiring this kind of forward thinking problem solving?