I was thinking of a clever way to propose to my girlfriend. My thoughts dwelling on some large display, I had thought to write her name in the sky. I figured a simple way to implement this would involve a laser projection of some sort with a cloud as the screen. So my quest to build a laser show began. The thoughts actually began sometime in May. The beginning of summer was spent on research and I had used this last month of summer, August, to build, test, and use the machine.
Searching the net for how a laser show works I quickly found other people doing DIY versions of it. The one that looked most practical for me to take on in the time frame I had was this one: http://www.instructables.com/id/Arduino-Laser-Show-with-Full-XY-Control/ It involved parts which were easily obtainable from second hand stores and electronic shops.
This laser show was built using audio speakers with mirrors glued to them controlled by a micro controller. The laser will point into the series of mirrors and as the speakers goes in and out, it will swivel the mirror creating a laser display. To make it a little more portable, I housed the whole thing inside two speaker boxes (the ones that the speakers already came in). Furthermore, I made it able to be powered by a 12v battery and switched on remotely using a radio controlled switch.
I slowly purchased pieces of the machine. I acquired a green laser pointer and an Arduino microcontroller from Amazon for about $60, some speakers at Good Will for $6 a pair, various electronic parts from the R. Shack and Fry's, a power supply I got from wrk, and the rest is scraps I gathered from various sources.
Not going into the details of how time consuming this was, I later realized that though I had a working laser show, I had no way to present in the outdoors it if I was limited to plugging it into a wall outlet. Unfortunately, I realized this limitation two days before I was scheduled to propose. Luckily, I was able to do some quick purchases to obtain an inverter with battery, adding to my costs about $140. I plan to return these parts if I can.
Here is some video of the various build phases and the final product.
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The day of the proposal I had taken her to Jazz Alley to witness some great and upcoming Jazz musicians along with a couple Jazz legends performing along with some fine dining. Afterwards I suggested we have a night picnic for some dessert and to watch the stars. Getting to campus, I hauled the machine out of my car in a luggage case explaining that it was "picnic supplies" (she must have been suspicious). Setting up the picnic area, I had told her to close her eyes as I had a surprise. Setting up the machine and aligning it quickly, I pulled out the remote switch and the ring which I had stashed in the luggage case. The show started when I gave her the remote and she opened her eyes.
Things went quite well in my opinion. When she first saw this machine, she thought it was a bomb and was afraid to throw the switch. However when the show had gone through and ended, I was on my knee and she was in tears (of joy I presume). She said YES and I couldn't be more happy of the results.
I was quite lucky with my timing because just as the show had finished, campus security had rolled up in a van and asked me if I was waving a laser around. I admitted yes and he cautioned me to be careful not to shoot it at the planes and I agreed and told him I had put it away. SUPER!