USB indicator light can be used to alert you to almost any online event

Mike Kuniavsky of the electronic projects studio ThingM says:

When we designed the BlinkM we took the old school Unix philosophy of making it simple and focused, a useful component in a larger system of interlocking pieces.

blink(1) is our idea of what that same philosophy would be like, when mapped to a consumer electronics products.

It's a USB indicator light, and we think it's the best one, ever. Or at least the one that is the best compromise between flexibility, simplicity, utility and cost that we could come up with. It's easily programmed and can be connected to both local events and to things that happen out on the net. It's Open Hardware.

It's on Kickstarter.

We think people might want a new little indicator light their lives, or maybe they want to support us because we're treating this as a Lean Startup project, and will pivot the design based on how people use it.

Also, since we have a pretty good track record of making and shipping products in volume, we are confident that if we make our goal [Ed note: they met their goal!], we will actually ship these things in a couple of months, unlike many Kickstarter hardware products that have long wait times.

blink(1), the USB RGB LED


  1. Ooooo!  I was actually thinking about this last week when I dug up an old landline “flasher” from Radio Shack which was basically a small device one hooked up to your phone line that would flash a light when a call was coming through.  Great for situations when you need to turn off the ringer.

    This would work quite well in a server environment to help quickly diagnose basic issues like hard drive free space or network disconnects by just plugging this into USB port.  Helps avoid having to open up an initial console session when something hangs.

    1. Back in high school I had one of those clear phones with the neon tube in it…needless to say it came in handy when I wanted to play games via the modem at the wee hours of the morning.

  2. A single LED is kind of pointless; I already do this with the ‘scroll lock’ LED that everything with a keyboard has, trivially, for email notification.

    A USB to parallel interface with an LED matrix would be nice.  You can pick up a USB to parallel adapter at Amazon for about $10.  Add another $10 for the matrix, and you’re done:

    I would contribute to a Kickstart for that as a commercial project.

    1. You’re thinking too big.  In a rack-based server environment, a simple blinking light can save your life when debugging issues.

      1. Rack-based server environments already have a suite of sensors and blinking lights for exactly this purpose.
        Every HP server has a UID button on the back and it has a blue LED in it. This also actuates the blue UID light on the front panel. This light can be actuated from the management tools. Other vendors have similar solutions.

        I agree with his comment; a single LED is kinda trivial. However a compact programmable array is cooler.

    2.  Unlike your scroll lock LED, this is an RGB LED with PWM, so you can get 24 bits of color out of it.  (Also, trivially, I don’t need a light to notify me about new email – I’ve always got new email.  What I need is something to notify me about interesting email :-)

      There have been some auxiliary displays for computers, and also for flip-phones (which typically have a smaller display on the cover so it can show you a few things even when it’s closed.)

      1.  My new mail is interesting mail.  I use filters to sort out low priority email, so the only thing that flashes the LED is something interesting.  :)

        For more information than an LED can provide, I use an old retasked PDA as a mini-second head.

  3. OMG a real time way of knowing when someone has replied to one of my less than important posts on BB!!!

  4. blink(1)’s predecessor, BlinkM, has an AVR ATtiny45 microcontroller and an RGB LED, and you can program it to play a wide range of patterns using a I2C bus (from an Arduino, USB dongle, etc.)  Once it’s programmed, you can let it run independently from any ~5v power supply.   The tiny45 supports PWM, so you can get 256 brightness levels of each color, so it’s extremely flexible, lets you fade colors up and down, etc.  There are a couple of models – basic, high-power, small sewable.

    Since this is designed to be driven by a PC, it’s not clear that you need all the flexibility that the microcontroller offers, but it’s hard to get beyond the basic 3 bits of color without it.  It’s hard to tell from the Kickstarter whether you get all the flexibility in this model – for instance, can you program the blink(1) and then plug it into a dumb USB power source – but that’s not surprising, since it’s pointed at PC hobbyists, not Arduino hobbyists who want to play with all the bits and wires.  (And you could emulate this with a USB I2C dongle and a BlinkM.)

    The newer AVR microcontrollers have USB control functions built in, and some of the newer Arduino models are using them.  Unfortunately, they’re all in surface-mount packaging, not DIP, so you either have to use pre-built boards or be a hard-core solder geek; the DIP packaging is a lot more maker-friendly, since you can plug it into breadboards or do easy through-hole soldering or even wire-wrap.  It looks like ThingM has done a nice job of packaging this, so you can do just about anything with the dongle.

  5. A somewhat related kickstarter (and one that I’m personally more excited about) is here:

    “L8 is a battery powered mini squared lamp with a multicolor 64 Led matrix on one side and a multicolor super bright Led on the other and several useful sensors, that connects via bluetooth to your smartphone to notify you by light images or animations of just about anything that happens”

    1. Thanks for pointing me to the L8 SmartLight. I can’t wait to use mine as an “information radiator” – in particular, a build status indicator for continuous integration. Plus all the other uses listed by the L8 guys.

    1. Or “someone somewhere is trying to pass bad internet-restricting legislation.”

      We could have the thing trigger the Cat Signal automatically.

  6. neat idea, but 30 bucks is WAY too much to charge for these things. and 10 dollars extra to ship to canada? the thing weighs like a gram and a half…canada’s not on the moon, you know.

  7. Reading above posts and thinking about it I have two suggestions.
    1. Pass through USB so it doesn’t use up a port
    2. Add a transparent button that can launch an application. In particular I am thinking it would be nice if the system can watch for a message from someone in your family (by email or maybe IM like jabber), without launching the huge Mail application, and then if the light is on you push the switch and it launches a simple, light reply app (reply via the appropriate communications channel).

  8. Nice toy for Geeks but pointless. What program do you have running that can’t pop up alerts? Twitter? Facebook? Trading programs? Alarms? Appointments? What else is there?  May I suggest those little USB dancing robots would be more fun?

    1. of course there’s no use for this if you are actually using the computer.  the point–at least for me–is that the computer display need not even be on and i can still be alerted of an event if, say, i’m just walking by, or sitting in the same room, or etc.

  9. Wait…I’m confused. An actual project? I thought Kickstarter was just for celebrities to hit their fanbase like an ATM.

  10. aren’t usb email/im notifiers already available? couldn’t those be re-programmed to light up for other events?

  11. I think it’s neat. I don’t really need it on my computer at the moment, but my phone (Nexus One) has a multi-color LED in the scroll ball thing on the front that can be programmed to blink different colors for different things, and it’s great. I have it so it blinks red for missed calls, pink for text messages (the red and pink are quite distinct), green for e-mail, and blue for “other” (the rare, random apps that are aware of the color capability seem to default to blue for some reason).

    This is actually a major reason why I’m hesitant to switch to an iPhone, which I’ve been considering otherwise – I really like the notification light and don’t want to give it up!

    If you regularly had multiple types of notifications on your computer, something like this would be great. As it is, the only thing I regularly see on my computer is e-mail, and my phone informs me of that already.

    I’d like to have something like this (or better, an array of them) to play around with though. Maybe one of the programmable displays would be better for that.

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