Building your first Paper Signal

The project is challenging and takes a few hours, so you'll probably want to turn this into a weekend project. There's a lot of stuff you'll learn along the way. Have fun!

Get the Parts

You can find the parts we used here, or use similar parts you might already have lying around.

Electronic stuff

  • Micro servo

  • Adafruit Feather HUZZAH ESP8266 WiFi with headers

  • Micro USB cable (data-syncing)

  • Male/female jumper wires

Paper stuff

  • Printer

  • 8.5 x 11” paper (80-100lb cardstock)

  • Adhesive (fast drying paper glue, a glue stick, glue dots, or double-sided tape)

  • Scissors and a craft knife

  • Small Phillips-head screwdriver

  • Empty mechanical pencil to score folds

  • Ruler for cutting and scoring

Your phone

  • Phone with the Google Assistant (Android or iOS devices)

Note: Those are the parts we used, but you can probably find similar ones that work just as well.

Download the Software

To get started, you’ll need the driver, the Arduino software, and our Paper Signals code.

Assemble the Hardware

Next you’ll want to assemble the electronic stuff. Gather the Feather, micro servo, wires and micro USB cable to prep your Paper Signal for software set up. Follow the diagram below.

Make sure the jumper wires are connected to the right pins.

    Brown wire to GND (ground)
    Red wire to 3V (power)
    Orange wire to 14 (pin)
    MicroUSB cable to jack

Note: It’s best practice to match the colors of the jumper wires from the micro servo to the microcontroller. But it’s not mandatory if you don’t have the exact colors.

Plug in the hardware and install

Now that the electronics are assembled, plug it into the USB port of your computer. In this step, you’ll want to take the software you downloaded and start installing. Once that’s done, open Arduino on your desktop and follow instructions below.

Go to Arduino > Preferences (on Mac) or File > Preferences (on PC).
Add the ESP8266 Boards Package by copying and pasting into the Additional Board Manager URLs field: http://arduino.esp8266.com/stable/package_esp8266com_index.json. Press OK.

Go to Tools > Board > Boards Manager
Filter by ESP8266 and click install on “esp8266 by ESP8266 Community” to install the board. Close the Boards Manager window once the install process is done.

Go to Tools > Board
Select Adafruit HUZZAH ESP8266 as your board in this dropdown.

Go to Tools > Upload Speed
Select 921600 baud from the dropdown.

Go to Sketch > Include Library > Manage Libraries
Filter by ArduinoJSON library and select ArduinoJson by Benoit Blanchon. Click install. Close the Boards Manager window once the install process is done.

Go to Tools > Port
Select the matching COM port for your USB cable. On Macs, it should be “USB.SLABtoUART” or similar.

Connect your Paper Signal

Open Paper Signal file
Open the Paper Signal file you downloaded from the previous section in Arduino. Make sure you open the INO file. Click to the Credentials.h tab.

Input Wifi & Password
In the credentials tab, you’ll see the following screen. Input your wifi network where it says “YOUR_WIFI_NETWORK” and your wifi password where it says “YOUR_WIFI_PASSWORD”.

API Keys (Weather)
For some of the Signals, like Umbrella and Pants Signal, you'll need to sign up for an API key to track the weather. Get the Google Maps Geocoding API key, which converts a word like “Seattle” into location data. Then, sign up and get the Dark Sky API key for real time weather data from that location. Once you sign up, paste your keys into the fields as shown above. If building another Signal, skip this step (Countdown Signal and Rocket Signal do not require API keys).

API Keys (Stocks)
For Arrow Signal, you'll need to sign up for an API key on BarChart if you want to track stocks. If building another Signal, skip this step (Countdown Signal and Rocket Signal do not require API keys).

Google Assistant
Pull up the Google Assistant on your phone. On most Android phones with the Assistant (such as Pixel), you long press your home button. On iOS, get the Google Assistant app in the app store. Once you have the Google Assistant running, say “Talk to Paper Signals.” Then, say ‘Create a new Paper Signal’. From there, you’ll receive a unique 3-word identifier.

Unique ID
You'll receive a 3-word identifier similar to the example image above. Type the 3-word identifier into the sketch file. Make sure the words are separated by dashes and spelled correctly.

Ready to Upload
Once everything is input correctly. Click the arrow to upload the code to your microcontroller. The blue LED should immediately light up to show successful wifi connection. The red LED should start flashing to indicate that it's pulling data. If the upload is failing, make sure you are using a data-syncing micro USB cable.

Test the Servo
For a final test, grab your phone and open the Assistant app. Say “Talk to Paper Signals”. The app will prompt you to run another test to get your servo moving.

Print the paper templates

Now that your electronic parts are set up. You can move on to building the paper form factor.

Print your template on a standard inkjet printer. We recommend using 80-100lb 8.5” x 11” cardstock paper.

Put it all together

You have your paper template printed. Here are some tips to fold, cut, score and assemble:


Part 1: Support Blocks

Prefold parts D, E, and F along the dotted lines, then lay them printed side up.

Part 2: Build Servo Enclosure

Attach the rotational arm to the servo.

Without removing the servo arm, rotate it counterclockwise, until the motor will not turn.

Remove the servo arm without rotating the servo motor.

Prefold part B along the dotted lines, then lay it printed side up.

Part 3: Build Motor Attachment

Prefold part G along the dotted lines, then lay it printed side up.

Put the servo on at 45 degrees. It’s important that the arm is angled before you attach it. Rotating after will misalign the motor.

Screw the servo arm down. It’s okay if the arm rotates as you tighten the screw, just realign the arm as shown after.

Do not glue the wings to the main rotational piece.

Part 4: Build Microcontroller Enclosure

Connect an orange wire to 14, a red wire to 3V, and a brown wire to GND.

Prefold part C along the dotted lines, then lay it printed side up

Check that you’ve got the USB port facing out.

Part 5: Put it All Together

Prefold part A along the dotted lines, then lay it printed side up.

Mountain fold the double dotted lines and apply glue to tab 53.

Apply glue to tab 50.

Fold and glue tab 50.

Apply glue to highlighted area.

Apply glue to highlighted area.

Make sure parts are aligned as shown.

Glue highlighted surfaces. Combine parts as shown.

Connect matching colored wires.

Apply glue to the highlighted area to adhere surface to the support block. (see next step)

Apply glue to the highlighted area.

Prefold parts I and H along dotted lines, then lay them printed side down.

Apply glue to the highlighted areas. Attach parts I and H. Be careful to only glue the small surfaces shown.

Apply glue to the highlighted areas.

Apply glue to the highlighted area.

Apply glue to the highlighted area.

Apply glue to the highlighted area. Be careful not to use too much glue, or the paper will warp.

Part 1: Servo Enclosure

Attach a rotational arm to your servo motor.

Without removing your servo arm, rotate it clockwise until the motor will not turn.

Remove the servo arm without rotating the servo motor.

Take part B and lay it flat with the pattern facing up.

Fold up tabs 9, 10, 11, and 12.

Fold up the bottom of the enclosure.

Fold up the right side of the enclosure.

Attach tab 10 by folding up the left side of the enclosure.

Attach tabs 9, 11, and 12.

Rotate the enclosure so the opening is facing up.

Fold out tabs 13, 14, and 15.

Insert the servo motor into the enclosure, feeding the wire through the hole in the bottom.

The enclosure is complete.

Part 2: Build Microcontroller Enclosure

Take part A and lay it flat with the pattern facing up. Place the microcontroller in the center of the pattern. Connect an orange wire to pin 14, a red wire to 3V, and a brown wire to GND.

Fold up tabs 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7.

Fold up the sides of the microcontroller enclosure by attaching tabs 1 and 3.

Fold up the last side of the enclosure by attaching tabs 6 and 7.

Close the enclosure by attaching the remaining tabs.

Part 3: Put it All Together

Take part C, lay it flat with the pattern facing up. Apply adhesive to the shaded blue area.

Attach the servo motor enclosure to pattern C by applying adhesive to tabs 13, 14, and 15.

Fold up tabs 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, and the top of the box.

Apply adhesive to the top of the paper signal box (grey rectangle on template). Fold up the right-hand side of the box, attaching tab 21 and attaching the servo motor to the top of the box.

Fold up the left-hand side of the box, attaching tab 22.

Apply adhesive to the blue shaded area.

Attach the microcontroller enclosure.

Connect the wires of the micro-controller and the servo motor as shown (double check that orange is attached to pin 14, red is 3V, and brown is GND on the micro-controller).

Attach tabs 17, 18, and 23 by folding up the bottom of the box.

Rotate the box so that the exposed servo motor is facing the front. The last side of the box remains open for now.

Part 4: Build and Attach the Timer

Take part D.

Insert the colored countdown paper into the remaining pattern piece so that the red half of the countdown paper is above and the unprinted half of the countdown paper is below the remaining pattern piece.

Attach the countdown assembly to part D by applying adhesive only to the bottom of part D. Do not apply glue above the red line. Do not stick any part of the colored countdown piece to part D.

When together, the three pieces of the countdown should look like this.

Fold the small flap around the back of the assembly.

The completed countdown assembly looks like this.

Apply adhesive to the shaded blue area and attach the completed countdown assembly.

Insert a screw to attach the countdown assembly to the motor box. You may need to open the paper box to support the servo motor enclosure as you apply pressure to insert the screw.

Attach tabs 16, 19, and 20 by folding closed the last side of the box. The paper signal is complete.

Part 1: Servo Enclosure

Attach a rotational arm to your servo motor.

Without removing your servo arm, rotate it counterclockwise until the motor will not turn.

Remove the servo arm without rotating the servo motor. Set the servo arm aside, it will be used again in a future step.

Take part B and lay it flat with the pattern facing up.

Fold up tabs 9, 10, 11, and 12.

Fold up the bottom of the enclosure.

Fold up the right side of the enclosure.

Attach tab 10 by folding up the left side of the enclosure.

Attach tabs 9, 11, and 12.

Rotate the enclosure so the opening is facing up.

Fold out tabs 13, 14, and 15.

Insert the servo motor into the enclosure, feeding the wire through the hole in the bottom.

The completed enclosure.

Part 2: Build Microcontroller Enclosure

Take part A and lay it flat with the pattern facing up. Place the microcontroller in the center of the pattern. Connect an orange wire to pin 14, a red wire to 3V, and a brown wire to GND.

Fold up tabs 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7.

Fold up the sides of the microcontroller enclosure by attaching tabs 1 and 3.

Fold up the last side of the enclosure by attaching tabs 6 and 7.

Close the enclosure by attaching the remaining tabs.

Part 3: Building the Signal Box

Take part C, lay it flat with the pattern facing up. Apply adhesive to the shaded blue area.

Attach the servo motor enclosure to pattern C by applying adhesive to tabs 13, 14, and 15.

Fold up tabs 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, and the top of the box.

Attach tab 19 by folding up the left-hand side of the box.

Attach tab 18 by folding up the right-hand side of the box.

Apply adhesive to the blue shaded area.

Attach the microcontroller enclosure.

Connect the wires of the microcontroller and the servo motor as shown (double check that orange is attached to pin 14, red is 3V, and brown is GND on the micro-controller).

Attach tabs 20, 21, and 22 by folding up the bottom of the box.

Rotate the completed box so that the exposed servo motor is facing the front. The last side of the box remains open for now.

Part 4: Build and Attach the Arrow

Take part D, lay it flat with the pattern facing down.

Fold up all the dark grey tabs.

Fold up tab 35 as shown.

Fold back tab 35 as shown.

Fold up the ends and sides of the arrow as shown, attaching the dark grey tab inside the point of the arrow.

Fold up the remaining sides of the arrow as shown, attaching the dark grey tabs inside the corners of the arrow.

Place the servo arm into the folded slot.

Position the servo arm as shown.

Place the partially folded arrow onto the box.

Position the partially folded arrow as shown.

Insert a screw to attach the servo motor arm and partially folded arrow to the motor box. You will need to support the servo motor enclosure as you apply pressure to insert the screw.

Fold up the front of the arrow, attaching the dark grey tabs at the base of the arrow.

Fold closed the arrow, attaching all the remaining dark grey tabs.

Attach tabs 16, 17, and 23 by folding up and closing the last side of the box.

The paper signal is complete.

Part 1: Servo Enclosure

Take part A and lay it flat with the pattern facing up.

Fold up all the dark grey tabs.

Place the servo motor (with the servo arm) onto the template as shown.

Attach tab 5 beneath the servo motor and feed the servo motor wires through the hole in the paper.

Attach tab 6 beneath the servo motor and tab 1 against the opposite side of the servo motor enclosure.

Fold up the remaining side of the servo motor enclosure, attaching tabs 3, 4, and 2.

Attach a rotational arm to your servo.

Without removing your servo arm, rotate it clockwise until the motor will not turn.

Remove the servo arm without rotating the servo motor.

Reattach the servo arm at as shown (pointing directly to the right.

The servo motor and arm should look like this when finished.

Part 2: Build Motor Attachment

Take part B and lay it flat with the pattern facing up.

Fold up tabs 12 and 15.

Fold up the two tabs on the left-hand side.

Fold in tabs 10 and 11.

Slightly fold the middle piece up.

Fold up the left-hand side, attaching tabs 10, 11, and 12 to their respective landings.

Fold a bend into the tab on the right-hand side.

Fold up tabs 13 and 14.

Fold tabs 8 and 9 up and in.

Attach tab 15 to its landing by folding the entire right-hand side up.

Fold the right-hand side back and then fold in half, attaching tabs 7, 8, 9, 13, and 14 at once.

Folding is complete.

Attach the folded piece to the servo motor by inserting the servo motor arm into the hole on the underside of the motor attachment.

Attach the servo motor attachment to the servo motor with a screw.

Part 3: Attach Pants

Slightly fold the pants.

Attach the folded tab on the pants to the servo motor attachment.

The completed piece should look like this.

Part 4: Build Microcontroller Enclosure

Take part C and lay it flat with the pattern facing up. Place the microcontroller in the center of the pattern. Connect an orange wire to pin 14, a red wire to 3V, and a brown wire to GND.

Fold up tabs 16, 17, 18, 20, 21, 22, and 23.

Fold up the sides of the microcontroller enclosure by attaching tabs 16 and 20.

Fold up the last side of the enclosure by attaching tabs 17 and 22.

Close the enclosure by attaching the remaining tabs.

Part 5: Put it All Together

Take part D and lay it flat with the pattern facing up.

Fold up the dark grey tabs and the top of the box.

Attach tab 31 to its landing by folding up the side of the box and apply adhesive to the shaded blue area. Ensure that the pants fit through the slits before gluing.

Attach the motor assembly to the box and apply adhesive to the shaded blue area.

Attach the microcontroller enclosure.

Connect the wires of the microcontroller and the servo motor as shown (double check that orange is attached to pin 14, red is 3V, and brown is GND on the micro-controller). Bundle the wires so they don’t interfere with the servo motor arm.

Fold the box over, feed the pants through the slots, and attach tabs 24, 29, and 30 to the inside of the box.

Fold the box closed by attaching tabs 25, 26, 27, and 28. Finally, apply adhesive to the blue shaded area and then attach the shorts.

Attach the shorts to the front of the box, just overlapping the slots where the pants stick out. The paper signal is complete.

Part 1: Servo Enclosure

Take part A and lay it flat with the pattern facing up.

Fold up all the dark grey tabs.

Place the servo motor (with the servo arm) onto the template as shown.

Attach tab 5 beneath the servo motor and feed the servo motor wires through the hole in the paper.

Attach tab 6 beneath the servo motor and tab 1 against the opposite side of the servo motor enclosure.

Fold up the remaining side of the servo motor enclosure, attaching tabs 3, 4, and 2.

Attach a rotational arm to your servo.

Without removing your servo arm, rotate it clockwise until the motor will not turn.

Remove the servo arm without rotating the servo motor.

Reattach the servo arm at as shown (pointing directly to the right.

The servo motor and arm should look like this when finished.

Part 2: Build Motor Attachment

Take part B and lay it flat with the pattern facing up.

Fold up tabs 12 and 15.

Fold up the two tabs on the left-hand side.

Fold in tabs 10 and 11.

Slightly fold the middle piece up.

Fold up the left-hand side, attaching tabs 10, 11, and 12 to their respective landings.

Fold a bend into the tab on the right-hand side.

Fold up tabs 13 and 14.

Fold tabs 8 and 9 up and in.

Attach tab 15 to its landing by folding the entire right-hand side up.

Fold the right-hand side back and then fold in half, attaching tabs 7, 8, 9, 13, and 14 at once.

Folding is complete.

Attach the folded piece to the servo motor by inserting the servo motor arm into the hole on the underside of the motor attachment.

Attach the servo motor attachment to the servo motor with a screw.

Part 3: Attach Rocket Flames

Slightly fold the rocket flames.

Attach the folded tab on the rocket flames to the servo motor attachment.

The completed piece should look like this.

Part 4: Build Microcontroller Enclosure

Take part C and lay it flat with the pattern facing up. Place the microcontroller in the center of the pattern. Connect an orange wire to pin 14, a red wire to 3V, and a brown wire to GND.

Fold up tabs 16, 17, 18, 20, 21, 22, and 23.

Fold up the sides of the microcontroller enclosure by attaching tabs 16 and 20.

Fold up the last side of the enclosure by attaching tabs 17 and 22.

Close the enclosure by attaching the remaining tabs.

Part 5: Put it All Together

Take part D and lay it flat with the pattern facing up.

Fold up the dark grey tabs and the top of the box.

Attach tab 31 to its landing by folding up the side of the box and apply adhesive to the shaded blue area. Ensure that the flames fit through the slit before gluing.

Attach the motor assembly to the box and apply adhesive to the shaded blue area.

Attach the microcontroller enclosure.

Connect the wires of the micro-controller and the servo motor as shown (double check that orange is attached to pin 14, red is 3V, and brown is GND on the micro-controller). Bundle the wires so they don’t interfere with the servo motor arm.

Fold the box over, feed the rocket flames through the slot, and attach tabs 24, 29, and 30 to the inside of the box.

Fold the box closed by attaching tabs 25, 26, 27, and 28.

Attach the rocket to the front of the box, just overlapping the slot where the rocket flames stick out. The paper signal is complete.

Part 1: Servo Enclosure

Take part F1 and lay it flat with the pattern facing up.

Fold up all the tabs.

Fold up all the sides, creating a box.

Flip the piece over. Repeat the previous steps with part F2.

Take part A and lay it flat with the pattern facing up.

Fold up tabs 3, 4, 5, and 6.

Fold up the sides of the enclosure.

Attach tabs 5 and 6 to their landings by folding the sides of the enclosure.

Fold the front of the enclosure up by attaching tabs 3 and 4.

Insert pieces F1 and F2 into the bottom of the enclosure.

Insert the servo motor, feeding the wires through the hole in the side of the enclosure.

Fold tabs 1 and 2.

Attach tabs 1 and 2 to close the enclosure.

Attach a rotational arm to your servo.

Without removing your servo arm, rotate it clockwise until the motor will not turn.

Remove the servo arm without rotating the servo motor.

Reattach the rotational arm to your servo at a roughly 30 degree angle.

The servo motor should look like this.

Part 2: Motor Attachment

Take part B and lay it flat with the pattern facing up.

Fold up tabs 12 and 17.

Fold up the two tabs on the left-hand side.

Fold in tabs 10 and 11.

Slightly fold the middle piece up.

Fold up the left-hand side, attaching tabs 10, 11, and 12 to their respective landings.

Mountain fold a bend into the circled tab.

Fold up tabs 13 and 14.

Fold tabs 15 and 16 up and in.

Attach tab 17 to its landing by folding the entire right-hand side up.

Fold the right-hand side back and then fold in half, attaching tabs 7, 13, 14, 15, and 16 at once.

Folding is complete.

Attach the folded piece to the servo motor by inserting the servo motor arm into the hole on the underside of the motor attachment.

Attach the servo motor attachment to the servo motor with a screw.

Part 3: Build Arms

Take part E and lay it flat with the pattern facing up.

Fold the piece in half as shown.

Fold under tabs 7 and 8.

Attach tabs 7, 8, and 9 to their respective landings.

Gently crease and fold the bottom tab to make it flexible.

Attach the arms to the servo motor attachment as shown.

The completed piece should look like this.

Part 4: Build Microcontroller Enclosure

Take part C and lay it flat with the pattern facing up. Place the microcontroller in the center of the pattern. Connect an orange wire to pin 14, a red wire to 3V, and a brown wire to GND.

Fold up tabs 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, and 24.

Fold up the sides of the microcontroller enclosure by attaching tabs 20 and 24.

Fold up the last side of the enclosure by attaching tabs 19 and 22.

Close the enclosure by attaching the remaining tabs.

Part 5: Put it All Together

Take part D and lay it flat with the pattern facing up.

Fold up tabs 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, and 31.

Apply adhesive to the shaded blue area.

Attach the motor assembly. Insert the left arm through the L-shaped cutout in part D.

Apply adhesive to the shaded blue area.

Attach the microcontroller enclosure.

Connect the wires of the microcontroller and the servo motor as shown (double check that orange is attached to pin 14, red is 3V, and brown is GND on the micro-controller).

Apply adhesive to the shaded blue area.

Fold up the left side of the box by attaching the motor housing to the back of the box.

Fold up the right side of the box.

Fold up the bottom of the box by attaching tabs 26 and 27.

Fold up the top of the box by attaching tabs 29 and 30.

Fold closed the box.

Attach the yellow square to the front of the box.

The paper signal is complete.

Start talking

Tell your Paper Signal to start tracking something. Just make sure it’s plugged into a power source. Leave it untethered with Lipoly battery power, plugged into an outlet, or on your desk or nightstand.

Just open the Google Assistant app and talk to Paper Signals.

Share your creation online with #papersignals.

Example voice prompts

Umbrella

Ask my Umbrella Signal to track rain in New York.

Tell my Umbrella Signal to track when it rains in Seattle.

Arrow

Tell my Arrow Signal to track Bitcoin.

Ask my Arrow Signal to keep me updated on Ethereum.

Have my Arrow Signal alert me about the NASDAQ.

Pants

Tell my Pants Signal to let me know when it’s shorts weather in Miami.

Ask my Pants Signal to track the temperature in Seattle.

Countdown

Have my Countdown Signal count down to Halloween.

Tell Countdown Signal to set a timer for 30 minutes.

Countdown to 60 minutes.

Rocket

Tell my Rocket Signal to let me know about any NASA launches.

Ask my Rocket Signal to track launches from SpaceX.

Have Rocket Signal track launches in China.