Hacking the Mathmos Teardrop (Part 1)

Mathmos Teardrop giving off a green glow

I’ve been interested in ambient devices ever since I saw the computer controlled Ambient Orb (now discontinued) by the Ambient Devices company several years ago. I check on the field every now and then and I’m always disappointed to find that no one has really been able to popularize these types of products. Of course, there are dozens of DIY articles but no one doing it professionally.

I want an ambient device that is beautiful, simple and controllable and it seems most DIY articles end up hacking together LEDs and Arduinos and any plastic diffuser they find.

I wanted to do it right. So, I started with Mathmos, the creators of the lava lamp, who have been making elegant lighting since the 60s. Their Teardrop product was perfect; high-quality glass casing, a simple, single-switch control and a well developed color blending circuitry. They’ve really got the color blending down pat. I could only judge by the pictures and description online but I figured I could hack in to it to add the only thing that was missing — computer control.

A crack in the glass. Treat your Teardrop with care.

I received the Teardrop in the mail and, after a night of watching it cycle through those stunning colors (pictures don’t do it justice), I began to break it open. Unfortunately, this was no easy task. Mathmos makes solid products and they decided (wisely, I’m sure) to glue the part that held the electronics down to the glass. The glue was hard to remove and I ended up prying it apart by wedging and tapping a screwdriver through. In hindsight, there are probably better ways of removing glue (some sort of solvent, perhaps) and I ended up cracking the glass. Luckily, the crack is in the back and not noticeable. I might try repairing it with a glass repair kit to stop the crack from spreading.

Teardrop circuitry with red, green, blue LEDs and a diffuser

Finally, I was able to get a the electronics. Mathmos’ maturity showed, as the electronics were compact and concise. My main goal was to control the speed of the color cycling, so I was hoping to find a potentiometer to play with but it seems I will have to find another method, in addition to replacing the switch with a controlled transistor.

In the next part I will attempt to connect the Teardrop to a computer so that I can change its color at will.

  • Cressida

    Interested to hear how you get on. Best, Cressida at Mathmos