If you have been to a Toastmasters meeting, you are familiar with the routine.  A Speaker has a prepared speech, that he/she needs to deliver within an allotted amount of time.   The Timer needs to operate a light to indicate to the speaker how they are doing on their time.

In a 5-7 minute speech, the Green light is turned on at 5 minutes, the Yellow light at 6 minutes, and the Red light at 7 minutes.  Typically, the timer need to keep their eyes on a stop watch so they can change the light at the right time.  Eyes on the stopwatch or eyes on the speaker … but not both.  Does this sound familiar?

Being an an engineer, I always thought that there needs to be a better way.  Why couldn’t someone create a Timing Light that has the clock built-in?  Set the time, hit the “Start” button, and the light will change automatically at the appropriate time.

Well, it turns out that I am not the only person to have thought of this.  Doing a Google search for “Toastmasters Timer” or “Toastmasters Automatic Timing Light” brings multiple results.  There are various videos on YouTube, that demonstrate hobbyists creating their own Toastmasters timer.  For example, see the videos by OrlandoClub28, UNHCoffee, and Stan Ng .  There is also wduraes that has instructions for a Toastmasters timer on Instructables.

I have  found one product already out there that does what I am looking for.  Timing Lights of San Antonio / Web Wizard sells automatic timing lights for $270 to $360 depedending upon size.

However, nothing that I have seen out there quite meets what I would be looking for in a timing light to be used regularly at Toastmasters club meetings.  The YouTube videos I have seen look to be just one-off prototypes.  You can’t buy one for your own club.  Some of these are also very small, perhaps too small to seen from the back of a large room.  And none of them have the “finished” or “professional” look that you would see in a product you would buy.

The automatic timers will do the job, and they have the polished, professional look.  The drawbacks I see with this one is that 1.) the $300+ price seems too expensive for most Toastmasters clubs, and 2.) I would have liked the lights brighter than those appear to be.

What I would like to see in a Toastmasters Timing Light product is:

  1. Bright Lights visible across a Large Room
  2. A Professional Look
  3. Easy to Use
  4. Cost of less than $200

Meeting the first goal, of the lights being “bright” would determine the subsequent design.  Some of the Timing Lights already out there use LED’s.  These are nice if your goal is small and cordless, but LED’s don’t work well if you want something large and bright.  (Yes, there are bright LED’s out there, but I could not find anything that was inexpensive enough to keep the project cost reasonable.)  I quickly gave up on being “cordless”, and went the route of using 120V incandescent lights.  As I was searching the Internet for something suitable to use as the Red, Yellow, and Green lights, I came across the GE 85W PAR38 Outdoor Floodlight, available in Red, Yellow, and Green.  This would allow for a bright enough light, have a professional, finished look, would not require separate colored lens, and be reasonably economical.  The rest of the project would be designed around these PAR38 lights.

The “Internals” of the Automatic Timing Light, that is, the part that can make the light change automatically, would be done with an Arduino Uno.  A relay module could be used as the switch to turn the lights on and off, and an LCD could be used to show the time.

So, by using the PAR38 Floodlights on the outside, and Arduino components on the inside, and building a wooden “box” to hold everything, I realized I could make an Automatic Timing Light that meets all of my criteria.  A nice finish on the wooden box would give it a professional look.  Using the Arduino, I can program the timing light to be easy to use.  I can find all of the components needed at a relatively low cost, so I can get the total price under $200.

Next: Inside