Sensory Label Development


The first ‘Sensory Labels’ that were produced by the Sensory Objects project were based upon a simple design that incorporated an Arduino controller, and MP3 player shield and a smell container. You can see the development of these original ‘boxes’ here. These were all cut from laser plywood and engraved with images on the front and rear, as well as engraved icons on the sides and various other places.

This section details the continuing development of the Sensory Label with the goal of bringing it to a larger audience as a simple to assemble flat packed kit

Design Requirements

The new box must meet the following requirements:

  1. Minimal amount of parts.
  2. Simple to assemble, preferably without the need to use screws, glue or other fixings.
  3. Robust enough to be constructed without falling apart by people with limited manual dexterity.
  4. Easy enough to assemble for people with limited manual dexterity.
  5. Obvious how to assemble, without the need for detailed instructions. Better still, easy enough to construct without any instructions.
  6. Must have a compartment to place ‘special’ objects which can be seen. i.e. transparent cover.
  7. Must have a small compartment for storing a smell.
  8. Some way of adding textures to the box.
  9. Must contain a simple sound player which can store at least 30s of audio. The format should be MP3 as this is easy to create and is a std format.
  10. Audio player should be easy to use with few controls. The audio itself should be easy to upload or install.
  11. The audio player must be powered using with rechargeable batteries or everyday batteries that are easy to obtain, such as AA or AAA.

Version 1. The first new sensory label

This is the first attempt at creating a box that could be assembled easily, and without the need for screws or glue. No consideration is given at this stage for viewing objects, sounds, smells etc. It is purely to try out a method of assembly.

The idea was to retain the slot together design of the original sensory label but add a wooden, or possible large rubber, band around each end to hold the covers in place. Whilst this was a simple solution, it did mean that we would have to either cut out and supply these large wooden bands, or supply rubber bands, which meant additional parts. Keeping the number of parts to a minimum is one of the design requirements for this project.

Here are all of the parts of the box displayed as a flat pack:

Version 1 of box as flat pack

Version 1 of box as flat pack

There are some subtle differences from the original design, in addition to the wooden bands to hold the box together (the original design was glued at the sides, and the top fixed with magnets). The sides of this version fit together using cutouts; the original just slotted together loosely. Also, the top and bottom of this design is larger and has a brim, so that the sides cannot slip out. It’s a simple design, if not a bit clunky.

Version 2. A new method for fastening

The use of bands (wooden or rubber) was not very appealing, and it was decided to look for an even simpler method of fixing the sides to the top and bottom without the need for additional hardware. The solution required an integral clip which would allow the slots in the box to attach using the natural flexibility of the material. This is not a new method of fixing laser cut boxes together, and has been around for quite some time. However, I decided to make my own version and experiment with different designs to see which would work best. Below is the first attempt. As you can see, holes for the smell and audio have been included. The intention here is that the audio module and smell container will slot into the body somehow.

An acrylic version was also constructed to see how it would look and function, and is shown below:


To give you an idea of the size of the box, here is the acrylic version with a cookie inside:

Acrylic box version 3 in acrylic with cookie

Acrylic box version 3 in acrylic with cookie


Although the design of the box is along the right lines, the integral clips that are currently used are somewhat flimsy and prone to snapping:

Acrylic box version 3 side with snapped clip

Acrylic box version 3 side with snapped clip


The clips obviously need some work to refine and make suitably robust, but also work needs to be started on the containers that will fit inside. In particular, the audio player needs to be sourced. It needs to be cheap and simple to use, and preferably run from a few AA or AAA batteries.

Version 3A. Audio player and smell compartment

The next version of the box was constructed from acrylic, still using the spring clips, but with slightly thicker clips in the hope they will be more robust. This version now contains the audio player (version 1) and a compartment to store a smell. The smell compartment in this box has a hole at the side, and a bung to stop the smell from falling out. The audio player is a very inexpensive mp3 player, which uses a micro SD card to store the sounds. It has a built in amplifier, which has more than enough power for the 8 ohm speaker.

Sensory label with audio player

Sensory label with audio player

Although the audio player is not wired in the image above, the big orange button on the left is to play/pause the sound. The batteries (3AAA) are stored just behind the speaker. One issue with this player module is that without additional buttons, you cannot control selection of audio clips nor volume. This version of the audio module  has the mp3 player located at the side, the idea being to show off the electronics a bit. But then I didn’t like the look of it and have moved it to form a more compact module – see the later versions of the box.

Here are some more images of the box:


Version 3B. Black and mirror acrylic box

This is an alternative to the orange acrylic box shown above, and uses a mirror acrylic back, black sides and transparent front. Here you can see a close up of the smell container and its method of attaching to the side of the box. This changed in later versions for a simpler attachment method making it (hopefully) easier to put together.


However, the issues with the clips breaking still remains …

Version 4. Wooden box with double wall to place photographs

A double wall box was also created to try out the idea of storing a photograph. The tabs on the side panels were extended on one side, so that two covers could be held in place: a wooden back, and an acrylic cover. This version also has a hole so that objects inside the box can be touched. In the later versions, the hole is retained, but textures are stored in a small compartment.

the downside of the wooden box is that you cannot see the contents …