Physical Email Notification


One day computers will exist in every part of our lives. You’ll be standing in the shower, lathering up  when Chantal, your holographic computer controlled AI partner, informs you in a cool voice you have a new email. How splendid, it must be the office letting you know there is no work today! “Anything else?” You ask; “Negative” her electronically synthesized voice responds.

Over at TINYenormous they’ve made this dream come true – minus the holographic computer controlled AI partner bit. Rather its simply a physical email notification system consisting of an LED and Arduino with some python code. We like the concept but prefer our Google Desktop with Gmail setup instead. Perhaps by using a small wireless server and rechargeable batteries, it could make a great dinner table centerpiece notifying you of the latest email. How simple, or how complicated would you make a setup?

[Thanks Madmaze]


Rob created a very nice USB version.

Dan made a wireless version from XBee modules and includes an LCD.

J4mie is the original inspiration for the project.

Have your own notification system? Tell us in the comments, And we’ll place it here!

60 thoughts on “Physical Email Notification

  1. The problem is neither the fact that it’s an arduino, nor the fact that it’s a single LED. It’s that this is basically the “Hello world” of arduino projects. Besides, it’s using a full arduino simply to light up an LED when software tells it to. You could just as easily jam the pins of the LED in pins 2 and 18 of a parallel port and make your software output to that. There is no reason an arduino is required to light a single LED. (Oh, and before you people say it, I know that most computers don’t have parallel ports anymore)

  2. @Frank McSteez,
    Thanks for being concise, polite, and to the point.

    We are trying hard to make HackaDay work for all of the different skill level readers. Just posting simple things like this has proven to be, well, not the best way to do it. This is why we brought back HackaDay Links.

    This article probably shouldn’t have passed editorial review in the state it is in. It probably should have been included in a HackaDay Links post, or possibly a Beginners guide roundup.

    We’re sorry. We’re working on it.

  3. It could always be more physical. Perhaps use a servo to slap you if you have a message. Photons are great and all, but a slap may help add some urgency for those who are bad (really bad) at remembering to read their emails. If my computer slapped me I might just read my emails for a change.

  4. It would be great to make this wireless. Hook up the led to your watch. interface it with an electric dog collar. When it goes off, you have 30 seconds to check your email before the collar goes off.

  5. I used an arduino to make a mail notification. It controls two servos glued together in a two-axis turret with a stick on the end, and it waves a little flag in a figure-eight pattern until you read the message.

    I’m normally arguing against the anti-arduino crowd, and am all for the use of arduinos even when they’re not warranted (maybe overkill for some things but they’re nice fast prototyping systems) but this is just ridiculous. I would honestly even be happy with an arduino stuck into a nice box on the wall that lit up so you could see it from all over the office or whatever but this is just an LED stuck in a breadboard. What the hell.

  6. the only problem with this article is the fact that they didn’t build anything. a few lines of script doesn’t really interest me. maybe jam a real circuit inside a mouse or hack the scroll lock led on your keyboard. pager motor in the mouse? might work. i dunno, just not an led.

  7. Has anyone thought of just shoving an LED into the good ol Parallel port or heck when Outlook or whatever is set to ‘ding’ when a new email has hit the inbox just cut the wires to the speaker itself and tape an LED in place that would light up.
    “I told you to never call me on this wall!” lol.

  8. Caleb Kraft “I think I would probably have it do something mechanical, like raise a flag or something. possibly feed a preview to an LCD mounted on my keyboard.”

    so you haven’t heard of serial
    or parallel port ? non available? well there is uC for usb translation

  9. It seems like no post is ever good enough for people here if “I could do that…” or “My blackberry does that”. There’s more than one way to skin a cat, and even if you don’t care about skinning cats, it might give you some inspiration to do something else.

    Personally- I can build things no problem, and electrical is easy, but interfacing those things to something like my email seems extremely daunting to me. So I don’t care less that they are lighting up an LED. Possibilities for the ultimate output are endless once you can get a LED to light up. So ultimately I was pretty happy with this post. Just saying… :)

    Also- those people that hate something about every HAD post… just keep coming back. Is that just because you hate it so much?

  10. What a waste. I think for me, the LED will be on most of the time.

    I guess it would be better if the LED will only come on only if that special someone send an e-mail.

    However this is still over kill and waste of resource.

  11. Griffin had a product that used to do this, was a programmable jog/shuttle dial of sorts.

    Was rad – you could scroll, adjust volume, jog/shuttle, etc, including the flash/ramp rate of the built-in blue LED, all through a pane that let you tinker on a per-app basis. Sadly, they quit supporting it as OS X progressed….so now it’s not much more than a cool paperweight.


  12. Cant someone just have it print out emails as they come in so it spills out of your printer and you eventually have to throw them into the garbage? I am confused as to where the LED goes also.

  13. Between an iGoogle homepage, the GMail notifier in my taskbar, the Rainmeter inbox widget on my desktop, and my phone… I have a hard time NOT knowing when I have a new message.

    My Arduino-based solution for my problem is a handful of code that unplugs my cable modem when it senses incoming mail. I then throw my phone out the nearest window, and voila! Problem solved, with bonus points for using an overpowered uC!

    (For the record, I would SLEEP with an Arduino if it wasn’t socially awkward and the corners were more rounded.)

  14. *facepalm*

    Is this post meant to be a joke?

    Please hackaday, don’t turn into another instructables or MAKE. I like you the way you are.

    I can understand broadening the reader base, but in doing so you are alienating your primary audience. What’s wrong with filling a niche?

  15. Isn’t a visual notification of new email a physical notification? Any sensory method of putting information into the brain could be used. Nevermind the high bandwidth links like sight and sound, there’s taste and smell too. Now that I’m thinking about it, I may hook a morphine drip to my arm and slave it to my twitter account or something. For science.

  16. relax a bit peoples.

    this is a nice little project. If its not amazing enough for you submit something better.

    The only problem I have with this is the concept. do we really need to be constantly connected to email/twitter/IM/everyone everywhere ?

  17. @therian

    Don’t be silly of course they haven’t heard of that. This is what happens when you give a site like hackaday to poorly underskilled web and graphic designers with no engineering backround.

    Good job guys, you couldn’t even admit that this sucked.

  18. Maybe they could use some type of optical sensor so that when the LED is on it Tweets the status. Yeah that would make it way more useful. Of course then you probably need another LED (maybe use another color) to light up when you get a Tweet.

  19. Since I was punished by Caleb last time here some useful feedback.

    Instead of votes or different categories which require more complex maintenance, there could be a simple number indicate the level of experience…

    0 – with posts like “I can “hack” an add-on into my firefox-browser”


    10 – posts like “I modded the microwave oven and combined it with 5 induction heaters to created this fancy black hole im by back yard”

    Readers can just choose show me everything > X

  20. @TuxFan: This is an excellent idea.

    Personally I don’t really mind the simple project posts since I still remember the feeling I had when I first was able to make an LED blink. But for those who really can’t see past it this would be a simple and effective solution.

  21. I have an amBX set of color-changing lights set to notify me at work when unaddressed helpdesk tickets arrive. It’s accomplished with a short python script querying the MSSQL server and passing params to a command-line C++ app that I wrote with the amBX SDK.

    It’s not much in terms of being an elaborate system, but it keeps me from refreshing the web UI (which uses changing postbacks, so the ReloadEvery firefox plugin doesn’t cut it) and it lets my coworkers also know when a new ticket comes in without checking the site. It also keeps our response time down which keeps our department in good favor.

  22. So, it’s often said – “why use an arduino just to light an LED” – then counter argued “no one has a parralellport anymore”

    What IS the simplest way to light an LED from a PC these days?

  23. Well since no one has a parallel port version I wrote it this morning. It uses the .Net framework and is for x64 you can grab the binary from I don’t actually have a parallel port so if someone wants to test if for me that would be great :D. It pushes all lines high when you have mail.

    Note it uses LPT1 so don’t run it if you have a printer on that port.

    Reply here if you have questions or comments

  24. They make shields for arduinos that let it interface with the web don’t they? A better, and only slightly more tricky hack would be for the arduino itself to check the mail server mail and do its little dance when it found new messages. That would actually be useful, because you would still know when you had email without your computer being turned on.
    (see for web nabled arduino action)

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