Lego Solar System

I made a solar system out of Lego!

This post will be a little more detailed. You can see a nice summary album of the process on Imgur:

The final results
I got my inspiration from a mosaic displayed at the European Space Agency in Germany (Pacman Solar System).  It was made by the artist Invader (Invader) .  I borrowed heavily from his design and made some changes along the way.
I liked the 8-bit look of the tiles and had been thinking about starting a project using Lego, so it made a lot of sense.  


I started by making some mock-ups on paper of each planet. I originally thought I would use 4 Lego plates for each tile, but I quickly realized that would make it too large. I switched to using just one 1×1 plate per box.

Building & Learning

We tested our plans on one planet – Earth. I’m always on the lookout for things for my kids to do. It’s more important to be fun than a success. Fun means they might try it again.

I started out by getting a standard plate from Lego, which only came in 2 colors: tan and green.  I thought I would just cover everything outside of the planets in black pieces.  This idea was quickly dropped after I realized how much money I would have to spend on black background pieces.  After finishing the first planet (Earth), I found some black base plates on ebay.

Goodbye tan baseplate, hello black baseplate

After the first two were done, we got into a rhythm and pushed out the rest in quick order.  I wasn’t planning on making the sun, but I accidentally ordered too many baseplates and figured why not.

Keep an eye on Uranus’ rings


I mounted the plates to a 1/4 inch piece of wood that is 6 feet long.  I painted it black and attached each plate using liquid nails adhesive.

Extra Credit

I decided to try to add some additional fun themes to my solar system. I played around with making some things using my extra pieces, but I couldn’t get them to look quite right.

I was trying to find a way to make a convincing Starship Enterprise when it occurred to me that my strategy suggested two-dimensional thinking. That’s when I found lots of instructions and small sets on ebay – a TARDIS, X-wing, TIE Fighter, etc.

My first attempt, any guesses as to what some of these are?

Final Result

After I had pretty much finished, a friend pointed out that Uranus’ rings we situated more North-to-South. One advantage of using Lego is that you can change things fairly easily.

This project cost me about $300:

  • $200 – Legos
  • $60 – Baseplates
  • $30 – wood
  • $10 – glue, picture hangers, etc

I spent a lot of time on various Lego websites, but I almost always used ebay for my final purchases.  The people running little Lego shops on there are very organized and ship fast.  I made one order on Lego’s Pick-A-Brick website and I’m still waiting for those parts to arrive.

WA State Toll Tracker, for Android


I’m sorry to report that Good To Go have updated their website and it has broken the app. I have been in contact with them about a promised API, but it appears one is not in the works. Sadly, I had to unpublish the app.

I included it here because it was a great experience to build and release the original application.

View the official web page:

Questions about the project

Where did this idea come from?
I came up with the idea for this app while crossing the SR 520 bridge, which is a toll road. All tolling is handled by an automated system that is linked to an online account you setup with the State of Washington. You can read more about the program at . You sign up for an account, and provide a credit card to get started. When you cross the bridge (or another tolled area) their system reads your pass and deducts the toll from your account.

I had read some stories about people who had racked up large fines for failing to notice they had outstanding tolls and fees on their accounts. I decided to double-check my account, but couldn’t remember my username or password. It would be ok if it happened once, but every time I wanted to check my account I would have to go through the process of forgetting my username or password and having to reset my account.

So I built this app. It allows me to quickly view my tolling activity without having to reset my password. Now when I want to quickly review my account, I can just open the app and refresh for my most recent activity.

It has also saved us money. We had a car that had problems with a sticker pass. The system would recognize the pass but someone at Good To Go had to visually confirm the toll via a photo. It’s called a photo enforcement fee, and you get charged an additional 25 cents for each time it occurs. It happened so frequently that it became cost effective to get a new pass.

How long did it take to build?
I think it was about a year. It was done in my spare time, and I allowed some other interests to get in the way if needed, like painting my fridge to look like a TARDIS.

What’s your status?
I’m a full-time contractor, so I was looking for something to do on the side for fun. I don’t do any advertising for my apps, and I feel if I was ever going to look to do this more seriously it would be beneficial for me to keep publishing apps.

What got you into Android development?
Honestly, I couldn’t afford a computer from Apple. I did some robotics development a few years ago that I very much liked. The same bug that might render a web page incorrectly might sent your robot into a ditch. Android development reminded me of that past, so I wanted to explore it further.

What challenges did you face with building the app?

  • My other apps were Activity-based apps, and I wanted to play with fragments. It was a bit of pain, because some things I knew, but not enough to do everything I wanted to do. So I was making jagged progress – some things came quickly, others moved forward like a snail.
  • InApp billing was a little bit of a pain. For starters, InApp billing needs more real-world examples, and the ability to debug a beta APK with InApp billing enabled
  • The technique to implement a Navigation Drawer changed half way through my development of the app. Honestly I’m glad I put the time in to change it because the new way is better.
  • It seems petty, but would it kill Android Studio to allow you to set a breakpoint on an empty line? I mean that I want it to stop before the next executable line. Android Studio will let you set the breakpoint on an empty line, but completely ignores it come debug time.

What’s next?
I have a few ideas rolling around in my head, and some friends with ideas of their own. My biggest fear is that since I’m doing this myself that I’m missing out on the collaborative learning I would get if I was working with a team.


I made my fridge into a TARDIS! I know that you can buy kits to do this, but I decided to try to make one. I used packing paper, some paint, and lots of measuring.


  • Blue: Empire Fleet Blue, Flat (from Lowe’s)
  • Black: generic poster paint, Flat (I’d suggest not using poster paint – it’s water soluble
  • White: semigloss White


  • Gill Sans MT Condensed (POLICE PUBLIC CALL BOX (on side))
  • Calibri (PULL TO OPEN)
The finished product!
I had lots of packing paper from past Amazon orders. I rolled them out on the floor and painted them with a small roller. I found a couple suggestions for colors, and took the easiest one. Lowe’s “Empire Fleet Blue” in flat.
Hanging the first paper on the fridge. I made some guides to help make the different panels. I had a couple reference models in my house which I used to determine rough dimensions.
A closeup of the window guide.
I used magnets to hold each panel in place, then taped the edges with black tape. I originally wanted to take the door handles off, but I couldn’t figure it out and decided against it.
I used the guides to trace an outline of each section.
My neighbor had a laser level, which I decided to take advantage of when trying to line up the panels on both sides.
After all the outlines were traced, I cut out the windows on my guide to help make the individual windows.
First windows painted! I decided I liked the translucent look and did not add any extra coats.
I figured out the font for the top (Gill Sans MT), and then printed out the letters on my printer. Once I had the sizing, I used an x-acto knife to make a stencil and traced them in the right spot for painting.
It took a while – it turned out I needed 2 sets of stencils, one for each side. Since it wasn’t as wide, I had to use “Gill Sans MT Condensed” for the side.
By the time I got to the sign, I just researched the fonts and printed them on paper that I cut to size. I used spray glue to attach it. The fonts I used were: Times New Roman, Gill Sans MT, and Calibri.
I decided to add the St John’s Ambulance logo as well. I found a bunch of examples online.
The finished product! It took much longer than I was expecting, but it was something artistic to do when I needed a distraction. Maybe we’ll find more room in there for milk now?
The base blue paint is rather sturdy. Unfortunately I used some poster paint for the black, so it is not exactly water safe. I used a semi-gloss white for the letters/windows, which gives it an ever-so-slight glowing effect next to all the flat colors.
K9 approves!