Enhancing simple circuit kits with microcontrollers


[manuka], aka [Stan Swan] is a teacher in New Zealand who enjoys enlightening his students on the wonders of electrical circuits. He primarily uses “snap connector” circuit kits, sold under the BrainBox name in NZ, for his interactive labs as they can be easily manipulated by pupils of all ages.

While the kits are great, he says that the range of experiments they provide can be a bit limited, so he decided to swap out the kit’s sound module for something far more useful – a PICAXE-08M. The space left by removing the sound module was pretty small, but [Stan] got everything to fit without too much hassle. His modification allows his students to program the PICAXE, as well as utilize four of the uC’s output pins.

Needless to say, the addition of the PICAXE module was a huge hit with his students, allowing them to create far more exciting circuits. [Stan] has been revising his system over the years, adding extra output pins, enabling lamp and motor control, as well as tweaking his setup to respond to IR commands.

We think [Stan’s] work is pretty awesome, and we’re still wondering how this flew under our radar for so long. He says that his students vary from preschool kids to centenarians, so if you’ve got someone that you would like to introduce to the fun world of electronics, we suggest picking up one of these kits and getting to work.

[Thanks Haku]


  1. anybodysguess says:

    Those kits are how I got started in electronics they are great. I haven’t got to micro controllers yet but I am making my own circuits, I have already built a flashing led dog collar, the flasher circuit is done with caps and transistors. I have also built a FM “spy bug”. Those kits got me interested in the possibilities of electronics I would highly recommend them. The snap circuits company sells a breadboard piece with snaps on the edges.

  2. sneakypoo says:

    I love seeing teachers that actually care about their job like this. Sadly it’s not something you see every day. Great work.

  3. Alex Parting says:

    we had crocodile clips. We clipped them to peoples ears when they weren’t paying attention :D.

  4. twopartepoxy says:

    Picaxe totally rules!

  5. M4CGYV3R says:

    I (somehow) have never seen a snap-connector electronics kit. The only ones I ever saw were little spring-terminal kits ranging from 10-in-1 to 600-in-one kits(i got one for my 10th birthday, woot). This is pretty neat.

  6. Stan taught me at uni, he is a hero and also totally nuts.

  7. Esker says:

    Stan also regularly writes articles for the Australasian electronics magazine “Silicon Chip”.

  8. tehnoo says:

    I’m just wondering what happened to 3.

    …but that’s probably a stupid question.

  9. Matt says:

    Yay go kiwi! Teachers are sadly underpaid, if not undervalued. Education leads to understanding which leads to tolerance. Teachers are the key to our future. Big ups Stan, Simon Lassche was my favorite at AGS still there I believe…

  10. Haku says:

    Somewhere I still have my old 50-in-one electronics kit I got some 25+ years ago, if I remember rightly it used springs to grip the connecting wires to, the snap connectors of the BrainBox kits look a lot easier to work with.

    BTW, this is a link to the thread where manuka (Stan) talks more about his Picaxe’d BrainBox kits that he’s been developing and deploying: http://www.picaxeforum.co.uk/showthread.php?t=10541

  11. Manuka says:

    Thanks for the feedback folks- appreciated. The module’s unused PIN3 can be easily persuaded to accept IR data from a 3 lead Vishay TSOP. (The PICAXE-08M has inbuilt Sony style 38kHz IR generation & decoding commands of course- these have near revolutionised IR work.) Although a tight squeeze,the resulting enhancement is extremely handy for off board control,with cross room control ranges even in daylight. See http://www.instructables.com/id/quotSnap-connectorquot-PICAXE-microcontroller/step20/IR-control-/ and http://www.instructables.com/id/quotSnap-connectorquot-PICAXE-microcontroller/step21/Stepper-control-with-IR-enhancement/ Stan.

  12. Dan Fruzzetti says:

    Dear hackaday: Stan flew under your radar for so long because he let his work do all the talking for him — he’s humble and not bent on bragging about his work, so it would seem. That’s why the hacking community needs to be more vocal: so we can find each other.

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