Etch-a-Sketch computer is a surprisingly simple hack

We’re not sure whether to call this an Etch-a-Sketch upgrade or a computer interface downgrade but either way it’s unique. [Martin Raynsford] added a familiar red frame to his computer monitor with classic white knobs that control horizontal and vertical cursor movement. There’s even the click option by pressing the buttons in and, as you can see after the break, the modifications result in a perfectly usable digital Etch-a-Sketch. We’ve seen a lot of computer controlled versions of the toy which use fancy parts and take quite a bit of skill to build. This mimicry of the functionality is easy to build and the idea is genius in its simplicity. [Martin] separated the encoder wheels from a mouse. He placed each on one of the knobs and ran wires for sensors and micro-switches back to the original PCB which is stuck to the back of the monitor. From the computer’s point of view it looks and acts like a normal mouse but this is so much more fun (and less productive). Continue reading “Etch-a-Sketch computer is a surprisingly simple hack”

Sub $300 CNC, If You Have a 3d Printer

[Allted] has designed a CNC machine that you can print yourself; adding conduit, bearings, and the standard vitamins to bring it to life. The CNC machine uses a mechanical design similar to an etch-a-sketch, though instead of the maze of pulleys and cable it uses four stepper motors to do the X and Y translation. The machine looks to be about as accurate as a Shapeoko, and is able to handle light cutting in aluminum.

The coolest part is the extensibility of the printer. For example, [Allted] needed to print a lot of parts to make orders of the kit. So, he built a 4 headed 3D printer by copying blocks of the design, and tying them all to the same belt. The design also seems to be a little more resistant to dust and debris than some homemade rigs. The CNC won the Boca Bearings design competition. If you’d like to build one yourself, [Allted] has all the instructions with print setting recommendations on his website.

Precision CNC Drawing with EtchABot

Turning the classic toy Etch-A-Sketch into a CNC drawing tablet intrigues a large number of hackers. This version by [GeekMom] certainly takes the award for precision and utility. Once you build something like this, you can hardly stop writing firmware for it; [GeekMom] produced an entire Arduino library of code to allow joystick doodling, drawing web images, and a self-erasing spirograph mode. The topper is the version that runs as a clock!


The major hassle with making a CNC version of this toy is the slop in the drawing mechanism. There is a large amount of backlash when you reverse the drawing direction. If that isn’t bad enough, the backlash is different in the vertical or horizontal directions. Part of [GeekMom’s] presentation is on how to measure and correct for this backlash.

The EtchABot uses three small stepper motors. Two drive the drawing controls and the third flips the device forward to erase the previous drawing. The motors are each controlled by a ULN2003 stepper motor drivers. An Arduino Uno provides the intelligence. Optional components are a DS3231 Real Time Clock and a dual axis X-Y joystick for the clock and doodling capability. Laser cut wood creates a base for holding the Etch-A-Sketch and the electronics.

The write up and details for this project are impressive. Be sure to check out the other entries in [GeekMom’s] blog. Watch the complete spirograph video after the break.

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Electronic Ruler Works Out Logic Truth Tables

Like [Brad], we’ve seen a number of PCB rulers out there. [Brad] was looking to take the idea and run with it. His DigiRule is a ruler with a logic gate simulator. What he built is a mash-up between PCB rulers, and the concept of electronic business cards.

All told it simulates seven logic gates, four flip-flops, and includes a four-bit counter. On one end of the ruler a CR1220 battery feeds the 18F43K20 which is performing the logic operations using buttons and LEDs. Of course the truth tables are printed on the back silk-screen, but playing with the lights is a lot more fun. We do find it fairly amusing that the centimeters on the bottom of the ruler are notated in binary.

It makes a lot more sense to hand out rulers than business cards; people might actually use them after you leave and you can still include contact info. This form-factor also breaks the mold. You can have a lot more space on a ruler and you’re not constrained by thickness (although [Limpkin] solved that problem). While we’re on the topic of business cards [ch00f’s] USB etch-a-sketch style card and this logic-based information delivery device top our favorites list.

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What do you get if you cross a software defined radio (SDR) and an iconic children’s drawing toy that we are sure is a trademarked name? If you are [devnulling], you wind up with the Etch-A-SDR. The box uses an Odroid C1, a Teensy, and the ubiquitous RTL-SDR.

The knobs work well as control knobs (as you can see in the video below). When you are bored listening to the radio, you can reset the box and go into Etch-a… um, drawing mode. The knobs work like you’d expect and you can even erase the screen with a vigorous shake.

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Peculiar Radial Mill from Car Parts

Whether 3D printer, lasercutter, or mill, most CNC machines use human-friendly, square-angle Cartesian geometry. This intriguing concept mill instead uses radial axes where motion is derived from scrap Chevy flywheels. It may look and feel weird at first, but it works – sort of.

Cartesian axes are intuitive. If you want to go to the right, increase X. If you want to go to away from you, increase Y. If you want to lift, increase Z. On a manual mill this is easy for making rectangles and blocks, or, with creative clamping, straight lines of any sort. But if you want to carve a circle? As we all learned on an Etch-A-Sketch, you increase your swearing and then throw it in the corner.

HAD - Radial Mill2[Jason] knew that with a CNC machine all geometry problems are reduced to math done by software. With two offset discs, any position is possible by rotating both the correct way. It may look odd that both plates drunkenly meander about just to draw a straight line but the computer is ambivalent. Software can be complicated without penalty and is free once written – more on that later. If a machine is physically simple then it can be built and repaired easily and cheaply. This design does away with almost all the familiar – and [Jason] argues complicated – components of normal hobby CNC machines. No slides, rails, carriages or belts here. His design uses only about a dozen parts.

Because automotive flywheels are made from cast iron the machine is rigid and naturally dampening. Sticking with the junkyard theme he pulled bearings from an F-450 truck, good for a few thousand pounds. Some steppers and a Raspberry Pi and he was done – well, sort of.

[Jason] let us know that his project has sat for long enough that he has become passionate about other things and decided to move on. He documented his progress and submitted the tip in hope to inspire someone else to continue the design further. Any type of CNC is possible, not just a mill. 3D printer perhaps?

Two big caveats: it needs a Z-axis (linear, probably standard) and there appears to be deeper-seated-than-expected G-code demands to chit-chat about rectangles and only rectangles. Nothing insurmountable, just nothing he has solved yet himself.

[Jason] said not to expect any further updates from him but he would love to see what the next person could do with it.

See the video after the break of the mill drawing our skull and wrenches logo, (soft of, without a Z-axis to lift).

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