“Hello Barbie” Under the Knife

In February, Google and Mattel introduced their Hello Barbie Internet-connected toy. This Barbie has an internal microphone, a WiFi connection to Google’s voice recognition services, and a speaker to carry on a “conversation” with the targeted child.

Like the folks at Somerset Recon, we’d say that this is an Internet of Things (IoT) device that’s just begging for a teardown, and we’re totally looking forward to their next installment when they pore through the firmware.

BarbieTeardown2On the hardware front, Barbie looks exactly like what you’d expect on the inside. A Marvell 88MW300 WiFi SoC talks to a 24-bit (!) audio codec chip, and runs code from a 16Mbit flash ROM. There’s some battery management, and what totally looks like a JTAG port. There’s not much else, because all the brains are “in the cloud” as you kids say these days.

From day to day we alternate between the promise of IoT and being anti-IoT curmudgeons, so it should come as no surprise that we’re of two minds about Hello Barbie. First, there’s the creepy-factor of having your child’s every word overheard by a faceless corporation with “evil” in their mission statement (see what we did there?). Next, we’re not sure that it’s OK to record everything your child says to a toy and listen to it later, even if you are the parent. Hackaday’s [Sarah Petkus] summarized this neatly in this article.

But mostly, we’re curious about how well the thing actually works and what it will do with naughty words. And who will take on the task of reviving the Barbie Liberation Organization? Now we totally want to go out and buy one of these things.

Automated Star Wars Themed Nerf Targets

When challenged with making a game for a kids event using only the parts he already had on hand, [Nathan Gray] had to get creative. What he ended up making is pretty awesome. It’s a Star Wars themed Nerf gun shooting gallery.

icons-390Using a Teensy 2.0, he’s controlling nine RC servo motors attached to two-sided targets which randomize themselves every round — The Empire is bad, the Rebels, good. They’re also color coded red and green in case the images are too hard to see.

To keep track of scoring, there are piezo elements which register the impact of a Nerf dart. A cute little command console with a big red start button and score display can be set up in front of the range to let the kids know how they’re doing.

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Full Size Star Wars Holochess Build

The quality and attention to detail seen in [Ian Martin]’s build is impressive regardless of his choice to build a functioning holochess set. We’re not to take away from the nerd-gasm this build invokes, but we’d rather draw to attention the craftsmanship of the builder. Sadly [Ian] doesn’t have a proper blog or product page but you can view everything he posts about the project on his social networking page and get his take on the finished work in the video below.

This build is not just a well engineered mechanical design, the electronics that run the controls and indicators are [Ian]’s home brew Arduino Mega shields. A complete game requires two sets of electronics, one for each side of the table so rolling his own shield was probably a space saving decision.

Each of the figures used as game pieces were hand sculpted and painted (is that a Rancor to the right?). User controls are presented in true-to-form fashion with 54 buttons, 26 lights, 10 knobs, and an LCD screen with custom bezel to display custom monster status. Nope, the monsters aren’t animated holograms but to make up for that [Ian] built in ambient noises so you know which are still alive. This is our first time discovering that there is a name other than “Holochess” for the game: Dejarik. We’ll leave it up to the reader to figure out how it’s played.

This is an impressive build and we can’t wait to see what else [Ian] comes up with in the future. We have covered Star Wars builds before and some interesting board game builds but never where the two meet before this.

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Wheel Of Password!

Before the rise of the Nintendo Gameboy, Tiger LCD games were the king of handheld gaming. Inexpensive and appealing to a wide audience, you still often find them “in the wild” or lurking in your house, even today. When [Lee] found a “Wheel Of Fortune” model laying low in a box, having a look inside and turning the handheld into something it’s not.

Being based on a game show, this specific model has a feature most Tiger handheld’s don’t: a cartridge slot. Originally intended to supply additional categories and phrases, the slot is a wide open bus to the internal CPU. It didn’t take long for the some probing with the Bus Pirate to decode the data protocol.

So what does one do with a hacked game show game? Well you could just make it say goofy stuff, or you could make it into a TOTP password generator. Future plans are to take off the computer umbilical cord and bit bang the cart slot with an AVR. Once done anyone, trying to break in to [Lee’s] PC will never suspect the innocent old toy is the key to the kingdom.

Join us after the break for a quick demo video

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Powered Skateboards are Passe; Skelecs the New Hotness

[Harris] has an interesting answer to the inevitable question about what he did on his summer vacation: he built a pair of electric roller blades.  [Harris] is an Electrical Engineering student at the University of Nottingham, and he completed the first version of what he calls Skelecs just before he went back to college. He has documented the process from the initial concept and building his own controller board, through his failures at correctly drilling the steel base, to his first drive down the road.

His build uses a pair of small 120W hub motors attached to a steel chassis, which is attached to a pair of cannibalized rollerblade boots.

It’s a bit of a Frankenstein build (he currently has the batteries and controller stuffed into a pants pocket, which isn’t really a practical long-term solution), but it works. A bit too well, in fact: [Harris] says that a combination of speed and a bumpy road detached one of the batteries and sent him flying. He’s not letting a minor injury and a bit of blood put him off, though: he’s already started work on version 2, which will use lighter aluminum construction and a pair of omniwheels for easier steering and more control. We’ll believe that claim when we see it.

Remember, powered skateboards are over — non hackers got their hands on them so they’re commonplace. Hipster hackers need to drop that build and start on your own pair of Skelecs.

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Kids Explore Engineering with Cartoon Tech Build

“To the Tortuga!” my husband and I heard the announcement from the backyard. Our two boys, Ben (7) and Miles (3), had become pleasantly obsessed with the coolest brothers in nature – the Kratt Brothers. From the moment that these two energetic animal-loving brothers were discovered by our kids, they’ve been huge fans. Our house has been transported to the Sonora Desert where we saved a Gila Monster, then to the Australian Outback to learn about the Thorny Devil. We even went to swing with the Spider Monkeys in South America and then back to the good ‘ole U.S. of A to harness the speed of the Roadrunner – since we are, after all, a family of runners!

Creaturepod [Source: WildKratts Wiki]
Our boys have been the Grand Brothers for months and there are no signs of it letting up. At the end of summer, I decided to reward the kids with a Creaturepod, a plastic toy meant to look like the fictional walkie talkie of the same name used on PBS Kids’ Wild Kratts program. They loved it, but soon found that it didn’t do anything on its own. They both have wild imaginations and like to bring to life most of their play, but the toy just wasn’t doing it for them. Being that Chris and Martin Kratt are brothers in real life, and Ben and Miles Grand are brothers in real life, Ben thought it would only be right to have “real life” Creaturepods. Real walkie talkies that he could use to communicate with his friends and have Wild Kratts adventures. This natural interest provided an opportunity to make learning, designing, and building a source of fun for the boys. It is an amazing way to teach that you can change the world around you by having an idea, making a plan, and gathering everyone with the skills needed to complete the project.

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Hand Cranking the Malevolent Mechanical Pumpkin

Meet Marty. He’s a pumpkin that has been fitted out with a moving eyes, tongue and an expression of malevolent glee. You would probably assume that this is all driven by servos, right? Nope: Marty is driven by an old-fashioned crank mechanism, designed and built by [Ben Brandt].

He wanted to make something that could be driven by a hand crank. Of course, there is nothing stopping you from throwing a motor on the back to drive the mechanism, but [Ben] wanted the internals to be fireproof so he could light it with a candle. His mechanism, built from old bits of wire and sheet metal, is not flammable or adversely affected by heat like a motor and power supply would be. He succeeded admirably, and he has also done an excellent job of documenting the process to providing handy tips on creating a mechanical pumpkin-based monstrosity.

Those hackers down with a little electronic wet work you should start building their LED-integrated Jack-O-Lantern now. These things take a lot of time turn out.

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