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Enhancing simple circuit kits with microcontrollers

picaxe_powered_circuit_learning_kits

[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]

Rube Goldberg machine puts engineering students in the record books

rube_goldberg

Rube Goldberg machines are always a fan favorite around here. They truly embody the concept of over-engineering, and are an entertaining departure from what we normally cover on Hackaday.

Back in February, engineering students from two on-campus professional associations at Purdue University teamed up to construct a world record-setting Rube Goldberg machine. Their entry in the Purdue Regional Rube Goldberg Machine Contest not only won them the regional title, but also potentially put them in the books as creating the most complex device of its nature.

Their contraption was dubbed “The Time Machine” and acts out events in our planet’s history. It starts with the big bang, moving through various other time periods, including the stone age, ancient Egypt, and the medieval era. It also makes several stops in more recent times, including World War II and the Cold War, before self-destructing at the Apocalypse.

All told, the machine incorporates 244 steps to water a plant, which is 14 more than the previous record holder. Continue reading to see a video that highlights some of the machine’s more interesting features, and be sure to check out these Rube Goldberg machines we’ve covered in the past.

[via BoingBoing]

[Read more...]

Drag and drop programming gets kids started early

minibloq

While programming an Arduino is a piece of cake for EEs who have been around the block a few times, there are some groups who would still find it difficult to get started with the IDE. It is touted for its ease of use, but there is a steep learning curve if say, you are 5 or 6 years old. [Julián da Silva] has been hard at work for a while now, to make the Arduino more accessible than ever.

Earlier today, we posted a story about moldable putty which can be used by children to build rudimentary circuits, enabling them to enter the fun world of hobby electronics at a young age. [Julián's] project “Minibloq” aims to do the same thing with the Arduino. A work in progress, Minibloq uses a graphical interface to “build” Arduino code a block at a time. The code components are dragged and dropped into place on one side of the screen, while the source code is generated on the other half. This helps gently introduce those people new to the Arduino how to write actual code, a little bit at a time.

[Julián] is working hard to ensure that his application works well on OLPC and other classroom-oriented computers to ensure it can reach as wide an audience as possible. We think this would be a great introduction to the world of micro controllers for children as well as those who have never tinkered with electronics at any point in their lives.

Keep reading to see a quick demo of the software in action.

[Read more...]

Squishy circuits for tiny tinkerers

squishy_circuits

Getting kids interested in electronics at a young age is a great idea. Feeding their developing minds via creative projects and problem solving is not only rewarding for the child, it helps prepare the next generation of engineers and scientists. University of St. Thomas professor [AnnMarie Thomas] along with one of her student [Samuel Johnson] have put together a winning recipe for getting kids started in electronics tinkering at a very young age.

While some 5-year-olds can wrangle a soldering iron just fine, some cannot – and younger kids should probably stay away from such tools. This is where the the team from St. Thomas comes in.

They scoured the Internet looking for Play Dough recipe clones, testing the resistance and useability of each before settling on two formulas. The first formula incorporates salt, and has a very low resistance. The second contains sugar and has about 150 times the resistance of the first formula. If you use them together, you have very simple conductor and insulator substrates that can be manipulated safely by tiny hands.

As seen in the demo video below, a small battery pack can be wired to the conductive putty easily lighting LEDs, turning small motors, and more. We can only imagine the delightful smile that would emerge from a child’s face when they power on their putty circuit for the first time.

While only two different types of putty have been made so far, we would be interested to see what other materials could be integrated – how about homemade peizo crystals?

[Thanks, Spence]

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All that’s needed is a retro paintjob, miniMAME

[Tim's] miniMAME‘s construction follows the “light and cheap” approach, using foam core board and hot glue. Sure it won’t last a nuclear attack, but at least it’s light enough to carry to a friend’s house.

With a removable netbook at the core, CCFLs, speakers, trackball, and mini arcade fighting stick, the project completely surpassed our expectations. For those looking to build a miniMAME, [Tim] includes lots of pictures, details, and plans allowing anyone to make their own in about an afternoon.

Shred air with Theremin Hero

Remember those Ebay auctions of air guitars going for several thousands of dollars? We don’t either, but Theremin Hero (more info in the YouTube description) is about as legit as you can get to actually rocking on nothing but air.

Much like using a theremin to control Mario, the vertical antenna acts as the fret board while the horizontal one detects strumming. Combine the output of the theremin with some custom software (yet to be released) and Guitar Hero and you have Theremin Hero Air Guitar.

[via Bob's House of Video Games]