Keeping simple children’s toys interesting with small modifications

souping_up_slot_cars

[Jaroslav] was racing slot cars with his son not too long ago, but like many of us discovered in our youth, driving cars around a small oval track can get dull after awhile. Rather than buy more track sections, he decided to fiddle with their cars a bit to make racing them a little more exciting.

After removing the top of his slot car, [Jaroslav] found that it cruised around corners with ease, giving him a distinct advantage over his son. He did the same with his son’s car to level the playing field, then he decided to add a few extra LEDs to make driving around the small track more lively.

Now, this obviously isn’t the most advanced of modifications, but it is a great example of extending the useful life of a toy by using cheap, easy to access components. We think that it would be reasonable to add even more features to the cars/track such as speed-dependent lighting or lap counters without changing the car dynamics all that much.

Any thoughts or suggestions to help [Jaroslav] soup up his kid’s race track even more? Share them with us in the comments.

World clock simulates night and day

geochron_world_clock_clone

[Justin] always wanted a GeoChron clock, but since they run in the range of several thousand dollars apiece, he was pretty certain he would never have the chance to own one. Undaunted, he figured out a way to build a small version of the clock for himself, and he wrote in to share how it was done.

He first purchased a Wise Clock 3 from FlorinC, but he definitely wasn’t going to use the clock as it was originally intended. Rather than display the time in numbers, he pulled the Wise Clock apart and sandwiched a vellum printout of a world map in between the front face plates. A tweaked firmware image allows him to simulate day and night using the Wise Clock’s LED array. He also programmed the clock to take into account seasonal light patterns, as you can see in the video embedded below.

We think this is a great idea, and though we would probably use plain white LEDs if we built one, the RGB LEDs in the Wise Clock certainly provide a neat effect.

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Converting a lame Tron toy into a cool Halloween costume prop

sweet_souped_up_tron_identity_disc

Instructable user [cubeberg’s] daughter saw Tron:Legacy earlier this year and decided right then and there that she wanted to dress up as Quorra for Halloween. Being the awesome dad he is, he decided to make her costume himself, and hit the stores in search of an Identity Disc to complete the look.

The toy was pretty underwhelming, and lacked the lighting that a proper Tron prop should have. He figured he had the skills to make it a bit better, so he gathered some tools, a bunch of LEDs, and set off for his workshop. He gutted the disc, cutting out any extraneous bits of plastic he could find. He wired up 64 LEDs between the disc’s inner and outer ring, which he controls using an ATmega 328 paired with a Max7221 display driver.

He doesn’t show any pictures of what the toy looked like beforehand, but the final product looks great. We bet that his daughter is pretty pumped for Halloween to roll around – we know we would be.

Continue reading to see a quick video demo of his souped up Identity Disc in action.

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Simple device answers questions just like your boss does

executive_decision_maker

Like many of us, [Bertho] has had plenty if interaction with “Executive” types who seem to make decisions randomly, and most certainly not based upon any sort of reason. As he was picking through parts bins at his local hackerspace, he thought it would be fun to build an “Executive Decision Maker”. The device he had in mind would answer questions at the push of a button, with the kind of randomness that could only be carefully honed through years of barking orders from a corner office.

Constructed from third-rate LEDs and old CMOS chips that were lying around, the operation of the device is quite simple. Much like a Magic 8 Ball, a question is posed, and as [Bertho] states, “The Executive Decision maker automatically tunes into the aether and the subconscious of the user” pressing the “Decide” button. The device then makes a judgement, relaying its answer to the user via an LED display.

We definitely got a good laugh out of this one, so be sure to check out the video after the break to see the Executive Decision Maker in action.

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Workshop lights so bright, they will give you sunburn

workshop_led_lighting_control

There are few things more frustrating than trying to tinker at your workbench with suboptimal lighting. [Jeremy] was toiling away in his workshop one afternoon when he decided that he finally had enough, and set out to overhaul his lighting setup.

His workshop is incredibly bright now, sporting a handful of under the shelf CCFL tubes to complement the mixture of cool and warm LEDs that are mounted on the ceiling. One thing we really liked about his setup is that he added a handful of LEDs to the bottom of his workbench, aimed at the floor – perfect for those times when a tiny screw or SMD component goes missing.

Everything is controlled by an ATMega 328 that he shoved into a project box, allowing him to tweak the lighting to suit his needs using a few simple buttons and a small LCD panel.

[Jeremy] says that the entire thing is “overkill” and that it is decidedly the messiest wiring job he has ever done. For something that was put together hastily in an afternoon, we think it’s just fine. The only thing we’re left wanting is some schematics and source code.

As far as the overkill comment goes, say it with me: There. Can. Never. Be. Too. Many. LEDs!

Stick around to watch [Jeremy] give a demonstration of how the system operates.

[via Adafruit blog]

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Hacking cakes with LEDs, the sequel!

A few weeks back we ran a piece about the convergence of making and baking in an attempt to create a cake festooned with working LEDs. The moral was that not every creative idea ends in victory, but we applauded the spirit it takes to post one’s goofs for the whole internet to see and to learn from.

[Craig]’s LED matrix proved unreliable…and the underlying cake didn’t fare much better, resembling that charred lump in the toaster oven in Time Bandits. The cakes-with-lights meme might have died right there if not for a fluke of association…

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A Bright Idea

[Jeri Ellsworth] had a bright idea – a brain-activated light bulb that floats above your head. While out and about, she saw some guy with a video game icon attached to metal rod sticking out of his backpack. The rod made the icon appear to be floating above his head (think The Sims), which was the inspiration for this LED powered light bulb. The bulb is connected to a metal rod, as well as a metal hoop which is springy enough to keep a pair of electrodes snugly attached to your head.

Those electrodes, along with a third probe used for noise reference, are hooked up to a AD620 instrumentation amplifier. With the help of op amps, it modulates the red or green LEDs that are attached to the back side of the light bulb. The end result is an amusing way to show brain activity while being grilled on a Q/A panel, or while just wandering around taking in all the amazing sights presented at Maker Faire.

Join us after the break for a video demonstration.

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