Minecraft Trojan Horse Teaches Kids to Love Electronics and Code

Kids love Minecraft, and a clever educator can leverage that love to teach some very practical skills. The summer class offered by the Children’s Museum in Bozeman Montana would have blown my mind if such a thing existed when we were younger. (Rather than begging one of the dads in my Boy Scout Troop to pirate Visual Studio for me, which was delivered in the form of an alarmingly tall stack of CDs.) The kids in Bozeman get to learn hardware, software, their integration, and all while playing Minecraft.

Minecraft is an immersive universe that has proven to suck in creative minds. It’s the bait that pulls the kids into the summer class but Serialcraft delivers on making the learning just as addictive. This is accomplished by providing students with physical objects that are tied to the Minecraft world in meaningful ways we just haven’t seen before (at least not all at one time). On the surface this adds physical LEDs, toggle switches, potentiometers, and joysticks to the game. But the physical controls invite understanding of the mechanisms themselves, and they’re intertwined in exciting ways, through command blocks and other in-game components that feel intuitive to the students. From their understanding of the game’s mechanics they understand the physical objects and immediately want to experiment with them in the same way they would new blocks in the game.

The thing that makes this magic possible is a Minecraft mod written by [John Allwine], who gave us a demonstration of the integration at Maker Faire Bay Area 2016. The mod allows the user to access the inputs and output of the Arduino, in this case a Pololu A-Star 32U4, from within Minecraft. For the class this is all packaged nicely in the form of a laser cut controller. It has some LEDs, two joysticks, buttons, potentiometers, and a photosensor.

As you can see in the video below the break, it’s really cool. The kids have a great time with it too. For example, [John] showed them how they can attach their unique controller to a piston in the world. Since this piston can be controlled by them alone, they quickly figured out how to make secret safe rooms for their items.

Another troublesome discovery, was that the photo transistor on the controller set the light level in the game world by altering the time of day. Kids would occasionally get up and change the world from day to night, by turning the lights in the room on or off. A feature that has a certain appeal for any Minecraft player, is rigging one of the LEDs on the controller to change brightness depending on proximity to a creeper.

There’s a lot more to the library, which is available on GitHub. The kids (and adults) have a great time learning to link the real world with the world’s most accessible fantasy world creation kit.  Great work [John]!

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Control the Real World with an Arduino-Enabled Minecraft Mod

Minecraft modding has become almost as popular as the block-based game itself, with tons of editors and tools available to create new kinds of blocks, mobs, and weapons. And now, with this mod framework that can talk to an Arduino, modders can build blocks that break out of the Minecraft world to control the real world.

While turning on a light from Minecraft is not exactly new, the way that MCreator for Arduino goes about it is pretty neat. MCreator is a no-code framework for building Minecraft mods, which allows modders to build new game capabilities with a drag and drop interface. The MCreator Arduino toolkit allows modders to build custom Minecraft blocks that can respond to in-game events and communicate with an Arduino over USB. Whatever an Arduino can do – light an LED, sense a button press – can be brought into the game. It’s all open-source and free for non-commercial use, which is perfect for the upcoming STEM-based summer camp season. We can think of some great projects that would really jazz up young hackers when presented through a Minecraft interface.

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Basically, Its Minecraft

[SethBling] really likes Minecraft. How can you tell? A quick look at his YouTube channel should convince you, especially the one where he built a full-blown BASIC interpreter in Minecraft. It is not going to win any speed races, as you might expect, but it does work.

For novelty and wow factor, this is amazing. As a practical matter, it is hard to imagine the real value since there are plenty of ways a new programmer could get access to BASIC. Still, you have to admire the sheer audacity of making the attempt. One Hackaday poster (who shall remain nameless) once won a case of beer by betting someone he or she could write a BASIC compiler in BASIC, so we aren’t sticklers for practicality.

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The Internet of Minecraft Things is Born

Minecraft has come a long way since [Notch] first thought up the idea that would eventually make him a billionaire. The game can be enjoyed on so many levels and become so engaging that grown adults who should know better spend far more time playing it than working on, say, their backlog of Hackaday posts. As if that weren’t bad enough, now Minecraft threatens to break out of screen with the ability to control a WiFi light bulb from within the game.

For those unfamiliar with Minecraft, it’s an open world game that allows players to interact with blocks of various materials. Players can build, destroy, explore and create landscapes and structures. An active modding community contributes everything from cosmetic texture packs to new block types with extended functionality. It was one of these mods that was leveraged to “break the fourth wall” in Minecraft. [giannoug] used the OpenComputers mod, which allows placement of programmable in-game computers with a full complement of peripherals, including an Internet connection. That allowed [giannoug] to send commands to his Brand X eBay WiFi light bulb, the protocol for which his friend [Thomas] had previously reverse engineered. Flip a switch in Minecraft and the real-world light bulb comes on instantly. Pretty cool.

We’ve seen quite a few builds where Minecraft blocks inspired real-world lamps, but this is a step beyond and might be a great way to get kids into programming using Minecraft. But it’s not the first time Minecraft has broken the fourth wall – check out this 2012 effort to build a microcontroller-based Minecraft server that can toggle pins from within the game.

[Thanks to aggvan and Stathis K for the near-simultaneous tips!]

Microsoft, Minecraft, and Kids

Code.org annually sponsors an Hour of Code (December 7th to the 13th will be the third one). The goal is to try to teach kids the basics of computer science in just an hour. Microsoft has announced they will team with Code.org to bring Minecraft-based lessons to this year’s hour.

It makes sense when you remember that Microsoft bought Mojang (the company behind Minecraft) last year. Users can sign up for the free Hour of Code Minecraft module and learn how to make characters adventure through a Minecraft world using programming. There are other themed modules, too, including Star Wars, Frozen, and other kid-attracting motifs. There’s also a lot of videos (like the one below) that explain why you might want to learn about computer science.

If you think Minecraft isn’t a sufficient programming language, don’t be so sure. There are many Minecraft CPUs out there as well as a (very slow) word processor. If you want real hardware, you might check out our review of Minecraft-related projects from earlier this year.

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Broken Finger Is No Obstacle to Modern Hacker

[Jim Merullo] and his son were enjoying a nice game of Frisbee when an unfortunate dive led to an injury. His son broke his pinky finger leaving doctors no choice other than bounding his entire left hand in an unreasonably large cast. For most, this would mean no use of the left hand for several weeks, which is somewhat problematic if tin01your son has a Minecraft addiction.  [Jim], however, is no stranger to the hacker community and began working on a solution. He broke out the #2 Philips screwdriver, fired up the soldering iron and got to work.

A detailed analysis of the injured left hand revealed limited use of the middle and ring finger, and full use of the thumb. Because his son played the game using his right hand for the mouse and left for the keyboard, he needed to find a way for him to operate a keyboard with the limited use of his left hand. He took apart an old USB keyboard and soldered up some tactile switches to emulate the needed key presses. After making a fashionable Altoids tin mount that fit over the cast, his son was able to enjoy his favorite video game with limited interruption.

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Hacklet 33 – Minecraft Projects

Minecraft hit the PC gaming scene as an alpha release on May 17, 2009. Something about the open world, the crafting system, and the various modes of gameplay made it an instant hit. Since then Minecraft become one of the best selling video games of all time, inspiring thousands of hacks, mods, and projects. This week’s Hacklet highlights some of the best Minecraft projects on Hackaday.io!

clawWe start with [Toulon] and his MineCraft Sidecar Keypad. The Mystify Claw was originally designed as an alternative input device for First Person Shooter (FPS) games. It may look like a mouse, but the claw has no balls or lasers. It provides a 10 button “cradle” for the left hand. Some folks liked the claw, but for many it quickly became a dust collector. [Toulon] resurrected this old input device as an awesome Minecraft controller. He started by yanking all the old electronics, replacing the claw’s brain with the Teensy 2.0, a favorite of keyboard hackers everywhere. New buttons and a slew of new Teensy code made things perfect for mining.

rappiNext up is [Thomas] and his Raspberry Minecraft Server. The Raspberry Pi has long been a hacking platform for Minecraft. The official Raspberry Pi edition of Minecraft is easy to get running, and great for hours of fun. You can also run a Minecraft server on the Pi, which is exactly what [Thomas] is doing. He’s set his Raspberry Pi up with a WiFi dongle and a battery pack. With a bit of configuration, this allows the Pi to become the center of a wireless Lan party. On batteries, the Pi will run for about five hours of continuous gaming. Details for [Thomas’] project are a bit light right now, but that’s only because he just literally started documenting and uploading his project as we’re going to press. Give him a few days and he’ll have everything filled in!

gppk[GPPK] brings a bit of Minecraft into the real world with Full Size Wireless Redstone Lamp. Inspired by smaller models of the Minecraft redstone lamp, [GPPK] decided to build a life-sized version. “Life-sized” in this case is about 1 cubic meter. That’s a BIG lamp! [GPPK] designed the shell of the lamp in Sketchup, and cut the sides out using a gantry style CNC machine. The structure will be held together with 3D printed connectors, while a Raspberry Pi will provide the brains. Turning the lamp on will be as simple as turning on a switch in-game in Minecraft. [GPPK] has been a bit slow lately with updates on the project. If you know [GPPK] let ’em know that we’re anxiously awaiting some info!

pipyFinally, we have [Simon] and Raspberry Pi Python Controller. One of the best ways to get kids hooked on hacking and electronics is to show them how simple circuits can lead to big changes. What better way to do that than wiring up a simple push button controller for Minecraft? [Simon] used an Arduino paired to a Raspberry Pi with a serial over USB connection. Buttons wired to the Arduino are sent through the serial link to the Pi, where a python script fires off actions based on the serial data. [Simon] has tested his script with Mincraft Pi Edition, and is happy to report back that it works great.

Do you know what’s missing from this Hacklet? Your Minecraft project! It’s not too late though – upload your info to Hackaday.io, and we might just add it to our brand new Minecraft Projects List!

Well, it’s just about quitting time here in the Hackaday Mine. As long as the creepers don’t get us, we’ll be back next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io!