One Micro Bit Accomplishes Its Goal

Like the Raspberry Pi, the BBC Micro Bit had a goal of being foremost an educational device. Such an inexpensive computer works well with the current trend of cutting public school budgets wherever possible while still being able to get kids interested in coding and computers in general. While both computers have been co-opted by hackers for all kinds of projects (the Pi especially), [David]’s latest build keeps at least his grandkids interested in computers by using the Micro Bit to add some cool features to an old toy.

The toy in question is an old Scalextric slot car racetrack – another well-known product of the UK. But what fun is a race if you can’t keep track of laps or lap times? With the BBC Mirco Bit and some hardware, the new-and-improved racetrack can do all of these things. It also implements a drag race-style light system to start the race and can tell if a car false starts. It may be a little difficult to intuit all of the information that the Micro Bit is displaying on its LED array, but it shouldn’t take too much practice.

The project page goes into great detail on how the project was constructed. Be sure to check out the video below for some exciting races! The build is certain to entertain [David]’s grandkids for some time, as well as help them get involved with programming and building anything that they can imagine. Maybe they’ll even get around to building a robot or two.

Thanks to [Mark] for sending in this tip!

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VGA Monitor Becomes Drawing Toy

We hate to break it to [Rob Cai], but he’s built a VGA drawing toy, not an Etch-a-Sketch. How do we know? Simple, Etch-a-Sketch is a registered trademark. Regardless, his project shows how an Arduino can drive a VGA monitor using the VGAx library. Sure, you can only do four colors with a 120×60 resolution, but on the other hand, it requires almost no hardware other than the Arduino (you do need four resistors).

The hardware includes two pots and with the right firmware, it can also play pong, if you don’t want to give bent your artistic side. You can see videos of both the art toy and the pong game, below.

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Turning Broken Toy Into Laser Target Practice

[Mathieu] wrote in with his laser target practice game. It’s not the most amazing hack in the history of hackery, but it’s an excellent example of the type of simple and fun things you can do with just a little bit of microcontrollering.

Flasergun8irst off, the gun is a broken toy gun that used to shoot something other than red collimated light beams. The Arduino knockoff inside reacts to a trigger pull and fires the laser for around 200 milliseconds. The gun also has a “gas gauge” that fills up with repeated shots and cools down over time. And therein lies the game — a simple race to ten, where each player only has a fixed number of shots over time.

The targets are simply a light sensor, scorekeeping LED display, and a buzzer that builds tension by beeping at you as the countdown timer ticks down. The bodies are made out of 3D-printed corners that connect some of [Mathieu]’s excess wooden goat-cheese lids.

All the code is up on GitHub so you can make your own with stuff that you’ve got lying around the house. The “gun” can be anything that you can embed a laser in that makes it aimable. Good clean fun!

Cheap Toy Airboat Gets a Cheap R/C Upgrade

[Markus Gritsch] and his son had a fun Sunday putting together a little toy airboat from a kit. They fired it up and it occurred to [Markus] that it was pretty lame. It went forward and sometimes sideward when a stray current influenced its trajectory, but it had no will of its own.

The boat was extracted from water before it could wander off and find itself lost forever. [Markus] did a mental inventory of his hacker bench and decided this was a quickly rectified design shortcoming. He applied a cheap knock-off arduino, equally cheap nRF24L01+ chip of dubious parentage, and their equivalent hobby servo to the problem.

Some quick coding later, assisted by prior work from other RC enthusiasts, the little boat was significantly upgraded. Now the boat could be brought back to shore using any R/C controller that supported the, “Bayang,” protocol. He wouldn’t have to face the future in which he’d have to explain to his son that the boat, like treacherous helium balloons, was just gone. Video after the break.

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Parent To The Power Wheels Rescue

If the [realjohnnybravo] is the one from the show, it appears he finally managed to get a girlfriend, marry her, and produce at least one son. As the old schoolyard rhyme goes, first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes filling the whole *!$&# backyard with brightly colored plastic garbage. One of these items, a Power Wheels quad bike,  suffered a blow from planned obsolescence leaving behind a traumatized child. [realjohnnybravo] decided to fix it.

He made frequent mention of how one could go to a store and purchase replacement gears for the toy. Perhaps it’s a German thing. Regardless, he shows experience with internet comments by justifying his adventure in gear manufacturing with, paraphrased, “I’m having fun and learning so back off you pedantic jerks.”

Resin casting is great, and is often overlooked vs 3D printing. He purchased some hardware store RTV silicone and some slow-cure resin. The faster cure resin would get too hot with this much volume and potentially burn.

Materials procured he took apart both gearboxes from the machine. He first made a silicone mold of the broken parts (from the good copies out of the working gearbox) and removed the master. Without a vacuum or pressure casting chamber, the molds came out a little rough and bubbly, but it’s nothing some work with a carpet knife can’t fix. For big gears like this it hardly matters. Next he poured the two part resin into the molds and waited.

After some finishing with regular woodworking tools the parts fit right into the voids in the defective gearbox. His son can once again happily whir around the lawn, until the batteries die anyway.

The Citadel is the King of K’nex Builds.

Following one’s passion can lead to amazing results. Sometimes this results in technological marvels; other times, one marvels at the use of the technology. An exemplary display of the latter is The Citadel.

Over the course of three years, redditor [Shadowman39] pieced together this monstrous K’nex structure. With over 17 different paths(!), 45 different elements, and over 40,000 parts, you would expect some meticulous planning to go into its construction — but that’s not the case! [Shadowman39] assembled it largely on the fly with only a few elements needing to be sketched out and only the main elevator proving to be troublesome. Three motors power the structure — one for the main elevator, one for the smaller lifts on the bottom, and one for the release gates.

This is an absolute leviathan hobby project. To satiate the obvious curiosity of anyone who stumbles across this picture, its intricacies can be seen in the video:

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Reverse Engineering Quadcopter Protocols

Necessity is the mother of invention, but cheap crap from China is the mother of reverse engineering. [Michael] found a very, very cheap toy quadcopter in his local shop, and issued a challenge to himself. He would reverse engineer this quadcopter’s radio protocol. His four-post series of exploits covers finding the right frequency for the radio, figuring out the protocol, and building his own remote for this cheap toy.

[Michael] was already familiar with the capabilities of these cheap toys after reading a Hackaday post, and the 75-page, four language manual cleared a few things up for him. The ‘Quadro-Copter’ operated on 2.4GHz, but did not give any further information. [Michael] didn’t know what channel the toy was receiving on, what data rate, or what the header for the transmission was. SDR would be a good tool for figuring this out, but thanks to Travis Goodspeed, there’s a really neat trick that will put a 2.4GHz nRF24L01+ radio into promiscuous mode, allowing [Michael] to read the transmissions between the transmitter and quadcopter. This code is available on [Michael]’s github.

A needle in an electromagnetic haystack was found and [Michael] could listen in on the quadcopter commands. The next step was interpreting the ones and zeros, and with the help of a small breakout board and soldering directly to the SPI bus on the transmitter, [Michael] was able to do just that. By going through the nRF24 documentation, he was able to suss out the pairing protocol and read the stream of bytes that commanded the quadcopter.

What [Michael] was left with is a series of eight bytes sent in a continuous stream from the transmitter to the toy. These bytes contained the throttle, yaw, pitch, roll, and a ‘flip’ settings, along with three bytes of ‘counters’ that didn’t seem to do anything.  With that info in hand, [Michael] took an Arduino Nano, an nRF04L01+ transceiver, and a Wii nunchuck to build his own transmitter. If you’re looking for a ‘how to reverse engineer’ guide, it generally doesn’t get better than this.

You can check out a video of [Michael] flying his Wiimoted quadcopter below.

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