Who’s Watching the Kids?

It wasn’t long ago that we saw the Echo bloom into existence as a standalone product from its conceptual roots as a smartphone utility. These little black columns have hardly collected their first film of dust on our coffee tables and we’re already seeing similar technology debut on the toy market, which causes me to raise an eye-brow.

There seems to be some appeal towards making toys smarter, with the intent being that they may help a child learn while they play. Fair enough. It was recently announced that a WiFi enabled, “Hello Barbie” doll will be released sometime this Fall. This new doll will not only be capable of responding to a child’s statements and questions by accessing the Internet at large, it will also log the likes and dislikes of its new BFF on a cloud database so that it can reference the information for later conversations. Neat, right? Because it’s totally safe to trust the Internet with information innocently surrendered by your child.

Similarly there is a Kickstarter going on right now for a re-skinned box-o-internet for kids in the shape of a dinosaur. The “GreenDino”, is the first in a new line called, CogniToys, from a company touted by IBM which has its supercomputer, Watson, working as a backbone to answer all of the questions a child might ask. In addition to acting as an informational steward, the GreenDino will also toss out questions, and upon receiving a correct answer, respond with praise.

Advancements in technology are stellar. Though I can see where a child version of myself would love having an infinitely smart robot dinosaur to bombard with questions, in the case of WiFi and cloud connectivity, the novelty doesn’t outweigh the potential hazards the technology is vulnerable to. Like what, you ask?

Whether on Facebook or some other platform, adults accept the unknown risks involved when we put personal information out on the Internet. Say for instance I allow some mega-corporation to store on their cloud that my favorite color is yellow. By doing so, I accept the potential outcome that I will be thrown into a demographic and advertised to… or in ten years be dragged to an internment camp by a corrupt yellow-hating government who subpoenaed information about me from the corporation I consensually surrendered it to.

The fact is that I understand those types of risks… no matter how extreme and silly they might seem. The child playing with the Barbie does not.

All worst case scenarios of personal data leakage and misuse aside, what happens when Barbie starts wanting accessories? Or says to their new BFF something like, “Wouldn’t we have so much more fun if I had a hot pink convertible?”

DIY Hot Wheels Drag Race Timer

[Apachexmd] wanted to do something fun for his three-year-old son’s birthday party. Knowing how cool race cars are, he opted to build his own Hot Wheels drag race timer. He didn’t take the easy way out either. He put both his electronics and 3D printing skills to the test with this project.

The system has two main components. First, there’s the starting gate. The cars all have to leave the gate at the same time for a fair race, so [Apachexmd] needed a way to make this electronically controlled. His solution was to use a servo connected to a hinge. The hinge has four machine screws, one for each car. When the servo is rotated in one direction, the hinge pushes the screws out through holes in the track. This keeps the cars from moving on the downward slope. When the start button is pressed, the screws are pulled back and the cars are free to let gravity take over.

The second component is the finish line. Underneath the track are four laser diodes. These shine upwards through holes drilled into the track. Four phototransistors are mounted up above. These act as sensors to detect when the laser beam is broken by a car. It works similarly to a laser trip wire alarm system. The sensors are aimed downwards and covered in black tape to block out extra light noise.

Also above the track are eight 7-segment displays; two for each car. The system is able to keep track of the order in which the cars cross the finish line. When the race ends, it displays which place each car came in above the corresponding track. The system also keeps track of the winning car’s time in seconds and displays this on the display as well.

The system runs on an Arduino and is built almost exclusively out of custom designed 3D printed components. Since all of the components are designed to fit perfectly, the end result is a very slick race timer. Maybe next [Apachexmd] can add in a radar gun to clock top speed. Check out the video below to see it in action. Continue reading “DIY Hot Wheels Drag Race Timer”

Pandaphone is a DIY Baby Toy

[Tyler] was looking for a gift for his friend’s one year old son. Searching through the shelves in the toy store, [Tyler] realized that most toys for children this age are just boxes of plastic that flash lights and make sound. Something that he should be able to make himself with relative ease. After spending a bit of time in the shop, [Tyler] came up with the Pandaphone.

The enclosure is made from a piece of 2×4 lumber. He cut that piece into three thinner pieces of wood. The top piece has two holes cut out to allow for an ultrasonic sensor to poke out. The middle piece has a cavity carved out using a band saw. This would leave room to store the electronics. The bottom piece acts as a cover to hide the insides.

The circuit uses an ATtiny85. The program watches the ultrasonic PING sensor for a change in distance. It then plays an audio tone out of a small speaker, which changes pitch based on the distance detected. The result is a pitch that is lower when your hand is close to the sensor, but higher when your hand is farther away. The case was painted with the image of a panda on the front, hence the name, “Pandaphone”. Based on the video below, it looks like the recipient is enjoying it! Continue reading “Pandaphone is a DIY Baby Toy”

Chicken-powered Pendulum

Every once in a while we get sent a link that’s so cute that we just have to post it. For instance: this video from [Ludic Science]. It’s a wind-up chicken toy that kicks a pendulum back and forth. No more, no less.

But before you start screaming “NOT A HACK!” in the comments below, think for a second about what’s going on here. The bird has a spring inside, and a toothed wheel that is jammed and released by the movement of the bird’s foot (an escapement mechanism). This makes the whole apparatus very similar to a real pendulum clock.

Heck, the chick toy itself is pretty cool. It’s nose-heavy, so that under normal conditions it would tip forward. But when it’s wound up, tipping forward triggers the escapement and makes it hop, tipping it backward in the process and resetting the trigger. The top-heavy chicken is an inverted pendulum!

And have a look, if you will indulge, at the very nice low-tech way he creates the pivot: a bent piece of wire, run through a short aluminum tube, held in place by a couple of beads. Surely other pivots are lower-friction, but the advantage of using a rod and sleeve like this is that the pendulum motion is constrained to a plane so that it never misses the chicken’s feet.

Our only regret is that he misses (by that much) the obvious reference to a “naked chick” at the end of the video.

Continue reading “Chicken-powered Pendulum”

The Lightgame Project: A Multiplayer Arduino Game

lightgame_3Summer is upon us. The Lightgame Project is a multiplayer reaction time based game built around the Arduino. It’s a perfect rainy day project for those restless kids (and adults!). Designed by two undergraduate students [Efstathios] and [Thodoris] for a semester long project, all the hard work has already been done for you.

There are tons of reasons we love games that you can build yourself. For one, it’s an amazing way to get children interested in hobby electronics, making, and hacking. Especially when they can play the game with (and show off to) their friends. Another reason is that it is a perfect way to share your project with friends and family, showcasing what you have been learning. The game is based on your reaction time and whether or not you press your button when another players color is shown. The project is built around two Arduinos connected via I2C. The master handles the mechanics of the game, while the slave handles the TFT LCD and playing music through a buzzer.

I2C is a great communication protocol to be familiar with and this is a great project to give it a try. [Efstathios] and [Thodoris] did a great job writing up their post, plus they included all the code and schematics needed to build your own. It would be great to see more university professors foster open source hardware and software with their students. A special thanks goes out to [Dr. Dasygenis] for submitting his student’s work to us!

Continue reading “The Lightgame Project: A Multiplayer Arduino Game”

Learning letters, particularly R, F, I, & D

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After [yohanes] picked up a toy at a yard sale – a Leap Frog Letter Factory Phonics – he thought he could do better. The toy originally asked a child to find a letter, and after digging one of 26 plastic characters out of a plastic tub and placing them on the Letter Factory’s sensor, would play a short musical ditty. [yohanes]’ version does the same, but because he made it himself it is infinitely more expandable.

The letters for [yohanes]’ version are RFID tagged. This, combined with a cheap RFID module and a bluetooth module means a Raspberry Pi can read RFID cards from across the room. From there, it’s a simple matter of writing up some Python to ask his toddler for a letter, reading the bits coming from a bluetooth, and keeping score.

The build isn’t over by a long shot. [yohanes] still needs to make his build multilingual by adding Indonesian and Thai. There’s also a possibility of adding a spelling game to make it more interesting.

Tickle-Me-Elmo… Frozen In Carbonite

elmo-in-carboniteWe at [HAD] love any hack that combines children’s toys with science-fiction technology, so seeing a Tickle-Me-Elmo “frozen” in [Carbonite] is a definite win in our book. It’s also a great argument for joining your local Hackerspace, or just getting together with some like-minded friends. This idea came out of an impromptu brain-storming, or “talking about crazy ideas session” at the [Baltimore Node] hackerspace.

Fortunately [Todd] had access to all the tools necessary to make this “crazy idea” a reality. A [Shopbot] was used to cut out the box, and the side panels were 3D printed with help from these files on Thingiverse. For processing, an [ATtiny85] programmed using an Arduino was used to power this project.

There’s no mention of whether [Todd] would be willing to part with his creation, however, we would guess that there would be no bargaining with him. He’s not going to give up his favorite decoration easily.

Continue reading “Tickle-Me-Elmo… Frozen In Carbonite”