The Toy Maker

A large part of the world still educates their kids using a system that’s completely antiquated. Personal choices and interests don’t matter, and learning by rote is the norm. Government schooling is woefully inadequate and the teachers are just not equipped, or trained, to be able to impart useful education. [Arvind Gupta], a science educator, is trying to change this by teaching kids how to build toys. His YouTube channel on Toys for Science and Math Education has almost 100,000 subscribers and over 44 million views. It’s awesome.

matchstickmecanno01[Arvind] graduated from one of the finest engineering schools in India, the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur, and joined the TATA conglomerate at their heavy-vehicles plant helping build trucks. It didn’t take him long to realize that he wasn’t cut out to be building trucks. So he took a year off and enrolled in a village science program which was working towards changing the education system. At the weekly village bazaar, he came across interesting pieces of arts and crafts that the villagers were selling. A piece of rubber tubing, used as the core of the valve in bicycle tubes, caught his eye. He bought a length and a couple of matchboxes, and created what he calls “matchstick Meccano”.

This was in the 1970’s. Since then, he has been travelling all over India getting children to learn by building fun toys. The toys he designs are made from commonly available raw material and can be easily built with minimum resources. These ingenious DIY toys and activities help make maths and science education fun and interesting for children at all levels of schooling. All of his work is shared in the spirit of open source and available via his website and YouTube channels. A large body of his work has been translated in to almost 20 languages and you are welcome to help add to that list by dubbing the videos.

Check out the INK Conference video below where he shares his passion for education and shows simple yet entertaining and well-designed toys built from trash and recycled materials.

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My Payphone Runs Linux

For the 20th anniversary of the Movie “Hackers” [Jamie Zawinski], owner of DNA Lounge in San Francisco, threw an epic party – screening the movie, setting up skating ramps and all that jazz. One of the props he put up was an old payphone, but he didn’t have time to bring it alive. The one thing he didn’t want this phone to do was to be able to make calls. A couple of weeks later, he threw another party, this time screening “Tank Girl” instead. For this gathering he had enough time to put a Linux computer inside the old payphone. When the handset is picked up, it “dials” a number which brings up a voice mail system that announces the schedule of events and other interactive stuff. As usual, this project looked simple enough to start with, but turned out way more complicated than he anticipated. Thankfully for us, he broke down his build in to bite sized chunks to make it easy for us to follow what he did.

This build is a thing of beauty, so let’s drill down into what the project involved:

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This Is Not Your Father’s Power Wheel

If you had a Power Wheel vehicle as a kid you may have been the envy of the neighborhood. Even as fun as they were you probably out grew them. Lucky for a few youngsters, [Bob] hasn’t. Not only does he have several Power Wheels for his children to use, he does some pretty cool mods to make them even more fun.

Changing the stock motor out for a cordless drill is one of the first things that gets done. A few brands have been used but the  Ryobi 18v Cordless Drill is the favorite. The entire drill is used, including the reduction gearbox. The gearbox is switched to LOW gearing so that the drill has enough torque to move the combined weight of the vehicle and child. As much as it may sound odd to use a drill in this manner, the Power Wheel can get up to about 15 mph. A stock Power Wheels maxes out at 5 mph

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Hackaday Links: February 9th, 2013

Hobby electronics from 1982

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[Lennart] came across one of his projects from several decades ago. It’s a twinkling star which blinks LEDs at different rates using some 7400 logic chips and RC timers.

Solder fume extractor

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We’re still blowing the solder fumes away from us using our mouth, but this might inspire us to do otherwise. It’s a large PC fan mounted on a lamp goose neck. It clamps to the bench and is quite easy to position.

Ultrasonic liquid level measurement

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Wanting a way to measure the liquid in these tanks without submerging a sensor, [JO3RI] turned to an Arduino and an ultrasonic rangefinder. His method even allows the level to be graphed as shown in his Instructible about the project.

Adding an ‘On’ light to save batteries

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Dumpster diving yielded this electronic drum machine for [MS3FGX’s] daughter to play with. The problem is that pushing any of the buttons turns it on, it doesn’t have an auto-off, and there’s no way to know when it’s on. This is unacceptable since it runs on 5 AA batteries. His quick fix adds this green On LED. We wonder if he’ll improve upon this and add an auto-off feature?

CMOS Binary Clock

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This is a portion of the guts of [Dennis’] CMOS Binary Clock project from the early 2000’s. He even built a nice case with a window for the LEDs which you can see are mounted perpendicular to the protoboard.

Connecting toy blocks with a universal construction set

We were all children at one time, and surely some of us remember the pain of trying to make one type of building block work with another type of block. The folks at the Free Art and Technology Lab have an answer for your inner child: adapters that connect any type of building block to any other type of building block.

The project is called the Free Universal Construction Kit. This  “gee, I wish I thought of that ideas” is a set of 79 play set adapter that allow any child to mix up their Duplo, Fischertechnik, Gears! Gears! Gears, K’Nex, Krinkles, Lego, Lincoln Logs, Tinkertoy, ZomeTool, and Zoob building sets in any way imaginable. Most of these adapters are up on Thingiverse, ready to be printed out with a 3D printer or sent to Shapeways.

An interesting aspect of the work of the F.A.T. Lab is the legal and intellectual property aspect; since this is the product of reverse-engineering several building sets,  it’s entirely possible the manufactures of these toys wouldn’t want adapters out in the wild. The team really covered their bases, though. Of the ten toy systems included, eight are no longer patent protected, much to the chagrin of the company behind MEGA Bloks. Adapters for the  two remaining systems – Zoob and ZomeTool – won’t be released until the patents run out in 2016 and 2022, respectively.

Check out the video after the break for the wonderful ‘a-ha moment’ one of the inventors had when watching his 4-year-old son playing with Tinker Toys and K’Nex.

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Reverse engineering MyKeepon

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[qDot] recently got his hands on a MyKeepon toy and after messing with it a bit, decided to tear it down to see what was inside. He had hopes of easily modding the toy, but like most adventures in hacking, things might take a while longer than he first imagined.

In his teardown you can see the various components that make up the MyKeepon, including a trio of motors for movement, along with a series of buttons and a microphone used to interact with the toy. Of course, the part that interested him the most was MyKeepon’s circuit board, since that’s where the real work would begin.

There, he discovered two main processor Padauk processor chips, described as “Field Programmable Processor Arrays” in their data sheets. He says that the brand is well known for lifting text verbatim from PIC data sheets, so he doesn’t have a ton of faith in what’s printed there. Sketchy documentation aside, he poked around on the I2C bus connecting the two chips and was able to sniff a bit of traffic. He is documenting his findings as he goes along, which you can see more of on his Github project site.

He has made a few simple modifications to the toy already, but there’s plenty more to do before he has complete control over it. His work is bound to make tons of MyKeepon fans happy, including our own [Caleb Kraft], whose love for the toy can be seen in the video below taken at last year’s CES.

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Toy car fitted with lights and sirens is a children’s delight

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[Nathan], a member of the DangerousPrototypes forums, was looking for a project he could use to enter the 7400 logic competition they are holding. His kids had a small ride on police car, but the light bar on top contained no lights, and the car made no sounds when his children were in pursuit of baddies around the house. [Nathan] had all the inspiration he needed, and took to his workshop in order to fix this glaring oversight by the toys’ creators.

He designed a circuit based loosely around a Cylon-style light that he saw a while back at the Evil Mad Scientist Labs, which employed an oscillator and a 4107 decade counter to control the lights. His design uses a 74HC04 hex inverter as the oscillator, while the decade counter is used to modulate the siren’s frequency and control the rotating LED beacons.

The final result is great if you ask us. An “unnamed adult female” in the house was not nearly as impressed by the additions based upon how much time [Nathan] spent on the project, but his children were absolutely thrilled.

Continue reading to see a quick video of the revamped police car in action.

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