Happy Meal Toy Scavenging

We’re sometimes shocked at the electronics included in ‘disposable’ items. For some reason (our tech inclinations?) we’ve been getting those audio greeting cards from relatives and it kind of kills us to see the PCB, batteries, and speaker in what would have otherwise been a fully recyclable card. Now we’ve got several sets of those guts waiting around for our next project.

[David Cook] cracked open another disposable item, an Avatar action figure that came as a Happy Meal prize. What he found inside will actually be useful. There’s a battery holder for the three coin-cell batteries, A blue LED (for those blue LED hacks our commenters are so fond of), and a piezo speaker. There are some other discrete components that may be of use to you but the first three are certainly a boon for those that are  junk scavengers like us.

Has anyone else found some goodies inside these types of free toys? We’d love to hear about them in the comments. But for now we’re just glad to see the first good thing to come out of that annoying market saturation that accompanied the movie release.

Incidentally, [David’s] h-bridge writeup is our go-to reference for building quick motor controllers from parts on hand, or that can be purchased locally.

[Thanks Gron]

50 thoughts on “Happy Meal Toy Scavenging

  1. yes that is a great plan, lets spend hours taking apart various junk toys so we can salvage batteries and leds and other parts so in the end we can save a dollar or two (even though we had to pay for these toys in the first place).

    whats next, a story about bending with those toys? (please no)

  2. I seem to find those juicy innerds of kids meal toys easily extracted. When I’m going to the fridge for a late-nite-bite and crush one that was haplessly left on the floor under foot parts are abound.

    The only problem then is getting the bits and pieces out of my bleeding foot and keeping the expletives to a minimum.

  3. Thanks for the h-bridge link, great set of pages and easy to build circuit for when I next want to RC toy car.

    I bought a Hitari RC Knight Rider car with dead radio gear with the intention of replacing the scanner light, radio gear, steering with a proper servo, and an Electronic Speed Controler so I could get true proportional control when driving it because the original control system is pathetic.

    I tried using the circuitboard of a servo as an ESC but it couldn’t deal with the power from 4xAAs to a larger motor than a servo’s, then tried a shop-bought ESC but it too was crap because it was used to dealing with higher voltages (and the braking+slow reverse didn’t help).

    So in the end I figured out what part of the original circuitboard was the h-bridge, cut it off then wired up and programmed a Picaxe 08M as an electronic speed controller with built-in semi-auto calibration. Works a charm! Just gotta finish the lights now…

  4. actually the hammerhead rhino mcdonalds toy (avatar) out right now has a RGB led I think. and any tips on how to be a hacker for less or no money is a good post in my book. some of us hack mainly because we want to save money on things.

  5. Buy a hot air gun, and now everything you see on the side of the road becomes a venerable cornucopia parts.

    Make sure to do it in a well ventilated area…

    Most other ways of salvaging components take way too long IMO.

  6. I noticed the Avatar horse guys (sorry, I can’t bust out their real name) from happy meals have a 3 LED fade effect similar to a Larsen scanner type effect. As soon as my 3-year-old is bored with it I was going to pull it apart to see what the circuit looked like.

  7. If you want free parts, go to the dump. I went there on Tuesday morning and there were no less than 15 tube TVs sitting there, a bunch of old PCs, and a handful of printers. Depending on who is working, you may or may not be allowed to take stuff, but at least in my area, it’s free for county residents.

  8. @jweller Yea, Its awesome getting free stuff. Not always working. At our city dumb your Car will be weighted and when you leave asswell… trick nr 1 was dumb 3 pc’s get 1 back and they think you just bring 2… Yea, they sometimes look in your trunk aswell..dammid, lost a Mac when they got me

    I got a free working Laptop and 2 Tvs and a broken Snes… well, no smoke yet XD

  9. I got a mini lcd clock projector in a Happy Meal (Burger King for the rest of you) Kids Club Meal once and found that it had two lcd’s, one ‘watch’ size, and another tiny lcd inside, between a red led and a glass lense.

    Normally, the projector was on momentarily, and ran by little coin cell batteries, but I hacked it up to run off a rechargable battery, charged by a solar panel attached to a window, so at night, the watch would project the time to my wall (or ceiling if I wanted) while during the day it was being charged :)

  10. I once scavenged a 18″ 5/8 auger bit, 3 4″ steel C-clamps and a pair of vice grips, all brand new and shiny from the scrap metal pile at the landfill. Absolutely ridiculous what people throw away.

  11. It’s not a piezo speaker, it’s a piezo mic element. The Avatar happymeal thing with the blue led is a sound-activated led. If you adjust the level at which it triggers somehow, I can see these making an interesting volume meter on their own.

  12. Sorry if its already been posted, While walking around my local super store (BOOOO!) noticed several of the plush animals now have spinning leds that print out messages and graphics. How long before we see a cute dog plush cut to pieces and turned into a cool new gadget.

  13. I tried to gut the electronics of a starwars toy from the 70s. didnt realize till it was too late that the battery only powered a light and the sound came from a spring-loaded plastic 8-track record player. I could not make the parts function one removed from the toy, unfortunately…

  14. Went to the McDonalds nearby and found a neat box with speaker and microphone. I pried open the box and found some circuit boards and a fluorescent lighting system. Is it true that you must be a child to order the Happy Meal?

  15. i’ve gotten a few decent things and actually left the toy intact(minus sound)
    mostly speakers, a few leds, word of advice, dont try to scavange parts from wendies toys as pieces of paper generally dont have much in the way of electronic components

    why do they always have to use that annoying friken triangle (klol, just googled it… http://www.amazon.com/Silverhill-Triangle-Screwdriver-Roomba-Happy/dp/B001F3FUBK its specifically for roombas and happymeal toys) bit screwdriver?
    a miniture flathead works “ok” in a pinch, as long as you force it, possibly holding it in a pair of vice grip plyers

  16. Happy meal technology is a very cool subject for
    an intensive study because it in its advances you
    see the progress of ever smaller, cheaper, lower powered applications of electronics components. Can you imagine the type of technologies that will be found in happy meals of 2020?

  17. Kirov, keep it up and I’ll tell your mum and she’ll turn the Internet off again.

    ANyway, I’ve mentioned in other posts, but its on topic here: Printers and Scanners…people actually throw them away, you can get them for free…just stick up a notice somewhere, or if like me I use a local freecycle group and collect them.

    Brilliant for stepper motors, buttons, switches, DC motors, phototransistors, linear rails, gears, possibly some motor driver IC’s

  18. There’s actually something “funny” happening in EU right now, which is going to get worse over time, tehgringe. The recycle laws demand that people deposit consumer electronics “garbage” in the recycle centers. All ok so far, however, as for the law, they must be “complete” (you cannot remove any parts) and once they are in or in the area of the container, picking them up is crime.
    It is an interesting discussion to have.

  19. at geeks dot com i ordered some shit for 50 cents. then i tore it down and put it on ” thisbetterbefree dot weebly dot com ” and i dont know why i cant post a URL like Njay, etc.

  20. I am no electronics geek, but got a CR16 Battery scavenged from a disposable electronic pregnancy test. The rest of the PCB was useless to me, but could be useful to someone else

  21. lol @ Hubble Trouble i went down to my local mcdonalds and salvaged an lcd screen, microphone and speaker, they were just sitting by the restaurant. but it was all like “good evening, can i interest you in a blah blah combo meal today?” while i was disassembling it.
    on a real note, i think anything you could find at dealextreme.com for about $8 and below could easily be in Happy Meals right now, and what kid wouldn’t want a WiFi detector, a card-reader, a bluetooth dongle? mini keychain universal remote, the list goes on and on..
    Virtual 5.1-Surround USB 2.0 External Sound Card wtf i have never seen such a thing in my life and its abotu $2 and a quarter

  22. We got a paper cookie tin for Xmas that played Bing Crosby when you opened the lid-at first I thought it was detecting the movement but closer inspection revealed a very sensitive light trigger-nefarious uses immediately came to mind, but something positive could be cooked up I am sure

  23. dealextreme sku 32431, its a solar panel and a cellphone motor. buy 4 and make a solar powered 4 wheel drive microcar. or buy 6, make 6 wheel drive vehicle. but where to get the wheels?
    i’ve always wanted to build a little 4 wheel drive racecar out of cellphone motors. but i dont usually have more than 1 broken cell phone at a time, and i usually lose the tiny motor before i get another broken cellphone. but i took my last one apart. now i have an infinite supply of ultra-thin copper wire. thinner than a human hair, but strong as fuck

  24. I usually let my kid play with the toys until he’s bored with them, then strip them for parts – usually LEDs and batteries. One of the other toys in the Avatar series has some sort of motion sensor triggered led, probably a light trigger. It’s in the female (whatever her name is) toy. I was thinking it might be useful, connected to a MCU, for some sort of robot sensor.

  25. You know, these hacks/finds/(whatever you wanna call them) are useful in that you don’t have to buy them if you want them. Usually, people throw these things away (even kids get tired of their “kids meal” toys and toss em.) thus, you can usually find this crap on the side of the road, or in somebody’s trash (as wierd and akward as it is to dig through trash, technically it’s not illegal (any discarded trash, information, or otherwise is public domain, which is why you should shred sensitive info))

  26. oh, i forgot to add…. the sound modules are all cheap direct pwn of the battery voltage, if you remove the original speaker and connect to somthing a BIT bigger
    4.5 volts is pretty loud through a 16 inch 4 ohm driver, add them to a sound systems inputs with a way to delay trigger for a nice joke

  27. What kirov might be missing is that grandparents and other parents give my toddler these toys all the time. Sometimes he breaks them, sometimes he get duplicates. I love taking them apart and showing my daughter (10) what’s inside, and how we can make stuff with them. When doing this Kirov, I’m using free stuff, and teaching my daughter to think outside the box. It also shows her what it takes to build these things, which will hopefully give her insight in the future, if she goes into electronics or marketing.

  28. The best one I’ve seen is a ir remote shaped like a smaller tank which made the bigger tank flash lights and make sound. Would’ve loved to have salvaged that but my bro kept it!

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