Hacking The Crayola Digital Light Designer

[Harry] wrote in with his hack of the Crayola Light Designer. The Light Designer is a pretty unique toy that lets kids write on a cone-shaped POV display with an infrared light pen. [Harry] cracked one open and discovered it has a spinning assembly with a strip of 32 RGB LEDs for the display and a strip of photodiodes to detect pen position. These were ripe for the hacking.

The spinning assembly uses several slip ring connections to send power and data to the spinning assembly. [Harry] connected a logic analyzer to several of the connections to determine which lines were clock, data, and frame select (the strip is split into 2 16-led “frames”). He went on to reverse-engineer the serial protocol so he could drive the strips himself.

Instead of reverse-engineering the microcontroller on the product’s PCB, [Harry] decided to use a Leostick (Arduino Leonardo clone) to control the LEDs and spinner. He mounted the Leostick on the shaft of the spinning assembly, and powered it over the slip ring connections. After adding some capacitance to make up for noisy power from the slip rings, [Harry] had the POV display up and running with his own controller. Check out the video after the break to see the hacked POV display in action.

23 thoughts on “Hacking The Crayola Digital Light Designer

  1. For ~$20 new at some places this is a pretty neat thing to pick up and hack. A 32 rgb LED + IR sensor setup would cost a pretty penny to scrounge up and build, and most certainly be more than $20. I want to convert this into some kind of comic stick on police light. Its the perfect size :)

  2. I just got one for my youngest for Xmas and discovered while playing with it pre-wrapping that the default firmware has a jaw dropping easter egg… If you set it to light show mode with a blank screen and start doodling in green (other colors may work as well) it seems to generate its light show by applying a variant of Conway’s Life.

  3. I found some at walgreens, clearance priced at $7.49. If I had better skills to do this hack and get the wiring working, I would love to be able to write programs for this with my kids. I could see kind of a Harry Potter interactive wand game, where you have to draw a pattern in a certain shape to cast a spell. My kids have had a blast with it, as my daughter discovered the Conway’s Game of Life easter egg all on her own. She didn’t quite know what was going on, but it was such a great way to introduce her to the concept, and spot the common patterns http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conway%27s_Game_of_Life

    If anyone has gone further with this hack, or has thoughts on what you could do with this thing, let me know. I’m a programmer, but I don’t really know anything about hacking at the electronics level.

  4. Was trying to read the write-up of the hack but the website isn’t available. Did anyone mirror that page (or pages)? Very interested in doing this, as I just picked up one of these at Goodwill for $2.

    1. I took a remote from a digital converter, and used it. it makes green dots all over it. I would think a hack of the pen out be great. BTW i found mine at a thrift store also but with no pen.

      1. Tried with a projector remote and its gold*

        Think any IR emitter will do the trick, found the only one for my Son when he was a kid (now hitting high school) and ordered a new one in the box.. for my Daughter (turning 4) — Totally recommend this AND Fisher Price – FUN-2-LEARN if you are in that zone of getting stuff for the little ones to learn from.

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