The Lichtspiel: Not A Simple Child’s Toy.

For his niece’s second birthday, [Stefan] wondered what a toddler would enjoy the most? As it turns out, a box packed with lights, dials and other gadgets to engage and entertain.

For little Alma’s enjoyment, three potentionmeters control a central LED, a row of buttons toggle a paired row of more lights, a rotary encoder to scroll the light pattern of said row left and right, and some sockets to plug a cable into for further lighting effects. Quite a lot to handle, so [Stefan] whipped up a prototype using an Arduino — although he went with an ATmega 328 for the final project — building each part of the project on separate boards and connected with ribbon cables to make any future modifications easier.

[Stefan] attempted to integrate a battery — keeping the Lichtspiel untethered for ease of use — and including a standby feature to preserve battery life. A power bank seemed like a good option to meet the LED’s needed 5V, but whenever the Lichtspiel switched to standby, the power bank would shut off entirely — necessitating the removal of the front plate to disconnect and reconnect the battery every time. The simpler solution was to scrap the idea entirely and use the charging port as a power port instead — much to the delight of his niece who apparently loves plugging it in.

[Stefan] built a simple wooden enclosure, spray painting it black, and including supports that the faceplate screws into for easy maintenance. Covering the LED strip is a painted acrylic strip to act as a diffuser and make each light distinct. The various interactive components were mounted to the underside of the faceplate via spacers glued in place — but only after over-designing them. Github code can be found here, and it includes a few neat features like saving the state of the lights even after powering down and a Knight Rider LED mode.

But, how did his niece like it? Like many toys for toddlers, it needed not-quite-minor repairs after just nine months, so you be the judge.

9 thoughts on “The Lichtspiel: Not A Simple Child’s Toy.

  1. I’ve been intending to make something similar for my boys. By the time I do it though they’ll be old enough to build it them selves !

    I was expecting to read about the failure of the slide pots but they seem to have held up better than I expected.
    Kids are brutal on stuff !

    1. I experimented with this, but it didn’t work reliably. Not sure why – maybe because I already was in hurry and did something wrong. But I wanted to keep the design with the soft power switch anyway, so that the microcontroller could perform a graceful shutdown that includes saving its state to the EEPROM.

  2. That’s beautiful. Well done! I love the sliders and the plug-in jacks.

    I made one of these: 3 LEDs, 3 arcade buttons, 2 other buttons, a speaker, and a key (lock-switch?) to turn it on and off because I had one in my junk box. In the end, at least while Max was young, the key was the best part. Now it has a sampler in it, and it plays fire-engine siren sounds, important when there’s a fire emergency in the living room. (Frequent.)

    Eventually, it’ll probably become a game controller or something, and someday I hope he’ll ask me how it works inside.

    So yeah. Parents out there: build something simple like this, and build it to withstand the full weight of a 3-yr old. And build it to modify and grow with them.

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