Reverse Engineering Nintendo Labo Waveform Cards

The Nintendo Switch portable gaming system is heavily locked down to prevent hacking, but the Labo add-on looks like it might be a different matter. The Labo is a series of add-on devices made of cardboard that does things like turn the Switch into a musical keyboard that plays a waveform on a card that you slot in. [Hunter Irving] decided to try a bit of reverse engineering on these cards to see if he could 3D print his own. Spoilers: he could.

[Hunter] started by taking one of the cards that come with the Labo and looking at the layout. These cards are, like the rest of the Labo, very simple: they are just shaped pieces of card that fit into the back of the keyboard add-on. When you press a button, the Switch camera reads the card to create the waveform. So, the process involved figuring out the required dimensions of the card to create a template. [Hunter] then created simple waveforms (square, sine, sawtooth) in Inkscape, and used this to create a 3D printable waveform card. A quick bit of 3D printing later, he had several cards ready, and these worked without problems. As well as the synthetic waveforms, he tried real ones, such as an organ, taking the waveform shape from the zoomed-in sample and using that to print. This post describes the process nicely and offers downloads of 9 sample cards and a template to create your own.

We suspect that this is only scratching the surface of what can be done with the Switch, Labo, and some ingenuity. Unlike the Switch itself, the Labo seems to be built for hacking, using simple, easy to use components to create surprisingly complex mechanisms that could be adapted for any number of purposes.

We’re sure this isn’t the only Labo hack we’ll be covering over the coming year. Not sure what all the fuss is about? Read our reporting on its arrival.

29 thoughts on “Reverse Engineering Nintendo Labo Waveform Cards

  1. “The Nintendo Switch portable gaming system is heavily locked down to prevent hacking”

    Well, except for that unpatchable bootloader exploit they found a few days ago.

    1. The 5.0.0 update closed almost every software hole, but as far as I know the bootloader exploit would require a hardware revision to patch.

      I saw a video showing a Linux desktop and chromium running on the switch, with internet, touchscreen with hardware graphics acceleration working.

  2. Cou;dn’t he just print the template on paper, glue it to piece of thicker carton, and cut it with a knife or scalpel? Or is he one of THOSE people that are too stupid to blink a LED without RPI?

    1. If you would read his note, you would find:

      “At this point you could print to-scale replicas of these cards using a desktop printer, or…”

      righteous indignation is annoyance at not having thought of it first

    2. Not sure what would be inherently better, or smarter, about cutting it out of paper. You seem to be overestimating the time and effort it would take to print something like this, while underestimating the improved durability and dimensional accuracy. In fact this is mentioned in the originating post: “The edges are a lot cleaner than I could have cut by hand, and at 1.2mm thick, they’re a good deal sturdier than cardboard or paper. “

  3. So he printed real world sounds, maybe he could print out voices? Also seems that’ if you know the dimensions you could cut out your own card with a pair of scissors, freehand.

    1. It’s a single wave so you could probably get an instrument with no attack or decay, or some vague Warcraft 2-ish aaah-ooooh singing but something like a word is probably right out.

    1. If you want arbitrary waveforms from images, try Coagula. And paste in from a camera. Or else knock something simple up, it’s not hard to do something like this in software if you really wanted to.

  4. Has anyone reverse-engineered and posted all the Labos so they can be made at home (like propper makers) instead of spending crazy amounts of money for cardboard? I searched but amazingly can’t find anything. Of all things!

    1. *Sigh* You just don’t get it. You are paying 60 dollars for the software and a mere 10 for the cardboard, which is pre-cut and that costs a lot to manufacture. The cardboard portion of this is trivial to reproduce but the software is rather groundbreaking in it’s design…. the labo has a rudimentary programming language built in and THAT is why hackers are excited about it…. no mucking about trying to assemble a bunch of sensors and pcbs into a solution…. you just need cardboard, some reflective tape and the smarts to program the Switch’s sensors to do what you want.

  5. This project seems odd to me, because IMO it hardly counts as “reverse engineering” when you’re doing “exactly what the designers intended 10-year-old kids to do with it”. That’s like saying “Incredible hacker REVERSE ENGINEERS Snap Circuits, builds his own LED controlled by a switch!”

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