Regular readers will know that Hackaday generally steers clear of active crowdfunding campaigns. But occasionally we do run across a project that’s unique enough that we feel compelled to dust off our stamp of approval. Especially if the campaign has already blasted past its funding goal, and we don’t have to feel bad about getting you fine folks excited over vaporware.
It’s with these caveats in mind that we present to you Computer Engineering for Babies, by [Chase Roberts]. The product of five years of research and development, this board book utilizes an internal microcontroller to help illustrate the functions of boolean logic operations like AND, OR, and XOR in an engaging way. Intended for toddlers but suitable for curious minds of all ages, the book has already surpassed 500% of its funding goal on Kickstarter at the time of this writing with no signs of slowing down.
Technical details are light on the Kickstarter page to keep things simple, but [Chase] was happy to talk specifics when we reached out to him. He explained that the original plan was to use discreet components, with early prototypes simply routing the button through the gates specified on the given page. This worked, but wasn’t quite as robust a solution as he’d like. So eventually the decision was made to move the book over to the low-power ATmega328PB microcontroller and leverage the MiniCore project so the books could be programmed with the Arduino IDE.
Obviously battery life was a major concern with the project, as a book that would go dead after sitting on the shelf for a couple weeks simply wouldn’t do. To that end, [Chase] says his code makes extensive use of the Arduino LowPower library. Essentially the firmware wakes up the ATmega every 15 ms to see if a button has been pressed or the page turned, and updates the LED state accordingly. If no changes have been observed after roughly two minutes, the chip will go into a deep sleep and won’t wake up again until an interrupt has been fired by the yellow button being pressed. He says there are some edge cases where this setup might misbehave, but in general, the book should be able to run for about a year on a coin cell.
[Chase] tells us the biggest problem was finding a reliable way to determine which page the book was currently turned to. In fact, he expects to keep tinkering with this aspect of the design until the books actually ship. The current solution uses five phototransistors attached to the the MCU’s ADC pins, which receive progressively more light as fewer pages are laying on top of them. The first sensor is exposed when the second page of the book is opened, so for example, if three of the sensors are seeing elevated light levels the code would assume the user is on page four.
The books and PCBs are being manufactured separately, since as you might expect, finding a single company that had experience with both proved difficult. [Chase] plans on doing the final assembly and programming of each copy in-house with the help of family members; given how many have already been sold this early in the campaign, we hope he’s got a lot of cousins.
So what do you do with an Arduino-compatible book when Junior gets tired of it? That’s what we’re particularly interested in finding out. [Chase] says he’s open to releasing the firmware as an open source project after the dust settles from the Kickstarter campaign, which would give owners a base to build from should they want to roll their own custom firmware. Obviously the peripheral hardware of the book is fairly limited, but nothing is stopping you from hanging some sensors on the I2C bus or hijacking the unused GPIO pins.
If you end up teaching your copy of Computer Engineering for Babies some new tricks, we’ve love to hear about it.