Kid’s Ride Gets Boosted Battery, ESP32 Control

That irresistible urge to rescue an interesting piece of hardware from the trash is something that pretty much every Hackaday reader will have felt at one time or another. Sometimes it’s something that you could put to work immediately, like an old computer or some scrap piece of material that’s just the right size. But other times, you find something on the side of the road that ends up being the impetus for a whole new project.

For [David Bertet], finding a beat up kid’s Jeep Wrangler on the curb was the first step towards a journey that ends with PowerJeep: an open source project that we wager could end up saving similar vehicles from the landfill. The basic idea is simple enough — strip out the vehicle’s original 12 volt power supply and replace it with 18 V provided by easily swappable tool batteries. But as is often the case, it’s the details and the documentation that sets this project apart.

Just hacking an 18 V battery into the existing wiring and controls would probably have provided a few minutes worth of destructive fun, but not much else. So [David] approached things a bit more methodically; by adding a proper motor controller and dumping the original momentary switch “throttle” pedal for an analog version, the upgraded power from the new batteries could be properly harnessed. The addition of 12 and 3 volt regulators means the vehicle’s remaining stock electronics and accessories can be powered without letting the Magic Smoke out.

But perhaps the most exciting part of the PowerJeep project is the ESP32 that’s been added into the mix. While this project could certainly have been completed with “dumb” electronics, putting the WiFi-enabled microcontroller between the driver and the motor controller allows [David] to do things like adjust the vehicle’s maximum speed depending on whether his younger or older child is behind the wheel. He’s also able to monitor the system’s vital statistics on his phone through a slick web interface, and should the need ever arise, he can tap the big red “Emergency Stop” button to cut power in an instant.

For those looking to upgrade their kid’s ride, [David] has provided source code for the ESP32, a parts list, a wiring diagram, and even the 3D models for the few parts that needed to be printed. Naturally there’s going to be a lot of variations on this basic premise depending on which particular kiddie car you’ve got, but this project should still get you most of the way there.

If you’re looking to put even more high-tech goodies into your build, you might want to take a look at the clever traction control system we saw added to a lil’ Lambo back in 2019. You could even upgrade the frame and slip into the driver’s seat yourself, if you dare.

15 thoughts on “Kid’s Ride Gets Boosted Battery, ESP32 Control

  1. This seems like a much better approach than I took. I swapped the 6V motorbike battery for a huge 12V battery from a BMW 5 series. The increase in power and thoroughly messed up weight distribution meant that on the first run it popped a wheelie – losing all directional control – and ended up in the pond.
    I though it was quite cool, but my wife was not as impressed as she should have been.

      1. The current hotness in Chevy V8’s is the “LS” series.

        Yeah, it wouldn’t surprise me a bit to find out somebody did an “LS swap” on a kid’s plastic Barbie jeep.

        1. Debatable.

          LT direct injected. 800HP. In a Barbie jeep.
          Silly. Consider something reasonable, light weight, small displacement…Coyote.

          With the expected life of such a plastic jeep. You could even consider a German V8. Nothing Italian though. No Jatco CVTs.

          1. Coyote engine ina Barbie jeep? Madness!

            You don’t want that sliding sideways into a crowd of onlookers.

            Clearly the only sensible choice would be an SR20 for younger children or an RB26 if over 10 years old.

        2. The classic was adding a JATO (jet-assisted take-off) rocket to your Dodge Coronet. Sadly we found out this won’t make it go airborne. But a JATO on a power wheels car? Might be able to hit the desired power-to-weight ratio for non-aerodynamic flight.

  2. Lots of these kiddie kars get tossed when they are outgrown, and the battery is toast. I had two “recovered” Peg Perego cars and went through this mod process. Throttle petal was a gate hinge with two-step speed control and a dump resistor for electric brakes upon release of the throttle pedal (hey! Just like a Tesla!) Kids got good at side-slip skids. Plastic wheels sound AWEFUL, slip lots and wear out quickly. Replaced wheels with 10″ Red Wagon (rubber) wheels. Much better traction, but no more sideways skids. Put 12+6V battery together for 18V with a warning to enjoy the speed but not hit anything, else strip the gear teeth. Well, the boys immediately sped in opposite directions, turned around and did a head-on crash at full throttle. And the teeth went bzzzzzzzzz like a machine gun. Kids were fine. Dad was not happy, and some new motor/transmission had to be found. 12V operation restored. ;-)

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