Vertical Train Hauls Up The Wall

Trains are great for hauling massive amounts of cargo from point A to point B, and occasionally, point C on weekends. But they’re not really known for climbing hills well, and anything vertical is right out. Regardless, [Can Altineller] knows what he wants and set to work, creating the 3D Printed Wall Train.

The first step was to get the train to stick to a vertical surface. This was achieved with the use of neodymium magnets in the train, which are attracted to laser-cut steel plates beneath the plastic tracks. The train itself consists of a custom 3D printed locomotive, outfitted with a motor and step-down gears that drive all four wheels. Said wheels are of a conical shape, and covered with rubber to provide enough grip to overcome gravity. The project is a progression from [Cal]’s earlier four-motor build.

The final result is a charming wall display, with the four-wheel drive train merrily tugging its carriages around the circular course ad infinitum. It’s a fun build, and we’d love to see similar techniques applied to a bigger layout. If this whets your appetite for model railroading, consider building your own turntable, or implementing some fancy sensors. Video after the break.

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Teardown: VTech PreComputer 1000 Is An Iconic PC In A Toy Wrapper

Back in the days before kids could be placated with a $50 Android burner phone, many a youngster was gifted a so-called “educational computer” to keep them occupied. Invariably looking like a fever dream version of the real computer their parents didn’t want to let them use, these gadgets offered monochromatic exploits that would make Zork look like Fortnite. Due equally to their inherent hardware limitations and the premise of being an educational toy, the “games” on these computers often took the form of completing mathematical equations or answering history questions.

The VTech PreComputer 1000 is a perfect specimen of this particular style of educational toy. Released in 1988, it was advertised as a way for pre-teens to become more comfortable with operating a real computer; since at that point, it had become abundantly clear that the coming decade would see a beige box on every professional’s desk. Its full-size QWERTY keyboard was specifically mentioned in the product’s accompanying literature as a way to get young hands accustomed to the ways of touch typing.

Words of wisdom from the PreComputer 1000’s manual.

By the mid-1990s these devices would have progressed far enough to include passable text-to-speech capabilities and primitive graphics, but the junior professional who found him or herself seated in front of the PreComputer 1000 was treated to a far more spartan experience. It’s perhaps just as well that this particular educational computer was listed as a training tool, because even in 1988, surely a session with this toy must have felt very much like work.

But that’s not to say the PreComputer 1000 is without its own unique charms. In an effort to help cement its role as a “trainer” for more conventional computers, VTech saw fit to equip the PreComputer with its own BASIC interpreter. They even included generous written documentation that walked young programmers through the various commands and functions. Even today, there’s something oddly appealing about a mobile device with a full keyboard that can run BASIC programs for better than 24 hours on batteries (even if they’re alkaline “C” cells).

Let’s take a look inside this more than 30 year old mobile device, and see how the designers managed to create a reasonable facsimile of actual computing on a kid-friendly budget.

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The Ifs Make Learning To Code Child’s Play

Anyone who has done the slightest bit of programming knows about the “Hello, World!” program. It’s the archetypal program that one enters to get a feel for a new language or a new architecture; if you can get a machine to print “Hello, World!” back to you, the rest is just details. But what about teaching kids to program? How does one get toddlers thinking in logical, procedural ways? More particularly, what’s a “Hello, World!” program look like for the pre-literate set?

Those are the sort of questions that led to The Ifs by [Makeroni Labs]. The Ifs are educational toys for teaching kids as young as three the basics of coding. Each If is a colorful plastic cube with a cartoon face and a “personality” that reflects what the block does – some blocks have actuators, some have sensors. The blocks are programmed by placing magnetic tabs on the top representing conditions and actions. A kid might choose to program a block to detect when it’s being shaken, or when the lights come on, and then respond by playing a sound or vibrating. The blocks can communicate with each other too, so that when the condition for one block is satisfied, something happens on another block.

The Ifs look like a lot of fun, and they’re a great jumpstart on the logical thinking skills needed for coders and non-coders alike. We’re not alone in thinking this is a pretty keen project – the judges for this year’s Hackaday Prize selected The Ifs as one of the twenty finalists. Will it win? We’ll find out next week at the 2019 Hackaday Superconference. If you won’t be in Pasadena with us, make sure you tune in to the livestream to watch the announcement.

3D Print Your Very Own Mechanical Computer

Most Hackaday readers are familiar with computers from the 70s and 80s, but what about ones even older than that? The Digi Comp 1 was a commercially available computer from the 1960s that actually cost less than a modern-day microcontroller. The catch? It was mechanical rather than electrical. Thanks to retro-wizard [Mike Gardi], now anyone can build a replica of one.

Admittedly the Digi Comp 1 was more of a toy than a tool, but it was still a working computer. It contained three flip-flops (memory) and had a lever that acted as a clock, allowing the user to perform boolean operations and some addition and subtraction. Certainly not advanced, but interesting nonetheless. [Mike]’s version of the Digi Comp 1 has an extra bit when compared to the original and includes some other upgrades, but largely remains faithful to the original design.

If you want to print one of these on your own, [Mike] has made all of the files available on Thingiverse. He has also experimented with other mechanical computers as well, including the sequel Digi Comp 2. We’ve seen some recent interest in that mechanical computer lately as well.

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This Radio Control Sailboat Uses 2X4s

When [PeterSripol] was a kid, he made a simple sailboat from a scrap piece of 2×4 and some napkin sails. He’s not 8 years old anymore, but he decided he wanted to make another 2X4 sailboat using the skills he’s learned since he was a kid.

You’ll have to get past storytime and mice, but the build skill is evident. There’s a RC rudder, a keel with lead shot and overall it is a good looking boat for such a simple build.

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Why Buy Toys When You Can Build Them Instead?

Like many creative individuals who suddenly find themselves parents, [Marta] wanted to make something special for his children to play with. Anybody can just purchase an off-the-shelf electronic toy, but if you’ve got the ability to design one on your own terms, why not do it? But even compared to the fairly high standards set by hacker parents, we have to admit that the amount of time, thought, and effort that was put into the “Marta Musik Maschine” is absolutely phenomenal.

[Marta] was inspired by the various commercial offerings which use RFID and other technologies to identify which characters the child is playing with and respond accordingly. But since he didn’t want to get locked into one particular company’s ecosystem and tinkering with the toys seemed frowned upon by their creators, he decided to just come up with his own version.

Over the course of many posts on the Musik Maschine’s dedicated website, [Marta] explains his thought process for every design consideration of the toy in absolutely exquisite detail. Each of the writeups, which have helpfully been broken down for each sub-system of the final toy, are arguably detailed and complete enough to stand as their own individual projects. Even if you’re not looking to get into the world of DIY electronic toys, there’s almost certainly an individual post here which you’ll find fascinating. From the finer points of interfacing your Python code with arcade buttons to tips for designing 3D printed enclosures, there’s really something for everyone here.

The children of hackers are often the envy of the neighborhood thanks to the one-of-a-kind playthings provided by their parents, and considering the level of commitment [Marta] has put into a toddler toy, we can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.

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LEGO And Minecraft Team Up For Custom Gaming PC Case

There are probably few parents who haven’t watched their kids sitting on the floor, afloat on a sea of LEGO pieces and busily creating, and thought, “If only they could make a living at that.” But time goes on and kids grow up, and parents soon sing the same refrain as the kids sit transfixed by the virtual equivalent of LEGO: Minecraft.

Finding a way to monetize either LEGO or Minecraft is a bit difficult for the young enthusiast; combining both obsessions into a paying proposition would be a dream come true. [Mike Schropp] did it, and this Minecraft-themed LEGO computer case was the result. Intel wanted a LEGO case for their new NUC mini-PC motherboard, and as a sponsor of the Minefaire event, the case needed to be Minecraft themed.

[Mike] chose the block that any Enderman would choose: the basic grass block. Each of the ten cases he made for the show had about 1000 of the smallest LEGO pieces available, to recreate the texture of the grass block in all its faux 8-bit glory. The 4″ x 4″ (10cm x 10cm) 8th Gen NUC board was a great fit for the case, which included slots for ventilation and SD card access, plus pop-out covers to access the board’s ports. It’s not exactly a screamer, but playing Minecraft on a grass block made from LEGO bricks is probably worth the performance hit.

We’ve seen [Mike]’s work a time or two here, most recently with a full-scale LEGO rack-mount server. Our hats off to him for another fun and creative build, and for proving that you’re never too old to LEGO. Or Minecraft.