Custom Mini 4WD Runs On Steam

Tamiya’s Mini 4WD toy line primarily consists of small 1:32 scale toy cars powered by AA batteries, which have no remote control and are guided around a plastic track by horizontally oriented drive guide wheels. Tuning and racing these cars is popular in many parts of the world, but this build is a little different.

After initial experiments with a modified Tamiya chassis are unsuccessful, a fresh build using a bespoke aluminium chassis is begun. A sturdy boiler is created, feeding into a piston which is used to drive all four wheels through a series of driveshafts.

It’s interesting to watch the iterative design process solve various problems such as piston wear and gearing. Performance is underwhelming for those used to the immense speed of the electric toys, but we’d love to see a competition series using steam powered racers.

We don’t see a whole lot of steam hacks around here, but the Hudspith steam bicycle is something to marvel at. Video after the break.

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POV Tops Hobbyist Abilities

Sometimes a beautiful project is worth writing on that merit alone, but when it functions as designed,someone takes the time to create a thorough and beautiful landing page for their project, we get weak in the knees. We feel the need to grab the internet and point our finger for everyone to see. This is one of those projects that checks all our boxes. [Nathan Petersen] made a POV toy top called Razzler, jumping through every prototyping hoop along the way. The documentation he kept is what captured our hearts.

The project is a spinning top with an integrated persistence-of-vision (POV) display. That’s the line of LEDs that you see here. To sync up the patterns, the board includes an IMU, but detecting angular velocity with either gyroscope or accelerometer proved problematic. [Nathan’s] writeup of this is worth the read itself, but you’ll also enjoy the CNC workworking part of the project used to create the body of the spinning top.

This was [Nathan]’s first big solo project, and so many of the steps are explained by someone who just entered the deep-end very quickly. If you have experience, you may grin at the simplified reasonings, but for a novice, it makes for an approachable lesson. The way he selects hardware and firmware is pragmatic and perhaps even overkill, so you know he’s going into engineering. This overshot saved him when there were communication problems which needed a sacrifice of some processing power to run I2C on some GPIO.

We hope you enjoy reading about this combinations of POV, firmware (or is it?), and centrifugal force.

Vintage Toys Live on Through 3D Printing

We all have fond memories of a toy from our younger days. Most of which are still easy enough to get your hands on thanks to eBay or modern reproductions, but what if your childhood fancies weren’t quite as mainstream? What if some of your fondest memories involved playing with 1960’s educational games which are now so rare that they command hundreds of dollars on the second-hand market?

Inside the Think-a-Dot replica

That’s the situation [Mike Gardi] found himself in recently. Seeing that the educational games which helped put him on a long and rewarding career in software development are now nearly unobtainable, he decided to try his hand at recreating them on his 3D printer. With his keen eye for detail and personal love of these incredible toys, he’s preserved them in digital form for future generations to enjoy.

His replica of The Amazing Dr. Nim” needed to get scaled-down a bit in order to fit on your average desktop 3D printer bed, but otherwise is a faithful reproduction of the original injection molded plastic computer. The biggest difference is that his smaller version uses 10 mm (3/8 inch) steel ball bearings instead of marbles to actuate the three flip-flops and play the ancient game of Nim.

[Mike] has also created a replica of “Think-a-Dot”, another game which makes use of mechanical flip-flops to change the color of eight dots on the front panel. By dropping marbles in the three holes along the top of the game, the player is able to change the color of the dots to create various patterns. The aim of the game is to find the fewest number of marbles required to recreate specific patterns as detailed in the manual.

Speaking of which, [Mike] has included scans of the manuals for both games, and says he personally took them to a local shop to have them professionally printed and bound as they would have been when the games were originally sold. As such, the experience of owning one of these classic “computer” games has now been fully digitized and is ready to be called into corporeal form on demand.

This is really a fascinating way of preserving physical objects, and we’re interested to see if it catches on with other toys and games which otherwise might be lost to time. As storage capacities get higher and our ability to digitize the world around us improve, we suspect more and more of our physical world will get “backed up” onto the Internet.

Power Wheels Gets Real With Real Wheels

We’re no stranger to Power Wheels modifications, from relatively simple restorations to complete rebuilds which retain little more than the original plastic body. These plastic vehicles have the benefit of nostalgia to keep the adults interested, and naturally kids will never get tired of their own little car or truck to tear around the neighborhood in. Many toys come and go, but we don’t expect Power Wheel projects to disappear from our tip line anytime soon.

Today’s project starts with a straightforward Power Wheels restoration story: [myromes] picked up a well-worn Jeep and decided that it needed a fresh coat of paint and some tweaks before handing the keys over to the next generation. But in an interesting spin, he decided to try mounting proper pneumatic tires on it in hopes they might imbue the pint-sized Jeep with some of the abilities of its full scale inspiration. But as it turned out, the project wasn’t quite the Sunday drive he was hoping for.

For one thing, the new wheels were much thicker than the old ones. This meant cutting away some of the plastic where they mounted so he could get the shafts to slide all the way through. At 5/16″, the original Power Wheels shafts were also thinner than what the axle the wheels were designed for. Luckily, [myromes] found that a small piece of 1/2″ PEX water pipe made a perfect bushing. Then it was just a matter of buying new push nuts to lock them in place.

That got the front wheels on, but that was the easy part. The rears had to interface with the Jeep’s motors somehow. To that end, he cut out circles of plywood and used an equal amount of Gorilla Glue and intense pressure to bond them to the new wheels. He then drilled four holes in them which lined up with the original motor mounts so he could bolt them on.

Things were going pretty well until he tried to replace the Jeep’s rear axle with a length of threaded rod from the hardware store. It wasn’t nearly strong enough, and sagged considerably after just a few test rides. He eventually had to place it with a correctly sized piece of cold rolled steel rod to keep the car from bottoming out.

While the new wheels certainly perform better than the original hard-plastic ones, there’s a bit of a downside to this particular modification. The slippy plastic wheels were something of a physical safety to keep the motors and gearboxes from getting beat up to bad; with wheels that have actual grip, the Jeep’s stock gears are probably not long for this world. But [myromes] says he’s got plans for future upgrades to the powertrain, so hopefully the issue will be resolved before the little ones need a tow back home.

For more tales from the Power Wheels garage, you might want to take a look at this fantastic rebuild complete with digital speedometer or just head straight to the big leagues with some seriously upgraded rides.

Hydrogen Powered Nerf Blaster Is Dangerously Awesome

Nerf blasters have been around for decades now, exciting children and concerning parents alike. Most are powered by springs or compressed air, and are the ideal holiday toy for putting delicate family heirlooms at risk. Not content to settle for the usual foam-flinging sidearm, [Peter Sripol] decided to take things up a notch.

The build starts with a MEGA CYCLONESHOCK blaster, which uses the larger red NERF darts as ammunition. Water tanks are rigged to the outside, fitted with stainless steel electrodes. The original spring & plunger firing  assembly is then removed, to make room for a firing chamber made out of copper pipe. A small taser-like device is used as an igniter. When the charging switch is pressed, current is passed through the electrodes in the water, which splits the water into hydrogen and oxygen gas. This is then passed to the firing chamber, where it can be ignited by the taser module, activated by the trigger.

Despite some issues with the blaster occasionally destroying darts due to what appears to be overpressure, it is capable of higher shot velocities than the stock blaster. For all its complexity, performance is somewhat hit and miss, but the cool factor of a handheld hydrogen bubbler is hard to ignore. [Peter] does note however that the combination of explosive gases and dangerous catalyst chemicals make this one build that’s probably best left to adults.

If this NERF hack isn’t dangerous enough, you might prefer these Taser darts instead. Video after the break.

[Thanks to Baldpower for the tip!]

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Energy Sipping Neodymium Sphere Keeps on Spinning

At this point we’re sure you are aware, but around these parts we don’t deduct points for projects which we can’t immediately see a practical application for. We don’t make it our business to say what is and isn’t worth your time as an individual hacker. If you got a kick out of it, great. Learned something? Even better. If you did both of those things and took the time to document it, well that’s precisely the business we’re in.

So when [Science Toolbar] sent in this project which documents the construction of an exceptionally energy efficient spinning neodymium sphere, we knew it was our kind of thing. In the documentation it’s referred to as a motor, though it doesn’t appear to have the torque to do any useful work. But still, if it can spin continuously off of the power provided by a calculator-style photovoltaic cell, it’s still a neat trick.

But how does it work? It starts by cracking open one of those little solar powered toys; the ones that wave or dance around as soon as any light hits the panel in their base. As [Science Toolbar] explains, inside these seemingly magical little gadgets is a capacitor and the classic black epoxy blob that contains an oscillator circuit. A charge is built up in the capacitor and dumped into a coil at roughly 1 Hz, which provides just enough of a push to get the mechanism going.

In the video after the break, [Science Toolbar] demonstrates how you can take those internals and pair it with a much larger coil. Rather than prompting a little sunflower or hula girl to do its thing, the coil in this version provides the motive force for getting the neodymium sphere spinning. To help things along, they’re even using a junk box zero friction magnetic bearing made up of a wood screw and a magnetized screwdriver tip.

It’s an interesting example of how a tiny charge can be built up over time, and with a nice enough enclosure this will make for a pretty cool desk toy. We’ve previously seen teardowns of similar toys, which revealed a surprising amount of complexity inside that little epoxy blob. No word on whether or not the version [Science Toolbar] cannibalized was quite so clever, however.

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Move Over Strandbeest, Here’s Strider!

Father-and-son team [Wade] and [Ben Vagle] have developed and extensively tested two great walker designs: TrotBot and the brand-new Strider. But that’s not enough: their website details all of their hard-earned practical experience in simulating and building these critters, on scales ranging from LEGO-Technic to garage-filling (YouTube, embedded below). Their Walker ABC’s page alone is full of tremendously deep insight into the problem, and is a must-read.

These mechanisms were designed to be simpler than the Jansen linkage and smoother than the Klann. In particular, when they’re not taking a stroll down a beach, walker feet often need to clear obstacles, and the [Vagles’] designs lift the toes higher than other designs while also keeping the center of gravity moving at a constant rate and not requiring the feet to slip or slam into the ground. They do some clever things like adding toes to the bots to even out their gaits, and even provide a simulator in Python and in Scratch that’ll help you improve your own designs.

If you wanted a robot that simply moved, you’d use wheels. We like walkers because they look amazing. When we wrote [Wade] saying that one of Trotbot’s gaits looked animal-like, he pointed out that TrotBot got its working name from a horse-style gait (YouTube). Compared to TrotBot, the Strider family don’t have as much personality, but they run smoother, faster, and stronger. There’s already a 3D-printing-friendly TrotBot model out there. Who’s going to work something up for Strider?

How much do we love mechanical walkers? Enough to post about bicycles made with Jansen linkages, remote-controlled toy Strandbeests both with weaponry and without, power-drill-powered walking scooters, and of course basically anything that Theo Jansen is up to.

If a trip to [Wade] and [Ben]’s website doesn’t get you working on a walker project, physical or virtual, we don’t know what will.

(And from the editorial department of deconfusion: the image in the banner is TrotBot, but it was just too cool to not use.)

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