Like so many consumer products these days, baby toys seem to get progressively more complex with each passing year. Despite the fact that the average toddler will more often than not be completely engrossed by a simple cardboard box, toy companies are apparently hell-bent on producing battery powered contraptions that need to be licensed with the FCC.
As a perfect example, we have Fisher-Price’s Linkimals. These friendly creatures can operate independently by singing songs and flashing their integrated RGB LEDs in response to button presses, but get a few of them in the room together, and their 2.4 GHz radios kick in to create an impromptu mesh network of fun.
Once connected to each other, the digital critters synchronize their LEDs and sing in unison. Will your two year old pay attention long enough to notice? I know mine certainly wouldn’t. But it does make for a compelling commercial, and when you’re selling kid’s toys, that’s really the most important thing.
On the suggestion of one of our beloved readers, I picked up a second-hand Linkimals Musical Moose to take a closer look at how this cuddly pal operates. Though in hindsight, I didn’t really need to; a quick browse on Amazon shows that despite their high-tech internals, these little fellows are surprisingly cheap. In fact, I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that given its current retail price of just under $10 USD, I actually paid more for my used moose.
But you didn’t come here to read about my fiscal irresponsibility, you want to see an anthropomorphic woodland creature get dissected. So let’s pull this smug Moose apart and see what’s inside.
A good hacker hates to throw away electronics. We think [Matt Gruskin] must be a good hacker because where a regular guy would see a junky old 1980’s vintage Fisher Price cassette player, [Matt] saw a retro stylish Bluetooth speaker. His hack took equal parts of electronics and mechanics. It even required some custom 3D printing.
You might think converting a piece of old tech to Bluetooth would be a major technical challenge, but thanks to the availability of highly integrated modules, the electronics worked out to be fairly straightforward. [Matt] selected an off the shelf Bluetooth module and another ready-to-go audio amplifier board. He built a custom board to convert the stereo output to mono and hold the rotary encoder he used for the volume control. An Arduino (what else?) reads the encoder and also provides 3.3V to some of the other electronics.
The really interesting part of the hack is the mechanics. [Matt] managed to modify the existing mechanical buttons to drive the electronics using wire and hot glue. He also added a hidden power switch that doesn’t change the device’s vintage look. Speaking of mechanics, there’s also a custom 3D printed PCB holder allowing for the new board to fit in the original holder. This allows [Matt] to keep the volume control in its original location
[Fred Murphy] went ahead and revised his method of making custom records for a Fisher Price toy record player. He’s now able to 3D print the discs. The toy works much like a music box, with a comb in the “cartridge” of the record player and notches in the record that pluck the fingers of the comb as it turns. He had previously developed a subtractive method that let him mill records out of a solid piece of plastic. But this additive method means less waste.
The music creation portion of the project is the same as the previous version. That’s because it’s pretty hard to outdo the C# software he wrote which serves as a composition studio. The difficulty comes in getting a clean print for the disk. The ridges on the discs are 0.7mm so you’re going to need a well-aligned printer with fine resolution. [Fred] printed in both ABS and what he calls “Vero clear” plastic. The former works but he got better results with the latter.