A Hacker’s Epic Quest to Keep His Son Entertained

Little humans have a knack for throwing a wrench in the priorities of their parents. As anyone who’s ever had children will tell you, there’s nothing you wouldn’t do for them. If you ever needed evidence to this effect, just take a gander at the nearly year-long saga that chronicles the construction of an activity board [Michael Teeuw] built for his son, Enzo.

Whether you start at the beginning or skip to the end to see the final product, the documentation [Michael] has done for this project is really something to behold. From the early days of the project where he was still deciding on the overall look and feel, to the final programming of the Raspberry Pi powered user interface, every step of the process has been meticulously detailed and photographed.

The construction methods utilized in this project run the gamut from basic woodworking tools for the outside wooden frame, to a laser cutter to create the graphical overlay on the device’s clear acrylic face. [Michael] even went as far as having a custom PCB made to connect up all the LEDs, switches, and buttons to the Arduino Nano by way of an MCP23017 I2C I/O expander.

Even if you aren’t looking to build an elaborate child’s toy that would make some adults jealous, there’s a wealth of first-hand information about turning an idea into a final physical device. It isn’t always easy, and things don’t necessarily go as planned, but as [Michael] clearly demonstrates: the final product is absolutely worth putting the effort in.

Seeing how many hackers are building mock spacecraft control panels for their children, we can’t help but wonder if any of them will adopt us.

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A Jukebox For The 21st-Century Kit Blends Raspberry Pi, Sonos, QR Codes

When [Chris Campbell]’s children wanted to play an album in the background over dinner, switching the outputs on his family’s Sonos sound system was perhaps too involved for their budding mastery of technology. This got him thinking about using kid-friendly inputs so they could explore his music collection. Blending QR codes, some LEGO, and a bit of arts and crafts, a kid-friendly QR code reader media controller comes out!

Working with a Raspberry Pi 3 Model B and a cheap camera, [Campbell] whipped up some code to handle producing and reading the QR codes — though he’s running the media server on another computer to maintain fast response times. Once [Campbell] had his QR codes, he printed them out and got his kids involved in cutting and gluing the double-sided cards. Additional cards access different functions — starting a playlist queue, switching output channels, and full album playback, among others. Cue spontaneous dance-parties!

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ZeroBot is as Simple as it Gets

Usually at Hackaday we like to post projects that are of interest because of their complexity. That’s especially true for robots — the more motors and sensors the better. But, occasionally we come across a project that’s beautiful because of its simplicity. That’s the case with [Max.K’s] ZeroBot, recently posted over on Hackaday.io.

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Electric Train Demonstrator

If you ever want to pique a kid’s interest in technology, it is best to bring out something simple, yet cool. There was a time that showing a kid how a crystal radio could pull in a radio station from all the way across town fit the bill. Now, that’s a yawner as the kid probably carries a high-tech cell phone with a formidable radio already. Your latest FPGA project is probably too complicated to grasp, and your Arduino capacitance meter is–no offense–too boring to meet the cool factor criterion.

There’s an old school project usually called an “electromagnetic train” that works well (Ohio State has a good write up about it as a PDF file). You coil some bare copper wire around a tubular form to make a tunnel. Then a AAA battery with some magnets make the train. When you put the train in the tunnel, the magnetic forces propel the train through the tunnel. Well, either that or it shoots it out. If that happens, turn the train around and try again. There’s a few of these in Internet videos and you can see one of them (from [BeardedScienceGuy]) below.

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Kids and Hacking: The One Hour Egg Drop

In the last Hacking and Kids post, I talked about an activity you can do with kids when you don’t have a lot of time or resources. The key idea was to have fun and learn a little bit about open and closed loop control. One of the things I usually briefly mention when I do that is the idea of a design trade: Why, for example, a robot might use wheels instead of legs, or treads instead of wheels.

Engineers and makers perform trades like this all the time. Suppose you are building a data logging system. You want precise samples, large storage capacity, and many channels. But you also want a low cost and low power drain. You might also want high reliability. All of these requirements will lead to different trades. A hard drive would provide a lot of space, but is more expensive, less reliable, larger, and more power hungry than, say, an SD card. So there isn’t a right choice. It depends on which of the factors are most important for this particular design. A data logger in a well-powered rack might be well served to have a terrabyte hard drive, while a battery powered logger in a matchbox that will be up on the side of a mountain might be better off with an SD card.

We can all relate to that example, but it is pretty boring to a kid. You probably can’t get them to design a data logger, anyway. But if I have about an hour and a little prep time, I have a different way to get the same point across. It is a modified version of the classic “egg drop”, but it is simple enough to do in an hour with very little preparation time.

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Kids Explore Engineering with Cartoon Tech Build

“To the Tortuga!” my husband and I heard the announcement from the backyard. Our two boys, Ben (7) and Miles (3), had become pleasantly obsessed with the coolest brothers in nature – the Kratt Brothers. From the moment that these two energetic animal-loving brothers were discovered by our kids, they’ve been huge fans. Our house has been transported to the Sonora Desert where we saved a Gila Monster, then to the Australian Outback to learn about the Thorny Devil. We even went to swing with the Spider Monkeys in South America and then back to the good ‘ole U.S. of A to harness the speed of the Roadrunner – since we are, after all, a family of runners!

creaturepod-from-show
Creaturepod [Source: WildKratts Wiki]
Our boys have been the Grand Brothers for months and there are no signs of it letting up. At the end of summer, I decided to reward the kids with a Creaturepod, a plastic toy meant to look like the fictional walkie talkie of the same name used on PBS Kids’ Wild Kratts program. They loved it, but soon found that it didn’t do anything on its own. They both have wild imaginations and like to bring to life most of their play, but the toy just wasn’t doing it for them. Being that Chris and Martin Kratt are brothers in real life, and Ben and Miles Grand are brothers in real life, Ben thought it would only be right to have “real life” Creaturepods. Real walkie talkies that he could use to communicate with his friends and have Wild Kratts adventures. This natural interest provided an opportunity to make learning, designing, and building a source of fun for the boys. It is an amazing way to teach that you can change the world around you by having an idea, making a plan, and gathering everyone with the skills needed to complete the project.

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Air Rocket Launch Pad UI Entertains Eager Kids

Last spring [Mike] built a foam rocket launchpad which was a hit with the kids in his neighborhood. But the launch system was merely a couple of buttons so the early enthusiasm quickly wore off. He went back to the drawing board to make improvements and really hit the jackpot!

The original launch system had one button for building up air pressure with a second big red button of doom for launching the rocket. The problem was a complete lack of user feedback; all the kids could do is guess how long they needed to hold the button to achieve the highest launch. This revision adds flashing LEDs to hold the attention of the wee ones but to also function as a gauge for the new pressure control system. The visually fascinating control board also includes a removable key to prevent accidental launches.

The particulars of this are as you’d expect: it’s a bunch of plumbing to manage the air pressure, an Arduino to control it all, and additional electronics in between to make them work together.

We’re especially impressed by the leap in features and quality from the first version to this one. It’s a testament to the power of quick proofs-of-concept before committing to a more involved build. Great work [Mike]!

We’ve seen rocket launchers for adults and some neat mission control panels but [Mike’s] kid friendly launch controller really is out of this world (sorry, couldn’t resist). You’ll find a video demo of this launcher after the break.

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