Some of the off-brand video game consoles and even accessories for the major brands can leave a lot to be desired. Whether it’s poor build quality or a general lack of support or updates, there are quite a few things on the market not worth anyone’s time or money. [Jonathan] was recently handed just such a peripheral, a toy game controller originally meant for a small child, but upon further inspection it turned into a surprisingly hackable platform, capable of plenty of IoT-type tasks.
The controller itself was easily disassembled, and the functional buttons within were wired to a Wemos D1 Mini instead of the originally-planned ESP32 because of some wiring irregularities and the fact that the Wemos D1 Mini having the required amount of I/O. It’s still small enough to be sealed back inside the controller as well, powered by the batteries that would have powered the original controller.
For the software, [Jonathan] is using MQTT to register button presses with everything easily accessible over Wi-Fi, also making it possible to update the software wirelessly. He was able to use it to do a few things as proof-of-concept, including playing a game in PyGame and controlling a Sonos speaker, but for now he’s using it to control an LED sculpture. With something this easily modified, though, it would be pretty straightforward to use it instead for a home automation remote control, especially since it is already set up to use MQTT.
Getting the finishing details on a Halloween costume completed is the key to impressing friends and strangers alike on the trick-or-treat rounds. Especially when it comes to things like props, these details can push a good Halloween costume to great with the right touches. [Jonathan]’s friend’s daughter will be well ahead of the game thanks to these additions to a toy guitar which is part of her costume this year.
The toy guitar as it was when it arrived had the capability to play a few lackluster sound effects. The goal here was to get it to play a much more impressive set of songs instead, and to make a couple upgrades along the way as well. To that end, [Jonathan] started by dismantling the toy and investigating the PCBs for potential reuse. He decided to keep the buttons in the neck of the guitar despite their non-standard wiring configuration, but toss out the main board in favor of an ESP32. The ESP32 is tasked with reading the buttons, playing a corresponding song loaded on an SD card, and handling the digital to analog conversion when sending it out to be played on the speaker.
The project doesn’t stop there, though. [Jonathan] also did some custom mixing for the songs to account for the lack of stereo sound and a working volume knob, plus he used the ESP32’s wireless capabilities to set the guitar up as a local file server so that songs can be sent to and from the device without any wires. He also released the source code on the project’s GitHub page for anyone looking to use any parts of this project. Don’t forget there’s a Halloween contest going on right now, so be sure to submit the final version of projects like these there!
LEGO are perhaps the perfect children’s toy, at least until you step on the errant brick while walking around the house. Available in all kinds of sets with varying themes and characters, they encourage building and creativity in kids like no other. Those with 3D printers might have considered creating their own specialty blocks, but the manufacturing of real LEGO blocks involves steel molds with extremely tight tolerances far outside the realm of most 3D printers. To print blocks capable of interconnecting in a similar way involves taking advantage of the characteristics of 3D printers and their materials instead, as [CNC Kitchen] demonstrates with these PrintABloks.
The PrintABlok was the idea of [Joe Larson] aka [3D Printing Professor] and is built around a one-unit base block, which has holes on all of its sides, paired with small connecting pieces which are placed in the holes to connect the various blocks to one another. Using your CAD software of choice (although they were originally built using Blender), the base block can be lengthened or widened for printing various different types of blocks, and the diamond-shaped hole can even be added to various prints that aren’t blocks at all. This means that a wide variety of parts can be made, all designed to interlock with the bricks or various other shapes. [Joe] even created an array of themed sets like robots, castles, and dinosaurs and although he sells these more complex models, he released his base set and interconnection mechanism for free and is available for anyone to use.
Another perk of the PrintABlok system is that they are scalable, mitigating safety risks for smaller children that might try to swallow some of the smaller parts. It’s an excellent way to put the 3D printer to work if there are any children around in the house. But this isn’t the only LEGO-inspired build we’ve ever seen, and they aren’t always going to be used to make children’s toys. [Ivan] recently used similar 3D-printed interlocking bricks more in the style of LEGO Technic to attempt to build a human-rideable go-kart.
The Fisher-Price See ‘n Say was introduced back in 1964, and since then has helped teach countless children the different sounds made by farm animals. But what about our urban youth? If they’re going to navigate a concrete jungle, why not prepare them to identify the sound of a jackhammer or the chime that plays before an announcement goes out over the subway’s PA system?
That’s the idea behind this hacked See ‘n Say [John Park] put together for Adafruit. Now we should note up front that no vintage toys were sacrificed during the production of this gadget — it seems Fisher-Price (predictably) dropped the tiny record player these toys used to use for a cheap electronic board sometime in the 90s. A quick check with everyone’s favorite A-to-Z megacorp shows you can pick up one of these new-school models for around $25 USD.
Cracking open the electronic version of the See ‘n Say reveals a circular PCB with a series of membrane buttons that are pressed by the mechanics of the spinning pointer. As it so happens, there are handy test points next to each of these buttons, which makes it simple to wire up to a microcontroller.
In this case, it’s Adafruit’s KB2040, which is connected to a MAX98357A amplifier board over I2S. A small boost converter module is used to wring 5 volts out of the toy’s pair of AA batteries. The original speaker is repurposed, though [John] adds a physical power switch to keep the boost converter from flattening the alkaline batteries when not in use.
On the software side, all you’ve got to do is load the MCU with your sounds and write a bit of code that associates them with the button being pressed on the PCB. [John] gets his city sounds from Freesound, a community-maintained database of Creative Commons Licensed sounds, and provides the CircuitPython code necessary to tie everything together.
The last step is the artwork. For this project, [Brian Kesinger] provided some swanky vintage-looking imagery that perfectly fits the See ‘n Say style. The art is available under the NonCommercial-ShareAlike Creative Commons license, so you’re free to use it in your own version. Though naturally, that assumes you’ve decided to use the same sounds as [John] — the beauty of this project is that you could easily load it up with whatever sounds you’d like Hacker Junior to learn. Possibly a well-known Australian YouTuber?
If anyone feels inclined to build a Hackaday-themed See ‘n Say based on this project, we’ve love to see it.
If we were to talk to engineers about the childhood toys which most inspired them, it’s likely that the older among them would mention either Meccano or Erector Set. These similar construction toys using metal components originated independently around the turn of the 20th century in both Britain and America, and eventually became part of the same company.
It’s fair to say that the possibilities of those perforated metal sheets and myriad nuts and bolts might seem a little limited for the 2020s child, but it opens the age-old question of what remains to interest young minds in engineering or technology. The obvious answer to that question comes in the form of Lego, evidently so much more fun can be had with plastic bricks.
We gotta love hacker Dads and Moms for being so awesome. Sooner or later, their kids get to play with some amazing toy that every other kid on the block is jealous of. [Meanwhile in the Garage aka MWiG] is one of those super hacker Dads who built a frickin’ Tank for his son (video, embedded below.). But it’s so much fun driving that beast around that we suspect Dad is going to be piloting it a lot more than the kid. The tank features metal tracks, differential steering, a rotating turret, periscopes and a functional paintball gun with camera targeting.
Building a tank, even if it’s a mini replica, needs an engine with a decent amount of torque. [MWiG] first tried reviving an old ATV engine, but it did nothing more than sputter and die. It went to the scrap heap after donating its rear transmission and axle. [MWiG] managed to get an old Piaggio scooter with a 250cc / 22 hp engine. The scooter gave up its engine, electricals and the instrument cluster before being scrapped. Looking at the final build, and the amount of metal used, we are left wondering how the puny 22 hp engine manages to drive the tank. We guess it’s the right amount of gearing for the win.
The Toniebox is a toy that plays stories and songs for kids to listen to. Audio content can be changed by placing different NFC enabled characters that magnetically attach to the top of the toy. It can play audio via its built-in speaker or through a wired headphone connected to the 3.5 mm stereo jack. Using the built in speaker could sometimes be quite an irritant, especially if the parents are in “work from home” mode. And wired headphones are not a robust alternative, specially if the kid likes to wander around or dance while listening to the toy. We guess the manufacturers didn’t get the memo that toddlers and cables don’t mix well together. Surprisingly, the toy does not support Bluetooth output, so [g3gg0] hacked his kids Toniebox to add Bluetooth audio output.