Connecting toy blocks with a universal construction set

We were all children at one time, and surely some of us remember the pain of trying to make one type of building block work with another type of block. The folks at the Free Art and Technology Lab have an answer for your inner child: adapters that connect any type of building block to any other type of building block.

The project is called the Free Universal Construction Kit. This  “gee, I wish I thought of that ideas” is a set of 79 play set adapter that allow any child to mix up their Duplo, Fischertechnik, Gears! Gears! Gears, K’Nex, Krinkles, Lego, Lincoln Logs, Tinkertoy, ZomeTool, and Zoob building sets in any way imaginable. Most of these adapters are up on Thingiverse, ready to be printed out with a 3D printer or sent to Shapeways.

An interesting aspect of the work of the F.A.T. Lab is the legal and intellectual property aspect; since this is the product of reverse-engineering several building sets,  it’s entirely possible the manufactures of these toys wouldn’t want adapters out in the wild. The team really covered their bases, though. Of the ten toy systems included, eight are no longer patent protected, much to the chagrin of the company behind MEGA Bloks. Adapters for the  two remaining systems – Zoob and ZomeTool – won’t be released until the patents run out in 2016 and 2022, respectively.

Check out the video after the break for the wonderful ‘a-ha moment’ one of the inventors had when watching his 4-year-old son playing with Tinker Toys and K’Nex.

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Reverse engineering MyKeepon

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[qDot] recently got his hands on a MyKeepon toy and after messing with it a bit, decided to tear it down to see what was inside. He had hopes of easily modding the toy, but like most adventures in hacking, things might take a while longer than he first imagined.

In his teardown you can see the various components that make up the MyKeepon, including a trio of motors for movement, along with a series of buttons and a microphone used to interact with the toy. Of course, the part that interested him the most was MyKeepon’s circuit board, since that’s where the real work would begin.

There, he discovered two main processor Padauk processor chips, described as “Field Programmable Processor Arrays” in their data sheets. He says that the brand is well known for lifting text verbatim from PIC data sheets, so he doesn’t have a ton of faith in what’s printed there. Sketchy documentation aside, he poked around on the I2C bus connecting the two chips and was able to sniff a bit of traffic. He is documenting his findings as he goes along, which you can see more of on his Github project site.

He has made a few simple modifications to the toy already, but there’s plenty more to do before he has complete control over it. His work is bound to make tons of MyKeepon fans happy, including our own [Caleb Kraft], whose love for the toy can be seen in the video below taken at last year’s CES.

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Toy car fitted with lights and sirens is a children’s delight

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[Nathan], a member of the DangerousPrototypes forums, was looking for a project he could use to enter the 7400 logic competition they are holding. His kids had a small ride on police car, but the light bar on top contained no lights, and the car made no sounds when his children were in pursuit of baddies around the house. [Nathan] had all the inspiration he needed, and took to his workshop in order to fix this glaring oversight by the toys’ creators.

He designed a circuit based loosely around a Cylon-style light that he saw a while back at the Evil Mad Scientist Labs, which employed an oscillator and a 4107 decade counter to control the lights. His design uses a 74HC04 hex inverter as the oscillator, while the decade counter is used to modulate the siren’s frequency and control the rotating LED beacons.

The final result is great if you ask us. An “unnamed adult female” in the house was not nearly as impressed by the additions based upon how much time [Nathan] spent on the project, but his children were absolutely thrilled.

Continue reading to see a quick video of the revamped police car in action.

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Halloween Hacks: Transform that annoying dancing Santa into a Halloween mummy!

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If you have one of those annoying dancing (Santa/Elvis/Frankenstein) decorations sitting around collecting dust, you could always repurpose it like [mischka] did. He originally wanted to enter our Santa-Pede challenge and purchased a dancing Santa, but time eventually got the best of him. With no other use for it in mind, he decided to make his dancing Christmas toy into a fun Halloween decoration.

An electronic rendition of “Jingle Bells” isn’t exactly the scariest thing around, so he dismantled the dancing toy and started fiddling with the sound board. A few well placed resistors later, his circuit-bent Santa Claus started to sound like he had five too many egg nogs, which was perfect for the dancing mummy [mischka] had in mind.

He transplanted some LEDs from Santa’s base into his head, and masked it off with some electrical tape so that only the eyes were visible. He then wrapped the mummy in the requisite bloodied bandages and set him out for the kids to enjoy.

Since it’s hard to find someone who genuinely likes these dancing toys, we think this is a great way to make them useful again. If you’ve got a few of these things kicking around, we suggest reenacting the dance routine from Thriller using an army of Santa-zombies and sending a video our way.

Continue reading to see a video of [mischka’s] mummy in action.

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Keeping simple children’s toys interesting with small modifications

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[Jaroslav] was racing slot cars with his son not too long ago, but like many of us discovered in our youth, driving cars around a small oval track can get dull after awhile. Rather than buy more track sections, he decided to fiddle with their cars a bit to make racing them a little more exciting.

After removing the top of his slot car, [Jaroslav] found that it cruised around corners with ease, giving him a distinct advantage over his son. He did the same with his son’s car to level the playing field, then he decided to add a few extra LEDs to make driving around the small track more lively.

Now, this obviously isn’t the most advanced of modifications, but it is a great example of extending the useful life of a toy by using cheap, easy to access components. We think that it would be reasonable to add even more features to the cars/track such as speed-dependent lighting or lap counters without changing the car dynamics all that much.

Any thoughts or suggestions to help [Jaroslav] soup up his kid’s race track even more? Share them with us in the comments.

Toy robot hand vastly improved, now more offensive

YouTube user [onefivefour] posted a video of his hacked up toy robot hand. These cheap robot hands usually only use one wire to move all five fingers. [onefivefour] improved upon the design and added five servos to allow independent control of each digit.

The servos are controlled by a PICAXE microcontroller, and [onefivefour] is willing to share the code. A few pressure sensors in the fingertips would turn this build into a great test bed for future development. It would also be great for an [Anakin Skywalker] Halloween costume if anyone on the planet ever wanted that specific costume.

[onefivefour] says he only spent $6 on his and while there’s more money sunk into the servos, it was probably a good investment. We love seeing hacked up pieces of plastic like the fully functional Wall-E or the dancing Androids. If you’ve got a toy hack in the works, drop us a line on our tip form.

R/C Hexababy is guaranteed to give you nightmares

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For this week’s hack, [Dino] was working on a mechanical cat toy, but the project fell apart towards the end for some reason or another. With time running out, he had to come up with something on pretty short notice, using whatever he happened to have on hand. Luckily he picks up some seriously weird stuff at the local thrift store and had a disembodied doll’s head kicking around for this last minute project.

Taking a cue from Toy Story’s [Sid Phillips], [Dino’s] doll’s head hexapod is as creepy as it is simple. He had a remote controlled hexapod from RadioShack sitting around, and thought it would be fun to combine it with the doll’s head. He replaced the dolls eyes with a handful of LEDs, which are green as the hexapod retreats, but glow a bright red as it advances towards you. The only way it could be any creepier is if [Dino] added a voice box that plaintively called for “mommy” as the doll crawls around!

It’s a relatively goofy project, but it gave us a good chuckle. The most disturbing highlight of the build is when [Dino] removes the doll’s eyes using a wood drill bit around the 6:00 mark.

If you’re looking to kill a few minutes, be sure to check it out – [Dino’s] work is entertaining as always.

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