A little over a year ago, I became an Uncle.
This is my nephew, Harrison, doing what he does best – being cute.
For his first birthday, Harrison’s Mom wanted to give him something really special. Not just an ordinary toy for a one year old, but something strange and wonderful, tactile, interactive, unique. Thus was born the idea of an “electric box”, an electronic contraption full of switches, lights, buttons, knobs, levers, and sounds.
An elite task force was assembled to create this special gift, codenamed “Harrison’s Box”. The team consisted of Grandpa, the Woodworker, Jeff (alias mightyohm) the Engineer, and Kylie, the Project Manager.
Upon defining the project, we immediately jumped into phase one, Procrastination. Deliverables were met, and as the birthday loomed closer, we eased into phase two, Git ‘er’ Done.
Supplies and materials were ordered, wood chips started flying, and soldering irons blazed. A short time later, the front panel was realized:
Harrison’s box consists of (clockwise from the upper left):
- A buzzer (sound comes out the four holes)
- A group of red, yellow, and green LEDs that respond to button pushes below
- A panel meter (for looks!) from the junkbox
- A pair of robots with blinking red eyes (aka tradeshow schwag)
- A pong controller, scrounged at the Prototype This! garage sale on Treasure Island
- Three large, brightly-colored arcade-style pushbuttons and a large joystick
- A numeric keypad
- Some random buttons and switches
The wiring is point to point – zipties and hot glue keep all of the individual wires in place. Here’s a shot of the wiring for the pushbuttons and the joystick.
The buzzer consists of the guts of a cheap bicycle buzzer and a single C cell battery to power it. Some creative wiring allows a pushbutton elsewhere on the panel to control the buzzer.
I salvaged a few high brightness red LEDs from a surplus automotive taillight assembly I picked up at Weird Stuff a few years ago. A 5 Watt power resistor I had in my junkbox limits the current to the LEDs to a bright but not blinding level.
The whole box (with the exception of the buzzer, as noted above) is powered by a pair of AA batteries.
Finally, the big day arrived, and it was time to present Harrison (and Mom) with his gift:
Initially the Box was met with some skepticism. Perhaps Harrison was dwelling on the simple question: Toy or thermonuclear device? Understandably, there were very cautious button pushes at first.
Moments later, knobs were being turned, switches switched, buttons pushed, and Harrison had learned how to use the joystick. Look out Steve Wiebe!
The front panel mounts to a small stand that conceals and protects the wiring while also giving Harrison something to hold onto while operating the Box.
I’m happy to report that Harrison’s Box was a success.
Check out more pictures of the box on flickr.