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Toys Education

Build Your Own Electric Etch-A-Sketch 104

mhaisley writes "Ok, case mods are cool, monitor mods are nifty... but an Electric Etch-a-Sketch beats either. Students at Cornell University built an electronically controlled etch-a-sketch, controllable by a PC mouse. This was part of a group of class final projects featured by their instructor."
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Build Your Own Electric Etch-A-Sketch

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  • by AliasTheRoot ( 171859 ) on Saturday July 17, 2004 @08:39AM (#9724496)
    User: My Etch A Sketch has crashed what should I do?
    Support: Shake it.
  • by GarbanzoBean ( 695162 ) on Saturday July 17, 2004 @08:43AM (#9724506)
    It is called photoshop.
  • wow... (Score:5, Funny)

    by nuggetman ( 242645 ) on Saturday July 17, 2004 @08:44AM (#9724508) Homepage
    maybe now i could actually draw a circle on the freaking thing

    i always saw kids in the commercials w/ these elaborate trucks drawn, i couldn't even make a damn circle

    not that im bitter...
    • Re:wow... (Score:4, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 17, 2004 @09:50AM (#9724709)
      "i couldn't even make a damn circle"

      It's quite easy. You simply rotate the knobs either clockwise or counter-clockwise depending on whether the sine wave sample is above the x axis or below it and at a speed indicated by the value of the y axis. Obviously, the x axis represents time.

      The only tricky part is remembering that the left and right knobs aren't ever at the same point in the sine wave so you have to remember that your left hand and right hand might be moving in different directions and at different speeds. At first I founnd that it helped to use a precalculated lookup table but now I can just do the trig calculations on the fly.

      Hope that helps!
    • Glad to see I'm not the only one who can't use an etch-a-sketch. However, in my doctor's office (his personal office, inside the doctor's office you go to to see the doctor... Yeah, the English language is dumb), he has an etch-a-sketch with a wonderful, perfect landscape drawn on it. I asked him about it and he said a guy had drawn it while in the waiting room. Now, that either tells me the guy was extremely talented, or that waiting times for the doctor are just getting longer and longer....
  • by frostbane ( 660953 ) on Saturday July 17, 2004 @08:44AM (#9724510)
    I think they should just drop the mouse, hook it up to a computer and draw fractals. That would be a really cool project and it would make some pretty cool results.
  • Wouldn't it be cool (Score:5, Interesting)

    by LeahofRivendell ( 797671 ) on Saturday July 17, 2004 @08:55AM (#9724534) Journal
    If you could use the expandable shapes like the circles and rectangles and stuff in most paint programs and the machine would just make it?
  • by syrinje ( 781614 ) on Saturday July 17, 2004 @08:57AM (#9724538)
    ...the Etch-a-Sketch itself (yeah, yeah, I know they got it for free but you could source one for a dollar). I am impressed with this project as a teaching aid. Combines a whole lot slew of concepts in one fun project! So what if it isnt practical - technlogia gratia artis.
  • by mpn14tech ( 716482 ) on Saturday July 17, 2004 @09:04AM (#9724550)
    A class a few years earlier built an scanning tunneling microscope. alProjects/s2002/sm242/index.htm []
    • STMs are commonly built by hobbyists out of commodity parts. Nothing unusual. I have a half-finished one sitting on my desk right now (still missing the piezo elements, mostly due to laziness).

      Then again, the EAS project is pretty simple either, just a pair of stepper motors. Cool, but what michael (why the fuck is that moron still allowed to post anything? seriously) described sounds more like an electron beam magnetizing the screen selectively.
  • I have an old mouse with instead of a ball it it had two "paddles" like the contols of an etch-a-sketch. It worked ok, but the ball worked much better.

    Now its has come full circle and you can use a ball mouse to the 2 paddles..
    • I thought the idea was great, if they could work a large wooden beaver into the design.

      No really, if they could build some mouse-jigs they could use the modified Electr-O-Sketch to design loom components. Soon they'd innovate Punchcards [], then the Difference Engine [] - and finally the mouse [].

      With recent advances in transistors and microprocessors they'd soon be able to design childrens toys without the need of the highly inefficient clay tablet []

      I predict a bright future for this group of stalwart free thi

  • If only... (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    They could hook the thing up to my video card and have it redraw 60 times a second, I'd have a cheap monitor!
    • Maybe it could work, but you would have a lot of smoke. Besides, you would *constantly* have to shake your monitor for it to reset the picture.
  • GIF2EAS (Score:2, Interesting)

    Hey There,

    What the needed to do was ...
    supply a image as input ...
    and have the thing ...

    A) Translate it to b&w
    B) Have the EAS automatically draw it

    Kind of like the novelty of ...
    translating an image to ...
    ascii ;)

    --The Dude
  • I don't have any references, but I remember hearing that the very first computer controlled plotter was made from an Etch-A-Sketch.
    • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Saturday July 17, 2004 @01:24PM (#9725608) Homepage
      No, the first computer controlled plotter was made from an analog X/Y pen recorder. The analog computer for the Nike missile launch system had one, as did the Atlas missile guidance computer.

      There was the Iconarama, which was an Etch-A-Sketch like device attached to a projector. This was the first large-screen computer controlled display, and was used by NORAD in the 1950s. The device scratched transparent areas onto a slide, projecting icons (usually aircraft tracks) on a screen. When the screen became too cluttered, a slide changer loaded a new blank slide. Two complete systems aimed at the same screen were used, to avoid a blank period during slide change and redraw and to provide redundancy.

      The Iconarama was one of a long series of early military attempts to build large-screen displays. There were wall-sized plotters. CRT/film/photo processor/projector combinations. The Eidophor oil-film projector. []

      Eidophor technology first appeared in 1943, and there are still a few units in use. No other technology until DLP could reach the 4000 lumen light level of an Eidophor unit.

    • I saw an article on making a plotter from an etch-a-sketch in the mid-70's. I don't remember the magazine but it was definitely in the Altair-kit era.
  • ...what I read slashdot for. Here's an interesting project that will hopefully cause ideas to spring up in my head but most importantly will encourage me to actually get off my ass and do something like this.

    I once thought about building a plotter with a mate of mine, maybe I'll bring the idea back up again...
  • by ( 463190 ) * on Saturday July 17, 2004 @10:19AM (#9724799) Homepage
    I built one of these [] years ago... the thing mine had that theirs is missing is some way to flip it over to erase it.

    I used a big servo (made for a remote controlled boat) to flip it over. Also a solenoid to lock the screen in the vertical position so that the servo/solenoid only need to be energized while the screen is being shaken.

  • A working electronically controlled EAS may be a product that people would want to buy.....

    I'd want to buy one for every Pointy-Haired Boss I've had to help with their computer...
  • by adeyadey ( 678765 ) on Saturday July 17, 2004 @10:41AM (#9724883) Journal
    Imagine, a 3d engine which can render 20 polygons a minute!
  • by xbryanx ( 665730 ) on Saturday July 17, 2004 @11:06AM (#9724978) Homepage

    I think the most interesting thing here is the wide range of projects of their class page [] and how they have come up with inventive ways of using microcontrollers (sure some of them aren't new but that doesn't mean they aren't cool work for a class of students).

    But if you think this is cool then you should check out the work of Bruce Shapiro []. He's got a stepper motor controlled Etch a Sketch, but that's only the begining. How about a home built two axis plasma cutter [], or a an old dental mill [] that turns 2d pictures into 3d sculptures.

  • And yet... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 17, 2004 @11:24AM (#9725061)
    ... articles about nifty microcontroller projects like the laser-based Iridium flare tracker [] get rejected. Go figure.
  • Not to rain on anyone's parade, but this isn't exactly novel or complicated. Many undergrad engineering programs have a similar project. For instance, the University of Delaware (my school) assigned such a project as part of a sophomore level course in microprocessors. And that was two years ago.
  • by Ellis D. Tripp ( 755736 ) on Saturday July 17, 2004 @12:03PM (#9725242) Homepage
    Is that all there is to it? A mouse moving the stylus of an etch-a-sketch? Now if it incorporated a "drag and drop" or "selective erase" feature, it might be interesting. As it is, this would make a neat high school science fair project, but a final project for an EE degree?

    Why was a microcontroller even NEEDED here? Rewiring the mouse to provide the raw X and Y encoder wheel pulses, and applying them right to the stepper drivers would give substantially the same results without the MCU and all the programming. If the stepper drivers need step and direction signals rather than quadrature pulse trains, run the encoder signals through one of the LSI/CSI encoder interface chips to get whatever you want without writing code or burning it onto a chip. A programmable solution for something this simple seems like complexity for complexity's sake...
    • Have to agree. This E-EAS project is done in our sophomore microcontroller course (the last of four projects). Granted we did not use a mouse but I am sure some students could have rigged one up in the time alloted.
    • As it is, this would make a neat high school science fair project,
      The students at your high school must have been unusually bright..
      • But the ones who entered science fairs tended to be, I guess.

        FWIW, I went to a Vo-Tech HS, and studied electronics technology. Myself and another student made a project out of a child's toy robotic arm (IIRC it was called an "armitron") that we rigged up with a half-dozen DC motors and controlled via the parallel port on a ZX81. Programmed in BASIC to execute simple moves. This would have been during the junior year of HS.
    • I think in this case a microcontroller was needed... what are the odds that the pulse train coming from your mouse, given the deg/step of the steppers is adequate for turning those dials in a manner that makes for an easy to operate etch-a-sketch? More likely, some sort of scaling (read: counting) needs to take place, which the microcontroller probably handles nicely.
  • It's only a mater of time until we get a case mod based on this kind of rig. Looking at my computer's glowing inards is getting old. But if I could rig an EAS to the Mobo and write a controller that would randomly draw new patterns. That would be cool.
  • A friend of mine also built one in college (Carl R.) for his EE project. That was around 1991-1992. I don't remember the interface, but it might have been a joystick.
  • check this out (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    There are far more impressive projects that students in this class have made: alProjects/s2004/aeh28/Website/index.htm []

    Check out the rest of the projects students in this class have made: alProjects/ []

    Keep in mind that students in ece476 only have about a month to do their final project and that is on top of all their other classes' final projects.

  • It was called an X-Y plotter [].

  • I recently (may 2004) graduated from the University of Colorado with a BS in Electrical and Computer Engineering. One of my three big projects was a computer-controlled etch-a-sketch. The class was focused on real-time embedded projects using VxWorks. We used a video capture card and an x86 based VxWorks system to do line following on a captured drawing. (With the goal real time capture and drawing no time to tweak). When we started we thought we were original, oh well. It sure was a sight to see it trace
  • I built one of these back 1978. Yes, virginia, they had etch-a-sketches back then. And stepping motors. Yes, and even personal computers. I remember when we added 4KB of RAM, for a total of 24K! You could do anything in 24K! Mu-hahahahahaha!

"Well, social relevance is a schtick, like mysteries, social relevance, science fiction..." -- Art Spiegelman