Old Toys, New Circuit Boards

Over the last few weeks, we've been searching high and low for used toys all over the Bay Area and harvesting them for parts to create circuit board sets, chain reaction elements, and dissection/remixing examples. I recently came away with a great haul from (the sadly recently closed) Thrift Town in San Francisco. As usual, once we stated dissecting these toys, we discovered some new mechanisms and unusual paths for investigation.  

One of the toys that I was most excited to dissect was this mini circular saw. When connected the batteries, it told a corny joke, looked back and forth, and spun the saw blade. We were curious to get inside and see what type of mechanism made the eyes move.

After sawing through one stubborn stripped screw in the top corner, we found a really clever solution that used the same motor to spin the blade and move the eyes. When you press the trigger, an offset cam on top of the saw moves a scotch yoke mechanism back and forth. 

Another familiar toy that I had never dissected before was "bop-it" a simon-like game with different switches that you twist, pull or bop!

We couldn't get the toy to work, but we were inspired by the ingenious switches inside. It would be great to find a working version, hook up alligator clips, and have people make their own homemade switches to play the game. 

Another really cool toy that I found at the thrift store was a little three wheeled robot! We connected long wires with alligator clips so that the machine could roam. It was pretty cool to find out that when we switched the polarity, it went from running in circles to making a straight path. This got us thinking about possibilities for remixing toy parts to create turtle-like art machines!

We found a pretty creepy robot dog that got us thinking more deeply about robotic anatomy. There's something really interesting about the combination of the 'realistic' eyes, nose and tongue and artificial plastic limbs and mechanisms. We've previously tried drawing as part of a toy dissection workshop, but it could be fun to play up those aspects in a slightly twisted version of life drawing or figure drawing with nice paper and watercolors. 

We're planning to experiment with reusing the PCBs from the toys. We mounted a few of these chips on wooden blocks with battery packs and hope to get more help from Sarah, a WICO collaborator, artist and educator, to explore the possibilities of circuit bending

Our new version of the toy dissection tool kit includes a resistor that people can use to manipulate the speed and pitch of the music. We also put in a couple of LEDs so that people can connect them with the speaker to create a flickering light. 

The inner workings of the PCB and electronic components have always been a little tricky for us to play with in the same way that we can create blocks out of the moving toy parts. As we're getting more into the realm of computational tinkering, I think there's a lot of potential to link the ways that these programmed toys work with making new projects from scratch, arduinos, 555 timers and other digital elements.  We'll keep thinking about both creating these low-threshold building blocks as well as imagining different ways to integrate the parts into new projects.  

Ryan Jenkins