Makers bring some iconic 1980s tech back to life


Warning: This blog post will cause some serious nostalgia.


Ah, the 1980s. A time when indispensable devices like the personal computer, the Walkman and the portable gaming console hit critical mass and found their way into the heart of pop culture. After being challenged by one of our social followers to do a “Throwback Thursday” post around this iconic period, we decided to highlight some of the most memorable innovations from the decade along with their reincarnations by Makers today. Let’s take a look!

The Walkman

Long before the days of the iPod and MP3 player, there was the Sony Walkman. With one still in his possession, Maker Robot Swans had taken his malfunctioning device and transformed it into a new instrument for his band. Using an Arduino Uno (ATmega328) to drive the Walkman’s motor, it can now play a pre-recorded note at different speeds to complement his drum machine quite nicely.

Nintendo NES

The ’80s introduced a new era of video gaming with the debut of NES. Duck Hunt, Blades of Steel, Donkey Kong… the list goes on and on. Inspired by these classics, the Uzebox is a homebrew console based on an ATmega644 MCU that was designed to serve as the simplest device possible with decent enough sound and graphics to implement interesting games. Mission accomplished! For those interested in similar hacks, there’s plenty more, ranging from a Maker who decided to play NES inside a cartridge to another who crafted Super Mario Bros. musical LED sprite pieces.

The Power Glove

While on the topic of Nintendo, who can ever forget the Power Glove? Equipped with traditional NES controller buttons on the forearm, the wearable gaming device failed to catch on in terms of popularity. However, that didn’t stop Maker Greg Sowell from rigging the obsolete NES Power Glove into a psychedelic light suit using addressable LED strips and an Arduino Pro Mini (ATmega328).

Omnibot

The motorized bot managed to carry out a variety of functions such as transporting light objects, rovering across the carpet, playing cassette tapes and even speaking in robotic fashion via a remote microphone. While reminiscing about his childhood desire to attain an Omnibot of his own, a Maker dubbed “pinter75” decided to teardown the gizmo and give it a full makeover with new paint, stickers, and Arduino control gear. Then, there’s DIYer DJ Sures, who modded a fully-operational Omnibot that he got off of eBay with voice recognition, camera, color tracking, servos and Bluetooth.

The ZX Spectrum

Credited as one of the first mainstream home computers, ol’ Speccy featured classics like Atic Atac, Elite and Manic Miner. Looking to spark up some 8-bit nostalgia, Alistair MacDonald took a broken ZX Spectrum and repurposed it as a fully-usable keyboard that could function with a PC, Raspberry Pi or an Android device supporting HID via a USB host adapter. The project is based on an Arduino Pro Mini (ATmega328).

Armatron

Manufactured by RadioShack, the crane-like robot seemed pretty high-tech at the time. In hopes of giving the arm a modern-day update, Maker “ckung0400” embedded an Arduino Nano (ATmega328) and used an IR remote to enable its six-motor control.

Teddy Ruxpin

This endearing, animatronic stuffed bear was every child’s favorite storyteller. Thanks to a Portland-based DIYer and self-proclaimed geek father Sean Gallagher, BearDuino is a hardware-hacked Teddy Ruxpin that has been turned into a kit using either an Arduino Leonardo (ATmega32u4) or Uno (ATmega328).

Dot Matrix Printers

Back in the ’80s, these dot matrix machines were considered quite the combination of expense and versatility before they were gradually succeeded by inkjet printers. Well, a hacker by the name of MIDIDesaster has made a habit of turning these dot matrix printers into MIDI-compatible sound generators capable of emitting tunes such as the Macarena and Eye of the Tiger. The DMP is equipped with a stalwart ATmega8 MCU and an FPGA connected to various sectors of the original printer’s circuit board.

The Boombox

Boombastic, very fantastic! Boomboxes became quite the status symbol of the 1980s — whether it was being held in the air by John Cusack in Say Anything to being lugged on the shoulders of hip-hoppers at the park. In order to bring the antiquated gadget into the 21st century, David Watts pieced together one of his own packed with an Arduino, Bluetooth, FM radio and line-in connectivity. It made use of an MSGEQ7 IC for the spectrum visualizer, a Nokia 5110 display, and ran off six AA batteries.

Atari 2600

This system is credited with popularizing the use of microprocessor-based hardware and ROM cartridges containing game code. Maker “jolt527” managed to get his hands on a vintage Atari 2600 joystick and used an Arduino Duemilanove (ATmega328) as its input/output controller. The makeshift piece is tasked with directing the output to a seven-segment display to show what is being done with the joystick.

The Clapper

Clap on, clap off… Need we say more? The Clapper was a sound activated electrical switch, which became incredibly popular halfway through the ’80s. MAKE: Magazine’s Jason Poel Smith recently showed off a DIY version of the gadget, not only capable of evoking your lights but appliances as well.

Lazer Tag

Also known as “laser tag,” the game was first introduced by Worlds of Wonder in 1986, while the Lazer Tag brand is now currently a subsidiary of Hasbro’s NERF toy line. A fresh take on the classic activity, Skirmos is an open-source, versatile laser tag system that features an ATmega328P, an Arduino bootloader, a color LCD screen (that acts as a real-time HUD), and an infrared LED.

Simon

Think of it as HORSE yet in digital form. The flash game made for some fun and frustrating times depending on how great your photographic memory and timing were. To combat its tediousness, Maker Ben North and his 7-year-old daughter have built a Simon-playing robot. To detect the lights, the Maker duo connected four phototransistors to an Arduino Duemilanove (ATmega328), while the Arduino recorded the pattern of lights on the Simon and activated the LEGO arms in response to that pattern.

Shoulder Pads

Don’t ask us why, but it was surely a wardrobe staple of the time. Here’s a new spin on a trend most of us would hope never to see again! These glitteriffic shoulder pads shine bright with 50 LEDs that are controlled by an Arduino Micro (ATmega32U4).

Apple II

Let’s just say that had the Apple Watch came out in the 1980s, it would’ve looked just like this. Instructables user “Aleator777”  packed a Teensy MCU, a 1.8″ LCD screen, a rechargeable battery, and a tiny 2W speaker for emitting alerts, all inside a 3D-printed shell.

Space Invaders

Originally released in 1978, the laser cannon shooting game led the way for the industry in migrating from just Pong-inspired sports games towards action-packed ones involving fantastical scenarios. However, the pixelated blocky graphic graphics always seemed a little unrealistic. That’s why one engineer has made a real-world version with real-world lasers using the hardware of a modified Whitetooth A1 laser cutter along with a laptop keyboard to serve as its gamepad. Meanwhile, an Arduino Nano (ATmega328) was mounted to a custom 80W laser controller to enable side-to-side movement to help shoot the paper invaders, each clipped to a plate and driven by stepper motors.

Pac-Man

This arcade game was a fixture at ice cream shops and pizza parlors throughout the ‘80s. And today, it can even be found at bus stops throughout Trondheim, Norway. That’s because a group of Makers created interactive stops consisting of pre-cut sheet of plywood, old computer screens, a Raspberry Pi installed with Pac-Man, and MaKey MaKey (ATMega32U4) controlled by aluminum foil tape on the glass front of the poster box.

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