Tag Archives: LEGO

Become the wizard of this Pinball Contraption

This Lego Pinball machine is comprised of over 4,000 bricks, 6 servos, 5 motors, and an MP3 player.

Philip Verbeek recently debuted one of the most legendary LEGO creations we’ve ever seen.


The Maker used more than 4,000 LEGO pieces, six servos (three LEGO, three littleBits), five motors (one littleBits DC, one LEGO XL, two LEGO M and one LEGO L) along with an MP3 player, LEDs, buzzers, displays, speakers, and mini basketballs to round out the pinball themed design.

At the brain of the aptly named PinBallContraption lies a LEGO NXT (AT91SAM7S256 and ATmega48) and a pair of littleBits Arduino modules (ATmega32U4).


The Maker also incorporated four light dependent resistors, touch sensors, photoresistors, and an IR sensor, which let the project’s NXT and Arduino modules know what’s going on inside the game.


Additionally, the device is equipped with a littleBits cloud module. This allows Verbeek to continue firing the tiny LEGO basketballs with a set of flippers, all while tracking his current score from his smartphone. However, for those not as tech-savvy or simply looking to spark up some arcade nostalgia, there are mechanical controls as well.


Once a player drops in a €2 coin, the PinBallContraption comes to life. Similar to other pinball machines, different elements affect a player’s score in various ways — some increase your tally by a point or two, others knock it down. Meanwhile, conveyors shuttle the basketballs around the game’s playing field at an impressive rate of one ball per second.

Interested in learning more? You can flip on over to the project’s official page here.

Solving Rubik’s Cube with an Arduino Uno

Rubik’s Cube is a 3-D combination puzzle invented in 1974 by Hungarian sculptor and professor of architecture Ernő Rubik.

Image Credit: Wikipedia

Originally dubbed the Magic Cube, the puzzle was licensed by Rubik to be sold by Ideal Toy Corp in 1980. According to Wikipedia, 350 million cubes had been sold worldwide as of January 2009 – making it the world’s top-selling puzzle game.

Recently, a Maker by the name of matt2uy designed an Arduino-based Rubik’s Cube ‘bot based on the famed Tilted Twister design by Hans Andersson.

However, rather than using LEGO, matt2uv adopted more of a DIY approach with wooden skewers, popsicle sticks, an Atmel-based Arduino Uno board (ATmega328 MCU) and two servos.

On the software side, matt2uy leverages the Arduino IDE, Python 2.7+, Tkinter (GUI) and Pyserial.

The result? A DIY Rubik’s Cube ‘bot that takes 20 minutes to enter the cube state and solve.

“Wiring up the servos to the Arduino [is] pretty simple. Connect the yellow (signal) wires for the push and rotation servo to pin 6 and 9, respectively,” he explained in a recent Instructables post.

“Connect the positive and negative wires to the 5v power source and ground. Sometimes the servos had jitters, so I think capacitors could have smoothed out the signals.”

Interested in learning more? You can check out the project’s official Instructables page here.

Atmel’s SAM4L powers Intoino DIY kits

Intoino – which recently surfaced on Indiegogo – is a comprehensive lineup of kits that allows Makers to easily build a wide range of electronic devices and Internet of Thing (IoT) platforms.

“Intoino Maker Kits are for inventors, designers, students and all creative minds willing to turn their electronic product idea into reality. [The] kits are LEGO-like boxes containing an Arduino Leonardo (Atmel ATmega32u4 MCU), Tinkerkit sensors, actuators and the Intoino Bulb (the smart WiFi antenna) that connects your Arduino and its sensors to the Internet for IoT applications,” an Intoino rep explained.

“You can [link] the Bulb to the Arduino and start programming it via WiFi without physically connecting it to the PC. Once you have programmed your system, the Intoino Bulb automatically starts to act like a modem, giving your project WiFi connectivity.”

At its core, the Intoino platform (bulb) is powered by Atmel’s ARM-based SAM4L microcontroller paired with an IEEE 802.11 b/g/n wireless module that can be used for wireless programming and connecting various IoT sensors.

Additional key project features and specs include:

  • USB-OTG with intelligent host mode (independent from device power configuration)
  • Automatic recognition of Arduino boards and USB connected devices
  • Self (via power supply) or USB powered with automatic detection and control
  • SSL layer for Secure connection with Web apps (Facebook, Twitter, etc)
  • Wireless programming directly from Arduino IDE
  • Memory storage capabilities (“store&program” functionality)
  • Easy integration with USB Atmel devices

It should be noted that Intoino also maintains an official app store, allowing Makers to share or sell their projects. Current use cases listed on Intoino’s website include an automatic pet feeder, tweeting plant, gas alert alarm and a sound activated lamp.

Interested in learning more? You can check out Intoino’s official Indiegogo page here.

ATmega328P-based TinkerBots hit Wired’s Gadget Lab

TinkerBots is an Atmel-powered (ATmega328P MCU) building set that enables Makers and hobbyists of all ages to easily create an endless number of toy robots that can be brought to life without wiring, soldering or programming.


Indeed, TinkerBots’ specialized “Power Brain” and kinetic modules twist and snap together with other TinkerBots pieces – and even LEGO bricks – adding movement and interest to whatever sort of robot a Maker can imagine and build.

The centerpiece of the TinkerBots building set is a square, red “Power Brain” module (approximately 1.5”x1.5”x1.5”) that contains Atmel’s ATmega328P microcontroller. This module is tasked with providing wireless power and data transmission to kinetic modules such as motors, twisters, pivots and grabbers.

Kinematics launched its official TinkerBots Indiegogo campaign a few weeks ago, with the building set garnering coverage from a number of prominent publications, including Wired’s Gadget Lab.

“Once you snap together a contraption, you can program it in a few different ways. By pressing the ‘record’ button on the Powerbrain brick and twisting the robot’s motorized parts, it will remember those movements and replicate them when you hit the ‘play’ button. And if you want to step it up and write your own code, you can also program your robots via the Arduino IDE,” writes Wired’s Tim Moynihan.

“TinkerBots started out as an Indiegogo campaign, and it blew past its $100,000 goal in less than a week; its funding now is nearly double that amount, with about a month left to go in its campaign. You can preorder various kits now, and prices vary depending on the number and type of pieces in each set. For $160, you get a basic car-building set with the Powerbrain, motors, wheels, a twister joint and some other bricks. There’s an animal-themed set for $230, a grabber claw set for $400 and $500 gets you a fully loaded kit with bricks to build anything.”

Interested in learning more? You can check out the official Indiegogo TinkerBots page here.

ATmega328P-powered TinkerBots go live on Indiegogo

TinkerBots is an Atmel-powered (ATmega328P) building set that enables Makers and hobbyists of all ages to easily create an endless number of toy robots that can be brought to life without wiring, soldering or programming.


Indeed, TinkerBots’ specialized “Power Brain” and kinetic modules twist and snap together with other TinkerBots pieces – and even LEGO bricks – adding movement and interest to whatever sort of robot a Maker can imagine and build.

“The inspiration for TinkerBots grew out of my lifelong fascination with LEGO toys. Tasked with building a ‘Dream Machine’ for my master’s thesis in product design, I thought it would be cool to create a construction kit that is as simple to use as LEGOs but has the ability to easily add robotics and make toys that move and do things,” inventor Leonhard Oschutz, creative director and co-founder of Kinematics GmbH, explained.

“It was music to my ears when a child described TinkerBots as being like ‘living LEGOs.’ With our TinkerBots building set, you’re not getting just one robot, you’re getting the ability to build any type of toy robot that you and your children can imagine.”

According to Oschutz, the centerpiece of the TinkerBots building set is a square, red “Power Brain” module (approximately 1.5”x1.5”x1.5”) that contains Atmel’s ATmega328P microcontroller (MCU). This module is tasked with providing wireless power and data transmission to kinetic modules such as motors, twisters, pivots and grabbers. 

Aside from Atmel’s ATmega328P MCU, additional key specs include:


Two-cell lithium polymer battery (7.2V, 800mAh), including an undervoltage overvoltage cutoff, USB charger and balancer
  • Onboard USB for programming
Communication via Serial UART Bus-System, each module can communicate with any other module in a bidirectional method
  • Bluetooth 4.0 module for app control and firmware update
  • Speaker for sound feedback
  • Status LEDs and control buttons
Arduino libraries and examples for an easy start
  • Three-axis accelerometer and gyroscope
  • Software update of all modules via Power Brain

“Children can build anything they can imagine, such as a dog that walks, a snake that slithers, a bug that crawls or a tractor that digs,” said Oschutz.

“Small building blocks and other shapes such as rectangles and pyramids without electronics inside them are passive pieces that can be used to customize TinkerBots toy robots.”

Controlling TinkerBots robots is as easy as it is to build them. An integrated record-and-play function on the “Power Brain” module enables Makers to teach their robots what to do and bring them to life. To be sure, users only need to take their creation in their hands, press the record button and move their robot in the way they want it to move. 

When a user puts it down and pushes the play button, the toy robot will repeat over and over exactly what it just learned. The next time, Makers can teach the ‘bot something completely new, or start all over to build an entirely different robot using the same TinkerBots pieces. As expected, TinkerBots robots can also be controlled remotely via a tablet or smartphone with the TinkerBots app.

The basic TinkerBots building set is packed with three active modules: the “Power Brain,” motor and pivot modules. Passive pieces include two cubes and two adapter plates for LEGO bricks, along with a USB charger. More advanced robots are slated to offer additional components such as an infrared distance sensor. 

Last, but certainly not least, TinkerBots’ use of Atmel’s ATmega328P allows more experienced enthusiasts to dabble in Arduino IDE programming for their TinkerBots creations.

Preorders for TinkerBots are currently being accepted on Indiegogo, with shipping scheduled to kick off in the fourth quarter of 2014. General availability is slated for second quarter 2015, with retail pricing beginning at $159.

Interested in learning more? You can check out the project’s official Indiegogo page here.

The art of pixels with Game Frame

Game Frame – a grid of 256 ultra-bright LED pixels – was designed by Jeremy Williams to showcase pixel art and old school video games. As Williams notes, video game artists used to draw everything with a sheet of graph paper, a few colors and a couple of animation frames.

In spite of the obvious technological limitations, says Williams, games devs created some of the most iconic and nostalgia-packed imagery of the late 20th century – the very symbols and mascots of the video game generation.

“Out of necessity grew an enduring visual art style. No longer limited by resolution or power, some game designers still choose pixel art today instead of smoother, glossier options,” Williams wrote in a recent Kickstarter post.

“Why? It’s abstract, vibrant, nostalgic, and LEGO-like in its architecture. It stimulates our imaginations, and surprises us with artistic creativity. It draws comparisons to pointillist painting and stained glass, and I say it deserves a frame.”

Enter the Game Frame, which Williams describes as a slick digital photo frame for pixel art. More specifically, each pixel is projected by a powerful LED via a mesh chamber and onto a sheet of white vellum. Colors are strictly isolated, while a black overlay sharply defines the grid.

“Since there is no global backlight, the visual effect is like a mix of traditional movie screen and OLED. It’s quite unique,” he explained.

“Thousands of images and animations can be stored on SD and played back automatically according to your taste, configured by two buttons on top. You may want to find some classic video game sprites, or draw your own in your favorite editor.”

Graphics are typically saved as BMP files, while the Game Frame is pre-loaded with over 40 new animations from eBoy. The hardware is AtmelArduino (custom PCB, + Adafruit Neopixel library) based and Williams says he plans on releasing the complete source source code once shipments begin.

Interested in learning more about the Game Frame? You can check out the project’s official Kickstarter page here.

This lo-fi display is made of 64 wooden blocks

A Maker and artist by the name of Han Lee has created a slick lo-fi display. Dubbed Wooden Pixel Display 64, the project comprises a series of analog wooden blocks that act as digital pixels.

The lo-fi display is powered by an Arduino Uno (Atmel ATmega328) and four Adafruit 16-Channel 12-bit PWM/Servo Shields tasked with controlling 64 servos. Interestingly, the 64 wood pixels in a 8×8 grid were originally prototyped using LEGO.

“One pixel might make you bored but it gives you something interesting when pixels make a form together. The WPD64 [was] recently presented at a generative art show in NYC recently,” Lee explained. “[I used a] laser cutting service from Pololu.com for the front cover which should have 64 square holes at the perfect grid.”

Interested in learning more? You can check out additional photos and videos on Lee’s official page here.

Building an open source Atomic Force Microscope

Alice Pyne, a PhD student at University College London, wants to provide schools with cheaper access to expensive imaging capabilities like the ones that allowed her team to capture the first in-water image of the DNA helix structure.

To do so, Pyne and her colleagues are developing a £300 (approximately $480) open source atomic force microscope (AFM) built around 3D-printed parts, Atmel-powered Arduino boards and LEGO bricks. It should be noted that an AFM isn’t exactly a traditional microscope, but rather, should be thought of as a high-resolution type of scanning probe microscopy (or 3D scanner) for imaging, measuring and manipulating matter at the nanoscale level.

“We want to enable children to see biological samples that they wouldn’t otherwise get to see,” Pyne told Wired.co.uk. “What makes [research-grade] AFMs so expensive is that they do a lot of different things and have many different modes. We’re imaging very small areas and doing the simplest type of atomic force microscopy.”

According to Pyne, the prototype microscope currently sits on a metal base, with housings built from LEGO and various 3D component holders, the latter of which is designed to ensure a perfect fit between the LEGO and component. The scanning stage – inspired by research from Bristol University – is also 3D-printed.

“Piezo actuators, components that move when an electric field is applied (or vice versa), were the most expensive part, taking up about half of the entire microscope’s cost,” writes Wired’s Kadhim Shubber. “When 10V is applied, the Arduino-controlled actuators move the scanning stage by just a single micron, allowing for incredible scanning resolution.”

Interested in learning more about the open source AFM? Be sure to check out the original article on Wired.

Video: The Google Authenticator-Arduino-LEGO mashup

Last week, Bits & Pieces took a closer look at an Arduino-powered Gmail (alert) lamp programmed to ping its creator in real-time about incoming emails labelled “important.” And today we’re going to get up close and personal with another Arduino-based project that involves a Google app known as Authenticator.

Essentially, Google’s Authenticator is a program that generates one time passwords (OTPs) for users, which are then employed as a second factor of authentication in conjunction with a “normal” password.

“OTPs work by having a shared secret and a synchronized clock on two devices,” HackADay’s Eric Evenchick explained. “When you generate the password, a hash based on the secret and timestamp is created. This proves that you have access to the secret, and can only be used once.”

As you can see in the video above (Note: hit the CC button for English captions), a Maker by the name of Luca Dentella designed a functioning authentication system using Google Authenticator and his Atmel-powered Arduino. The platform is showcased using a cute mini LEGO of a model house, complete with a door that swings open when the correct code sequence is entered.

“A web app is used to generate a secret that can be configured into the Arduino using an array, and into Google Authenticator using a QR code,” Evenchick added. “The Arduino is using a library that implements Time-based One Time Password authentication (TOTP).”

Interested in learning more about Luca Dentella’s Google Authenticator-Arduino-LEGO mashup? Be sure to check out his official project page here.

Arduino-Lego DIY book hits Amazon

Jon Lazar has penned an instructional book for Makers that describes how to use various Atmel-powered Arduino boards in a wide variety of LEGO projects.


“Once the list of projects was decided, some needed to get approval. [So] I began work on the non-licensed projects while reaching out to the IP holders of other projects,” Lazar explained. “While some turned down the inclusion of the book, the most exciting email I received was from the BBC allowing me to include the TARDIS in the book.”

According to the author, featured projects include:

  • The Android – Turning its head in response to Ultrasonic sensors.
  • Ultimate Machine – A machine that turns itself off.
  • Twitter Pet – A Karotz inspired LEGO sculpture that reacts to Twitter.
  • Crystal Ball – An RFID activated crystal ball that reacts when a wand is waved in front of it.
  • TARDIS – Lights and sounds animate the LEGO TARDIS.
  • Train Controller – Control LEGO trains with the Arduino.
  • Light Sensitive Box – A music box inspired box that will react when exposed to light.

All the projects are described in-depth, says Lazar, providing technical information in terms that are easy to understand.

“It starts from the beginning, teaching the basics and moving on to more advanced techniques, so that anyone can build them. It also includes a list of all parts necessary, so that all the necessary parts can be easily ordered to build them,” he added.

“Arduino and Lego Projects” can be ordered from Amazon for $15.39 in e-format.