Soft-switched circuit bent Funky Furby

This Furby bend has been prompted by a workshop I’m running with SoundNetwork in Liverpool next week. The demo Furby I’ve previously taken along to these things seems to have come off the worse for wear, so I wanted a bent Furby that’s still within its protective layers. I also wanted to try something a little bit different to the ubiquitous push and toggle switches, so I experimented with conductive thread to see how that changed the experience of affecting through touch.

Since my posts documenting circuit bending a Funky Furby consistently get a lot of traffic and people seem to find my ‘research‘ useful, I thought I’d better post this video:

Funky Furby bend with conductive thread from nikkipugh on Vimeo.

I’ve simply soldered two wires to the bend points, fed them out of a convenient hole in the back of the plastic shell, made a loop in the ends of them and sewn this loop to the inside of the fur with conductive thread.

After replacing the fur (I didn’t need to detach it fully, just open it up around the base and peel it up over the back so I could open the shell) I then sewed more thread to the points where the wires were attached.

Many thanks to Kit Larks and Lynne Bruning for supplying the raw materials.

Circuit-bending workshop at the British Science Festival

On Sunday the 19th of September I’m running three 1-hour circuit-bending workshops as part of the It’s a Geek’s World event, 10-4 at Aston University’s Students’ Guild Hall. (geeks_world on Twitter.)

Toy mp3 player, soon to be more with light and sound than the manufacturer anticipated...

Toy mp3 player, soon to be more with light and sound than the manufacturer anticipated!

We’ll be converting one of these toy mp3 players so that the sound it makes is controlled and distorted by light.

Circuit bend for It’s a Geek’s World. from nikkipugh on Vimeo.

The mod is pretty simple – so don’t worry if you’ve never soldered before – and as you can see from the video above the results are very engrossing. The kits come with earphones, so you can even play with them for as long as you like without risking familial discord! Alternatively… there’ll be another workshop where you can make your own audio amp. Yeah!

We'll switch over a couple of components to make the toy sensitive to light.

We'll switch over a couple of components to make the toy sensitive to light.

The workshop costs £3.50 and at the end of it you’ll have your very own bleepy chirpy tinkly thing to keep.
To reserve your place in advance you need to register on the It’s a Geek’s World website and then you can sign up for the different activities. There will also be a few places available to snap up on the day. My workshop runs at 10:15, 12:15 and 3:15.

The website is mostly booking system and doesn’t really show much of what will be going on, but take it from me: if you like gadgets, robots, and/or electronic noise then this is the place to be.

There are several workshops on offer throughout the day, ranging from learning to solder through to making a Beat Box sequencer with Mr Underwood. Something for everyone!

Nottinghack will be there with Drawdio kits. We had a fab evening when they came to fizzPOP for a Drawdio workshop, so that’s also tried, tested and approved!

We’re not neglecting the blinky light side of things either – there will be workshops for making these colour-changing boxes and a few other LED treats too.

Colour-changing light box

Colour-changing light box

As well as the workshops there will be people from Curious Minds (they of the Star Wars Force Trainer), oomlout, RobotBits and others. Expect interesting things to see, touch and interact with.

Others from fizzPOP will of course be there too, so come along and say hi – we’ll say hi back if we can hear you over all the bleeping noises!

glow bugs in a jar

Continuing my learning of electronics doodads, this week I have been introducing myself to the 555 timer and a display driver.

I’d rescued a load of the 555 chips out of some junked circuitboards, so when I saw this instructable for fireflies in a jar I thought I’d give it a go. (This page was also useful, as was this datasheet because I could only get a 4033 not a 4026 – pin 14 to ground people, pin 14 to ground.)

When the parts came the 1500uF capacitors were HUGE, so I thought I’d run with that rather than trying to make wires and parts invisible.

Here’s what I ended up with instead of fireflies:

Each glow bug is made out of - and only of - the components requred for that part of the circuit. All parts are functional.

Each glow bug is made out of - and only of - the components requred for that part of the circuit. All parts are functional.

After trawling some charity shops and finally finding a couple of glass jars, I squeezed in five bugs, the circuitry and some sand donated by a friend.

Making it really difficult to photograph in the process!

Battery and circuit embedded in the lid. Who wants a laser cutter? I want a laser cutter.

Battery and circuit embedded in the lid. Who wants a laser cutter? I want a laser cutter.



The capacitors are a nice way to get the LEDs to fade in and out. I’m using a 330 ohm resistor to get that fade time. (I’m also using a 220k resistor as R2 in the timer circuit to give an interval of about 14 seconds between changes.

Here’s some not great video that sort of shows the effect:

Untitled from nikkipugh on Vimeo.

Rest assured they’re pretty awesome when seen with your own eyes, ‘cos eyes are amazing.

Circuit-bent furby makes an appearance

Small-child-and-circuit-bent-furby win. from nikkipugh on Vimeo.

See, it’s all about the performance for one.

British Science Festival

It's a Geek's World: Sunday 19th September, 10-4

It's a Geek's World: Sunday 19th September, 10-4

As part of the British Science Festival this September, myself and several other fizzPOP types are contributing various activities as part of the It’s a Geek’s World event. Entrance is free, but I believe there will be small charges made for some of the kits that you can construct with us and then take home.

Organised by Dr Kate Sugden of Aston University’s Electronic Engineering department there will be plenty of opportunities for you to make things that go blink, beep or ping at the various workshops that run throughout the day. (Sunday 19th September, 10-4, in the Aston Uni Students’ Guild Hall at Gosta Green.)

Registration will get going over on the Geek’s World website in the coming weeks and there’s also a Twitter account to watch at @geeks_world.

Save the date and stand by for more details for what’s shaping up to be a cool day full of things to learn and make!

circuitbent easy button

After Jimmie Rodgers described his use of it for circuit-bending workshops, I thought I’d investigate a simple hack of the Staples easy button.

Prototyping with a breadboard

Prototyping with a breadboard

I swapped out the clock(?) resistor on the circuitboard for a light dependent resistor and here are the results:

circuitbent easy button from nikkipugh on Vimeo.

Except, that’s not all the results!

There’s not a lot to this thing: you vary the amount of light getting to the light dependent resistor and it affects the speed at which the “that was easy” sample is played back. It’s highly addictive though. It’s just the right size and weight to go in your hand and there are so many different effects you can get from it. There’s even a noticeable change in behaviour depending on what time of day you play with it.

Not that I’ve been playing with it instead of getting on with some work, you understand…

Moving forward with the secret knock in a box

A few months ago I made a box with a secret knock in it for an interview for a school project:

box with a secret knock in it. from nikkipugh on Vimeo.

It’s proved to be very popular, so it’s time to take it out of its prototyping stage and into something a bit more robust.

The version I’ve been using so far runs off a Real Bare Bones Board mounted on a breadboard. It’s OK, but I need to keep checking it all the time to make sure the wires haven’t come out. Not ideal if you’ve got a dozen young children clamouring around to try and guess the hidden knock!

I could move it to perfboard or something similar, but I suspect I’m going to be making several of these in the future, so I’m using it as a project to learn a bit about making Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs).

The first stage has been to eliminate the RBBB and move to a freestanding chip. I followed the approach on the Standalone Arduino / ATMega chip on breadboard Instructable.

I then combined this with the power supply from this ITP tutorial on breadboarding an Arduino. And finally added all the switches and gubbins from the original circuit.

Freestanding ATMEGA with additional project circuitry

Freestanding ATMEGA with additional project circuitry

It worked!

…and was a nice bit of learning too – I feel all empowered now!

Putting it all together. With arrows.

Putting it all together. With arrows.

Having ascertained that it wasn’t all going to go fizz or POP, the next stage is to start arranging all the bits into a nice PCB layout.

…And for me to profusely thank Dr Sugden and the Eng Soc students at Aston University who are proving to be top notch fizzPOP collaborators and walked me through this afternoon’s learning. Much appreciated.

What’s next?!

Circuit-bending a Funky Furby #7: performance for one

Since I started this circuit-bent Furby project, people have been nudging me to do some sort of a performance with it.

I struggle with this idea, I think for two main reasons.

The first is that I’ve never been to a performance that even remotely indicates to me what a circuit-bent Furby gig might be like. What might a circuit-bent Furby gig be like?

The second is that, as Danny started to get close to with his questioning of how I relate to the Furby as I’m messing with its circuits, the interesting thing about this kind of object for me is how people interact with it.

Furby & Thingamagoop by Katchooo on Flickr

'Furby & Thingamagoop' by Katchooo on Flickr

Fiona asked me to bring the Furby along to her recent birthday party. Brilliant! A chance to see how other people play with it!

It was great to just sit back and watch as different people responded to the thing in different ways. Also good was how people responded when the Furby failed to respond …and the different ways in which frustration, anger and dominance were expressed! This is the stage where I start to find out what it is that I have made. Up until then, it’s just been a learning project as I try and improve my electronics skills. It starts to come alive only once I put it into the hands of other people.

So, the idea of a performance and therefore of an audience is quite an alien one for me. I’m more interested in participants; in audiences of one.

Here’s Pete figuring out Furby-Thingamagoop interaction:

Performance for Furby and Thingamagoop from nikkipugh on Vimeo.

Would you like a circuit-bent Furby?

I’m unlikely to part with this one (still needs a name, by the way), but I’d like to know if people would be interested in commissioning their very own circuit-bent Furby?

well-funky furby

well-funky furby

It looks like Funky Furbies (like the one above, video here) are going on ebay for about £20, so let’s say that after they’ve been circuit-bent and had extra components put in etc etc you’re looking of a starting price of around £50.

furbile from nikkipugh on Vimeo.

It might be possible to get a smaller one, like the above, on ebay for less, maybe even £5, but that depends on how the auctions play out…

Anyway, if you’re interested in commissioning your own unique little ear-wiggling bleepy thing please contact me and we can arrange a design brief and a budget to work to.

Circuit-bending a Funky Furby #6: new ears

Furby Ears from nikkipugh on Vimeo.

I replaced the LEDs from the last round of modifications with 4 white LEDs (in parallel) and a 1k ohm resistor per ear. Much better!

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