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Kevin Jordan's Toddler-Friendly Arduino Activity Board Project

Gareth Halfacree

Kevin Jordan's Arduino Activity Board

Toys for toddlers haven't changed a great deal over the years. Activity boards, like those produced by Fisher-Price, continue to prove popular - but few commercially-made variants are as impressive as this Arduino-powered project from Kevin Jordan, built as a gift for his young niece.

Like the mechanical activity boards of old, Kevin's board is designed to encourage experimentation and reward hand-eye coordination. Unlike mechanical activity boards, it's powered by an Arduino microcontroller and built from spare parts he had lying around: a set of interlocking gears, some arcade-style buttons, a kick-switch, break-beam sensor, distance sensor, fan, and even an Ethernet cable and corresponding RJ45 jack. As the user - in this case, Kevin's niece - interacts with each device, feedback in the form of coloured lights is provided as an instant reward.

It's not a great idea to give a toddler a pile of electronic components, so Kevin needed a chassis to house the project. Using his local hackspace's computer-numeric controlled (CNC) mill, Kevin was able to turn a design built in the SolidWorks 3D modelling application into a wooden casing into which the components could be safely mounted. A 3D printer was also used, to create custom mounts for the break-beam sensor, while a laser cutter was used for the 'near-far sensor' and its dial.

With everything wired together and a Sketch running on the internal Arduino microcontroller, all Kevin had to do was seal up the rear with some spare acrylic and take it to his niece - a task which was complicated by the creation turning out to be slightly bigger than Kevin's suitcase would allow!

Started out last week with a goal of using stuff I had laying around the house to make an activity board for my 22 month old niece. Found a few gears, a Sharp distance sensor, a micro servo, some light switches, an Ethernet wall plug, some LED lights, a counter, a fan, some buttons, and an extra break beam sensor from my cat wheel. I figured I could make something like my grandfather made for us when we were kids with locks and hinges but updated a bit with an Arduino.

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