Here is a dock design that can wirelessly charge your smartphone or tablet, and lets you play your favorite racing game as well. This is based on the TOMY Turnin’ Turbo Dashboard toy from the 80’s, and is inspired by this neat mod I saw on Youtube. There was a time when gaming peripherals similar to this were made for smart devices, I doubt such a thing will ever happen again.
Some Things I Like
Here’s a list of the many neat things I’ve liked from the past few years, most of which aren’t well-known so I want to show them off here. These can be gift suggestions or something you might enjoy,
1. Retro-Bit Super Retro-Cade (left). This plug-and-play console is my daily driver for older retro games. It has 100+ games built-in, two controllers, HDMI output, and an SD Card slot. I love it because it’s easy to use, easy to add games to, and is just a solid all-round machine. I’ve wrestled with a few Raspberry Pi consoles in the past, and the Super Retro-Cade was a walk in the park to use. Highly recommended.
2. LDK Game (right). This was the first of many Chinese handhelds that have come out in the past 18 months, and it’s been another daily driver for me when I hit the road. It’s easy to pocket, and adding games over USB is a breeze. My one complaint: only about 3 hours of battery life. There are many other handhelds with analog sticks and wider form factors, but I mostly play 8-bit and 16-bit games so this is perfect for me. If I had to get a system with analog controls, it would be an Anbernic handheld (the 350M, 350P, or 351).
3. Tiny Arcade DIY Kit (left). I don’t own this but it is very cool device! You put the whole thing together and load it up with freeware games (like Tiny Tetris and Tiny Invaders). A perfect project for kids or adults who like to tinker with stuff. They are about the size of those Super Impulse Tiny Arcade toys which have been popular for a few years now.
4. Haynes Retro Arcade Kit (right). Another kit that you build yourself, the end result is a PONG game with a screen made up of LED bulbs. Requires soldering of wires, so it’s not exactly for kids. If you would prefer something that is already built, Arcade1UP is releasing a Mini PONG Jr in the near future too.
For years I thought it would be fun to embed a smart assistant like Siri or Alexa into a plush toy like Teddy Ruxpin so a child can converse endlessly with a character they enjoy. However I was not comfortable with all the electronics that would be inside the plush toy, or the upkeep that would be needed (like charging the battery or cleaning the plush toy).
I feel it would be best if all of the electronics were completely separated from the plush toy, and placed in a walkie-talkie that the child can interact with. The plush toy would be holding a walkie-talkie too, but it would have no electronics, it is just a prop. The battery, speaker, microphone — everything needed to engage with a smart assistant is in the main walkie-talkie.
As for the smart assistant, I’m not sure if Siri or Alexa can be given the helium treatment to sound like Elmo, or if the character’s voice actor would need to record new dialogue, but either way the voice is a very important feature for this toy, it is the main selling point after all.
Ideally a child can have entire conversations with Elmo, play games, or even be quizzed for an educational aspect. The sky’s the limit with smart assistants, although this one would need parental controls obviously.
Tiny Train Set
In 2006 a new miniature scale of model trains were introduced, the T gauge. I believe we can go even smaller! This is a complete train set that is the size of a book, featuring a motorized train that has variable speed and the ability to switch tracks on demand.
The locomotive is propelled by a magnet attached to an on-rails motor in the base. This system is a lot like those mechanical PONG tables which debuted a few years ago. The nose of the train has the metal needed to be pulled by the magnet below.
The rails system is something you’d find in a 3D printer, image scanner, or even an Etch-A-Sketch. It would guide the tiny train along its route that is stored in an onboard computer. It would be nice to swap out the track for different layouts (these could be printed on cardboard).
This desk toy would feature dedicated controls for the track switches, and a big dial for the speed. When this device is powered off, the train is automatically diverted to a side rail where it parks. The design above is sparse but the layout could be populated with buildings, trees, vehicles, and so forth. Lights and sounds are also possible.
There are drawbacks! Only one functioning train is possible, the train length would need to be short, and the terrain would need to be flat (you can add tunnels, but no bridges over rivers for example). And lastly if the motor is loud this concept wouldn’t be worthwhile, this thing needs to be quiet!
In the meantime you can buy these neat tiny trains but they feature basic oval tracks.
One-Handed Retro Game Controller
This controller design is to help make older game systems like the NES and SNES become more accessible. While it looks like a regular joystick, this was inspired by automatic shift knobs seen in modern cars. The hand rests on top and moves the stick for D-Pad inputs. The thumb controls the action buttons (A B X Y plus START/SELECT), while the index and middle fingers hit the L and R shoulder buttons (much like clicking on a mouse).
The action buttons can be placed on both sides of the stick to make this for both lefties and righties, OR another set of L and R buttons could be included to achieve the same dual functionality (the shape of the stick would need to be symmetrical). However it would be more comfortable, and better for button-mapping, if a dedicated version was made for right hands, and another for left hands.
While it could be wielded like a regular joystick, this controller may need to be placed in a spot that is similar to the aforementioned car shifter knob. The user would need to be sitting in a reclined position, with the controller parked next to their knee. This layout would yield the most comfort, especially for prolonged gaming sessions.
SNES was used as the example here, but the idea could be applied to most 8-bit and 16-bit systems, or other systems that had a single directional input (Saturn, Dreamcast). I already designed a one-handed controller for the Atari.
Another keychain design, this time commemorating Google’s famous dinosaur video game (which occurs when you have no internet connection on the Chrome browser). It’s a fun game that helps pass the time, and it would be nice to have in a pocket-sized package.
This design borrows a screen and solar panel from a calculator (engineering or scientific calculator for a fancier dot matrix screen), the idea being you’d have this to play with when your phone dies. It features one recessed button, which is pressed for 2 seconds to power the device on or off.
The solar aspect could be removed for a more traditional battery-based device that can offer numerous features like a power bank or USB drive, but personally I’d rather have one less gadget to charge all the time.
Kiddie Ride Flight Stick
To fully experience Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020, you need a serious flight stick. Behold, a design based on those kiddie rides of yesteryear! If you are not aware, a “kiddie ride” is a coin-operated machine, usually located in a mall or department store, that allows a toddler to ride a small vehicle or animal. These rides aren’t as fun as they look.
This is merely a joystick with a toy plane attached. Holding the tail will allow you to tilt the plane in all directions, so the plane in-game will mimic the behavior of this flight stick plane.
Turning the rudder will… turn the rudder in-game. That takes care of all 3 axis of movement! Many joysticks can be rotated as well, so the plane could be turned in this fashion too, if the rudder is a pain to use.
The coin box can operate as the acceleration thingy planes use…looks like a big lever? It’s a bit gimmicky but that is what this controller is about. There are a few buttons on the stand as well.
This was a fun design, I enjoyed making it. When I first started my goal was to make an accessible flight stick (like this accessible steering controller) and it was pretty basic: a small plane balanced/perched on a raised stand, which can be pivoted and turned with a single finger. It couldn’t work, the user would be constantly adjusting the plane and it would be tedious and slow.