Serial-mouse-driven Etch-a-Sketch

Back in 2004, Jason Levin and Chris Hopkins, two students at Cornell, hacked a serial mouse into an Etch-a-Sketch:

The public was introduced to the EAS in 1960 and since then it has stayed virtually the same. This nostalgic toy is recognized by many generations and we decided to put a new spin on the device. Most Americans are familiar with the two knob design which allows a user to control the movement of a stylus by turning each knob. The left knob controls horizontal motion and the right knob moves the stylus vertically. Turning both knobs at the same time causes the stylus to draw out a diagonal line. We decided to mount a stepper motor on each knob and control those with the Atmel Mega 32. By connecting a serial mouse to the microcontroller and using our line drawing algorithm, we could move the stylus directly by moving the mouse. The ability to record movements and play them back is available for creating more interesting designs.

In designing this project, we decided to create something that was a mix of mechanical and electrical components and would ultimately be fun to use. Using an EAS would be a throwback to our childhood but adding the mouse also revitalized the toy. Many students who saw us working with the EAS were immediately interested in what we were doing because it is such a popular childhood toy. Though the control of an EAS with a mouse is not necessarily a practical project, we thought it would be a good way for us to practice our engineering skills and would be something entertaining to do.

Link (via Make)


  1. If these are ever introduced into the workplace, our GNP is going to plummet…

  2. I’m pretty sure Steve Ciarcia did this in BYTE magazine a long time ago… like 15+ years? Along with a lot of other fun and nutty (and not so nutty) things like computer controlled wood stove…

  3. I got hired to do that for an artist with an Amiga mouse once.

    It was a lot easier because the mouse signals could drive the stepper motors directly. They needed to be amped up with driver transistors , of course , but the signal was the same

  4. Ban Etch-a-Sketch. Contains highly explosive aluminum powder and component of thermite:

    Besides I want a servo-motor version (one with exact feedback of position in case the stepper motor skips a step).

    No wait, I want the Etch-a-Sketch company version. One that takes batteries and reproduce “dollar bill engraving” quality versions of all 1950s’-60s centerfolds.

    Better yet, link to a digital camera, a it will create frame-by-frame rendering of classic movies like ‘The Devil in Miss Jones’, in grayscale engravings.

    The technology exists is being improved:

    And there is some precedent: is not registered. Fair use doctrine might apply to even copyrighted work if you call it “creative art.” I’ll settle for subtitles (“oh yeah, oh yeah, harder baby, mmmmm!”)

  5. I love how he refers to it as “the EAS”, like it’s a piece of Black Ops hardware invented during the Cold War. Great!

  6. if you like that, you will go ape shit WILD over my USB driven ‘two sticks you can rub together’! Only $19.95, plus (S+H).

    In other news, still no cure for cancer…..

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