There are few times where I find myself wishing I were a child again. I often hear others reminisce of days gone by, wishing they could live it all again, but to me, the whole idea just sounds like a lot of work. The one exception is when it comes to toys. So many times I come across some new toy at the department store or from others at GeekDad, and I think, “Wow, I wish they had those when I was a kid!” However, I would never go out and buy a new toy just for myself.
Well, almost never.
There are two toys released in 2015 that I just had to have. Neither one are really a “toy” per se, but they are generally geared towards children. The first is the Star Wars BB-8 robot from Sphero, which is hands down the hottest holiday toy since the Furby. The second is the littleBits Electronics Gizmos & Gadgets Kit. I don’t have the BB-8 yet, but I did receive a Gizmos and Gadgets for review from the folks at littleBits. Since it was October, and I had BB-8 on the brain, there was only one solution – I would make my own. With pumpkins!
I’m not the first one to think of making a BB-8 with two pumpkins. Given the time of year and the shape of the little droid, the idea was pretty self-evident. You can find numerous examples online, but I wanted mine to be different. First, in our household, since we’re all makers, we’re kind of nuts for the two big maker holidays, Halloween and Valentine’s Day. Every year we try to come up with some new and exciting carving or papercraft, so unlike most of the other BB-8s online, I wanted to actually carve mine, not paint it. Second, I wanted it to move. I figured getting it to roll around was beyond the scope of the two days I had for building, but I could at least get the head to spin around.
The first, and simplest, step was to configure the littleBits. I connected a 9V power bit to a wireless receiver, and from there, I split the power off to an LED (not included in the kit) and the DC motor. The motor has three settings: clockwise, counter-clockwise, and variable. I set it to variable so I could have his head rotate both directions. I mounted the motor to the lid of an old plastic canister I had and dropped the rest of the bits into the canister, taping the LED to the side of the canister pointing out of a hole I drilled.
Next, I connected another 9V power bit to a slider and then to the wireless transmitter. When the slider is in the middle, the DC motor will not spin. Sliding either left or right will spin the motor either clockwise or counter-clockwise. I had planned to attach the light sensing bit so that when trick-or-treaters walked by it would rotate, but since I didn’t actually finish the project until about 1am on November first, it seemed pointless.
Once I had the electronics sorted, it was time to fit it all into the pumpkins. I flattened the bottom of the small pumpkin and scooped out the innards, then cut the top off of the large pumpkin and scooped it out as well. I shoved the canister into the large pumpkin, using a piece of styrofoam to stop it from going all the way in. Next, I hot glued the litteBits wheel to another piece of styrofoam and wedged it into the small pumpkin. I slid the wheel onto the motor spindle and turned it on.
And, nothing happened.
As it turns out, pumpkins, even small ones, are really heavy. I could give it a nudge and get it spinning very slowly, but it wouldn’t change direction without another nudge. I even tried applying a clear coat to both surfaces and using spray silicon lubricant, to no avail. The solution was to scrape out the little pumpkin until it was nearly nothing but rind. I thought this would become an issue when it came time to carve, but it turned out just fine. Once I lost a lot of weight off of the little pumpkin, I had to use some wooden shishkabob skewers to hold the styrofoam in place. I slid the wheel once again onto the motor axle and turned it on.
Next, it was time to make a mess. I found pictures of BB-8 online and sketched out my carving. Using a Dremel and an assortment of bits (I found the sanding bit to be the most useful), I went to work. If you’ve never carved a pumpkin with a Dremel, I can’t recommend it enough. Whether you prefer to cut out pieces like a traditional Jack-o’-Lantern or just shave off layers so the light can shine through, the cutting and sanding tools will make short work of your gourd. Just be aware you will end up looking like a Jack-o’-Lantern Patrick Bateman. I was covered from head to toe in a find mist of pumpkin, and my hands will probably be orange for a week, but it was all worth it.