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The Biggest, Baddest Control Panel

When I was 18, my little bro’ Andrew was only five years old. I remember making a control panel to keep him (well, both of us, really) amused.

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I just received an email from my chum, Aubrey Kagan, who currently hangs his hat in Canada. Born in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Aubrey has forgotten more engineering than I’ll ever know. The focus of Aubrey’s message was a picture of a bunch of switches and lights. The accompanying text started as follows: “My 18-month-old grandson is besotted with switches and door latches and taps (faucets).”
Sam’s Switches (Source: Aubrey Kagan)
Aubrey went on to say, “He insists on being allowed to control everything from lights to microwave ovens to the taps in the bathroom, so I decided to make him something with lots of switches. As you can see, I tried to make each switch different, just to see how quickly he figures it all out.” He closed by saying, “It’s just as well that I put it in a sturdy box, because the second thing he did was stand on it (at which time he discovered that switches hurt your feet). So far, it’s been a great success; now I want to see if the interest lasts.” What an awesome grandad! My first thought was that I would have loved to have something like this when I was a kid. This also reminded me of my recent column about my own grandfather, along with the quote by Robert Brault: “To a small child, the perfect granddad is unafraid of big dogs and fierce storms but absolutely terrified of the word boo.” When I was 18, my little bro’ Andrew was only five years old. I remember making a control panel to keep him (well, both of us, really) amused. This was based on a sheet of pressed board, onto which I mounted a bunch of switches and small 6V incandescent bulbs. I also had a small tape recorder, which I used to record things like, “The rocket is almost ready to launch to the moon” and “The captain of the rocket is Andrew James Maxfield” and “10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1… Here we go!” Andrew and I would set this up under the dining table, which we would cover with a bed sheet. Then we would sit there for hours playing the tape, flicking the switches, talking about what it would be like to be spacemen, and asking important questions as to the relative chances of (a) meeting aliens and (b) mom having ice cream in the freezer. Unfortunately, the way my brain works is a bit like a chain of dominoes falling, because each thought triggers another. In this case, my next thought was of Jeff Smith, who built his son the most amazing Mission Control Desk.  
The best thing is reading the comments to Jeff’s video, like the guy who said, “I’m 30 years old, but maybe Jeff could still adopt me and make me one as well?” And you can’t help but feel sorry for the guy who said, “I made my daughter a bed for her Barbies… now I feel like the world’s worst dad…” I just watched the video again. Everything about it is awesome — the covered switches — the sound effects — I’m currently having to fight myself from creating a BOM and ordering everything from Digi-Key. I tell you, when my son Joseph has kids, he’d better clear an area in his house for the biggest, baddest control panel you ever did see (if the grandkids are lucky, I might even let them have a turn on it occasionally LOL). What say you? Could you be tempted to build something like this for your own kids or grandkids?

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Aubrey Kagan

Since no one has asked, let me describe how the switches differ. All the LEDs have internal resistors, designed to operate at 6VDC. I chose to use internal resistors to make life easier and 6V because I was using 4xAA batteries and allowed for an external power connection to a USB power supply.

There are basically 3 rows- let me designated them A, B, and C and let’s say 5 columns, although no really aligned. A1 and A2 are the familiar light switches. I am not sure what the terminology is for the arrangement of switches for a light over a staircase where you can turn the light on or off from two different places. I an electrical store these are called (erroneously) “3 way switches”. They are nothing more than SPDT switches and that is the arrangement you see at A3. Not that my grandson understands yet, but it implements an exclusive Or function.

A4 is a centre-off switch. Up turns the bi-colour LED above it red, dowm- green.

A5 is a rocker switch.

B4 in fact is not a switch at all, but a pot that varies the light intensity of the LED beneath it.

B5 is simply an ON/OFF switch for the box.

C1 is a rotary switch- turn clockwise one click, the LED is on, turn clockwise to the next click, the LED is off. C2 is a toggle switch. C3 latching pushbutton- each push toggles the LED on and off. C4 is a momentary toggle and C5 is a momentary pushbutton.

Mark Rackin

My grandsons are all a bit too old for this; however, all three had as a favorite (ill-advised) toy a mechanical version with all different kinds of locks etc. Ill-advised because nothing in their houses could be securely locked, because their first hour or so with the new toy (passed down from Grandson #1) had permanently engrained in their memories how to open ANY lock (of the typical “baby-proofing type at least). Oldest is now ten, and has been writing code for about 3 years…. mostly his own games!

Aubrey Kagan

My grandson already knows how all the locks and latches work, although he hasn’t quite got the dexterity or height to open all of them- however he does know where all the keys are kept so it is only a matter of time before he gets into trouble.

Paul Parry

That’s some control panel.. I would have loved one of them when I was little.. then I would have taken it apart to see how it works!
Super build and very lucky little boy 🙂

Paul Parry

That’s a double edged sword! Yes, would love a grandson or daughter.. but would then end up having all spare time taken up babysitting!

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