Category Archives: evil mad science

Project – Arduino “Book Monster”


Recently we saw a neat project by the people from Evil Mad Scientist – their “Peek-O-Book“, a neat take on a book with a shy monster inside, based on hardware from their Snap-O-Lantern kit. Not wanting to fork out for the postage to Australia we decided to make our own version, of which you can follow along.

This is a fun project that doesn’t require too much effort and has a lot of scope for customisation. There’s no right or wrong when making your own (or this one!) so just have fun with it.


First, you’ll need a book of some sort, something large enough to hide the electronics yet not too large to look “suspicious” – then cut the guts out to make enough space for the electronics. Then again it’s subjective, so get whatever works for you. Coincidentally we found some “dummy books” (not books for dummies) that were perfect for the job:

dummy book

After spraying the inside with matt black paint, the inside is better suited for the “eyes in the dark” effect required for the project:

dummy book internal

The “book” had a magnet and matching metal disk on the flap to aid with keep the cover shut, however this was removed as it will not allow for smooth opening with the servo.

The electronics are quite simple if you have some Arduino or other development board experience. Not sure about Arduino? You can use any microcontroller that can control a servo and some LEDs. We’re using a Freetronics LeoStick as it’s really small yet offers a full Arduino Leonardo-compatible experience, and a matching Protostick to run the wires and power from:

Freetronics Leostick and Protostick

By fitting all the external wiring to the Protostick you can still use the main LeoStick for other projects if required. The power is from 4 x AA cells, with the voltage reduced with a 1n4004 diode:

battery power and diode

And for the “eyes” of our monster – you can always add more if it isn’t too crowded in the book:

Arduino LEDs

We’ll need a resistor as well for the LEDs. As LEDs are current driven you can connect two in series with a suitable dropping resistor which allows you to control both if required with one digital output pin. You can use the calculator here to help determine the right value for the resistor.

Finally a servo is required to push the lid of the book up and down. We used an inexpensive micro servo that’s available from Tronixlabs:

Arduino servo

The chopsticks are cut down and used as an extension to the servo horn to give it more length:

Arduino servo mounted

Don’t forget to paint the arm black so it doesn’t stand out when in use. We had a lazy attack and mounted the servo on some LEGO bricks held in with super glue, but it works. Finally, here is the circuit schematic for our final example – we also added a power switch after the battery pack:

book monster schematic small

To recap  – this is a list of parts used:

After some delicate soldering the whole lot fits neatly in the box:

Arduino book monster final

Arduino Sketch

The behaviour of your “book monster” comes down to your imagination. Experiment with the servo angles and speed to simulate the lid opening as if the monster is creeping up, or quickly for a “pop-up” surprise. And again with the LED eyes you can blink them and alter the brightness with PWM. Here’s a quick sketch to give you an idea:

You can watch our example unit in this video.

Frankly the entire project is subjective, so just do what you want.


Well that was fun, and I am sure this will entertain many people. A relative is a librarian so this will adorn a shelf and hopefully give the children a laugh. Once again, thanks to the people from Evil Mad Science for the inspiration for this project – so go and buy something from their interesting range of kits and so on.

And if you enjoyed this article, or want to introduce someone else to the interesting world of Arduino – check out my book (now in a third printing!) “Arduino Workshop”.


Have fun and keep checking into Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column, or join our forum – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website. Sign up – it’s free, helpful to each other –  and we can all learn something.

Kit review – Evil Mad Science Larson Scanner

Hello readers

Time yet again for another kit review. Today’s kit is the Larson Scanner from Evil Mad Science. What a different name for a company; their byline is “DIY and open source hardware for art, education and world domination”. Art? Yes. Education? Definitely. World domination? Possibly – you could use the blinking LEDs to hypnotise the less intelligent world leaders out there.

Anyhow, what is a Larson Scanner? Named in honour of Glen A. Larson the creator of television shows such as Battlestar Galactica and Knight Rider – as this kit recreates the left and right blinking motion used in props from those television shows. For example:

The kit itself is quite inexpensive, easy to assemble – yet can be as complex as you want it to be. More about that later, for now let’s put one together and see how it performs. There are two versions of the kit, one with 5mm clear LEDs and our review model with 10mm diffused red LEDs. The kit arrives inside a huge resealable anti-static bag, as such:


Upon opening the bag we have the following parts (there was an extra LED and resistor, thanks):


… the PCB:


… which is nicely done with a good silk-screen and solder mask. And finally:


A very handy item – a battery box with power switch. The kit is powered by 2 x AA cells (not included!). And finally, the instructions:


At this point you can see that this kit is designed for the beginner in mind. The instructions are easy to read, clear, and actually very well done. If you are looking for a kit to get someone interested in electronics and to practice their soldering, you could do a lot worse than use this kit. Construction was very easy, starting with the resistors:


followed by the capacitor and button:


then the microcontroller:


… no IC socket. For a beginners’ kit, perhaps one should have been included. Next was the battery box. Some clever thinking has seen holes in the PCB to run the wires through before soldering into the board – doing so provides a good strain relief for them:


… and finally the LEDs. Beginners may solder them in one at a time:


however it is quicker to line them up all at once than solder in one batch:


… which leaves us with the final product:


Operation is very simple – the power switch is on the battery box. The button on the PCB controls the speed of LED scrolling, and if held down switches the brightness between low and high. Now for some action video of the Larson Scanner in operation:

Well that really was fun, a nice change from the usual things around here.

But wait, there’s more… although the Larson Scanner is a good training kit, it can also function in other interesting ways. The kit is completely open-source, you can download the PCB layout file, circuit schematic and microcontroller code. Get two or more and link them together to make a really wide LED display – expansion instructions are available from here. If you solder in a 6-pin PCB header to the area marked J1 on the PCB, you can reprogram the microcontroller using an STK500-compatible programmer.

After sitting my Larson Scanner next to the computer tower for a few minutes, I had contemplated fitting it into a 5.25″ drive bay to make my own Cylon PC, however that might be a little over the top. However my PC case has some dust filters on the front, which would allow LEDs to shine through in a nicely subdued way. Mounting the Larson Scanner PCB inside the computer case will be simple, and power can be sourced from the computer power supply – 5V is available from a disk drive power lead.

If you are going to modify your PC in a similar fashion, please read my disclaimer under “boring stuff” first.

The Larson Scanner can run on 3.3V without any alteration to the supplied components. What needs to be done is to use a voltage regulator to convert the 5V down to 3.3V. My example has used a 78L33 equivalent, the TI LP2950 as it is in stock. The power comes from a drive power cable splitter as such:


You may have a spare power plug in your machine, so can tap from that. 5V is the red lead, and GND is the adjacent black lead. Don’t use yellow – it is 12V. It is then a simple matter of running 5V from the red lead to pin 1 of the regulator, GND from the Larson Scanner and PC together to pin 2, and 3.3V out from the regulator to the PCB 3.3V. Insulation is important with this kind of work, so use plenty of heatshrink:


… then cover the whole lot up:


Now to locate a free power plug in the machine. It has been a while since opening the machine – time for a dust clean up as well:


Mounting the PCB is a temporary affair until I can find some insulated mounting  standoffs:


However it was worth the effort, the following video clip shows the results in action:

So there you have it. The Larson Scanner is an ideal kit for the beginner, lover of blinking LEDs, and anyone else that wants to have some easy blinking fun. You can buy Larson Scanner kits in Australia from Little Bird Electronics, or directly from Evil Mad Science for those elsewhere.

As always, thank you for reading and I look forward to your comments and so on. Furthermore, don’t be shy in pointing out errors or places that could use improvement. Please subscribe using one of the methods at the top-right of this web page to receive updates on new posts, follow me on twitter or facebook, or join our Google Group for further discussion.

High resolution images are available on flickr.

[Note – The kit was purchased by myself personally and reviewed without notifying the manufacturer or retailer]

Kit review – Evil Mad Science Diavolino

[Updated 17/01/2013]

In this review we examine a kit from the people at Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories – their Diavolino. In English this means “little devil”. This little devil is a low-cost Arduino Duemilanove compatible board – with a few twists.

This is sold as a bare-bones kit, so you really need to plan ahead with regards to how you want to use it. It does not include a USB interface, nor power socket, header sockets, IC socket, nor a voltage regulator. This may sound like a bad thing – but it is not 🙂 This kit is perfect for those who wish to make a permanent project using the Arduino system, without spending the extra on a whole board, and without the hassles of making your own barebones PCB version. So let’s have a look… the kit ships in a nice reusable anti-static bag:


and upon turfing out the contents, one receives:


Which is just enough to have a basic setup. The instructions on their web site mention the inclusion of some zero-ohm resistors to be used as jumpers, but these were not included. However that is a non-issue, some resistor lead clippings will do the job. EML have gone to a lot of trouble with the printed-circuit board. It certainly is different to the normal green or blue ones out there. It is very well detailed with component position labels, and all components are through-hole. The other side of the board is also printed this way:


There is also a nice instruction laminated card included in the bag which has enough information to get your started. Furthermore, there is an excellent instruction manual available for download here (10 MB). Finally, this is an open-source hardware product, so the designers have also made available the gEDA CAD files.

Now for assembly. Normally I would photograph each step, however the instructions available for download are so good, I won’t need to 🙂 Eleven out of ten for the instructions. Soldering it together is quite easy, however I did supply my own IC socket – I am just not a fan of soldering expensive parts (I get the shakes sometimes), however if you are confident, go for it.

Before deciding to permanently solder in that microcontroller, you will first need to take into account how you will be programming it. As the board does not support the usual native USB interfacing, you can’t just plug in the cable like a normal board. The Diavolino does have an interface for a TTL-level cable – so if you have (for example) a USB FTDI cable, you can program it via the USB port. But considering an FTDI cable is around $20, you might as well just buy a normal board like an Eleven instead. It only took around fifteen minutes to get to this stage:


For my personal use as another bench-based board  (that sounds a little odd…) I will power it from the FTDI cable, so a link is required behind the TTL input pins – as well as adding the  6-pin and 8-pin header sockets. The easiest way to solder those in is to turn the whole thing upside down and plug it on top of an existing shield, as such:


However if you don’t want to buy an FTDI cable – and you already have another Duemilanove board, the cheapest way to program the microcontroller is to just insert it into a  Duemilanove-type board, upload the sketch, then drop the chip into the Diavolino.

You also need to decide on how to power the board. If you supply 4.5~5.5V, all you need is to feed in the power wires. If you are going to use more than 7V, you will need a 78L05 power regulator, 10uF electrolytic capacitor and a DC socket to use a plug-pack if necessary (see the instructions). However, a 78L05 can only supply 100 mA of current (see the data sheet.pdf), so you won’t be able to use some products like a MAX7219 LED driver and many LEDs.

Unfortunately there isn’t enough space for a TO-220 sized 7805 1 amp regulator, so you will need to introduce 5V using an external supply hard-wired into the board if you need more than 100mA of current. Or you can power it from the USB FTDI cable for desktop use.



So there you have it – another successful kit build. This was an interesting alternative to the Duemilanove, and a great solution for a permanent project, or for someone who wants another board on the cheap. If you can work with the power supply current restrictions, all is well. So get one or more, have fun with it, and give one  to someone else to get them cooking as well.

In the meanwhile have fun and keep checking into Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column? And join our friendly Google Group – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website. Sign up – it’s free, helpful to each other –  and we can all learn something.
[Note – this kit was purchased by myself personally and reviewed without notifying the manufacturer or retailer]