I have to admit for some time I have been stalled with my Vtech Alphabet Apple circuit bending project. I love the toy aesthetically and have always felt like there should be more bends available then what I was able to find. However even after hours of experimenting and dissecting this toy I was left feeling somewhat underwhelmed with the results. Over the weekend though I brought it back out determined to turn it into a more functional instrument, and to do that I needed to create a trigger oscillator.
If you want to get caught up before going forward don’t hesitate to visit my previous posts on this toy:
VTech Apple Part 1 – Kill Switch and Line Out
Vtech Apple Part 2 – Exploration and Pitch Adjustment
Vtech Apple Part 3 – Voltage Starve
Vtech Apple Part 4 – Body Contacts
Since I hadn’t had any luck finding a loop on the board I moved on to less straight forward methods. I decided what I needed was a way to send a signal at repeating intervals to one of the contacts on the button matrix to trick the Vtech Apple into thinking a button was being repeatedly pressed and trigger a repeating sound. By generating this signal independently I could manipulate its frequency and control to suit my needs.
Once I had a clear definition of what I needed to get the job done the solution seemed all to clear, what I needed was a 555 timer. By setting up an astable 555 timer as a trigger oscillator I could route the square wave signal into the button matrix to repeatedly trigger the button (or buttons) of my choosing. Further by using a potentiometer I would be able to adjust the frequency of the square wave and therefore control the time between button presses as needed.
This is a simple mock up of the circuit I used. Note that for this to work the positive voltage must be supplied by the toy itself and the ground must be share with the toy as well. This is easily accomplished by running the power from either the positive power connection on the Apple’s circuit board or directly from the kill switch installed in Part 1 . Just ensure it is connected at or past the kill switch so that the kill switch will remove power from the oscillator as well. Similarly the ground can be connected to any ground point on the circuit.
After testing my plan using a breadboard I put together this small 555 timer circuit on a scrap piece of perf board I had laying around from a previous project. I did my best to keep everything as small and compact as possible as my space inside the toy is somewhat limited. I’ve seen some circuit benders using what is called the “Dead Bug Method” in these situations to further minimize the size of the circuit. When building a dead bug circuit the components and connections are soldered directly to the pins on the IC rather than onto a piece of perf board. This can be an excellent way to shrink the circuit for those really tight fits but also leaves you with a more fragile product so since I could get away with using a board in this toy I did in order to get more stability and durability from the circuit. I will revisit dead bug circuits in a future post but in the interim there are many demonstrations of the method on YouTube if you deem it necessary.
Once I had my 555 trigger oscillator circuit built the next step was to install it in my Vtech. I started out by planning positions and drilling holes for the potentiometer, switch and LED. Once these were in place I began the process of wiring the leads I had left on the 555 trigger oscillator circuit to their respective locations on the toy. On the diagram below I have marked the approximate paths of each wire upon installation. In planning this mod I did my best to limit the number of wires crossing between the back and front sections of the toy as these wires tend to get put under a lot of stress when the toy is being opened and closed. To achieve this I pulled power from my kill switch and sent ground directly to the negative terminal on the battery box. Since the switch and pot are mounted on the back portion this means only the pulse out wires have to cross over to the front half of the apple.
You may also notice that there are two pulse out wires leading from the switch to the button matrix. I used a 3 position on-off-on switch for this bend which allowed me to send the pulse to two locations based on the switch position (as well as nowhere in the off position) By connecting the opposing sides of the switch to different positions on the key matrix I am able to choose between two different buttons when running the oscillator. If you were so inclined and had the space to work with you could take this even further using a rotary switch or patch bay to allow you to select where the pulse was being sent. If there is a specific key you are after which you are not finding by touching the pulse to the solder points on the matrix try using your probe to connect sets of two points on the matrix together. If you find that this is necessary to get the input you desire this can be done by bridging the two points with a transistor and feeding the pulse into the base (more on that in a future article).
Once everything was wired I secured the 555 circuit and LED with hot glue, taped down all the loose wires and closed up the toy. I have to say after playing with it a bit I am really enjoying this modification. I’ve been able to produce a host of strange noises and effects and without having to use a hand to continually press the buttons I feel like I’m finally able to take full advantage of the other bends on this device. I’ve been having particular fun using the power starve to produce glitches in conjunction with the continuous oscillating noise produced by raising the rate of the 555 to high frequencies.
That’s all for today but I hope you guys have fun. Happy soldering!
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