Arduino Drag Racing
1 week
April, 2013
For our prototyping class we had the task of designing a new form of ludic(playful) experience with toys. We took toy race cars and completely changed the way kids will interact with them. We created a drag racing game in which each player's car has its own color led. The led strip in the center flashes leds with color of the player depending on how far the car is on the track.
For the project, we were given a task: hack or modify an analog toy and turn it into an interactive toy for a particular target audience. We were also asked to use at least two inputs and two outputs, and encouraged to think of the experience that we wanted to create. For the purposes of this assignment, we were using Arduino, a relatively rapid prototyping and development environment for software/hardware modding.
We wanted the experience to be portable and easy to use so it could sit comfortably on a floor or table without taking up too much space. The goal was to have something that was fun and easy to play with, particularly if a child has different friends coming over. The novelty of the experience definitely contributes to the “cool” factor and will hopefully make kids more excited to race against their friends, especially if those friends bring over their own favorite race cars to test out. Each car’s color is tracked by the sensor to reinforce the race environment and make things more visually appealing.
Team members : Yevgeny Dreyband + Deepak Bhagchandani
We spent an afternoon in the mall going to the different toy stores, but returned to Target several times. A few ideas that tended to come up periodically were things like: competition, objects colliding with each other, and board games (due to having predictable pieces in play). Board games became were the topic of several discussions because when examining them it became clear that quite a lot of divergent game experiences were possible even with something as simple as a flat board and a few pieces. We definitely wanted something with more of a real-time aspect to it that would be fun to play with by oneself or with others. After about the second or third trip to Target, we began getting into circular debates about where to go with board games so we decided to explore some of the other aisles that relied on boards and pieces, such as LEGOs and race cars.

In particular we found the self-racing track where one person controls a car that launches a plane and the mechanism tracks who won the race (plane or car) and it sparked a lot of ideas. The idea turned to modifying a race track, because it would be relatively portable and stable, and we could use the linear nature of the track as a means of input. We saw that most of the tracks relied on gimmicks like long loop-de-loops and other mechanical complexity, but none (as far as we could see) had any digital components, which made it a good subject for modification. We decided after testing out a few cars and tracks that we would build our own track and modify it augment the experience of tracking the cars along it.
Target Audience
We didn’t begin with a particular target audience in mind, but as we began playing with the toy cars we found that a long dormant desire to play with small toy cars easily resurfaced in both of us. Playing with toy cars is a form of play that can be both very short-lived and undirected, so we wanted to create a fun experience full of spectacle when desired. While race tracks appeal more to and are often marketed towards younger male children (as seen by this first disappointing toy we looked to modify originally), we were not specifically designing for that demographic.
One of our goals with creating a small track besides the portability and ease of use was having something that augmented an already fun but sometimes simplistic interaction. We added an LED strip that lights up as it “follows” the car along the track so that the feedback is obvious and immediate. The interaction is intended to be very simple: place a car onto a track and then it begins to operate. We wanted the experience to be fun for a user to move cars around and see the pretty lights but engage in a race whenever they wanted to, to create a low-stress competition complete with race sounds that doesn’t dominate the play experience. Though the interactions were changed slightly, it is still mostly a one-button experience, and the rest is just moving the cars around.

During our initial process, we looked a lot at board games: things like Candyland and Twister, Battleship, Chess and Checkers, even games as simple as Tic Tac Toe to draw inspiration for what we actually wanted to design. We looked at all manner of toys that had a fixed board but found that there were so many directions to take we had a hard time making a concrete decision. When we saw the different kinds of tracks and toys that use fixed length tracks we started getting inspiration. We initially thought to make a non-traditional musical instrument using the position of toys on a grid (like dominoes) but were also inspired by the “Sound Track” toy train set which made music as the train rode over the spokes in the track and wanted to create an something that would change based on position by using a distance sensor. We moved away from the musical idea but continued with the concept of a sensor-based track as a way of enhancing the play experience and making toy cars more fun.

Once we had a core idea, a basic sketch of how the system would come together materialized rather quickly. We had a basic idea for a flat track with two lanes each equipped with a distance sensor, an LED strip in the center, and a box that would surround the components of the Arduino/sensors for at least a basic level of protection. We went to several hardware stores but ultimately settled on using primarily foam core for the lanes, box and track underneath supporting the design. One of the first challenges we encountered with our purchased LED strip was that the Arduino kit wasn’t able to supply enough power so after some research and a few calculations, we had to purchase the correct external power supply in order to keep the LEDs working properly.

Our core system is relatively simple: the Arduino is attached to a breadboard with an external power supply. On the one side it is connected to a digital button, and in the center it is connected to the two distance sensors and the LED strip, along with a piezo buzzer to produce small square waves. The large number of wires comes primarily from the fact that the sensors require four connections including two each for sending and receiving input, as well as the LED light strip requiring an additional data pin.