Sunday, March 6, 2011

Electronic Project Lab

This is one of my favorite "toy"s from my childhood. This was actually my second one, the first was the venerable 200 in one Electronic Project Lab. Radioshack used to carry these things before they decided to become a cellphone kiosk. I'm actually looking to acquire a used 200 in one again, that was always my favorite but mine got really ratty and destroyed many years ago. :(

The radio club is unofficially thinking about finding some of these for a basic electronics class. I'm thinking, why not build a kit of our own? You could probably buy enough components to build 20 of these for $20. The asking price was never really for the hardware. The instruction books with all the projects are really what is valuable. Unfortunately, those aren't freely available. It'd be great to find a community driven project to make a series of circuits to fill this role. It's hard to find freely available circuits that use the same parts.

I loved the spring based hookups that these kits used. Breadboards are good for testing circuits out, but these are very neat in that all your components are fixed in place and you can pretty quickly run wires from one to another. It's nice for car rides also, no risk of losing tiny components as the car is moving. The spring idea is probably covered under some sort of patent though. So any community made clone would probably have to do something different. It'd be great if some place offered a strip of breadboard like material where each hole could be wired up separately underneath. Or, what else could you do?

Circuits could include:
A basic circuit
operation of resistors, resistors in series, parallel, variable
operation of capacitors, showing they store energy, use as time delay, pass AC but block DC, etc.
operation of transistors, as switches, as amplifiers, darlington pair
operation of diodes, rectify AC, etc
operation of transformers, upconvert/downconvert voltage. etc
operation of relays
operation of inductors (???) never covered in the kits I had
voltage dividers
Simple logic circuits (and, nand, or, not, xor, flip flop, latch, etc)

Not only have purely theory based circuits but also edutainment ones such as sirens, "police light"s, timer games etc. Code practice oscillator, crystal radio, AM radio, FM? Radio would be very nice, especially for a radio club! You could wire two kits up to send Morse Code back and forth to each other... neat demonstration for a field day setup.

Anyone wire one up to use as a QRP CW transmitter? I was once playing with my 200in1 kit and accidentally affected our TV. I was maybe 11 and built the metal detector circuit which involved a radio signal. Well, I was somewhat randomly changing parts around and ended up making something that I could sweep around and all of a sudden our TV looked like it was scrambled. It was on ch 6 or 8. So I tuned the TV around the channels and then tuned my circuit with the variable cap and I was able to knock out any channel up to 13. I wrote down my changes, or so I thought.. next time I tried to build that circuit it never worked again. Probably for the best though. :)

Inexpensive digital multimeters can be had for less than $5 shipped on ebay. That can be useful for teaching the skill of using one with such a kit.

These kits are probably the reason I got into electronics and they have also nurtured my love of science (although Mr Wizard had a huge role there too!). I intend on passing on something like this to my kids one day. It'd be incredible if others could do the same as well.

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