Introduction: Star Trek Communicator From a Discarded Mouse

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Imagine being able, even as a kid, to build your own Star Trek communicator with chirp and talk back functionality. Awesome!
And at the same time you recycle the body of a discarded computer mouse and learn what you can do with a discarded CD-ROM by heating and cutting it. A green touch!

Check out the result in this short video:

It is by far not a close replica of the Star Trek (TOS) communicator, but to my opinion very recognisable. I would even say it looks cool as such. It is not oriented towards the hardcore Trekkie, but towards kids aged 9+ making it by themselves. The description in this Instructable and the use of tools does suppose adult guidance for the youngest among you. Of course, if you are an experienced young tinkerer or an adult with an active inner child, you can do it just on your own. If you like it, please give this Ible your vote in the Epilog Challenge (check out the voting dates).

When I recently introduced my nine year old daughter to Star Trek The Original Series, she immediately developed into a real Trekker. That makes the third generation in our family. It was soon decided the next "DVD&Craft theme day", which I set up yearly for my daughter and a couple of her friends, would be all about Star Trek. So I started to think what cool Trek things they could make themselves and were reasonably cheap to allow a small group of kids to each make their own. The office supplies Enterprise and the "Fuzzy Logic" Tribble were truly inspirational ideas, but I came up making a communicator based on:

- a discarded computer mouse. These have a size that is about right and a shape that is somewhat alternative, but certainly fitting such a hand held device. And these days they are commonly available in black and discarded specimens are easily found. And of course it reminds us of Scotty talking into the computer mouse in Star Trek IV;

- a hard paper hole pattern board (as used for circuit boards) as an antenna/lid. It is easily shaped (see step 2) to the curvature of the mouse. OK, it does not have the original shape and the holes are completely the wrong dimensions, but again it is recognisable and I could get pieces fitting my mouse communicator with exactly the right (as cutting is little tricky for kids whit this kind of material, this saved work me in preparation);

- a 5 euro sound recording module as used for greeting cards (with a built in storage for 10 seconds) on which we record the obligatory chirp from a .wav found on the net and possibly a response from the enterprise. No electronics skills nor soldering needed

Step 1: Materials and Tools

Materials required:
a (black) discarded computer mouse;
a small sound recording module (e.g. the kind used for greeting cards product ID 191184. at Conrad);
a hole pattern board 10 by 5 cm (e.g. hard paper type, product ID 528404 at Conrad);
about 4 cm of blank metal wire fitting the holes in the pattern board;
some (black) card/thick paper;
a piece of stiff plastic, cardboard or thin plywood about 45 x 60 x 1 mm (e.g. a piece cut from a heated discarded CD-ROM, see step 2);
some (black) duct tape;
some (low temp melt) glue (+ glue gun);
some double sided tape (can be replaced by glue and patience);
black paint for plastics, if your mouse is not black. Paint for lexan/polycarbonate model cars bodies works good.
black permanent marker if either your card/thick paper or duct tape is not black.
Something that marks on black if either your card/thick paper or mouse is black (e.g. black board chalk).

Required tools:
a (small) hacksaw
a drill (a drill stand or an ordinary power drill mounted in a stand makes the drilling feasible for the younger tinkerers)
a drill bit about 5 mm diameter
a flat file or sandpaper on a piece of wood
a kitchen oven.
a computer and the original Star Trek communicator chirp sound on file (see step 5 for links).

Optional but handy tools:
some (speed) clamps;
audio or video editing software.

Suggested materials and tools for optional finishing:
the rest of a discarded CD-ROM;
a drill bit with a diameter equal or slightly bigger than the microphone from the sound recorder;
5 steel rings 10mm outside diameter;
some coloured (low temp, small diameter) melt glue (no glue gun required for this part);
a cutter knife;
some anti stick baking paper;
other Star Trek sounds and spoken text on file.
About 25 cm of aluminium wire 1.5 to 3 mm diameter, if possible flattened to a square section.

The picture below just shows the main parts.

Step 2: Shaping the Antenna/lid and Other Hot Topics

I rounded the corners of the pattern board a little before placing them in the hands of kids, as these can be quite sharp (the corners that is).

We pass the blank metal wire through the corner holes of the board and it bend it under the tension of the wire by twisting the wire ends together (by hand or with pliers whichever works best for you). Compare with the curvature of the mouse. Do not bend extra to compensate for spring back, you can always do that later. Put the board with the wire under tension in a kitchen oven at a 150 Celsius for five minutes. Let it cool to room temperature before removing the wire. If the curvature is not enough compared to the mouse (do not expect an exact fit) you can repeat the process with some more bending.

If you use a discarded CD for the piece of stiff plastic and/or for decorative pieces it green energy-friendly to put it in the oven at the same time. You can cut a CD with scissors without shattering it by heating it to about a 150 Celsius. How long it takes to heat it up to a 150 Celsius depends on your oven. In a modern oven five minutes should be enough. Do wear eye protection as it might still shatter and of course hand protection for the heat. Unless you work very quickly reheat it between cuts.

And if you plan to do the decoration as suggested in step 6, put the mock "buttons" and "indicators" in the oven at the same time.

Step 3: Disemboweling and Cutting the Mouse Body

Disassemble the mouse and keep the outer body and the outer mouse button "panels". Keep in the mouse ball lid. You can do whatever you like with the rest (I'm sure some parts wil be useful).

Glue the outer mouse button "panels" on the body (hot melt glue works wel because it is gap filling and fast setting, low temp type is preferred for safety). A middle button or wheel can be omitted. Lay the antenna/lid on the mouse as shown and mark the edges on it. At each side draw a new line along the long edges, a couple of mm to the inside. At the "bottom" line you can mark the drill holes inside the marked edge.

Saw in the top part of the mouse along the inner long lines. With a set up as show this is feasible even for kids somewhat geared towards carefull work. The short edge can be done by first drilling a number of holes and breaking out the centre piece (were eye protection). Better not use a very small diameter drill, but rather something like 5mm, as the curved shape tends to push your drill point away. A small diameter drill might break. An inclined support as shown also helps. File or sand to finish the cut edges.

From the bottom mouse part break away al upright protrusions. Glue the mouse body together again, with some glue to the inner sides (you probably won't be able to use the screws any more).

Step 4: Assembling the Communicator

In the description below I assume you use a sound recording module for greeting cards. If you use another type, you will need to find your own way to fit it in and activate it.

Read the instructions with module to understand its use. Stick the module with its adhesive sheet on a piece of (black) card of thick paper. Strengthen the back with (black) duct tape. Make the crease that will form the hinge far enough from where the "lever" is attached, or you will not have enough movement for the switch to shut off. That means you do not use the line suggested by the cut out in the adhesive sheet. Cut out the corners of the card/paper to "free" the hinge. Fold the card/paper to fit the assembly in the opening you made in the mouse body.

Cut a piece of a CD-ROM (see previous step), plastic, thin plywood or sturdy card to fit the width of the opening and at least about 5 to 6 cm long. With this piece provisionally under it, put it all in the body and mark the curvature of the mouse body. Cut the card/paper for everything to fit well inside, but close of the inner side openings. This may take some repetition, but as long as everything fits inside it is not critical.

Stick the peace of CD-ROM, plastic or thin plywood, to the back, just next to hinge/crease with double sided tape. Bring the "record" button to the back and attach it in the middle with double sided tape. Stick the antenna/lid to the small end of the hinge, again with some double sided tape. Slide the assembly in the mouse body until the antenna/Lid fits nicely. The "record" button should be reachable through the mouse ball hole at the back. To fix it in place, pull back the card/thick paper sides a little and insert some glue and push sides upright again before the glue sets. Your communicator is ready for use. It just needs some sound and if you like some further finishing of its inside looks (next steps).

Step 5: Make It Chirp, Make It Talk Back

You can find a lot of Star Trek sound clips on the net. I found the best chirp (clear, fairly long and without music) on I also used the "Fascinating" from the same site and "Spock here" from (with the chirp edited). My thanks to Neal Abrams and wavsource.

Download the sound clips and play them while recording following the manual of the sound recorder module keeping the microphone close the speaker (don't worry which one, 1960's TV-series weren't in stereo). Experiment a little to find a good synchronisation of you activating the recorder button and clicking the play button on your computer. Note the sound recorder module I used does not record when the play switch is activated (quite logical Spock would say). This means however you must keep the lid not fully opened to record.
In 10 seconds you can record a chirp and couple of texts to simulate a short dialog. You could try it by playing the selected clips at the right time by hand. But apart from your mouse clicks being recorded too (can be disabled) it is quite difficult to time correctly as you do not control the time for "opening" the file. It is better to use some sound or video editing software to make a new clip with sounds an pauses incorporated. Sound editing is not that common, but on modern computers basic video editing software is, so you can use that with some dummy video footage.

Step 6: Finishing the Looks: Some Suggestions

If you want to give the inside of your communicator a look more similar to the original, you start by peeling of the speaker and with some black paper or card in between stick it (with glue or double sided tape) were the original has its "moire". You can use a piece of CD-ROM for the aluminium insert with the microphone and the buttons. Drill a 10mm hole with a sharp drill to accommodate the microphone, which you fix with some drops of glue at the back. Glue this piece in place with some low temp hot melt or other gap filling glue. If needed cut a piece of black card/paper an glue between the "aluminium" part and the speaker.

Now, it seems rather obvious to use 3 (blinking) LEDs, possibly activated by some real switches. But remember this is to be a low budget and no soldering project. Keeping it low budget will depend very much on what you have at hand. Here is what we did: we took five metal rings about 10mm diameter and cut slices about 2-3mm thick from small diameter low temp hotmelt glue sticks. Three different colours for the "lights" and two transparent for the buttons. The kids position this on some anti stick backing paper an put it in the oven at a 150 Celsius. The result can be glued in place.

You can also continue on the outside and make some kind of aluminium "midplate" edges you can see on the original TOS communicator. As most mouse bodies have parting line that do not allow for a real "midplate" we just made the edges. I first thought about cutting strips from a CD-ROM, but that was quite difficult, certainly to difficult for younger kids. Instead I use some aluminium wire. I was lucky to find some flattened aluminium wire, which gives a more realistic look, but other soft wire will work too. At on end, bend about at least one cm in an angle fitting the communicator body. And glue it next to the hinge. Depending on the mouse type you can fit it somewhat in the slot formed by the joining from the to body parts. When the glue has set (a little hotmelt glue or superglue are good for that), gently bend the wire along the communicator body. In the middle glue it in the slot again. Hold it in place (with tape for instance) till the glue has set and continue to the other corner were you bend and cut the wire with pliers to make it fit and glue it in place. Finished!
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