Intro: Creating Educational Electronic Puzzles With the Circuitscribe Kit and 123D's Circuitscribe Editor
(Note- This is a guest post for Eureka!Factory by Chuck Stephens as part of their Instructables Build Night program.)
The Circuitscribe kit is pretty cool. It has electronic component modules and conductive ink pens that can be used to create simple circuits. The designs provided in the included booklet get you off to a quick start and you can use the included template to trace your own circuit designs. You can also log onto 123D and use their drag-and-drop editor to create your designs, save them as PDFs and print them out. You can choose footprints for the various component shapes and arrange them and connect the pads to create circuit paths. You can also drag-and-drop components from a drop down menu and put them in the circuit. When you have it all set up in the graphic editor you can test the virtual circuit to insure it works.
After playing around with the online editor a bit I got distracted and started making patterns and using it to 'draw'. I used the footprint elements to create repeated patterns. I played around with different layouts, trying to find a universal pattern that would accept all the different component shapes. This could be printed as a template for making circuits offline. As I played around with the idea I had one of those odd inspirations- what if I designed a circuit on this pattern, draw in the connections and then connect the rest of the pads semi-randomly without interfering with the functionality of the circuit. The final design would then be a cipher that will create a circuit when the components are arranged just right. This would be a good puzzle to help students develope better troubleshooting and circuit design skills.
Hmm... this was getting interesting.
Step 1: Creating a Repeating Pad Pattern in Circuitscribe 123D
The 123D Circuitscribe site was straight forward enough, but I couldn't figure out how to save the designs at multiple stages. It seemed to still need a little polish, but it's moving in the right direction. It did get a bit unstable with a lot of footprints and modules on the work area. This probably isn't an issue with the smaller circuits designs it was designed for, but laying out a grid of footprints seemed to tax the application.
See the screencaps above for a better understanding of what I did, but basically I used the footprints from the 123D editor to create a grid of pads that the modules could be arranged on.I used three-pad footprints to create the grid and a square footprint as an alignment tool. I used two-pad footprints in a vertical orientation to fill the gaps.
When it was done I had a grid that would accept every module but the DTDP switch, in a variety of positions. In the next step we'll look at how I turned the grid into a fun puzzle.
Step 2: Creating a Puzzle
Now it's time to create the puzzle. The idea is to print a pattern that the student will fill in with conductive ink from the kit. The student is given a list of modules to use and a description of the circuit's function. The challenge is to figure out the placement of the modules to make the circuit function.
The first step is to design the circuit you will use. In this case I made a blinker with alternating red and blue LEDs. It used the blinker module, two bi-LED modules and the battery module. Since this is a pretty small circuit I decided to use a smaller grid. I arranged the modules where they could be 'wired' with conductive ink, and drew in the connections. I tested the virtual circuit in the editor to insure it would work.
Now that I had a working circuit I carefully filled in the rest of the pad grid with lines and gaps to hide and confuse the original circuit. I ran the simulation several times to insure that the new lines didn't interfere with the circuit's operation.
When the circuit was all done I saved the project as two separate PDFs- one with the modules in place as the solution and one of the pattern without the modules as the puzzle. Print the puzzle pattern, fill in the lines with a conductive ink pen and arrange the modules until the circuit works. Simple and fun!
Step 3: Try These and Make Your Own
There are two puzzles above. Puzzle 1 uses the circuit from this instructable.
Use the battery module, two bi-LED modules and a blinker module to create a circuit that alternately flashes a red and blue LED like a police light.
Print out the puzzle, fill in the pattern with conductive ink and try to solve it. If you need a hint you can open the second PDF with the solution. When you finish puzzle 1 try puzzle 2-
Use the battery module, two blinker modules and the RGB LED module to create a circuit that mixes the red, blue and green LEDs. The blue and red LEDs are controlled by the blinkers and the green LED stays on constantly to create a variable color pattern.
So there you have it. Go make your own for your class, makerspace or homeschool group. Another idea is to have your students make their own puzzles and trade amongst themselves. You could make permanent puzzles by etching the pattern from the PDF onto a sheet of PCB and etch the pattern on the board. Glue the etched PCB to a sheet of steel and you have a reusable circuit puzzle to use with your Circuitscribe kit. If you do make your own puzzles, shoot me a line and let me know how it went. We have a huge event coming up (Gulf Coast MakeCon, April 18th, Tampa!) but I'll revisit this idea after that and try to etch a puzzle in copper clad board.