Computer scientist and self-described "hardware hacker" Dr. Tom Tilley has turned a kid's toy into a fully-functional arcade controller for classic arcade games like Sega's Super Hang-On — thanks to a non-destructive modification involving a Raspberry Pi Pico microcontroller.
"I found a Paw Patrol driving toy at a thrift/op shop," Tilley explains of the hardware, which sits at the heart of his mod: a "Pups To The Rescue Driver," a garish plastic lump with motorcycle handles and functional wing mirrors originally designed to simply trigger noises and lights as its buttons were pushed. "I decided to mod it to play the arcade racer Super Hang-On."
Opening the toy up, Tilley found plenty of spare room for additional electronics: A potentiometer, to read the handlebars' movement and a Raspberry Pi Pico programmed to act as a USB joystick controller linked to both the potentiometer and the toy's buttons. Crucially, the modification is non-destructive: The wires to each button can be disconnected from the Raspberry Pi Pico and placed back on the original control board to restore the toy's noisy functionality if and when desired.
With the Raspberry Pi Pico fitted, Tilley's toy can be used as a controller on any device that accepts a USB joystick — including, to keep the theme running, a low-cost Raspberry Pi Zero single-board computer, which is powerful enough to emulate Sega's Super Hang-On motorbike racing title.
More information on the build is available on Tilley's Twitter thread.