Halloween Hacks of 2023

Celebrate Halloween with 13 of our favorite projects from this year!

Cameron Coward
9 months agoHalloween Hacks / Holidays

Everyone loves Halloween, though the reasons for that adoration vary from one person to the next. Your kids probably love receiving piles of free candy. But if you're anything like us, you enjoy the holiday because it gives you an excuse to build something fun that isn't constrained by pesky considerations like practicality. Those of you who agreed with that last sentence will want to check out these 13 projects...

1. Track your treats

If you have kids that will be prowling the night for treats, then you should take a look at this project from Tony DiCola. It puts a GPS tracker into a candy bucket in order to log trick-or-treating routes. That's good for safety, but it can also help kids tag the houses that give out the best candy. An Adafruit Metro development board monitors the bucket's location through an Ultimate GPS Shield, then uploads coordinates to Adafruit IO using a FONA 808 Shield. Pressing a button saves a location, so your child will know exactly where to go for a massive candy haul next year.

2. Frighten the neighborhood kids

For those of us without kids of our own, Halloween joy comes from scaring our neighbor's kids and this terrifying animatronic decoration from Rob Lauer will certainly do the trick. A skeleton lies in wait within a burlap sack, popping out when an unsuspecting child gets too close. This even connects to the cloud using Blues hardware and IoT services, so you can keep a running log of all the jump scares.

3. Count the kids

If you're going to make a jump scare prop, you might as well count the number of kids you manage to spook. Or maybe you just want hard numbers with which to better estimate your candy purchases next year. In either case, Daniel VanVolkinburg's Trick Or Treat Counter will do the job. The homeowner simply pushes a button on a 900MHz handheld device. An Adafruit Feather M0 RFM69HCW dev board registers each press and uploads a time stamp to the Adafruit IO platform that helpfully graphs the events. That graph then yields useful data, like peak activity times and the overall number of visiting ghouls.

4. A candy delivery chute

When those children come a-knockin', you better have some candy to give. But COVID is still a concern, especially for people who may be immunocompromised. Gord Payne's candy delivery system is a perfect solution for socially distanced treat dispensing. Candy slides down a PVC chute and passes through a pumpkin decoration at the top. That pumpkin hides an Arduino Nano development board and an ultrasonic distance sensor. The candy triggers the ultrasonic sensor, telling the Arduino to illuminate a string of LEDs on the chute and turning a responsible compromise into a fun event.

5. Control your candy consumption

When All Hallows' Eve comes to an end, you may find yourself with a hoard of candy leftover and that's a temptation that few can resist. This BeagleBone-controlled machine limits access to that candy through a fingerprint interface. You can set a limit on how much candy the machine will dispense and also prevent any sneaky thieves in your household from robbing your stash.

6. Syncing a skeletal rock band

Lowe's sells a neat "Reaper Band" animatronic set that moves along with music played through an integrated Bluetooth speaker. Costco sells a punk rocker skeleton animatronic that responds to motion or a timed activation. These look like they should go together, but they can't communicate. Christopher Ault solved that problem with an Arduino UNO board. It "listens" to the reaper band through an analog input. If it "hears" music, it shorts the motion sensor connection on the punk rocker, causing it to move. Now the two different props can play in sync like they're part of the same set.

7. Animatronic teddy bear plays cassettes

I couldn't talk about Halloween animatronics without abusing my power to include my own project on this list: Dead E. Ruxpin. Inspired by the classic Teddy Ruxpin toy, this is an animatronic bear that plays audio synced with movement. The hook is that both the audio and movement commands come from a cassette tape. The left stereo channel contains the audio, while the right channel contains commands encoded as specific frequencies. Because those play simultaneously, they naturally stay in sync.

8. But can it run Doom?

Jabberin' Jack is a gadget-lover's Halloween decoration that can display different animated faces. It works by shining a light through an LCD screen, projecting the image onto the semi-transparent plastic pumpkin. Phillip Burgess wondered if they could feed any video signal to the LCD in order to display custom content. That proved to be possible with a Raspberry Pi Pico dev board generating the video signal. And there just so happens to be a port of Doomfor the Pico's RP2040 microcontroller, which inevitably led to this demonstration. Kids may not understand the reference, but the geeky parents sure will!

9. The eyes follow you

Jabberin' Jack is lighthearted decor for families. But what if you want to increase the creep factor? That's what Braden Sunwold achieved with Gourdan. It has animated LCD eyes that certainly look unsettling. And when you realize that those eyes follow you, you may need to change your underwear. This works because a Raspberry Pi 3 Model B looks at its surroundings through a small camera. It runs OpenCV to detect people and determine their position in the frame. It then changes the LCD images to "look" towards that position. Gourdan is a subtle prop, but one that should be very effective.

10. Easier eye following

OpenCV may be too technical for some, so Pete Warden found a way to achieve the same following eyes effect with less work. This relies on the fantastic Useful Sensors Person Sensor, which finds people and outputs their position automatically. A Raspberry Pi Pico looks at the data from that sensor and uses the information to move an image of an iris and pupil around an eyeball background. That creates the illusion that the eye is pointing towards a person. Warden's setup could be used to build something just like Gourdan and it doesn't require any computer vision expertise.

11. Ouija tweets

"Ouija" may be a trademark owned by the family-friendly toy giant Hasbro, but talking boards are creepy nonetheless. That's particularly true when they're spelling out posts from the darkest of all websites: Twitter. Ronald McCollum's Ouija Robot achieves that by moving a small plastic hand with two servo motors controlled by a Raspberry Pi through an Adafruit CRICKIT dev board. It uses the Twitter (or "X") API to grab new tweets, then moves the hand to position the planchette over those characters in sequence. It may not be supernatural, but Twitter is full of posts that are quite frightening.

12. Floating Hogwarts-style candles

3D Printed Thoughts managed to recreate the Hogwarts floating candles seen in the Harry Potter films with an ingenious mechanism. Each "candle" is actually a self-contained LED torch suspended from the ceiling by thin, transparent fishing line. In the right lighting, that line is almost invisible. A small servo motor in the candle drives a reciprocating mechanism that pulls the line, lifting the candle slightly and then lowering it again. The movement is small, so the candle appears to bob in place. A few of them next to each other, moving out of sync, really sells the effect of a ghostly candelabra.

13. Barbie's haunted screamhouse

We reserved the last spot on this list for the most elaborate project of the season. Jaime and Jay, proprietors of the Wicked Makers YouTube channel, converted a cutesy Barbie Dreamhouse into a miniature haunted mansion. Every room tells its own story, from a reference to Screamin the kitchen to some sort of dark summoning ritual in the upstairs bedroom.

There is a lot going on here and several clever techniques were utilized to bring the house to life. For example, the summoning portal in the bedroom is smartphone screenpeeking through a hole in the ceiling. The summoning circle below it is glowing EL wire. Traditional crafting techniques and painting set the spooky vibe and made Barbie's abode look like a HGTV house flipper's worst nightmare. The attention to detail is very impressive and you'll enjoy finding every little Easter egg.

Cameron Coward
Writer for Hackster News. Proud husband and dog dad. Maker and serial hobbyist. Check out my YouTube channel: Serial Hobbyism
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