The Best Pinball Machine Coffee Table Conversion We've Ever Seen

Adrian Atwood wanted a pinball machine in his living room, but wanted it to look good without taking up too much space.

Cameron Coward
a year agoGaming / FPGAs / Retro Tech

Pinball machines are wonders of electromechanical engineering, but they're also too bulky for most people's homes. Even after the move to solid state electronics in the late '70s, pinball machines didn't get much more compact — they just gained more features. Adrian Atwood wanted a pinball machine in his living room, but wanted it to look good without taking up too much space. As you can read in his build log, he chose to convert a vintage pinball machine into a coffee table and the results are outstanding.

In theory, this doesn't sound like a complex undertaking. Cut off the legs, lay the machine down in front of your couch, and then call it a day, right? Not so fast there, junior! Even with the legs removed, most pinball machines don't fit the form factor of a coffee table — and you'd still have the backboard to contend with either way. Then you must consider that pinball machines operate by design at a shallow angle (usually 5-7 degrees from flat). That angle isn't extreme, but it is still enough to make a surface unusable as a table. But Atwood is very clever and had a healthy budget for this project, leading to some innovative solutions.

Atwood started with a partially restored Centaur pinball machine from 1981. Centaur had solid state electronics, including a TI TMS5100 speech synthesis IC — the same chip found in the famous Speak & Spell and the TI-99/4a speech add-on. But many of its electronics resided in the back board, which Atwood had to remove. To compensate, he used both a Teensy 4.1 microcontroller development board and a Tiny FPGA BX board. The FPGA reads the various signals coming from the Centaur's circuitry, while the Teensy outputs the score, drives the sound board, controls the solenoids, and toggles the lights.

The Teensy has one other important job: to control a pair of linear actuators. Those lift one end of the machine up when someone wants to play the machine. An accelerometer tracks the angle and also detects when a player tilts the table, so the machine can respond as it should. Settings, such as the table play angle, are configurable through a rotary encoder and an OLED screen. The screen also shows the player’s current score. After building a new cabinet, Atwood's hard work paid off and the finished product is amazing.

Cameron Coward
Writer for Hackster News. Maker, retrocomputing and 3D printing enthusiast, author of books, dog dad, motorcyclist, and nature lover.
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