Author Archives: ckrub

Sagittarius Bag | Getting started

I am adding blinky LEDs to a messenger bag for my cousin’s birthday present. Tracked down a dark messenger bag on Etsy that I can repurpose and have also acquired several different types & sizes of LEDs and controllers to try out.

First, the design.  Have decided to use a outline of a Sagittarius star pattern for the LEDs.  sagittarius

Next the LEDs.

I ruled out the SMT Cool White 5050 LEDs and SMT RGB 5050 LEDs. Since the LEDs will be on the flap of the bag, they need to put up with some wear and tear. Decided to go with LEDs specifally desinged to be used on clothing/wearables.

First I thought to use this Aniomagic Sparkle kit that I had on hand.


  1. Both board and the LEDs are tiny
  2. Programming the blink pattern is insanely easy with Aniomagic, so my cousin could change the pattern herself whenever she wants


  1. Limited number of LEDs to a board, would need to use several sets
  2. The LEDs are all the same size
  3. Integrated On/Off is hard to access

Next, Adafruit FLORA board and FLORA RGB Smart Neo Pixels LEDs


  1. Highly programmable LEDs, can change up the colors and the blink patterns
  2. Able to chain all of the LEDs on one board


  1. LEDs are all the same size, and quite large
  2. Don’t really need the LEDs to change color, so they are overkill
  3. FLORA board is big, like the LilyPad

Lilypad Twinkle LilyPad LEDs and LilyPad Micro LEDs


  1. The two different sizes of LEDs are great
  2. LilyPad Twinkle board is small


  1. Limited number of LEDs to a board, would need to use several boards
  2. Less flexible programming for blink pattern

Finding ActiMates

While attending the amazing XOXO Festival last year, I happened to mention my interest in make soft robots to Surj, who I had just met. I really want to learn how to make robots with working arms and legs which I can cover with knitting or needlefelt. Surj recommended trying to find and repurpose ActiMates, the discontinued interactive Microsoft toy from the 90s.

Surj posed that since these toys were for kids, they could put up with some rough treatment as well as hold up to some washing. Perfect for my needs.

So, when I got home from Portland, I started searching for ActiMates. I have not yet had the chance to scour the shelves of my local thrift stores, but on eBay you can find quite a lot of ActiMates. Unfortunately the Barneys & Teletubbies are the most pricey. I feel little remorse in tearing apart Barney, but doing it to an Arthur doll does give me pause. Which is probably why I have not taken Arthur apart yet.

ActiMates are mostly just a weighted body with a head and arms that move. There is no leg movement, but there are pressure switches in all the extremities.

Also, I am truly shocked that I cannot find more about hacking these toys on the web. I was expecting to find a lot of info on how to do this. I did find some amazing examples of folks who have reprogrammed discarded animatronics from Chucky Cheese. (See Rockafire’s YouTube vids for 4 Minutes and Do It For Love.)

Here are the Barney and Arthur ActiMates I have acquired. This particular Barney was cheap because his battery pack is fried – batteries were left in it too long and started leaking. This is fine by me – gives me the opportunity to figure out how to put in a better power source.

So far, I am planning to put off dismantling Arthur. Hopefully I can figure out what makes Barney tick and can use Arthur pretty close to as-is.

Skinning Barney

Barney has been skinned.  I have to say, this toy was really very well made. After cutting around the battery/base, there was a nice muslin tube keeping the base away from the stuffing and wiring.

Each limb has its own pressure switch and the left eye must have a receiver/sensor. Both eyes look the same, so I will probably see if I can gently pop the top off the wired-up eye I saved.

Here are photos of the skin and Barney’s inner workings:

Also… there is now purple fuzz all over me and my house.