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CurlyCart: How To Hack Your Power Wheels 64

Dana Spiegel writes: "A bunch of us were bored one weekend, so we decided to hack a Power Wheels car (you remeber the G.I. Joe jeep and the Barbie car, don't you?) to make it record and playback where you've driven in it. We're continuing development on this project (covered in web page), but mostly this thing is just fun to play with."
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CurlyCart: How To Hack Your Power Wheels

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  • Now these guys are serious dorks. This being said I am *so* jealous I didn't think of doing this first.

    And this could have practical applications, too: Fr'instance, you could use it to have an autopilot on wheelchairs.. Oh, what am I talking about. This is just nifty.
  • Pretty cool hack, I would have started with something a little bigger and better myself, but at least they did it instead of talking about things like that as most people do.

    One thing I would like to see if this little controlled cart unleashed in the BattleBots Arena. That plastic would be chewed up rather quickly. Would be a joy to watch, though. :)

  • by UltraBot2K1 ( 320256 ) on Monday March 12, 2001 @01:50AM (#369420) Homepage Journal
    Next weekend you should work on helping me remember where I parked.
  • by NineNine ( 235196 ) on Monday March 12, 2001 @01:51AM (#369421)
    No, in my day, kids actually used what are commonly called muscles. You see, muscles are part of the physical body, underneath the countless fat layers. By using them, primitive people thought that they could derive some benefit from this. This benefit, often called exercise was believed to extend life and lessening the reliance on synth-foods and vita-capsules. What silly, primitive people we were. Little did we know that there was no need to burn calories, potentially losing some of these fatty layers, or, God forbid, doing what was called 'sweating'. We could have just sat in these battery-powered vehicles as children, instead of potentially harming ourselves with this 'exercise'.

  • by king_ ( 143380 ) on Monday March 12, 2001 @01:51AM (#369422) Homepage
    If I were hackin on a powerwheels, id drop a 5 litre mustang engine in that sucker with a supercharger. then id race my 5 year old neighbor.. WHAT NOW LIL MAN!!! WHAT NOW!!!
  • How do you think technology advances? People learn by doing. How do you think some of the biggest jumps in medical and scientific technology were discovered? Playing around like this :P
  • A fun hack, definitely.

    Although I can see someone using this to torture their kid brother or sister, or a niece or nephew.

    "Bobby, you don't understand, Uncle Sluggo is going to make you toy *better*"

    (insert evil laff here)

    Or a college fraternity initiation ritual.

    "You must ride this for at least one hour, while guzzling down the infamous Slammo Cocktail"

  • I've always thought about driving in the future as something automated, where you enter your final destination in a cimputer, and your car talks to the streets network and takes you in the most direct path.

    The greatest feature, and largest problem, with this situation is the fact that there will be no human interaction. Driving is a very dangerous; you're hurling 3 ton pieces of metal at each other at 50 mph, all for the sake of convienience. But driving is something people like to do (if it isn't 5 mph bumper to bumper on your way to work, that is), so we would not want to stop just to save a few lives.

    With this system of recording your path, and also a smart driving system that knows not to ram into other drivers and to stop at red lights, you could record that crawl you call a commute once, and then play it every morning. This lets you avoid the monotonous situations, lke reading peoples bumper stickers, and enjoy the good driving times, such as cross country on the open interstate doing 70 mph with the top down.

    ==Of course, disregard all previous ramblings,==
    ==as they are due to a positive outlook on life.==
  • hack my car?? I'll drive it to work one more time and then I can sit back and read the paper every commute after.
  • I definately used to watch too much TV. Now I have the old commercial going through my head. "Pow Pow Power wheels ..."
  • This has real artificial intelligence applications, essentially your "teaching" your robot to remember a route. More interesting if it can find it's way back where it came from, as that is both learning a pattern and then processing it to find a point of origin. This allows possiblity of a feedback loop if you want to get that clever.
  • I actually had a GI Joe Big Wheel when I was little - a trigger on the handlebars popped some character's head out from the front.
  • by BillyGoatThree ( 324006 ) on Monday March 12, 2001 @02:03AM (#369430)
    Back in MY day, kids utilized the muscles present in larger organisms known as "parents". The powerhouses could easily tow a small child in a wagon or even lift the child off the ground to a height of around 5 feet. Of course, this presented some safety hazards so the practice has been discontinued.
  • Next time I get hammered and leave my stuff at someone's house, I'd like to be able to trace my steps back to figure out what I did from the beginning to the end of the night. Get to work.
  • How does one manage to hack into something? Do you need special skills or almost anyone can do it? Do you also need a strong programming background?
  • The Power Wheels vehicles I remember came along when I was about twice the age of the target, uh, drivers.

    I remember three- and four-wheel ATV type things and a miniature four-wheel-drive-looking pickup. Used gel-cell batteries that were way expensive. I used to load them up for people when I worked at Wal-Mart.

  • by rellort ( 146793 ) on Monday March 12, 2001 @02:08AM (#369434)
    It reassures me to see stuff like this.

    Lately, I've been more of the opinion that fun projects have no potential to ever be profitable. Once upon a time, guys (and they were all guys) did interesting things in their garages for grins and later found out they could get rich. The stories of Wozniak, Jobs, Gates, and Torvalds seem like legends of a bygone era -- a rare cosmic convergence of being the right place at the right time doing the right thing.

    Clearly, this tracking technology has commercial uses. The rogue hackers in this story can almost certainly expect phone calls from the likes of General Motors, Daimler-Benz, and Kia.

    My advice? Get your patents now, fellas. :)
  • by Mtgman ( 195502 ) on Monday March 12, 2001 @02:08AM (#369435)
    The entire project took the four of us all weekend to complete (Friday night to Monday morning, with a normal amount of sleep each night!).

    The bold is my emphasis. This is unbelieveable. Putting aside all technical considerations, these guys actually slept during a project! This could be a serious breakthrough! Maybe now I can point to them and tell my boss, "Hey, they got to go home and sleep, and look at the fantastic job they did with that car. Don't you want those kind of results? Yes? Ok, I'm not working this weekend."

  • If you look closely at the newest Barbi Vettes (for those of us with duaghters, that is), you'll see a little sticker on the rearview. It's supposed to be an OnStar button for when Barbi's ride gets stuck in the mud.

    With this system, it looks like Ken might get all Eminem on Barbi's plastic butt when he retraces her car's steps to the poolboy's house.

    Photos of Ken ridin' around town w/ Barbi's head in the trunk. []

  • For some reason, maybe its the idea of being recorded when I drive my Power Wheels (tm), this reminds me of the cameras in red lights that snapshot when you run a light.

    Now this means, not only will I have a picture of me and my hot date running red lights, but I can prove I got to take out that supermodel with my GI Joe car!
  • So now I can finally find out if all the rumors are true--is that bitch sleeping with Ken?
    Conversation reportedly overheard in a toy store:

    Clueless father: "Does Barbie come with Ken?"

    Witty store clerk: "Barbie comes with G.I. Joe; she only fakes it with Ken."
    spam spam spam spam spam spam
    No one expects the Spammish Repetition!

  • Then you should try This [] (Automated Highwary System) and this [] (Navlab)
  • Warn them? They're the ones who submitted the story... They got it coming.
  • why don't you do something cooler, like hack the fuking refrigerator to open my beer's can ?
  • Why? By the time you get done shopping your car will have driven to the local gas station, filled itself up, run through the carwash, and picked you up some take-out. Then it will be sitting at the entrance to the store so you don't have to walk very far, but will move whenever a meter maid approaches. The AC/Heater will be on and the temperature exactly right. Oh, and the car will fly.

  • General Motors, Dailmer Benz, and KIA.

    Which one of these 3 doesn't belong?
  • I wish someone could hack this frigg'n /. effect. Geesh!

  • by Bonker ( 243350 ) on Monday March 12, 2001 @02:35AM (#369445)
    Now what would be really cool was if I could right a program in the aforementioned display scripting language and have the powerwheel creep out my neighbors by making an unmanned 'morning round' every morning.

    Neighbor: "What-what the hell was that?"

    Me: That was my brother's powerwheel jeep from 1982. One day, he was hit by a car in it. He was killed, but the controls on the thing were broken anddon't work anymore. Now it just sits around. Every morning, it goes just where he used to ride.
  • No, not servers, this message.

    How bout you guys stop posting actual HTML links and just put the URL in clear text. That should take care of half the people that would be too lazy to cut and paste.
  • You can do that now. It's called "riding the bus".

    Dancin Santa
  • The British Government is studying using GPS-equipped Barbie cars to restrict the maximum speed at which children can drive in various parts of their yard. Speeds near hazards would be automatically reduced. Parental codes would be needed to travel outside one's own yard. Sidewalk toll accounts would have to be current in order to use sidewalks.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    All this and I heard it only costs $10, and you can trade it in a for new one every day! Man. I love Linux cars.
  • Or as overheard from the Bob & Tom morning show (check your local radio listings):
    "We'd like to say she comes with her husband, but she doesn't... she does, however, come with Pedro, the pool boy!" - (as best as I remember)excerpt from 'Trophy Wife Barbie'
  • "How un-Slashdot to see Gates bracketed up there with Woz, Jobs and Linus!"

    And for that matter, what's Jobs doing in the list at all? The original list was of "technical innovators" which neither Gates nor Jobs is (or was). Gates at least has the distinction of running a highly successful technology company. Whatever you think of Apple, "highly successful" is not really applicable ("limping along" and "fits and starts" both leap to mind).
  • I'll be interested to see if the manufacturer reacts like Lego did, and encourages hackers, or like CueCat did, and attacks them. I suspect they've got a vested interest in attacking hackers, from the liability standpoint. If someone soups up their toy car and gets hurt, that's bad publicity, if not a potential lawsuit. (This being the USA, every injury, real or imagined, is a potential lawsuit.)

    Forgive me if this is all addressed on their page - I couldn't get to it.

  • Actually, this is kind of the point of a lot of work at the Media Lab (where this hack was done) - corporations encourage you to hack at their stuff, because they give the Media Lab lots of money and want to get cool product ideas back. That seems to be the basic working relationship.
  • Okay, I have a hard time figuring out what you mean..

    You could look up the definition of 'hacking' and go from there. A good defination is at: r.html []
  • Hello A couple of years ago, my wife and I bought a hacked powerwheels car for our kids at a cattle sale. It had the original battery taken out and was replaced with a Large riding lawnmower battery. It had so much power that my kids wore out the gear boxes in the motors. For what it matters, a cattle sale is kinda like a flea market except you can by cattle/fowl as well. Lastly, we used a car battery charger to charge the battery. We are still have the powerwheel car and we hope to get a replacement transmission set for it.
  • Disclaimer: The site is Slashdotted, so I haven't gotten a chance to look at the actual project and any documentation that it discussed.

    However, a while back Slashdot ran a story on hacking barney [], the Actimate by Mattel (and Microsoft). Now I know that they had done something with the Barbie as well (though they mentioned it less), which leads me to believe that the GI Joe vehicle in this story is under a similar structure. Yes, obviously these are different products, but I'd imagine that the partnership between MS and Mattel would be consistent in this respect.

    I'm curious how overlapped the work between the two groups were, and if there are any globalized consistencies in Mattel products.
  • I was just thinking about thisthe other day. AI for driving would have to be really complex in order to be both effective and safe. There's a lot to driving when you really think about it (it's really pretty amazing if you analyze it down to the brain & muscular level :-)). Anyway, here's a few points which would need to be adressed:
    • The cars would have to be able to respond to pedestrian activity with sufficient foresight to stop in time without killing them :-)
    • They would have to be able to change lanes and know when they could do so without crashing into other cars.
    • They would have to be able to recognize when another car is making an unexpected stop or slowing down and act accordingly.
    • Presumably, if all cars were computer-controlled, there would be less crashes, but the cars should still know how to react in case there were.

    There was more, but I just got a phone call and I lost my train of thought. :-) Believe it or not, the human brain is pretty powerful stuff. If we make so many mistakes when driving, it's gonna take a pretty good AI not to. :-)
  • Heh, will the car stop and pick up big fat sweaty homeless bums who havn't showered in a month and ramble on continuously about Russians, guns, those voices, and that medicene he traded for booze? That would complete the bus riding experience. :)

    Down that path lies madness. On the other hand, the road to hell is paved with melting snowballs.
  • Maybe you could try browsing the web with a real web browser instead of telnet. What web browser doesn't support links anyway? Even the lowliest of text based web browsers support the A HREF tag! Ok, I'm probably just feeding a troll, but this just seemed so off the wall that I couldn't let it go.

    Down that path lies madness. On the other hand, the road to hell is paved with melting snowballs.
  • Remember the hacked Actimates Barney and Barbie?

    If not, check out: []

    The perfect combo would be a hacked Road-Rage Barney screaming profanities out of the GI Joe Jeep.
  • This is one of the concepts behind XP, is that programmers are more efficient when they work normal hours. "XP defines OverTime as the time spent working that makes a programmer less productive in the long term."

    See also: OverTime []

  • Almost two years ago, a group of friends and I in college modified a power-wheels jeep to be controlled by a 25 lb "portable" Linux box. We yanked out all the pedals, steering wheel, etc, and replaced them with servos and motors.

    We also added a pan/tilt video camera and a rotatable sonar range-finding device. We wrote programs that would allow us to move the vehicle, turn its wheels, take pictures, range find, etc. We made it so the vehicle was able to be controlled over a LAN, or the internet, and could send pictures back to a graphic analysis program. Combined with a sonar sweep we had a decent "3D" view of the jeep's surroundings.

    All this fun, and we got college credit too...

  • I meant:

    Don't use HREF tags AT ALL. Instead of posting Slashdot [], post See the diff between an HREF tag and plain text. Sorry if "plain text" is too complicated of a topic for you.
  • I wonder if this might be useful in determining the course a bee takes...

  • I'm one of the guys who hacked the CurlyCart. Fisher-Price encouraged this; they dropped off over a dozen toys to the Lab, and then everyone grabbed one, and tried to make it do something cool(er). Unfortunately, due to the New England snowstorm, their reps weren't able to make it to the lunch meeting last Monday when we presented it, but they'll get video :)

    BTW, if you look real close next to my hand in the pic programmer shot, you'll see a CueCat as well. DigitalConvergence via WPP dropped those off :) All I've done with that is linked it up to some perl scripts running my personal library.

  • That is SOOOOO Funny.......

    That would so cool to freak out the neighbor kids with, and to teach them to NOT ride in the street!

    (Old Power Wheels pulls out of driveway and into street).

    Car goes up the block, circles three times, and returns...
    Kids Screaming in Terror

    Me: Yep, that used to be little Johny's car.
    Pause for dramatic effect

    He took it out into the street one day to play, and SMACK! He got hit by a car, and it knocked him into that wall over there. At least he died instantly, that's what the doctors said.

    Now... Now every year his ghost comes back to ride the car one more time.


  • isn't the fact that you're recording where the cart has gone a privacy issue? do you have a privacy policy?
  • back up. Though since the machine runs Linux (RH 6.1) shouldn't it have been able to handle the load? I mean, its a powerful Pentium II 266Mhz! :)
  • Just put something like [].

    Problem solved.


  • We disabled the gas pedal, which is primarily a safety feature--the stock cart won't drive if the pedal isn't pressed--and difficult to operate for anyone over 4" tall.

    Having to be shorter than 4" really narrows your options.

  • The point was to keep click-happy people from slashdotting sites.
  • Sure...just "Bee" careful duct-taping it to the seat.

    (I know....finding flowers and dancing and such, but I couldn't help myself)
  • Let me know when someone hacks a toilet, that I would love to see [root@toilet.root] $ rm -rf dev/toilet/airfreshener.c
  • []

    And then click on "Curly" on the left menu section.

    They've just blocked Direct access to those pages.

    If (lastpage_seen=slashdot){
    &bugger off;
    else {

  • When I was a kid I used to have an Omnibot 2000 (robot) that would use an audio tape to record its movements, sort of like this (but different heh). I had coupled this with its built-in alarm clock so that it would come up to my bed to wake me up in the mornings. The cheaper Omnibot also had the same feature I think. I still have that thing in my garage, wonder what it goes for on ebay these days...

  • I thought a bit about this too. I concluded that the most effective way for AI controlled cars to work was to have every car controlled by AI. Then we can setup a wireless interface of some sort so cars can broadcast their past, current, and future actions. Using this information your car can then plan its own route without collisions.

    Of course, then we'd have to keep pedestrians off the streets.

    Or we need some really advanced optical vision stuff that will render the first technology redundant.


    - Ed.
  • Because it's DaimlerChrysler. For now, anyway.
  • smartass

  • A friend and I hacked one of those once and turned it into an RC car. We used a few relays wired to an RC controller taken from a radio shack remote controlled tank to replace the joysticks. It worked great for a long time. Once we once drove it through water so deep that the motors shorted out and smoke poured out of the battery compartment. All of the insulation on the wires running from the battery compartment to the joysticks had fused into one melted mess. And the damn thing STILL worked after we dried it off even though we never bothered to replace the melted wiring.

  • You have forgotten one thing... this was created in the MIT media lab.

    As you can see on the barcodes on the side of their 2000 dollar dual page sony trinitron monitor, that's where the work took place, meaning that they could not get a patent themselves, but rather would have to go through a process with the lab, which would then in turn probably license out the technology like they have done so many times in the past.

    But remember, it's not just tinkering, but tinkering on MIT's equipment, meaning it's really MIT Media Lab doing the tinkering.

    ~Patrick (IIRC)
  • Uh oh, sounds like someone's mommy and daddy didn't buy him a power wheels when he was young. It still hurts, eh?

To do two things at once is to do neither. -- Publilius Syrus