Sunday, 30 June 2013
What is a Funtronics Handheld ?
They are Mattel electronic toys from the early 1980s. There are five of them in total - these two, "Tag" and "Drag Race" (which is a competition version of the RedLight game produced for Hot Wheels) and "Tag Chat" which is a French version of Tag. The latter two just have different labels, so there are only three really.
They are all the same, with different layouts and (slightly) different circuitry in places. Primarily the buttons - the "Jacks" game has more buttons than the system has inputs (Red Light does not) so Jacks multiplexes its buttons.
The boxes contain a mixture of LEDs and Buttons in various arrangements. Inside there is a Piezo speaker and a COP410 4 Bit Microcontroller. This has 512 bytes of ROM and 32 bytes of RAM, and runs at 50,000 instructions per second. COP processors and their family members were one of the commonplace chips in these sort of toys along with Texas TMS1x00 series (Total Control 4), the Hitachi HD44 (Select-A-Game) series and the Rockwell series (Battlestar Galactica).
My challenge for this Summer is to reproduce at least one of them electronically, then to create a new one. This is possible because of the Patents Database, which contains all sorts of useful information about electronic gadgetry, and contains a full description of how "Jacks" and "Red Light" (specifically) actually work, complete with circuit diagrams. It doesn't contain the code though (a couple of patents do)
I like and always have liked working with limited hardware. I like the challenge of getting something worthwhile out of something which has limited power and parts. Programming 4 bit microcontrollers is also rather fun, albeit a bit mind numbing at times (though the COP instruction set is better than the TI one, even if it does have less RAM).
Finally, here's a video of an advertisement showing one in action, sandwiched between Mr Spock advertising a Telephone and Mr Reagan advertising himself.
Picture courtesy of http://www.handheldmuseum.com