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Hacking Teddy Ruxpin with Arduino

By Norman Chan

Let's make something creepy turn into something awesome.

When we saw Sean Hathaway's T,E.D. (Transformations, Emotional Deconstruction) art installation at this year's Bay Area Maker Faire, we weren't quite sure what to make of it. Here were 80 Teddy Ruxpin dolls mounted on a white wall, connected with a colorful web of wires and arranged like some kind of nostalgia matrix. And then they began to talk. But not in any voice you'd associate with the storytelling bear that raised a generation of millennials. These robot bears spoke with monotone synthetic voices, reading postings from the website wefeelfine.com. It was intense and creepy, but also mesmerizing.

Photo credit: Flickr user chachijones via Creative Commons

Sean Gallagher of ArsTechnica also saw Hathaway's installation at Maker Faire and used it as inspiration for his own "BearDuino" project. As it turns out, a lot of the heavy lifting has already been done by Hathaway in mapping out how to connect Teddy Ruxpin's hardware to an Arduino board, as well as the sample code needed to program it. In less than half an hour, Gallagher was able to get Windows' built-in voice synthesizer to send commands to doll and move its mouth and eyelid servos in sync. It's a really neat project that Gallagher says he will continue to work on in the coming months. I can't wait to see what he does with it.

And if you're interested in what 80 Teddy Ruxpin dolls look like operating in unison, watch a video of Hathaway's T,E.D. installation below.