Please, Lego, let this engineer bring your computer brick to life

James Brown loves building weird displays. Like an animated skull or mechanical bit flipping cellular automata. Or, in this case, simulate an entire computer in Lego bricks.

Not just any bricks either. I’m talking about the classic tilting LEGO computers from our childhood spaceships that are now wonderfully brought to life. They display fake radar scans, scrolling text, and even an interactive salute to the Death Star trench-running target computer that moves when you touch exposed LEGO bolts.

@edge

James Brown bought the smallest, cheapest OLED screen he could find. He wanted to make a keyboard, but his brain soon saw a more perfect combination. He told The Verge that he probably won’t sell them — at least not without legal advice and a small enough battery! #Lego

♬ Original Sound – The Verge

Incredibly, the whole thing is also powered by real LEGO bricks – old-school 9V battery boxes and bricks with electrical contacts that LEGO discontinued in the 90s. Enough to power a 72 x 40 pixel OLED screen and an STM32 microcontroller with a 48MHz Arm Cortex-M0 processor and 16K flash memory. What about those graphics you see?Apart from doomwhich is a live stream of bricks, they are procedurally generated. He programmed the microcomputer himself.

None of these were Brown’s original plans, but in an interview edge, he made it sound like it was well combined, almost begging to be made. Yep, I’m telling you, you might actually get access to one of these one day.

James Brown is in his office, holding his tiny computer.
Screenshot by Sean Hollister/The Verge

Last year, Weta Workshop Graphics Engineer (yes, That Weta Workshop) found some very small and cheap 0.42-inch OLED screens while browsing AliExpress. “That’s about the size of a keycap,” he thought. He told himself that he would build a mechanical keyboard with a screen under each key, but the project was moving slowly. “I ordered a batch of screens just to have them sitting around making me feel guilty,” he said.

but when Ant game console Arriving at the door in May this year, he began to think: What if each key also had a processor inside it?Later that day, he suddenly realized that he already I have seen such a big computer. Not a working one – a piece of Lego.

So he drew it and was surprised that his idea might actually work. “I spent a little time in Fusion just to see where things could go in the bricks, just to make sure it actually worked and it only only… You know that screen is really tucked in there, right? “There is only 0.1mm between the screen and the front of the brick.

He drafted a maximum size board and placed all the basic components within a day, then sent his design to the board manufacturer on a whim. He bought five small boards for only $40, including shipping.

“It was meant to be a one-off gimmick; I didn’t expect to have to make it particularly manufacturable,” he said.

But when the boards arrived, he couldn’t believe how effective they were. “You know how cheap and easy these things are to custom design a new computer, it’s absolutely insane,” he said.The hardest part is simply soldering a pair of battery contacts to the bottom.

Glue it into a translucent LEGO block and you’re done, right? No – Brown also decided to cast his own bricks in translucent resin.

Initially, they were pretty rough: “It’s actually a Lego brick in a Lego pot, I pour silicone on it to make the mold, then I just push it in, pour resin, put something on it to hold it down, and Hope for the best.” He also had to fill the cavity of the brick with soft silicone so the resin wouldn’t fill up where the electronics needed to go.

However, after his first video went viral, he didn’t stop there.He attached a pair of wires to the inside of each stud, which acted as rough touch sensors — “the processor calculates how long it takes to pull high through the resistor,” he said — and used the X-Wing target computer and a elite Ship renderers in C to display their attractive array of low-poly wireframes on the press.

He also painted in black paint to remove some of the glow, although he was actually quite happy with the stippling finish of Lego. “The textures on the Lego bricks do a really good job of anti-aliasing.”

Then he became serious.

Brown showed off a new 3D board with a USB port and battery contacts.
Screenshot by Sean Hollister/The Verge

On Zoom, Brown showed me Gen 2 – a new 3D circuit board assembly designed to use all space inside the brick. It has built-in battery contacts, a USB port for programming instead of the old serial debug pins, and capacitive touch hardware built into the board itself. He says it can reliably detect finger movement around the entire area above the brick.

because he is not satisfied with just stream media doom To the STM32 processor as a video going through these debug lines, he recently redesigned the entire board to fit a Raspberry Pi RP2040 microcontroller, which actually works Play doom also.he said maybe still There is enough space to mount an IMU for motion control. Me, I can’t wait to see Lego planes flying around in a room with a working attitude gyroscope.

happy! RP2040, now housed in Brown’s board.
Photo: James Brown

Now, the answer to the question you’ve all been waiting for is: Will he take your money for one of these bricks?

He’s not ruling out the possibility — but definitely not yet.

“There’s really no indication that this is going to be a product; I don’t want people to contact me and suggest pre-order money because that’s not going to happen,” he said.

Brown now has a 3D printed mold. It allowed him to pour resin to form a brick computer without first filling the cavity with silicone.
Photo: James Brown

He does plan to make some of these for friends to tinker with, but he’s not yet sure about the manufacturing, certification, licensing, and most importantly, the LEGO Group itself. Cleaning it up with Lego, or at least “making sure I don’t put the weight of Lego on me” is the hardest problem, he said. “There’s a difference between doing something acceptable and being able to actually fight if they decide to go all out.” Apparently, he doesn’t plan to sell any bricks that have the word “LEGO” written on their studs — his Friday tweet A brick giving up the logo is shown.

He also wanted to find and install rechargeable batteries before thinking about making them, since not everyone has a late 80s/early 90s Lego set just to put in the bin.

“I’m seeing how far I can go,” he said.

If you’re reading this, Lego, I sincerely hope you can keep him going. When you work with the community, the result is one of the best products you’ve ever made.

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