The challenge of trying to draw anything even partially recognisable using just two spinning knobs has somehow made the Etch A Sketch a popular toy for almost 60 years now. Some artists have managed to master the unique medium with endless hours of practice, but one of the most unusual digital cameras we’ve ever seen.
As with any hack worth its weight in solder, Fitzpatrick built his Etch-A-Snap around a Raspberry Pi Zero upgraded with stepper motors, a custom 3D-printed frame and gearing to control the miniature Etch A Sketch display, and a basic digital camera on the back. There was no reason to go overboard with the megapixels as every photo snapped is reduced to just 240 x 144-pixels in size, and then downgraded to a 1-bit colour palette — black and white.
The low-res image is then processed and converted to plotter commands, which is a type of printer that works similarly to an Etch A Sketch; physically drawing out an image by moving a pen along X and Y coordinates. But in this case, the commands are sent to the stepper motors which spin the Etch A Sketch’s upgraded knobs to move its drawing tip accordingly.
Powered by a four AAs and a trio of rechargeable lithium polymer batteries, the Etch-A-Snap is completely portable, but it’s probably the last thing you’d want to bring along to capture vacation memories. Once a photo is snapped it takes the camera anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour to process the image and then doodle it out on the Etch A Sketch. That requires even more patience than a Polaroid camera, but there’s absolutely no shaking allowed here unless you want to erase all of the camera’s progress.
If, for whatever reason, you’ve decided your photography hobby needs a bigger challenge, Fitzpatrick has detailed all the steps that went into the design and engineering of the Etch-A-Snap on his website, including download links for the scripts and code that power it. Getting it all working is a bit involved, but learning to actually draw on an Etch A Sketch toy would take you much longer than this build will.