The challenge of trying to draw anything even partially recognizable 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 Martin Fitzpatrick opted to hack together a shortcut instead, resulting in 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 color 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.