A motion-activated plush bacon slice that greets every visitor to our office with the jovial tagline: “I’m Bacon.”
It’s no secret that America has a love affair with bacon. In recent years, I have stumbled across a myriad of bacon flavored products that I never thought were possible: bacon beers, bacon maple donuts, bacon salts and butters, bacon toothpaste!!?!? Okay that last one was fake but you get my point (but bacon deodorant is real…). In the age of internet mediums, entire bacon themed series’ have been fried up for viewers salivary delight. With bacon infusing it’s way into so many savory situations – edible or otherwise – it’s only natural that we would want to begin teaching our young ones about the joys of this fatty cut of pork. Right?
Well that’s what somebody must have been thinking (either seriously or satirically) when ThinkGeek decided to put out My First Bacon.
What is this you might ask? It’s a fully animatronic children’s pillow that speaks when a little tab on side is squeezed. According to it’s tag:
“…Soft and snuggly with big giant eyes, My First Bacon is both friendly and reliable, just like actual bacon. Squeeze him and he says, “I’m Bacon!”, no matter what the situation, reminding children that whatever happens in life, they should be true to themselves and always be proud of who they are.”
That’s right, a self-aware bacon pillow. It introduces itself, “I’m Bacon!” when prompted and it does so with such vim and vigor that you can’t help but be enthralled at it’s splendor. At least that’s how it was with me, when I saw it for the first time at my girlfriend’s company white elephant gift exchange. Naturally I took the opportunity to trade my random pick, some sort of candle, for the bacon pillow and proudly brought it into the office the next Monday.
The Incident office is pretty typical for a startup of our size, when you walk in you are already in the middle of it all: the work stations are in a mass hub right in the middle of the room, there’s a few NERF toys lying around, and of course one giant stuffed bear with a Incident Tech t-shirt just lounging out on the couch near the kitchen… you know, the usual stuff. As I walked in, my natural inclination was to immediately squeeze the pillow and introduce my new companion to the team. “I’M BACON!” All eyes on the pillow, and it was an instant hit. So the next step, being a hardware company, was to figure out how we could hack it. The result was ‘I-R BACON’.
Initially it was meant to be a motion activated doorbell that saluted our visitors with the classic tagline, “I’m Bacon!” and the above video is the first version of that. A bit of a pun, the new nickname I-R Bacon came from the use of a PIR sensor that allows the pillow to be activated at a distance using infrared motion sensing. (PIR_Sensor) As the novelty of a permanent bacon-greeting wore off it was eventually worked into a portable self-aware/other-aware motion sensing prop. Placed in an appropriate location the pillow is always ready and waiting to reassure the child in us all that bacon is here, and it knows it’s name.
The below guide is meant to give anyone with a few bucks to spend and a little soldering skill the chance to create their very own bacon hack!
For this hack you will need the following:
1 – My First Bacon Pillow by ThinkGeek (Amazon)
1 – PIR Sensor (SparkFun)
1 – Inverter IC (most will do, e.g. SN7404N, but I just had a inverting schmitt trigger lying around)
Various jumper wire types ( I have jumper wires, IC hook leads and various colored wire)
Prototyping board (breadboards work too)
A soldering iron, solder, etc.
1 – cardboard paper towel tube (optional)
1 each – philips and flathead screwdrivers
Accessing Your Inner Bacon
The first step in any hack is getting inside to see what going on. With My First Bacon, this is achieved by opening up a velcro sealed pouch that holds a plastic battery case. It’s pretty standard stuff at this point, one screw opens the compartment with three AA batteries inside, and, on the opposite side, an on-off switch in case your kid goes hog wild with the presses. Go ahead and turn that switch off, 4.5V is not a lot to get shocked with but it’s good habit to tinker with the power unplugged.
Next we’ll want to follow the wires connecting the battery to the speaker and other electronics that make this bacon marvel all possible. Pulling the pouch inside out, we can see the red and black wires that will lead us to the rest of the goodies. Ripping along the seam (or delicately unstitching, in my case) allows us to dive in, where copious amounts of synthetic padding have piled in to provide the ‘plush’ of this bacon plushie. Feeling around a bit, we are able to locate a black plastic speaker case and pull it out. We’ll need our phillips head to remove two screws and then the flathead to pop open the speaker casing to reveal the ‘brain’ of the operation.
What we find is a single PCB that is connected via hard soldered wires to the speaker (attached to the casing), the battery pack and the button that activates the bacon. This is where we need to look for our contact points to add the PIR sensor. The easy ones are terminals of the battery enclosure, a red wire for the higher potential (Vcc) and green for the ‘ground’. The gray wires can be traced to the speaker, leaving two white wires and an orange one. It makes sense that the two white wires would be for the button since most buttons are mere a mechanical switch the connects two wires/contacts when pressed. It this case one side is fed the high voltage level while the other is at ground potential. When the contact held at ground is connected via the button, a positive swinging edge triggers the IC on the board to output the bacon salutation. This is the side that we will use to trigger the pillow with our PIR sensor.
The PIR sensor available through SparkFun makes it really easy to incorporate motion sensing into your hack du jour. When connected to power, the sensor will drive the output pin low anytime it senses motion. This requires a pull-up resistor to Vcc to be placed on the sensor output, as shown above. Due to the bacon-tronics requiring a positive edge trigger as opposed to the negative edge provided by the sensor, we have added in an inverting element so that the input to bacon sensor contact will be ground until the motion sensor raises it, emulating the press of the button.
When testing out the circuit, these IC hooks make it really easy to grab the appropriate wires and connect everything up.
Serving as our inverter I had to rig up a breakout for a random inverting schmitt trigger I had lying around, but the key is that we are providing connections for power and ground, plus input and output, matching the diagram shown previously. Initially, I wanted the motion sensing to be limited to a small area directly in front of the bacon pillow, so I columnated the sensor with a paper towel tube. Not aesthetically pleasing, but it does the job. With the initial pieces in place, it was time for me to debut the newly minted bacon tech, so I placed in this t-shirt rack next to the door and gave it a go.
And with that we have our bacon greeting! This lasted a few weeks as is, and then the constant bacon wore a bit of the greasy shine off of this pioneering achievement(cough, self-praise, cough) Plus the wires hanging all around didn’t speak of a high standard in presentation, so I endeavored to make it better. This time all of the electronics would be self-contained and the sensor would be integrated…
The only real trick in the next version of the bacon pillow was fitting that inverter breakout board inside the speaker case. Removing the IC hook connectors in the first step, then each of the wire leads attached to the breakout will be soldered directly to the wire they were previously connected to. From there it just needed to be squeezed inside with the wires connecting to the PIR sensor ,snaking through a convenient opening in the speaker case(coincidence? I think not!).
A couple screws back in after snapping the case closed and were ready to stuff it all inside. At this point everything is inside the bacon pillow. YES! But wait.. um how do we get it to trigger with the sensor inside the darn thing? Simple, cut a hole for it! In this slightly eerie portion of the process I found myself surgically positioning and cutting a hole for the PIR sensor to peek out of. I mean this isn’t creepy right?