What is it?

This is a slot car racing set that we’ve adapted so that it has the potential to race cars automatically.

What does it do?

We’ve designed some simple electronic circuits that allow the speed of a car to be controlled, and its position on the track to be measured, by a simple controller such as a Raspberry Pi or Arduino. We’ve also written some simple code for a Raspberry Pi to show how it works.

What use is it?

Well firstly it’s just fun, but at a basic level, it helps introduce beginners to some simple electronic principles as well as the relationships between computer code, electronics and how things happen in the real world. Ultimately, if we built some more hardware and developed our software we could hold Grand Prix in which teams compete to write the best code to race their cars around any circuit.

What equipment do we use?

A slot car set of just about any vintage from a major manufacturer (they didn’t answer our email so we’re not going to name-drop them!). Basic electronic components, connectors and circuit boards come from our stock of bits. We use additional power supplies but the transformer from the set could easily be used too. Any custom parts required can be 3D printed.

How does it work?

For the technically minded, a Pi, Arduino or other microcontroller include output pins which a allow a simple signal to be controlled by software. These signals can be used to adjust the output of a circuit known as a ‘voltage regulator’ which is used to control the speed of a slot car. Another simple circuit placed under the track detects when the amount of light falling on it drops as a car passes above it; this allows the car’s position on the track to be monitored.

What else can be done?

We can think of any number of different things that could be done in terms of additional sensors and software to take this further. It just depends on the amount of effort enthusiasts are prepared to put in.

Do we run workshops with it?

Not specifically, but anyone who attends one of our sessions for teens or adults is welcome to explore what we’ve done and help adapt and improve it. Alternatively, if there is enough interest we’d consider setting up a Special Interest Group to see how far we can take this: get in touch!