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On November 17th, we’ll be launching the Alex Rider Dream Gadget Contest, to coincide with the release of the next chapter in Alex’s adventures, Crocodile Tears. The book comes out the same day that MAKE, Volume 20 (the kid-themed issue) hits newsstands! In case you’re unaware, Alex Rider is a young spy whose exploits are chronicled in a popular series of teen spy/adventure books. Alex uses all sorts of crazy high tech contraptions, made from things in his school backpack, to get out of sticky situations.

MAKE is teaming up with the Penguin Group to present The Alex Rider Dream Gadget Contest.

Attention all adventure-seekers, gadget lovers, and closet inventors. You are invited to join in the fun! If you were Alex Rider, what gadget would you want in the upcoming adventure Crocodile Tears? Design your Alex Rider dream gadget, inspired by an everyday object (i.e. an iPod, a toothpaste tube, a pen). The winning gadget will be built here at MAKE Labs. Send us a schematic, tell us what your gadget is made from, and how it works. Your entry can be a schematic, sketches, and/or an explanation by you. Remember that the winning gadget should be inspired by an everyday object that one could realistically build (as much as we wish we could create a pair of scissors that fly us to the moon)!

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be offering excerpts from the Alex Rider books, highlighting the fantastic, clever (and entirely fictional) gadgets used by Alex. We’ll also be giving away a whole pile of books from the series!

The gadgets schematics we’ll be sharing with you are all from Alex Rider: The Gadgets, a special illustrated book of gadgets described in the novels. In the series, M16 agent Smithers creates these clever tools for Alex to use on his missions. First up is the high-tensile yo-yo from Stormbreaker, useful for climbing:

High-tensile yo-yo:This black plastic yo-yo, slightly larger than standard, is in fact a miracle of miniaturized engineering. When it is activated using a concealed switch, it acts as a winch, winding the cord back around the axle. It is intended to clip in an agent’s belt for use as a climbing aid. One half of the yo-yo contains the micromotor array, made from super-tough carbon fiber components. A complex micromechanical gear system delivers up to 350 watts of power.

The other half houses the highly advanced lanthanum/nickel/tin battery, which supplies as much current as a car battery yet fits into less than a tenth of the space. The battery holds enough charge to let the motor run continuously for one hour. When it is due to be recharged, the agent needs only to use the device as a yo-yo; the spinning motion runs a tiny generator in its core and will charge the unit fully in approximately fifteen minutes. The cord itself is made from an advanced form of nylon that can lift weights of up to two hundred pounds. One hundred feet of it are wound around the central axle.

Because the yo-yo may have to be used as a toy, either to recharge the battery or to pass inspection, it has been designed to function normally despite the unusually long cord; this has been achieved by using a pair of axles, inner and outer. When the yo-yo is dropped, the cord pays out to a length of one yard before the outer axle locks in place. The two sides can then spin around the inner one. Pulling the cord harder unlocks the outer axle and allows the entire hundred feet to unwind.

Check out the high-res gadget schematic of the yo-yo for more details. Alex uses it to get out of a very high-flung predicament in Stormbreaker:

He was suspended underneath the plane by a single thin white cord, twisting around and around as he was carried ever farther into the air. The wind was rushing past him, battering his face and deafening him. He couldn’t even hear the propellers, just above his head. The belt was cutting into his waist. He could hardly breathe. Desperately, he scrabbled for the yo-yo and found the control he wanted. A single button. He pressed it and the tiny powerful motor inside the yo-yo began to turn. The yo-yo rotated on his belt, pulling in the cord. Very slowly, an inch at a time, Alex was drawn up toward the plane.

To get a bigger taste of Stormbreaker, download a sample excerpt.

Disclaimer: Excerpts from Alex Rider: The Gadgets by Anthony Horowitz are fictional and for inspiration only. Readers should not attempt to recreate these gadgets.

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Book Giveaway Time!

First up, we’re giving away two copies each of Stormbreaker and Point Blank. Just leave a comment in this post and tell us why you or your kid(s) needs one of these books. Please make sure you include your email address in the comment form field (it won’t be published). All eligible comments will be closed by Noon PDT on Sunday, October 25th. The winners will be announced next week on the site. Good luck!

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Becky Stern

Becky Stern is head of wearable electronics at Adafruit Industries. Her personal site: sternlab.org


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