Alex Rider contest WINNERS!

Computers & Mobile Craft & Design
Alex Rider contest WINNERS!

Thanks to everyone who entered the Alex Rider Dream Gadget Contest! We had a great time checking out all of the entries with lasers, grappling hooks, and other spy-stealth goodies, all designed by Alex Rider fans ages 8-18. It was a hard decision, but the winners are in!

Grand Prize Winner:


The Listening Cup by “nic”, who writes:

Many people have used cups to eavesdrop through walls and doors, but I don’t think it works very well. This is the eavesdropping cup with a modern improvement: It has a built-in mic and small amplifier circuit built into the fake bottom. A small earbud speaker on the very bottom of the cup lets the user hear everything.

Project Materials:

  • an opaque plastic cup
  • a small circle of plastic to form the fake bottom
  • circular PCB
  • an amplifier IC (like the LM386)
  • a small speaker, like an earbud speaker or similar (can be pretty much any size, just so long it fits in the cup!)
  • a small microphone sensor
  • a little trimpot to adjust volume
  • a coin cell or an external (hopefully hidden) power source

Nic will receive the grand prize package which includes:

  • A signed collection of hardcover Alex Rider novels
  • iPod nano with a personalized message from author Anthony Horowitz
  • A backpack full of goodies and gadgets from the Maker Shed
  • And The Listening Cup will be built by MAKE Labs and featured on Make: Online!

Runners Up:


Copter Cam Aerial Recon/Surveillance unit by “The Bear Builder,” who writes:

This looks like a fountain pen. Inside is a disposable flying camera and transmitter based on the design of an ash tree seed pod, and vertically launched with a simple rubber band catapult up to about 200 feet up. As it slowly spirals down, it feeds a 360-degree scan of the area via wi-fi to Alex’s PDA or cell phone. Software in the PDA decodes the spiral scan into a scrollable 360-degree still image in 2-D or 3-D.

Project Materials: Advanced lithium watch battery is tiny, holds a charge a long time but has high output for the short run time of the camera and transmitter. The copter part is made of molded plastic, so as not to show up on radar, and the single airfoil blade contains the transmitter wire embedded in its leading edge. The really complicated part is the software in the PDA that senses repeating bright and dark points in the spinning video feed and lines them up to progressively build a scanned image much like an early mechanical TV camera. By layering identical angles from two offset heights, you can create stereoscopic 3-D stills as well.

Inspiration for creating this gadget: We play with rubber-band-launched whirligig toys in the summer time, and it is fun in fall to watch ash and maple seeds fly down. This unit is based mostly on an ash tree seed which fits the secret fountain pen better than the fatter maple leaf pod shape. Right now university researchers are working on radio-controlled versions of this idea, called “monocopters”, but my version is non-motorized, slim and small; a light-weight, one-time-use spy tool version that’s very stealthy. The rubber band launcher is low-tech, efficient, common and innocuous, a good thing for spy tools.

Scenario in which you would use this gadget: Anywhere you need a quick bird’s-eye view, you would shoot this silently up overhead, and grab a 360-degree scrollable aerial view, in 2-D at night, optional 3-D in daylight. Good for getting a current sense of the “Big Picture” where you don’t have Google Maps, or seeing the bad guys you are chasing from a safe distance, revealing any ambush they may have planned. What’s on the roof of that building? How do I get out of this maze? The copter cam can show you.



Altoids Tin Rangefinder by “electronicsguru,” who writes:

This is a fully operational “time-of-flight” style laser rangefinder that fits perfectly inside of an Altoids tin. Enclosed in the tin are 4 things : #1: x7 viewfinder #2: Nd:YAG transmitting laser with appropriate circuitry #3: Receiver with appropriate circuitry and LCD screen #4: 6 VDC Li-PO battery pack To use the rangefinder, the lid is first opened. Since the viewfinder is on the same hinge, when the lid opens, it pops up as well. Then the battery pack is connected to the circuits, powering them up. Then the receiver is pulled up, then the laser it pulled up. The receiver and laser are already perfectly calibrated to align.The laser transmits continually and the receiver picks it up. The range, azimuth, and elevation is then shown on the LCD connected the receiver circuit board in whatever units Alex chooses. To stabilize the rangefinder, three stick pens with holes drilled in then 3/4 of the way up are held together with a steel pin. The writing end sticks into whatever strata Alex happens to be on, while the opposite end has adhesive dots to stick to the bottom of the tin.

Scenario in which you would use this gadget: Alex Rider is behind enemy lines in a foreign country and in a jam. There is an enemy fortification in the distance preventing him from continuing his mission and he needs to hit it with some artillery fire from support behind him. He uses the rangefinder to calculate the azimuth and elevation of the target as well as the distance away from him so the artillery will not hit him. He calls in the information to the support and they hit it dead on. Alex is victorious and can continue with his mission.

The Bear Builder and electronicsguru will each receive:

  • A signed hardcover copy of Crocodile Tears
  • An Alex Rider t-shirt

Congrats to the three winners and thanks to everybody who participated!

4 thoughts on “Alex Rider contest WINNERS!

  1. Kyle McDonald says:

    I’d say the sky-spy cam is the most amazing of the three here, but also the hardest to implement. I really like the idea of launching something with a rubber band for reconnaissance.

    1. Becky Stern says:

      We want to celebrate all the entrants and winners, they all did such an amazing job coming up with innovative ideas! One of the judging criteria was “technical feasibility” because the winner gets his/her gadget built by MAKE labs.

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Becky Stern is a Content Creator at Autodesk/Instructables, and part time faculty at New York’s School of Visual Arts Products of Design grad program. Making and sharing are her two biggest passions, and she's created hundreds of free online DIY tutorials and videos, mostly about technology and its intersection with crafts. Find her @bekathwia on YouTube/Twitter/Instagram.

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