Build: Hacking the Brain Machine

Build: Hacking the Brain Machine
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This is an alternate build of the Brain Machine by Mitch Altman. I really like the Brain Machine, but I wanted to make a version that does not mount the electronics to the glasses. Also, Gareth send me a bunch of the new Make Project Tins and I wanted to full one up with electronics. [Thanks Gareth!]

What you need:

  • A completed Brain Machine – Available in the Maker SHED
  • Make Project Tin – Available in the Maker SHED
  • Panel mount headphone jack (barrel type works best)
  • 2-line Phone cord – It has (4) wires, not (2)
  • Rubber Grommet
  • Switch – Almost any type [I salvaged mine]
  • Card Stock, or any heavy paper
  • Heat Shrink Tubing – Purchase a multi-size kit…you’ll use it on other projects

This build assumes you have soldered, and programmed, your Brain Machine. If you haven’t, read my hack first so you don’t spend too much time attaching all the components together since you are going to remove everything from the glasses to make this project. If you have a completed Brain Machine, you can easily hack it into my version.

Step 1: Make the Brain Machine


I am not going to go through the process of making the Brain Machine. The kit comes with build instructions and links to online tutorials. It is all very well documented, we even have a great Weekend Project about building your own.

Step 2: Preparing the Make Project Tin


The phone cord will connect the (2) LEDs on the glasses to the PCB that will be housed inside the Make Project Tin. Drill (1) hole based on the size of the grommet you will be using for the phone cord to pass through. The grommet is to protect the phone line from becoming frayed by the sharp edges of the hole you drilled. I used a 5/16″ grommet, so I drilled a 1/8″ pilot hole and followed up with a 5/16″ drill bit. Now, just add the grommet to the hole. Feed the phone line through the hole with the grommet. Next, tie a knot in the cord so it cannot slip through the hole.


Drill (2) more holes at the opposite end of the tin. (1) is for the new panel mount headphone jack, and the other is for the switch. The sizes depend on the size of the switch and headphone jack you were able to buy and/or scavenge.

Step 3: Wire the Brain Machine


Start by adding the new, longer, wire to power the LEDs. I used 2-line phone cord approximately 4-6′ long. It is cheap, has 4 wires, and a lot of people may already have some in a parts bin. You can use any type of wire that you have, just make sure it has 4-wires and is long enough so you can wear the glasses and place the Make Project Tin on a table or your lap. Solder the wires as described in the instructions from the Brain Machine Kit.

Additional Modification [not necessary, but saves a lot of time]:

After programming your Brain Machine, you can de-solder the DB-9 female connector if you don’t want to cut a hole in the tin. I never plan on reprogramming the Brain Machine so removing the adapter is no big deal, and it saves me some time cutting the tin. If you want to keep it, just cut a rectangular opening in the Make Project tin and secure.

Step 4: Soldering the additional components


Instead of using the included 3.5mm stereo jack, solder in the panel mount barrel type headphone jack. The wires attach the same way as the one included in the kit, so once again, follow the directions in the kit.


We need to split the batteries up so that they fit into the project tin. The following refers to the (2) new single AA battery holders. First, solder (1) red wire from battery holder #1 to (1) black wire from battery holder #2. Solder the remaining red wire form battery holder #2 to the one of the terminals on the switch. Solder the remaining black wire from battery holder #1 to (-) solder point on the Brain Machine. Finally solder a wire from the the other terminal on the switch to the (+) solder point on the Brain Machine. Got it? Great! [sounds a lot worse than it is]

Step 5: Making the glasses


First decide where you are going to run the phone wire. I ran mine down one of the arms of the glasses. Make sure to allow a little extra wire so the glasses will close when you aren’t using the Brain Machine. Next, cut a piece of 3/8′ heat shrink tubing approximately 1/2″ long and a piece of 1/4″ heat shrink tubing approximately 3 1/2″ long. Thread the phone cord and the eyeglass arm through the tubing and secure.


Shrink away!


Solder the LED wires to the phone cord. They are wired the same as described in the instructions. I used a little heat shrink to make it look nicer and eliminate any shorts.

Step 6: Stuff the Make Project Tin


First, cut a piece of card stock to fit the bottom of the tin. This will prevent any of the traces from shorting out if they come in contact with the metal tin. You must insulate the tin. If you don’t, your board will fry! Also, you can cut the corner of the PCB just a little so it fits in a little easier. You can see the trimmed PCB in the above picture.


Now all you have to do now is stuff it all in. Start be attaching the headphone jack and switch. The wires should go underneath one of the battery holders. Next add the (2) battery holders and circuit board. Now sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.

Additional Notes:

  • You can use AAA batteries and make
  • You can replace the AA batteries with coin cell batteries and keep them on the glasses [Thanks for the idea Mitch]
  • You can build the Brain Machine as described in kit, it works great as-is!

I really like Mitch Altman’s Brain Machine. I was lucky enough to meet with him at AS220 in Providence a little while back, which is where I picked up my kit.

If you like this build, you can check it out in the Maker SHED at Maker Faire in Austin. See you in Austin!

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