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Hacking a Flippity Fish™️

Every time we turn on this new cat toy, our cat gets scared. Maybe it wiggles too much. So I hacked it.

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Our cat Elsa needs lots of entertainment. In our last attempt to make her happy, we bought her a Flippity Fish: a plush that looks like a fish, but it starts wiggling and flipping when its body gets hit.
It looks really nice and fun, but Elsa disagrees. When it starts moving, she immediately leaves it and looks at it from a distance. I think she's scared of how much and how long it moves. To prove my theory, I took it apart and looked for ways to reduce the wiggling, or even make it remote-controllable.

The original product can be found here: https://www.globalshop.com.au/products/flippity-fish

  • 1 × ESP8266 (ESP-01 module)

  • Programming the small ESP-01

    Enrico Gueli3 days ago 0 comments

    So the USB-to-serial adapter arrived. I can now program the ESP-01 module, considerably smaller than the development boards I have: the WeMos D1 mini, for example, is a little too big to fit inside the small space available in the plastic enclosure.

    With a bunch of jumper wires I kinda managed to connect it to an ESP-01 module. Did a first programming, then I unplugged the wires from the adapter, re-plugged the ones for the fish, and checked if it worked. It did work, but I needed a few adjustments. Unplug again, re-plug again. And every time, carefully check for mistakes.

    Mildly fed up by this tedious process, I decided to build myself an adapter board. So I could plug the ESP-01 on one side, and the USB-to-serial adapter on the other. An evening and a morning later, here's the result:

    It's now WAY easier to program the ESP-01!
    The USB adapter does provide 3.3V but I think it's not enough for the ESP8266 (I saw the voltage dropping under 3.1V). To stay on the safe side, I made the power come from my lab power supply.

    The next step is to implement OTA programming, so I can keep programming it even if the ESP-01 is well tucked in the fish. This is particularly important because the space is so tight, I'll have to remove the 8-pin male header and any physical communication with the host will be a lot more annoying.

  • Controlling it via an ESP8266

    Enrico Gueli01/12/2021 at 22:04 0 comments

    I simply desoldered and lifted the two microcontroller pins, and connected the H-bridge driver to an ESP8266 dev board I had lying around.

    I wrote a small sketch based on Blynk (GitHub repo in project page) and here's the result:


    The next step is to use a smaller ESP-01 module to fit inside the inner plastic body. I couldn't do that before because I was missing an USB-to-TTL converter needed to program it.

  • Take it apart

    Enrico Gueli01/12/2021 at 22:00 0 comments

    Here's how it looks and behaves after removing the soft exterior and take apart the insides:

    It wiggles following two patterns. First one is "continuous" and is shown above. The second one is "pulsed" and is shown below. In both cases the motor is moved back and forth to do the wiggling.


    The next step is to get rid of the microcontroller to put our own control signals.

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