Frankenscope: An Intel Play QX3 USB Microscope Rebuild
After reading Keith Peter's USB microscope posts, I was inspired to interrogate the world around me with fresh eyes. Also, I wanted so badly to get my hands on one of those wonderful toys and spark my 2 year old son's interest in naturalism, transforming him instantly into a mini-Darwin. Well, the best laid plans of mice and fathers being what they are, those ideas were quickly overtaken by the kudzu of daily chores and appointments. That is until one day, when strolling through the aisles of a local Goodwill, I came across a colorful USB kids' microscope in what looked like pretty good shape. I really liked the retro design and sturdy, easy-to-use controls(well, it was made for 8 year-olds). Jackpot! I took it home for $2.97 and quickly discovered why it was abandoned: it had been obsolete for over half a decade. The microscope in question was an Intel Play QX3, and it had gone out of production in 2002 or so. After following online advice, I went through the steps to download the necessary software and drivers, but still got the a bunch of fatal errors:
Defeated, it sat on the shelf for a few weeks. Then, my webcam up and crapped out (of course, the day before an Augmented Reality project was due). It wouldn't register with the list of webcams for some applications, but it could still be accessed through Flash's Camera.names array. So the thought occurred to me to combine the lenses of the old microscope, which seemed fine, with the sensors and USB connection of the webcam. Having never looked inside a webcam or a microscope, I was a little worried but very excited, and since they were both pretty much worthless to me at this point what was the worst that could happen? Right?
The first step was to take the QX3 apart, and that step couldn't have been easier. The camera seemed to be designed for frequent maintenance, as every component was removable with just a small screwdriver. It reminded me of working on an old Mercedes, where the parts may be out of date, but how they fit together is timeless craftsmanship. Also, I had never done it before, just like with the Mercedes.
The Logitech webcam dissection was a tad bit messier. First of all, there were no screws to speak of. Pieces were removed by the expedient method of prying them the f@*! off.
After removing the mounted lens and freeing it from it's plastic prison, there was nothing left but the light sensor, the microphone dangley thing (technical term), and the USB chord. I plugged it in with trepidation over what my jostling had caused to come loose, but was relieved when the light came on.
After that, testing was as simple as unscrewing the original circuit board from the QX3, finding the housing for the light sensor, and holding them together. This was the first thing I could make out that wasn't blurry:
Once I knew the principle worked, I used the best tool god or man ever created to affix the webcam's core guts to the microscope lenses.
Now that everything was secure, I lobotomized the microscope's plastic case so the bigger webcam sensor would fit. And when the final screw went in, pow, I had one working microscope/microcam!
Now on to the fun part, exploring the world of the miniature! The first image is my Palm Pre's screen, which I had to do as an homage to Keith's original experiment, and because the lights for the microscope ran off of the old circuit board so I couldn't see anything else. Anyways, I was very happy with the results!
This was probably the most rewarding juryrig I've done in a while. I love the feeling of making something useful by tearing out guts from different things and stitching them together. And if you're still reading this, I'm guessing you do too, so please share your creations and maybe sometime we can Voltron them into something even better. Thanks, and remember: throwing things out is for quitters!