The proverb “necessity is the mother of invention” is often used to highlight the relationship between constraints and innovation. But when those constraints are removed, it can be inspiring in completely different ways.
And those very kinds of constraints—and their removal—might have led to the creation of a gigantic DIY Nintendo Switch.
While Switch fans are waiting for Nintendo to announce a new, bigger version of the console, Michael Pick, an Alabama software engineer and tinkerer who drew attention last year for a tiny iMac-style computer about as tall as a Red Bull can, decided to break in his new workshop by putting together a 70-inch-wide, 30-inch-tall enlargement of Nintendo’s popular portable console.
In a video discussing the endeavor, he joked that he developed the larger device to make the Switch harder to lose, but in an interview, Pick (who runs a YouTube channel called The Casual Engineer) said it was a challenge to himself after developing an array of miniaturized devices, which also include a mini gaming PC and a mini MacBook, to try something new.
“Recently, I moved into a much larger workspace which has allowed me to be unrestricted in my builds,” he explained in an email. “Previously, I had a very small workspace, so that's part of the reason why all of my first builds were miniatures. That's not the case anymore.”
The giant Switch, which combines a 50-inch television with massive working buttons and controls, buries a normal-sized Nintendo Switch and controller on the inside. Pick used a combination of techniques, including 3D-printed buttons and a wood case, to build the device.
The secret sauce that makes the controls work is an Arduino device that controls motors that press the buttons on the actual, much smaller controller.
“In order to prevent major setbacks, I chose the most direct path forward: placing servo motors over every button on the Joy-Con controller, and then mapping those servos to the larger momentary buttons on the front panel,” he explained.
This was a benefit for the Joy-Con joysticks in particular, he noted, because it allowed him to use the factory controllers “by simply connecting my supersized joysticks to the original underneath it,” rather than a more complex soldering process that would have damaged the original controllers.
Working in a CAD tool to help design the device, Pick said the biggest challenge he faced involved the elaborate system he designed for both the buttons and the retainment system that holds the buttons in place after pressing down on one.
“But once I got that figured out the rest of the build wasn't too difficult,” he said.
Ultimately, the 65-pound Nintendo Switch found a home at Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital in Nashville, where he delivered it as a part of an ongoing virtual toy drive—with a little logistical help from the hospital staff. (Apparently the van he rented to deliver the device was too big for the hospital’s parking deck, so he had to deliver it directly through the front door.)
Delivery challenges aside, the donated device was a big hit.
“Seeing the reaction when I delivered the giant Nintendo Switch really made it all worth the effort,” he said.