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I'm planning to build my own home automation system with an ESP32 as the main microprocessor. So I was looking for a fun project to test it's capabilities and to get to know it's good and bad sides.

I bought my daughter an Etch A Sketch but it turned out she is too young to play with it and I'm myself really bad in controlling it. So my idea was that I could implement a joystick so my daughter could play with it easily.

I found some builds what have done this already. So I needed to add something extra to make it special. I was already planning to use a camera for the home automation so naturally I want to play around with that too.

So the "etch a selfie" idea was born.

In the end it turned out it was harder to implement than expected. But don't worry it's working and you can use my firmware and I designed the PCB in a way that it should be really easy to solder even for a beginners :-)

How does it work?

First we need something to control the stepper motors. For that I use grbl. The ESP32 has a real time operating system. So it's possible to run grbl in the background. It needed a lot of modifications but in the end it's working.

Then we need to take a picture. That's easy. There is a library for that and it's working fine

So now we get a colored image. Not usable for etching. We can only etch (black) or not etch (white). We need a way to convert the colored image into a black and white image. One idea is to use an edge detection algorithm. But this doesn't look very pretty...

I found an algorithm called XDOG (eXtended difference-of-Gaussians compendium including advanced image stylization) this makes really good results. But it's a challenge to run this on a microcontroller.

To reduce development time I made a feasibility test in JavaScript. There I tried to implement XDOG with the limitations of the ESP32 in mind. This worked in the end and is somehow fast enough. I hosted the results here.

Next problem is we cannot stop etching and start somewhere else. So everything needs to be connected. The connection lines can look ugly. So we need a way to use as few and and as short lines as possible.

I also implemented a test algorithm in JavaScript to see if it's possible to do that. My best solution is still very slow O(n^4). If someone has a more efficient algorithm be my guest. With a lot of optimisations it is not too bad. But in worst case scenario it can take a while to process ....

Last step is to etch everything. This is not so hard to do. Just find the longest line to etch, etch it and search for the next on. Here we could also implement something more advanced. Like finding cycles and etch cycles. This may look better in the end result. But for me just simple lines work fine.

Etch A Sketch Version

There are a lot of different versions of the "Etch A Sketch" out there. So we need to measure its properties to order the right parts! You can order this on. The knobs have a distance of 190mm and a diameter of 6mm.

Step 0.1

Remove the knobs from the "Etch A Sketch". Mine were glued. So they were nearly impossible to remove. I used scissors and a lot of force to remove them.

Warning: Be careful. Don't hurt yourself. I assume no liability for any damage.

Nevertheless it's constructed in a way that you later can attach them again without gluing.

Step 0.2

Measure the distance between the knobs and its diameter. Depending on its values you have to order different parts.


To make the life easier for you I designed a PCB. It's used to mount the motors and all electronic components. So you do not need to do woodwork and wiring yourself.

The only problem is you have to order it. I can recommend JLCPCB (not sponsored) they are the cheapest for the dimensions used but you can use any other manufacturer. Just download the gerber files depending on your distance and send it to the manufacturer.


To assemble everything you need the following tools:

  • soldering iron
  • wire cutter
  • screwdriver cross and smale straight
  • smale hex key
  • some tweezers
  • USB to serial adapter (this one is recommended)
  • multimeter to measure voltages unter 20V
  • superglue


I have some PCBs left to ship. But international shipping is expensive. So I was thinking if enough of you want to order a kit from me, I can make lager orders and so we all save on the shipping cost and I can get some coffee as well. I will not include the "Etch A Sketch" because it's expensive in europe :-(

Send me an email if you are interested: but it can take up to one month to process.

Step 1: DC-DC Converter

Step 1.1

Solder the DC jack onto the PCB top side.

Step 1.2

Use 4 pins from the pin row to solder the DC-DC converter to the PCB. This is the only component on the bottom side. Be careful to match the text "in" and "out" on the PCB with the DC-DC converter.

homemade10116 days ago
im-pro (author)  homemade10116 days ago
Really slick! I've never heard of this esp module, but it looks fun. I always wanted to do some projects with video, or even stills, but was always afraid of the learning curve. That, and with the prices not sure what to buy first.
im-pro (author)  OptimisticPessimist19 days ago
The esp8266 is really popular. The esp32 is it's follow-up. Yes the camera module is fun. But also very buggy ... Don't expect too much.