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Reviving a Vintage Pinball Machine with an Arduino

Pinball machines, at least as we know them, have existed since the mid-20th century — though their origins date back much further than that. Virtually all modern pinball machines are controlled digitally, but that has only been the case since the ’70s and ’80s. Before then, electromechanical (EM) pinball machines were the standard. Those relied on an extremely complex series of relays, switches, and mechanisms to track your score, move the ball, and enhance the experience with visual and sound effects. It’s hard to find those old EM pinball machines in working order, which is why Richard Scroggins used an Arduino to convert his to digital control.

This pinball machine is a classic Seven Up model from 1969, and was originally electromechanical. If it had been in good shape, it would have made more sense to restore its original functionality. But Scroggins’ Seven Up pinball machine was in rough shape, and only the playfield was salvageable. All of the original electronics were either missing or weren’t working, so Scroggins set out to revive it with modern hardware.

The brain of the refurbished pinball machine is an Arduino Mega board. That model was chosen because it has a large number of I/O pins, which is ideal for interfacing with the Seven Up’s hardware. Each of the various obstacles have switches underneath, which are monitored by the Arduino. In turn, the Arduino keeps score, controls the lights, and plays sound effects through a SparkFun WAV Trigger board. This project is still underway, but most of the pinball machine’s functionality has been restored. The rest of the work is mostly cosmetic, and Scroggins’ efforts so far should provide some inspiration if you find yourself with a similar vintage pinball machine.

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Author: Cameron Coward

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