Source code for the Arduino Powered Pinewood Derby project.
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Arduino Pinewood Derby

This repository contains the source code for the Arduino Powered Pinewood Derby project published by Make Magazine. I also published an updated version of the article on, and you can find a PDF version of the article at

My son is in Cub Scouts and for years we've been building Boy Scouts of America Pinewood Derby cars with the rest of the pack. I've always invited my son's Den into my workshop so the other scouts and their Dads can make use of my tools to build their cars. The Boy Scouts has a policy against Cub Scouts using power tools, but with the right guidance we've gotten along.

It's always…interesting to see how much involvement the Scouts have vs. their parents in making the cars. For the most part, I've let my son do what he wants with his car; I've guided him, but let him cut the car, sand it, paint it and so on. I really only got directly involved when it came to putting the wheels on as he didn't, until recently, have the physical strength and control needed to do that right.

After watching one particular parent last year spend two hours or more in the shop painstakingly cutting, shaping, sanding and grinding the car into a particular shape, my son and I decided that we'd kick it up a notch this year. Even though I have a pretty nice wood shop, I'm more of a programmer type (I've written 6 books on mobile development), so I suggested that we do something with a programmable microcontroller and some LEDs for this year's race. I'd wanted to do something with Arduino, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity to do so while at the same time providing me with a chance to teach my son how to wire things together, solder and write code.

For our first iteration of this, we configured the car so that when it sits in the pits, it will flash the lights in a certain pattern. When the car is at the starting gate, and when it's on the angled portion of the track, the light pattern changes and becomes much more active. Knowing that the car may jump off the track, we also added special added patterns for when the car is sitting on its left or right side. Since everything is done in code, it's super easy to completely change the light patterns and orientation settings in the software. You and your son can spend hours trying out different patterns to get the right, and potentially unique, ones for your car.

By John M. Wargo - if you like and/or use this module, why not pick up one of my books?