WowWee Rovio Hack: Head-Mounted LED Lights


The Illumination of Rovio

Trundling down the uncharted vastness of the Dark Hallway our Hero, the Rovio, encounters an unknown, large, assailant. Rovio lifts its head to get a better view of this creature's face. Being in the Dark Hallway, the Great Operator instructs Rovio to turn on its headlight. The electrons flow, the LED brightens, and a bright bluish-white glow envelopes the toes of Rovio's potential nemesis... but Rovio is unable to identify the assailant's facial features.  The Great Operator grabs up the Rovio and a screwdriver and goes about adding some headlights to Rovio's camera.

If you've spent much time with the Rovio in a semi-darkened room, you'll no doubt have noticed that in some situations, you might want to have even more light available.  It feels natural to me to have the headlights mounted in such a way they could light what the camera is pointed at, as well.  So, I decided to add a pair of LEDs to the head on either side of the camera. Read on for the gritty detail, and please remember that hacking your Rovio will definitely void your warranty!

List O' Materials

  • Soldering pencil
  • Solder
  • 22g solid and stranded wire in black and red
  • Two bright white LEDs
  • One 2N2907 PNP Transistor
  • Two 5.6 Ohm resistors
  • One 2.2k resistor
  • Small bit's of stripboard (optional)

Most of these materials I had lying about. A mediocre source for cheap white LEDs is your local dollar store; I found cheesy little LED flashlights for, surprise, a dollar. Each flashlight had three LEDs in it and ran on three AAA batteries (totalling 4.5 volts). The transistor is most likely in stock at the local Radio Shack for 79 cents, or a 15 pack of various PNP transistors is $2.59 and includes five of the 2907 (so you can screw up a few times!) plus have a few left over for future projects.

The Opening of Rovio

Obviously, to begin this project Rovio needs to be opened up. With the Rovio turned on, lift the "head" to the full up position, then push the power button and turn it back off.  Flip Rovio over (it works fairly well to hold it on your lap with the head stalk between your knees) and remove the battery. With the robot still inverted, remove the six phillips screws closest to the outside edge and store them (coffee cups work well, as do empty egg cartons) Flip it back over, set it on the table, and seperate the two halves of the robot. There will be a wad of cabling preventing the top half from being moved too far from the bottom.

WowWee Rovio Hacks at RoboCommunity

The Circuit Part

There are two parts of the bottom half that are of interest to this project. Both are outlined in a yellowish color below.

The first is the light array in the "chest" (bottom middle of photo). The outside bulbs are Rovio's InfraRed "Radar". The center bulb is Rovio's default headlight, which I tapped into for control of the new headlights.

WowWee Rovio Hacks at RoboCommunity

A bit of poking about told me the white wire coming from the LED is what I was after. It is the ground for the default headlight, which is apparently switched via the brain board (upper right in photo.) There is a reasonable chance that the existing circuit could handle that extra load of two headlights. For the sake of overkill I used it to switch a new circuit. Since it's a ground to the board, I used a PNP transistor to switch the ground of the new lights. I snipped the white wire near the middle (taking care to leave room to put it back together if all this failed) and connected the board end of it to the base of the transistor through the 2.2k Ohm resistor.

The second area is the power supply board (left middle of photo). This is what the battery and charging terminals are connected to. There are a few convenient empty holes in this board which I soldered directly into. Below is the board in original form, then after I soldered a nice black wire into a ground hole. The other end of the black wire goes to the Emitter of the transistor.

Naturally I failed to get a photo of a red wire soldered to a positive hole, so you'll have to imagine that part. The red wire will supply power to the LEDs in the Rovio's head.

WowWee Rovio Hacks at RoboCommunity  WowWee Rovio Hacks at RoboCommunity

The Tricky Part

After removing four screws from the underside of Rovio's head, I found there's not a whole lot of space left over inside. However, there are two perfect little empty spots on either side of the camera just begging to be filled with extra lighting.

WowWee Rovio Hacks at RoboCommunity

To power the lights in this location I had to fish two wires up through Rovio's neck.  Indeed, this was the most fun of the whole project, and it took me about thirty minutes to get the wires into place. I'm pretty sure that further disassembly of the neck could have made this easier. I found it much easier to stuff the wires, one at a time, up from the bottom of the neck (rather than down through the head).

Once the red and black wires were through the neck and into the head area I soldered the red wire directly to the positive leads of the LEDs (in parallel via a Y split). The black wire is connected to the two LED negative leads via the 5.6 Ohm resistors. After a bit of pushing and prodding wires into place the LEDs sit fairly nicely and it was time to cut the plastic housing to accomodate them.

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That's It!

Now it's time to stuff all this new wiring into place and close up the Rovio. This was the second most fun part of the project. Take care to not crush any of those skinny little wires, they probably wouldn't like it much. Once everything is in place, screw it all together, put the battery back in, and fire it up. Next time you hit the Headlight button in the UI you'll be able to blind whoever Rovio is looking at!

Please visit the attached image gallery to see a few before and after shots from the Rovio's camera. Also in the gallery are a few more higher-resolution pictures of Rovio internals, the wiring diagram of the final circuit, and a shot or two of the outside final look of this mod.


Always breadboard your circuit first, so a dead LED doesn't cause grief. That was highly annoying.

I chose 5.6 ohm resistors for the LEDs based off the 4.63 volts I found after the transistor was wired up. I'm assuming the voltage drop is due to grounding through the transistor, and the transistor switching through the brain board. Your mileage may vary.

Mine is set up to replace the existing headlight, since having it still light would be a bit superfluous. I did mess with it a bit though and couldn't get the original LED to light reliably. I believe this is due to the differences between it and the new LEDs I put in the head being run off the same circuit. This may be solveable by using different resistors on the new LEDs.

I added a bit of heat shrink to the outside of the LEDs. The idea was to prevent side light from washing out the Rovio's camera. It seems to have worked, but I can't prove it was necessary.

In retrospect, choosing bright white LEDs from the dollar store isn't such a hot idea. Because they're cheap, there is a noticeable blue tinge to everything. A higher quality LED would emit a "cleaner" white light.

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CY's picture

Thanks for posting this for us !!!

Michelle C's picture

Great stuff!

milw's picture

Rudolph, did you look closely at the camera itself? Is it possible there's a filter in front of the cmos sensor?

Whoops- answered my own question by opening mine. The camera is actually a sealed unit; the lens is glued in place and the entire lens/housing/CMOS sensor is a little 1/4" cube with 16 contacts on the bottom, that fits into a plastic housing with spring contacts. The camera is held in by little metal prongs that will easily be destroyed, so I don't recommend anyone try taking it out.

FREEEK's picture

Excellent work! I'm curious about this robot comparing it with Spykee by Erector...

I'm now waiting for my new robot the I-Droid robot from the DeAgostini Magazines which are in stores in Italy and Holland[UK has also but different]... and rarely other countries.





iquad's picture

hmmm...the videos are good.

RobosapienV2-4mem8's picture

M'mmm interesting I cannot see any video pics at all, now I am wondering if it is my Zone alarm security suite upgrade from pro that's causing my problem. Hang on I will shut it down and see.

RobosapienV2-4mem8's picture

Yep, that's the problem alright, M'mmm now to see why it's doing it.

jpapavas's picture

Hi, i just finnish the modification to my Rovio :) Thank you Rudolph !!! i am so happy now... my Rovio can "see" :)






Rudolph's picture

Looks great! Glad it worked well for you :)

David J's picture

Can I as why you didn't try to hack the camera with a night vision camera? I'd love to see that next.

RobosapienV2-4mem8's picture

Nice hack guys, well done. Looks good.

jpapavas's picture

hi all, Rudolph can i ask you a favor? can you ask the good man that he told you about the "tip" if he can tell more informations about the main unit.

I have in my back of my mind all the time a idea to use two BasicStamp2 that i got :) what would we a great project :) - (smarter) Rovio with more abilites.

Here it is lot of people with great ideas and one by one we can do something better. by the way i will post images (How-To) from my installation tomorrow :) and more people will see that your work is very easy to do.

Real i am very happy with that small mod and i guess is the start.

PhntmRangr's picture

Thanks for your wiring instructions! They worked great! I found a maglite LED bulb worked perfectly and is already rated for 6v so no need for extra protection on the led. Thanks again!

OUIA's picture

Thanks for the tutorial.

OUIA's picture

On/Off function is working while;

LED[leg1] to (+)
LED[leg2] to the joint of 2.2K & white cable (the original led's pre-cable(white one))

What could be the mismatch in circuit?


OUIA's picture

Solved :-)

Problem was the PNP sorting. EMMITOR (P) and COLLECTOR (P) connected vice-versa.

NotSoSureAboutRovio's picture

WOW. well, 2 things: 1. good job. looks like it works nice. decent wiring (at least you did it right w/ the transistor and heat shrink, ect). 2. YOU ARE CRAZY. i cant believe you tore that thing open man! you got balls man. balls.

I plan to mod mine a little too... however i plan to not do nearly as an invasive procedure as you did, nor as extreme as the other guy who did something similar (the one w/ the HUGE array of leds, the motion activated floodlight one). i want to keep weight down and modding external with no damage.

I like the idea of the motion activated leds (however this could be a problem when you simply walk by the rovio, mine is right at the front door). another idea could be to use light activated leds (low light, leds turn on, like those nightlights that turn on when the lights are off).

My main idea was this: use a pushbutton switch to activate the leds. I had 2 ideas for this: 1. mount it to the back of the rovio, and have it turn the leds off when the rovio is docked, and obviously on when it moves from the dock, it would turn on the leds by making a connection. 2. make the switch activated by the camera head. when the head is moved to the 'mid' position, it activates the leds.

I was going to mount the leds to either the camera (worried about light messing with the camera by being too close), or just next to it similar to jpapavas' lights. by using 2 rechargeable AA's, that would eliminate the need for resistors, ect, as well as avoiding having to tap into the main battery (even though this could hypothetically be easy). I dont feel leds use enough power to drain the battery too much, but im worried about not supplying enough voltage to the rovio itself by going this route. I will post my work / mods along the way.

polis's picture

Hi my english is very bad sorry I ask What processor use rovio? please I need this information

Waynosan's picture

Thanks for the the info on this mod. I'd like to do this over the holiday break. Have you thought about using lenses in front of the LEDs? I think that the official Rovio light uses them and I think LED effectiveness would be significantly improved. I was also thinking of replacing the headlight LED with something whiter while I'm in there (and fitting a lens on that also). It seems to give off a very bluish tint when looking through the Rovio. Does anyone have any good lens suggestions?

Also, how does this mod play with some of the software "nightvision" hacks out there? They seem to work pretty well and I'm hoping that the combination of the two will make the Rovio useful in complete darkness.

Ogun's picture

I added a headlight to my Rovio by taping a torch to it.
I ran a wire from the terminals of the power switch on the torch to an LDR (light-dependent resistor) and then jammed the LDR into the LED hole on the front of Rovio (making a primitive optocoupler).

Whenever Rovio's LED is turned on, it sets off the LDR and lights the torch.

I had to stick the wire from the torch to the LDR down with electrical tape so that it didn't get in the way of what looks like an IR sensor next to the LED hole.

This is not a pretty mod, but it is cheap and easy and doesn't require opening up the robot.

giannimess's picture

see my siple version

Nasir Ahmad's picture

Led light batter then other.