Glow with the Show Ears Teardown

Posted: November 11, 2013 in Engineering, Texas Instruments
Tags: , , , , , ,

WP_20131111_0012013 welcomed a new attraction to the Walt Disney World Resort. No it is not a ride, but a new way to enjoy some of the Disney Parks. “Glow with the Show,” as its called, brings light up LED mouse ears. The ears can light up depending on the area of the park or show. I was last down in the Magic Kingdom on Friday and picked up a set. I have been wondering what makes these guys tick ever since I first heard about them from Disneyland.

WP_20131111_004First off, these are not the traditional beanie caps you can buy in the park. They fit more like a helmet with quite a bit of padding to hide the battery box. As you can see above removing the padding reveals the battery box and plastic support for the ears. The ears are attached via 1 screw and 1 rivet. This made them super hard to remove, and in the end, I never actually got it off.

WP_20131111_007Popping the plastic facing off the ears revealed a large tricolor LED (no surprise) and another smaller LED. My friend Matt did some searching online and discovered it was a 940 nm LED. This is probably used for inter-ear communication between different headsets.

WP_20131111_009The other ear (above) revealed another tricolor LED, but also an IR Receiver. Both ears contain a flexible PCB and go into the central part of the beanie cap.

WP_20131111_013Inside, the two flexible PCBs are attached to a central main rigid PCB. This is vary different from earlier models. The board has only a few test pads and is marked version 1.5. As you can see, getting to the PCB was hard due to the support plastic in the way. I had to cut the beanie open to get to it and then pop off a plastic cover. The PCB is held in place by a couple of plastic rivets that I was able to easily remove.

WP_20131111_016With the PCB out, it is also clear to see this revision uses a mechanical switch. The original Disneyland version had a capacitive button on the ears. (Probably for cost savings and simplicity.) You can see the switch connected to the red and white wires. This also means a physical disconnect between the PCB and battery. The switch is held in by a couple of screws and came out easily.

WP_20131111_019The photo above shows the electronics, cut free from their housing and battery box. The overall length is about 6 inches. A forward direction is marked on all the PCBs, indicating that direction does matter (even if the user doesn’t wear it correctly). The MCU is a TI MSP430. TI knows a thing or two when it comes to low power and that makes sense with this device that should a full day in the parks. (The ears blink randomly if there is no signal received.)

WP_20131111_020All said and done, this teardown took a bit more effort than I expected. There was a ton of foam to remove and in the end, I still had to cut the top off the hat. As you can see above, just a few tools were used. Special thanks to my friend Matt for looking up all the parts. Now time to see what I can do with! Lucky for me, the control codes have been cracked and it should be just as simple as implementing an IR transmitter.

  1. Oooh, MSP430. That thing is versatile. Mickey Mouse ears and the motion co-processor for the Moto X

  2. Some people simply put on their thinking caps from off the shelf. You, however, reverse engineer your own. Awesome teardown 🙂

  3. […] they glow different colors at live shows and based on where they are worn within the park. He did a complete teardown to show off the hardware within. It turns out to be controlled by an MSP430 which are known for their low power […]

  4. […] they glow different colors at live shows and based on where they are worn within the park. He did a complete teardown to show off the hardware within. It turns out to be controlled by an MSP430 which are known for their low power consumption. […]

  5. […] they glow different colors at live shows and based on where they are worn within the park. He did a complete teardown to show off the hardware within. It turns out to be controlled by an MSP430 which are known for their low power […]

  6. […] they glow different colors at live shows and based on where they are worn within the park. He did a complete teardown to show off the hardware within. It turns out to be controlled by an MSP430 which are known for their low power […]

  7. davidandora says:

    I realize the point is to have the magic of these Mickey Ears activated while you are in the park, but it would be fun if you were able to have them controlled outside the park. Realistically, I could see this as an iOS app paired with an IR dongle with a collection of Disney “music videos” that the lights sync with. I don’t know enough about IR signal recorders, but do you think with the right equipment, one could record the IR signals during a show in the park, and effectively replay them later to control these?

    • 08milluz says:

      So that is one of the projects I am currently working on. I have some basic controls working transmitted via IR. The last line of my post links to a discussion on sending the codes. I am yet to make a video of that due to the holidays. I am hoping to post something in more detail in January. As for recording them, I ordered a few of the IR receivers they are using on the ears and I have it hooked up to an Ardunio Pro Mini. 😉

      • davidandora says:

        How Awesome! Looking forward to your progress updates! Here’s what I made with my Mickey Ears recently:

      • 08milluz says:

        Very cool! I have just completed testing my little board and I am hoping to test it out in the parks in a few weeks. I tested it with a TV remote and it picks up those signals just fine. I have it recording to an SD card since the Arduino has such little memory. I am in the midst of the FIRST Robotics build season (I am mentoring a team), but I hope to have time soon to get something recorded. Then comes the fun of digging though the logs.

      • davidandora says:

        That’s exciting! I hope when you are able to record the IR signals at the parks, that you’ll be successful replaying them with the least amount of complications. It would be fun to share those recordings with those capable and interested in syncing up their ears with videos of the shows at home. Thanks for your leg work and best wishes with your mentoring. Sounds fun!

  8. Shaun Fox says:

    HAHA! I’m sitting here with a TI-MSP430 IN MY HAND while doing research before I start hacking mine 😀 I’m so excited.
    Oh, also, did you eventually discover the other two screws holding the ears on? lol, you didn’t remove all the glue, there’s two screws on each ear.
    Thanks for doing such a great job on this, my project will be much better now.

    • 08milluz says:


      Yes I did. I have gone through several pairs of ears now. I was also successful in reverse engineering the protocol to control the ears. However, I also discovered some other info about the way they share data. Hence, I have stopped posting updates as I do not want people to compromise the shows at Disney. (I love what Disney is doing with the technology and I dont want others to abuse the magic!) I do plan on making a video and sharing that by this summer, but technical details will be left out.

      • David Andora says:

        I really enjoyed reading your recent post about compromising the shows at Disney. That wasn’t something I had considered. I was only thinking of INCOMING information. Nice to know of your decision not to share those specifics with a wider audience. I think it’s less likely that anyone willing to go to such efforts would have poor intentions, but I could see short range accidental abuse. However unlikely, I wish there was a way to activate your ears at home to any Disney or Disney parks content.

      • 08milluz says:

        There is a way. I do link to some of the simple commands. That can be done with an IR LED and modulation to the correct frequency. A simple Arduino interface can transmit it. Actually, I build both a receiver and transmitter (to record a sample from the parks, and then to try re-transmitting it). It works quite well and I have the sample on an SD card so I could dig through it. It took a while (like 3 months of off and on work) but I was able to find a few patterns.

        As for testing it in a large scale, Morse Code is your friend. It is easy to hide a test message with a slow cycle (3 WPM) (at first it was a smile “CQ”, but I decided to make it a more fun “Welcome to Disney”). Given I use code somewhat frequently in amateur radio, it was easy to see the delay and interfacing between ears. The real issue I saw was a huge area of influence and persistence if not done correctly. That is why I don’t want to share it. Even if it is accidental, it could ruin the show.

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