How to Hack Big Mouth Billy Bass: An IR remote trigger tutorial


Melbourne Makerspace members, Jack Simmons (left) and Chris Oakley (right) complete the final fit and connect output wires to the IR remote trigger project launched by author, Joshua Pritt.

Ever pushed the button on a Big Mouth Billy Bass? Imagine if you could control that bass using a television remote.

An Infrared (IR) remote trigger can be used to turn any push-button operated thing into a receiver that takes commands from a distance. It’s the same light used by your TV remote to flip through commercials and programs.

The Melbourne Makerspace worked in collaboration with artist, David Burton to develop a remote that could surprise innocent passersby at Burton’s art gallery, a collection that features skeleton pirates that share oral folk tales. Instead of relying on Burton’s audience to press a button and engage with his collection, our maker team decided to make these toys act/play/make noise whenever Burton presses any button on his home TV remote.

We began by brainstorming ideas related to the functionality and purpose of Burton’s skeleton toy. As a follow-up, I generated some arduino code and a parts list and worked with fellow makers Chris Oakley, Jack Simons, Jeff Stahre, Eugene Wade and Dave Bennett on completing the build. The idea-exchange process is a key benefit to joining a maker team near you.

As part of the troubleshooting process, we noted that everyone has access to this technology because folks have access to a television remote. We wanted to make sure that not just any ol’ Joe could pass by and send information to Burton’s skeleton. This is why we adopted some arduino code to make our receiver “learn” specific buttons the correlate to a specific remote. The source and parts list below is for the most basic IR trigger. The “learning” code is lengthy and complex, so it requires more parts and a separate push button. Stay tuned for a future post on IR triggers that learn soon!

Thanks to the foresight of our team, we were able to ensure that Burton will not have any hooligans eliciting stories from the skeleton when he’s off-duty.


Press the button on the remote & this pirate will dance & tell jokes (left). Our maker crew solders the wires from the trigger to the same places the toy’s button wires are connected (right).


Nothing like a good Altoids can to hold everything in place (left); We use the projector remote as a test — it works (right)!

The blue relay switch replaces the functionality of the button, the doohicky to the right of the blue doo-dad is an IR sensor.

The Jaycon Systems Pro Nano Arduino (Right) switches from quick prototype wires to soldered wires. Read more about how to complete this process on your own (below).

Parts list:

The Pro Nano requires a special version of the Arduino IDE and its own libraries. You must begin the process by preparing the IDE to receive code.

This starts with unplugging the Nano and pressing “upload” on the IDE. Wait for the display to read “plug it up”. Once complete, the Nano can be plugged in and it will upload your code onto the Pro Nano.

  1. Add the switch to the red wire of the battery holder by cutting it in half and soldering the wire from the battery to one leg of the switch then the other half of the wire from the other leg of the switch to the positive power rail of the perf board.

  2. Solder the black wire of the battery to the negative power rail.

  3. Solder the VCC of the Pro Nano to the positive power rail.

  4. Solder the GND of the Pro Nano to the negative power rail.

  5. B0 of the Pro Nano to the OUT leg of the IR sensor.

  6. B1 of the Pro Nano to the positive trigger pin of the reed relay.

  7. The other leg of the trigger pins to the negative rail.

  8. The GND leg of the IR sensor to the negative rail.

  9. The VCC leg of the IR sensor to the positive rail.

  10. Then solder the two main switch pins of the reed relay to the right angle headers with the outside pins on one and the center pin on the other.

  11. Finally, you have to open up the toy and find where the existing button is connected to its circuit board and connect the two wires from your relay switch to those same two spots.

 Source Code (Arduino IDE)

int irPin=0;

int LEDPin = 1;

void setup()

{ pinMode(irPin,INPUT); pinMode(LEDPin,OUTPUT); //Serial.begin(9600); //digitalWrite(LEDPin,HIGH); //Serial.println(“You pressed a button”); //delay(1000); //digitalWrite(LEDPin,LOW);


void loop()

{ if(pulseIn(irPin,LOW)) { //button pressed delay(100); digitalWrite(LEDPin,HIGH); //Serial.println(“You pressed a button”); delay(1000); digitalWrite(LEDPin,LOW); }


Joshua Pritt

 is an author at the 

Melbourne Makerspace


This article was published by the Jaycon team. Learn more about how we can take your product design and hardware idea to the next level here.