Desktop email notification bell


Instructables user [meseta] wanted an audible notification whenever he received an email, but must have thought that his computer’s built-in sounds were lacking in some regard. To get the perfect sound that he desired, he built himself a USB-powered notification bell.

Using an off the shelf “front desk bell” and a hand made electromagnet, he constructed a bell that could be triggered whenever a message showed up in his desktop email client. The electromagnet can be triggered by a quick pulse from a microcontroller, and in [meseta’s] case, he used a Forebrain dev board. He created a filter in his email client that runs an executable each time a message is received. This executable in turn sends a message to his microcontroller via USB, triggering the bell.

While we think that the notifier could have been put together using a far less powerful microcontroller, it’s a neat idea regardless. People seem to love alternative notification systems, so we’re pretty sure this bell will appeal to many in that crowd.

Keep reading to see a short video demonstration of his email notifier in action.


  1. bty says:

    An ARM Cortex-M3 processor to drive a coil.. talk about overkill.

  2. Franklin says:

    I hate when you guys write that shyt:
    “using a far less powerful microcontroller”

    Let the dude use a core i7 if he wanted to!

  3. bty says:

    Could of easily done the same with an ATTiny and Dean Camera’s LUFA USB stack for example.

  4. Alex says:

    Easier yet, you could use a serial port. No microcontroller necessary, just toggle the RTS line.

  5. Don says:

    Hey did you know computers can record sound?

    record the bell

  6. Dan says:

    That’s what I was thinking Alex, you can even buy a USB to Serial and it’ll work almost exactly the same way!

  7. HaterOfHaters says:

    @bty You can’t use LUFA on an ATTiny, now if you said ATUSB that would be more proper or V-USB on ATTiny or ATMega etc, why do you care so much about what he is using to do what it is that he does, if he wants to use a Cray CX1 to ring the bell, wonderful. It’s not what you use to get where you want to go, it is the journey you took to get there that is more valuable. Clearly he wanted to learn about using a Cortex M3. Would you bitch at someone that wrote hello world in assembly for their first project instead of using BASIC when they wanted to learn about ASM?

  8. Bogdan says:

    I do like the bell notification, although my favorite would still be some sort of blinking led on the top of the screen.

    @those arguing about the micro. I did think the same thing, it’s overkill. Yet, the price/overkill is only relevant if you are going to mass produce it. Otherwise, it’s whether the hacker could afford paying for it or not. We are interested in the idea here, not the implementation. You can go your own way. In the world that we live today transistors are dirt cheap…

  9. Mike says:

    Bogdan speaks sense. After all, why would ANYONE use a microcontroller dev board when they could play around with raw transistors and logic gates? Because it’s faster and easier, not necessarily cheaper or smaller.

  10. ZeroCool42 says:

    When everyone’s finished having a go at Hackaday… Quite simply, I think the reason they say this is to ensure that even electronics newbies like myself realize that this kind of computing power is not neccessairly required for such an application, so that we are aware that we can make a cheaper version if we want to!

  11. Anon says:

    We have a desk bell at work labelled “Audible Accomplishment Signaling Device” for when we fix a bug or get something to work. This would be a cool hack to hook up to our Trac instance for when issues are closed.

  12. Rob says:

    Well at least the reflection is dressed.

  13. Dave says:

    Next version should include special patterns for special senders.

    I would also like to see a wireless version that could communicate with other networked bells

  14. mess_maker says:

    @Anon – that is a good idea! My boss has been wanting to devote work hours to a hack, or project… that seems like a good proposal.

    My company also just released a SAAS project, this would also be a great notification system for when people sign up. It would be awesome to get annoyed by the bell ringing too much :P ( hopefully )

  15. IJ Dee-Vo says:

    Awesome work, doint let the haters try to say otherwise!

  16. Depending on where the magnetic field is directed in the brain, they can force you to tell the truth, or force you to lie, according to researchers:

  17. I tried to build this. I have no idea how he got that coil to pull the clapper. Its impossible! I have been winding coils for days and on 5v usb its not possible to pull the clapper at a distance that he has. Have you tried to build one?? I think he stuck a ready made solenoid in there at the end of the day and just didn’t tell any one….

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