Free Radio On My Phone

If you have owned Android phones, there’s a reasonable chance that as the kind of person who reads Hackaday you will at some time have rooted one of them, and even applied a new community ROM to it. When you booted the phone into its new environment it’s not impossible you would have been surprised to find your phone now sported an FM radio. How had the ROM seemingly delivered a hardware upgrade?

It’s something your cellphone carrier would probably prefer not to talk about, a significant number of phones have the required hardware to receive FM radio, but lack the software to enable it. The carriers would prefer you to pay for their data to stream your entertainment rather than listen to it for free through a broadcaster. If you are someone capable of upgrading a ROM you can fix that, but every other phone owner is left holding a device they own, but seemingly don’t own.

Across North America there is a group campaigning to do something about this situation. Free Radio On My Phone and their Canadian sister organization are lobbying the phone companies and manufacturers to make the FM radio available, and in the USA at least they have scored some successes.

We have covered numerous attempts to use the DMCA to restrict people’s access to the hardware they own, but this story is a little different. There is no question of intellectual property being involved here, it is simply that the carriers would rather their customers didn’t even know that they had bought an FM radio along with their phone. If this bothers you, thanks to Free Radio On My Phone you can now join with others and find a voice on the matter.

It’s interesting to note that many FM radio chips also support a wider bandwidth than the North American and European 88 to 108MHz or thereabouts. In parts of Asia the broadcast band extends significantly lower than this, and the chipset manufacturers make products to support these frequencies. This opens up the interesting possibility that given a suitable app a cellphone could be used to receive other services on these frequencies. Probably more of a bonus for European radio amateurs with their 70MHz allocation than for North American residents.

Via CBC News. Cellphone image: By Rob Brown [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

iPad Control for Guitar Pedals

[gutbag] is a guitarist. And guitarists are notorious knob-twiddlers: they love their effects pedals. But when your music involves changing settings more than a few times in the middle of a song, it can get distracting. If only there were little robot hands that could turn the knobs (metaphorically, sorry) during the performance…

Tearing into his EHX Pitch Fork pedal, [gutbag] discovered that all of the external knob controls were being read by ADCs on the chip that did all of the processing. He replaced all of the controls with a DAC and some analog switches, coded up some MIDI logic in an ATmega328, and built himself a custom MIDI-controlled guitar pedal. Pretty slick, and he can now control it live with his iPad, or sequence the knobs with the rest of their MIDI system.


This wasn’t [gutbag]’s first foray into pedal automation, however. He’d previously automated a slew of his pedals that were already built to take control-voltage signals. What we like about this hack is the direct substitution of DAC for potentiometers. It’s just hackier. (Oh, and we’re envious of [gutbag]’s lab setup.)

This isn’t the first time we’ve covered [gutbag]’s band, Zaardvark, either. Way back in 2013, we featured an organ-pedal-to-MIDI hack of theirs. Keep on rockin’.

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Pong In Real Life, Mechanical Pong

[Daniel Perdomo] and two of his friends have been working on a mechanical version of Pong for the past two years. We can safely say that the final result is beautiful. It’s quite ethereal to watch the pixe–cube move back and forth on the surface.

[Daniel] has worked in computer graphics for advertising for more than 20 years. However, he notes that neither he nor his friends had any experience in mechanics or electronics when they began. Thankfully, the internet (and, presumably, sites like Hackaday) provided them with the information needed.

The pong paddles and and pixel (ball?) sit onto of a glass surface. The moving parts are constrained to the mechanics with magnets. Underneath is a construction not unlike an Etch A Sketch for moving the ball while the paddles are just on a rail with a belt. The whole assembly is made from V-groove extrusion.

Our favorite part of the build is the scroll wheel for moving the paddle back and forth. For a nice smooth movement with some mass behind it, what’s better than a hard-drive platter? They printed out an encoder wheel pattern and glued it to the surface. The electronics are all hand-made. The brains appear to be some of the larger Arduinos. The 8-bit segments, rainbow LEDs, etc were build using strips glued in place with what looks like copper foil tape connecting buses. This is definitely a labor of love.

It really must be seen to be understood. The movement is smooth, and our brains almost want to remove a dimension when watching it. As for the next steps? They are hoping to spin it up into an arcade machine business, and are looking for people with money and experience to help them take it from a one-off prototype to a product. Video after the break.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Adding HDMI to Small Displays

LCDs come in a lot of sizes, and there’s a lot written about pushing pixel data out to larger displays. Smaller LCDs, like the 4, 5 and 7 inch variety, aren’t used much, because no one seems to know how to drive the things. For [Joe]’s Hackaday Prize Entry, he’s creating an open source interface for tiny LCDs, making it easy and cheap to add one to everything with an HDMI port.

[Joe]’s Open LCD Interface comes on two boards, with the first providing connections to an LCD, all the power circuitry required, and a bunch of pads to break out every IO line. The second part of the puzzle is a decoder that takes HDMI signals and drives a small LCD.

HDMI decoders are nothing new to the world of hobby electronics – there are multiple projects that give the BeagleBoard a display through HDMI. Even Adafruit sells one of these converters. [Joe]’s board has another trick up its sleeve, though: it can give any microcontroller a high-resolution display, too.

There’s another module that connects to [Joe]’s breakout board that turns the LCD into an SPI display. This means any microcontroller can drive a high-resolution display. It’s fast, too: in the video below, [Joe]’s SPI display can push pixels at least as fast as any other microcontroller-based display we’ve seen.

It’s a great project, and a by opening up the doors to millions of cheap LCDs on eBay and Alibaba, [Joe] has a great entry for the Hackaday Prize on his hands.

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Raspberry Pi Levels with You

It is easy to imagine how early man started using rocks and then eventually developed better and better tools until they created the hammer. Some simple tools took a little longer to invent. The spirit level, for example, didn’t exist until sometime in the last half of the 1600’s.

The idea is simple. A clear tube holds a liquid and a bubble. When the bubble is in the center of the tube, the device is level in the direction of the tube. [Mark Williams] has a slightly more involved approach. He took an internal measurement unit (IMU) and a Raspberry Pi to create a modern take on the spirit level.

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FriendlyARM: A Different Flavor of Raspberry

A lot of old science fiction movies show people wearing the same–or nearly the same–clothes. We’re left guessing if this is because there is a single centralized plant mass-producing skin-tight jumpsuits, or if everyone is under orders to dress the same. Now that we live in the past’s future, it looks like science fiction was a poor predictor of fashion. People want variety.

Which calls to mind development boards. How many different ones do we need? Need doesn’t matter, because we have plenty of them. There may be strong leaders: in the 8-bit world, you think of the Arduino, and on the Linux side, maybe the Raspberry Pi. But there are options.

[Eric Brown] recently compared several inexpensive development boards from FriendlyARM including the NanoPi M3, the NanoPi M1, and the NanoPC-T3. These range from about $11 to $60 with the M3 costing $35. You can see an M1 booting on an HDMI screen in the video below.

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DIY Air Quality Meter And Emissions Tester

Handheld measuring devices make great DIY projects. One can learn a lot about a sensor or sensor technology by just strapping it onto a spare development board together with an LCD for displaying the sensor output. [Richard’s] DIY air quality meter and emissions tester is such a project, except with the custom laser-cut enclosure and the large graphic LCD, his meter appears already quite professional.

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