Making a Homemade Stephen Hawking

It isn’t easy communicating when you have any form of speech impairment. In such cases, a Speech-generating device (SGD) becomes essential to help you talk to the world. When coupled with other ailments that limit body movement, the problem becomes worse. How do you type on a keyboard when you can’t move your hands, and how do you talk when your voice box doesn’t work. Well known Scientist Stephen Hawking has been battling this since 1985. Back then, it took a lot of hardware to build a text entry interface and a text to speech device allowing him to communicate.

But [Marquis de Geek] did a quick hack using just a few parts to make a Voice Box that sounds like Stephen Hawking. Using an arcade push button to act as a single button keyboard, an Arduino, a 74HC595 shift register, a 2-line LCD, and the SP0256 hooked to an audio amplifier / speaker, he built the stand-alone speech synthesizer which sounds just like the voice box that  Stephen Hawking uses. Although Dr. Hawking’s speech hardware is quite complex, [Marquis de Geek]’s hack shows that it’s possible to have similar results using off the shelf parts for a low cost solution.

There aren’t a lot of those SP0256-AL2 chips around. We found just a couple of retailers with small stock levels, so if you want to make one of these voice boxes, better grab those chips while they last. The character entry is not quick, requiring several button presses to get to the character you want to select. But it makes things easier for someone who cannot move their hands or use all fingers. A lot of kids grew up using Speak and Spell, but the hardware inside that box wasn’t the easiest to hack into. For a demo of [Marquis de Geek]’s homemade Hawking voice box, check the video below.

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A Class D Amp Made From Scrap

[Boolean90] needed an amplifier for a subwoofer, and had a lot of parts sitting around in a scrap bin. His project, a Class D sub amp made out of scrap, is a great example of what you can build with the right know-how and a very large pile of junk.

With digital logic and PWM chips, a Class D amp is one of the simpler ways to get a lot of amplification easily in an efficient package. It’s really not that complicated; an audio signal is turned into a PWM’d square wave, this is sent out to a Mosfet bridge, and finally out to the speaker.

Most Class D amps have a switching frequency of hundreds of kilohertz to the Megahertz range, but since this is an amplifier for a subwoofer that has a cutoff frequency of about 1kHz, the switching frequency doesn’t need to be quite as fast. [Boolean] is using a 50kHz carrier frequency; it’s more than high enough to recreate low frequencies.

With the completed project, [Boolean] has an extremely loud amplifier that has around 75-150W of output power. The subwoofer is only rated for 200W, but with the volume [Boolean] is getting, this isn’t an amp he’ll be rebuilding anytime soon.

A Real-Time Networked VU Running on the ESP8266

Even though the ESP8266 WiFi chipsets are really cheap (and can be somewhat challenging to work with), they still pack a lot of processing power. For instance, [Mr.jb.swe] took one of these modules and made a stand-alone live VU meter with WS2812B LED strip. The VU runs entirely on the ESP chip, without any additional microcontroller. It’s an example we think a lot of projects could follow to do away with unused horsepower (extra microcontrollers) sometimes used to avoid programming directly on the ESP. The stuff you can do with these modules is wild… did you see this WiFi signal strength mapping project?

The ESP chipset acts as a UDP client which receives packets from a WinAmp plugin that [Mr.jb.swe] wrote. The plugin continuously calculates the dB of whatever track is playing and streams it over WiFi to his ESP8266. He also mentions that the ADC of the ESP chipset could be used to sample audio as well, although that pretty much eliminates the need for WiFi.

The whole setup is very responsive even though the processor is parsing UDP messages, driving the WS2812 strip, and driving a small OLED display for debug—and it doesn’t even use a separate microcontroller. [Mr.jb.swe] also posted snippets of his code to get you started on your own project. Check out the videos after the break to see it in action.

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Clocked 8-Bit Random Pattern Generator For a CMOS Synth

A random noise generator is pretty handy when working with music, and building one using a micro-controller can be pretty trivial. So it’s nice when someone comes along and builds it from a few analog and digital parts. [acidbourbon] built his Clocked 8-BIT Random Pattern Generator for  CMOS Synth  inspired and motivated by the recent article Logic Noise: Sweet, Sweet Oscillator Sounds by [Elliot Williams]. It’s 8-bit output can be used as a random sequencer for DIY CMOS synths.
This pattern generator is suited to to be used in combination with a 4051 8-channel analog multiplexer. But it sounds quite interesting on it’s own (best enjoyed in stereo, check out the video after the break). After building some CMOS synth circuits, [acidbourbon] moved on to make some sequencers and multiplexers which then let him to devise this random pattern generator which could be gated using a clock signal.

The basic principle is straight forward – generate noise, amplify it, apply a clock to get the gated noise output. His design choices for the various sections are well explained, based on constraints that he had to work with. Everything needs to work at 5V, but his noise generator circuit requires 12V to work. He choose to use a charge pump to generate -5V, resulting in a 10V supply, which was barely enough, but worked. A boost regulator might probably have served better to generate 12V, but maybe he already had the ICL7660 charge pump IC lying around in his parts bin. The rest of the circuit uses standard CMOS/TTL devices, and [acidbourbon] provides all of the design files for what looks like a neat, single sided PCB that can easily be made using the toner-transfer method.

Video below.

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Logic Noise: Sweet, Sweet Oscillator Sounds

Welcome to part one of a series taking you down the rabbit hole of DIY electronic synthesizers based on (largely) CMOS logic chips. Instead of synths being commodity gear made by large corporate enterprises, we’ll be building with the cheapest available parts, using and misusing digital logic. In short, don’t expect pre-packaged smooth tones, because we’ll be making creative noise machines.

If you’re the chiptunes type, you’ll probably find something you like here. If you’re the circuit bender or electro-noise-punk type, this is gonna be right up your alley. If you just like to see CMOS chips wriggle and squirm in unintended ways, feel free to look over my shoulder. If you’re the type who insists that a screwdriver can’t be used to pry open a paint can, then maybe you’d better move along. There’s a thin line between the glitch as bug and the glitch as interesting discovery, and we’ll be dancing all over it.

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SnoTunes Lets You Rock Out in the Winter

[Matt Bilsky], an avid reader of Hackaday for years, finally gathered up the courage to submit a project to us. We swear, we don’t byte! Anyway — we’re glad he did, because his project is absolutely awesome. He calls it SnoTunes and it’s a backpack stereo system designed for the outdoors.

It’s a whopping 160 watt stereo, has 7-8 hours of battery life, is somewhat water resistant, and can be controlled wirelessly. Its brain is a Raspberry Pi B+ running Kodi (which was formerly XBMC). A 7″ display is hidden inside of the backpack for more fine tuning controls.

It fetches and downloads YouTube music videos and can create a playlist that can be manipulated by text message. You can share YouTube links to have it download and queue the songs, you can skip the songs (but only if four people make the request), and it even automatically parses the music video titles to extract the song name and band. It also works with AirPlay — but who even uses that.

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DIY USB Stereo Headphone Amplifier

The biggest and best audiophile projects are usually huge tube amps, monstrous speaker cab builds, or something else equally impressive. It doesn’t always have to be that way, though, as [lowderd] demonstrates with a tiny DIY USB DAC build that turns a USB port into a headphone output.

In the Bad Old Days™ putting a DAC on a USB bus would require some rather fancy hardware and a good amount of skill. These days, you can just buy a single chip USB stereo DAC that still has very good specs. [lowderd] used the TI PCM2707 USB DAC, a chip that identifies as a USB Audio Class 1.0 device, so no drivers are needed for it to work in either Windows or OS X.

The circuit fits on a tiny PCB with a USB port on one side, a headphone jack on the other, and the chip and all related components in between. There are some pins on the chip that allow for volume, play/pause. and skip, but these pins were left unconnected for sake of simplicity.

The board was fabbed up at OSH Park, and the second revision of the case laser cut out of bamboo and acrylic by Ponoko. It’s a great looking little box, and something that fits right inside [lowderd]’s headphone case.