Giving toys an electronic voice

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Whether it’s a Furby or Buzz Lightyear’s button that plays, ‘To infinity and beyond’, most digital audio applications inside toys are actually simple affairs. There’s no Arduino and wave shield, and there’s certainly no Raspi streaming audio from the Internet. No, the audio inside most toys are one or two chip devices capable of storing about a minute or so of audio. [makapuf] built an electronic board game for his kids, and in the process decided to add some digital audio. The result is very similar to what you would find in an actual engineered product, and is simple enough to be replicated by just about anyone.

[makapuf]‘s game is based on Game of the Goose, only brought into the modern world with electronic talking dice. An ATtiny2313 was chosen for the microcontroller and an AT45D 4 Megabit Flash module provided the storage for 8 bit/8khz audio.

The electronic portion of the game has a few functions. The first is calling out numbers, which is done by playing recordings of [makapuf] reading, ‘one’, ‘two’, ‘three’, … ‘twelve’, ‘thir-’, ‘teen’ and so on. This data is pumped out over a pin on the ATtiny through a small amplifier and into a speaker. After that, the code is a simple matter of keeping track of where the players are on the board, keeping score, and generating randomish numbers.

It’s an exceptional exercise in engineering, making a quite complicated game with a bare minimum of parts. [makapuf] estimated he spent under $4 in parts, so if you’re looking to add digital audio to a project on the cheap, we can’t imagine doing better.

You can see a video of [makapuf]‘s project after the break.

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Echolocation pinpoints where a gunshot came from

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[Kripthor] suspected that hunters were getting too near his house. When thinking of a way to quantify this belief he set out to build a triangulation system based on the sound of gunshots. The theory behind it is acoustic location, which is a specialized type echolocation.

The most common example of echolocation is in Bats, who emit ultrasonic noise and listen for its return (echo) to judge the location of objects. [Kripthor] doesn’t need to generate the sound himself, he just needs to pick it up at different points. The time difference from the three samples can be used to triangulate coordinates as seen in the image above.

He first tried using a PC sound card to collect the samples. The stereo input only provides two channels so he tinkered around with a 555-based multiplexing circuit to sample from three. The circuit noise created was just too great so he transitioned to using an Arduino. The ADC samples from each microphone via an NPN transistor which is used as a simple amplifier.

This brings to mind a homebrew sonar hack from way back.

Raspi Internet radio with Google Music

SAMSUNG

It’s not his first Internet radio, but [Matthias]‘ modernization of a classic Bakelite radio is a real, functional piece of art. Not only does it retain the look of an old radio, it also has the capability to listen to streams and his entire MP3 collection through the Internet.

For the software, [Matthias] used jquery to pull down web radio streams and soon figured out how to play all his MP3s through Google Music. This, and a web-based remote for his mobile device, allows the new old-school Internet radio to play everything [Matthias] would ever want to listen to.

The controls for the radio are rotary encoders, with indication provided by a really fabulous numbered LED display (seen above) replacing the 70-year-old tuning dial. These numbers indicate both the current Google Music playlist or the currently playing Internet stream, depending on what mode the selector knob is at.

It’s a beautiful piece of work, and the knobs and dials look like something that could have come from a real 70-year-old radio. That’s a win in our book.

Use your ears as an oscilloscope

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When work on an engine control circuit [Scott] found himself in need of a way to compare the performance of two control circuits at once. The hobby quality oscilloscope he owns wasn’t up to the task. After thinking about it for a bit he ended up using his ears as the oscilloscope.

The signals he was measuring are well suited for the challenge as they fell within the human range of hearing. He used some wire wrapped around each of the three conductors on the jack of his headphones in order to connect them to a breadboard. Then he simply connected each channel to one of the motor driver circuits, and connected the common ground. Listening to the intonation of the pitches in each ear he was literally able to tune them up.

If he had been looking for a specific frequency he could have used his sound card to take and analyze a sample. But balance was what he needed here and you must admit that this was an easy and clever way to get it!

Adding stereo to monophonic audio

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A lot of awesome stuff happened up in [Bruce Land]‘s lab at Cornell this last semester. Three students – [Pat], [Ed], and [Hanna] put in hours of work to come up with a few algorithms that are able to simulate stereo audio with monophonic sound. It’s enough work for three semesters of [Dr. Land]‘s ECE 5030 class, and while it’s impossible to truly appreciate this project with a YouTube video, we’re assuming it’s an awesome piece of work.

The first part of the team’s project was to gather data about how the human ear hears in 3D space. To do this, they mounted microphones in a team member’s ear, sat them down on a rotating stool, and played a series of clicks. Tons of MATLAB later, the team had an average of how their team member’s heads heard sound. Basically, they created an algorithm of how binarual recording works.

To prove their algorithm worked, the team took a piece of music, squashed it down to mono, and played it through an MSP430 microcontroller. With a good pair of headphones, they’re able to virtually place the music in a stereo space.

The video below covers the basics of their build but because of the limitations of [Bruce]‘s camera and YouTube you won’t be able to experience the team’s virtual stereo for yourself. You can, however, put on a pair of headphones and listen to this, a good example of what can be done with this sort of setup.

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AM tube radio restored and given MP3 playback too

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This AM radio looks a bit like it did coming out of the factory. But there are a lot of changes under the hood and that faceplate is a completely new addition. The project really is a restoration with some augmentation and [Michael Ross] did a great job of documenting the project.

The Kenyon radio was built in 1946 and uses vacuum tubes for the amplifier. Considering its age this was in relatively good shape and the first thing that [Michael] set out to do was to get the electronics working again. It involved replacing the messy collection of capacitors inside. He then cleaned up the tubes, checking for any problems, and put the electronics back together to find they work great!

He cleaned up the chassis and gave it a new coat of finish. The original dial plate was missing so he built a wood frame to match a dial scale he ordered. The bell-shaped brass cover hides the light that illuminates the dial.

He could have stopped there but how much do people really listen to AM radio these days? To make sure he would actually use the thing he added an Arduino with an MP3 shield. It patches into the antenna port via a relay, injecting modern tunes into the old amplifier circuit. Catch a glimpse of the final project in the video after the break.

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Console radio given new life with a WiFi router retrofit

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[Craig] did a great job of restoring the case of his antique console radio. But he wanted to bring the guts up to modern standards. The fix ended up being rather easy when it comes to hardware. He based his internet radio retrofit around a wireless router.

We laughed when we heard that he removed about eighty pounds of original electronics from this beast. He then cut a piece of MDF to serve as a mounting platform for the replacement hardware. The WiFi router takes care of audio playback from several sources and offers him the ability to control the stereo from a smart phone or a computer. It has a USB port to which he connected a hub to make room for the USB sound card and a thumb drive which holds his music library. The black box in the upper right is an amp which feeds the NHT stereo speakers housed in the lower half of the cabinet.

It doesn’t make use of the original knobs like the recent tube-amp conversion we looked at. But [Craig] did add some LEDs which illuminate the dial to help keep that stock look.