Retrofitting a Vintage Intercom to Run Amazon Alexa

The Amazon Echo is a pretty cool piece of tech: it lets you ask questions, queue up music, find out the weather, and more, without having to do anything but talk. But, the device itself is a bit pricey, and looks a little boring. What if you could have all the features of the Echo, but in a cool retro case and at a cheaper price?

Well, you can, and that’s exactly what [nick.r.brewer] did, using a ’50s intercom and a Raspberry Pi. He picked the vintage intercom up at an antique store for $20, and the Raspberry Pi Zero is less than $10. So, for about $30 (and some parts most of us have lying around) he was able to build a cool looking device with all of the capabilities of the Amazon Echo.

The hardware portion of the build was pretty straightforward, with the Raspberry Pi, a sound card, WiFi dongle, USB hub, and microphone all fitting nicely inside the case of the intercom. The software side of things is a little more tricky, but with a device like this it runs well with Amazon’s Alexa SDK. Of course, if you want to add more hardware features, that’s possible too.

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Magic 8 of Hearts Plies Your True Love with Cheesy Sayings

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, here’s a project out of the LVL1 hackerspace in Louisville that should warm the heart of that special someone in your life. Behold the Magic 8 of Hearts.

The metaphors are somewhat mixed here, what with the heart-shaped box, the mysterious black window of a Magic 8-ball, and the cheesy once-a-year sayings like those printed on Sweethearts candies. [JAC_101] began surgery by punching a hole in the plastic heart for an OLED display. The white on black display evokes the Magic 8-Ball look, although adding a blue filter would have nailed it. A 3-axis accelerometer detects shaking motion and an Arduino Nano selects a message to display. Some white LEDs light up the enclosure and add a little pizzazz. As a bonus, the whole thing is inductively charged – no extra holes needed in this heart.

If your true love would appreciate something a little flashier, try this animated LED Valentine heart. And if you’re successful in your romantic endeavors, you might just find yourself building these ultra-geeky wedding invitations.

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Simple Solar Mason-Jar Lights

[Michael Mogenson] built Firefly Jar – a simple circuit to light up firefly_jar_01flickering LEDs inside a standard Mason Jar, to give away to friends and family for the holidays. Given it’s simplicity and through-hole design, it’s an ideal project for a “learn to solder” class or for those wanting to get started with building some really simple electronics. There’s just a handful of parts and putting it together shouldn’t take long. Given that he’s made available all of the source design files, it should be easy for others to spin off the project.

A 55mm solar cell fits on top of the 63.5mm diameter PCB, which in turn fits perfectly in a standard Mason Jar with a collar lid. When in the light, the solar cell charges two 1.2V NiMH batteries. This also switches off the P-channel MOSFET, turning the LED’s off. The LED’s are turned on only when the solar cell voltage is low and the Ni-Mh batteries are charged. A 2.1V LDO directly drives the two LEDs with built-in flickering circuits, eliminating the need for any further parts. Check out the video of the Firefly Jar below.

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Break Your Wrist? Twitter-Enable That Plaster Cast

Plaster casts are blank canvases for friends and family to post their get well messages. But if it’s holiday season, adding blinky LED lights to them is called for. When [Dr Lucy Rogers] hurt her hand, she put a twitter enabled LED Christmas tree on her cast.

The hardware is plain simple – some RGB LEDs, an Arduino, a blue tooth module and a battery. The LEDs and wires formed the tree, and all the parts were attached to the plaster cast using Velcro. This allowed the electronics to be removed during future X-ray scans. The fun part was in connecting the LEDs to the #CheerLights project. CheerLights is an “Internet of Things” project that allows people’s lights all across the world to synchronize to one color set by a Tweet. To program the Arduino, she used code written by [James Macfarlane] which allowed the LED color to be set to any Cheerlights color seen in blue tooth UART data.

Connectivity is coordinated using MQTT — lightweight standard popular with connected devices. By connecting the MQTT feed to the cheerlights topic from [Andy Stanford-Clark’s] MQTT feed (mqtt://iot.eclipse.org with the topic cheerlights) the lights respond to tweets (Tweet #cheerlights and a color). The LED colors can also be selected via the phone from the color picker tool in the controller, or directly via the UART. If the Bluetooth connection is lost, the LEDs change colors randomly. Obviously, delegates had great fun when she brought her Twitter enabled LED blinky lights plaster cast arm to a conference. It’s not as fun unless you share your accomplishments with others!

Must-Have Overkill Christmas Tree Lights

The yuletide fire is out, so we’re starting to receive this year’s Christmas hacks. [Chris] sent us his awesome video-mapped tree lighting hack. His project made clever use of a bunch of cool tools, so even if you’re not thinking forward to next December, it’s worth a look. Still images don’t do it justice; check out the video below the break.

The end result is an addressable string of WS2812B LEDs connected up to a Raspberry Pi Zero that can display a video image even though it’s wrapped around a roughly cone-shaped (pine) object. But this is actually more impressive than you’d think at first; how would you map a flat image to a string of LEDs wrapped around a tree?

[Chris]’s solution was to write a routine that lit up the LEDs in a unique pattern and then detected them using OpenCV and a webcam, making the mapping directly. He then samples images from a video at exactly the points where the pixels are located on the tree, and sends this data out to the LEDs.

The basic framework here should transform fairly easily into a generic image-mapping procedure with randomly located LEDs, so we think it’s a hack that’ll outlast the season. And because it runs on the Pi Zero, everything is in Python so it’d be a good project for beginners to replicate. However, the code section on the project page still lists it as coming soon. We hope so!

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Christmas Bauble is neither spherical nor runs Arduino

[Jordan Wills] was tasked by his company, Silicon Labs, to build some Christmas Baubles to give away to co-workers. While the commissioned units were designed to be simple battery and LED affairs, he decided to make one of his own with bells and whistles. His Mario themed Christmas Ornament uses a Silicon Labs FM972 micro controller, capacitive sensing, PWM controlled 8 bit audio, and blinky lights.

The interesting part is some of the construction techniques that he used. The finger-joint style cube is built from circuit boards. Electrical connections between panels were routed using solder wicking copper braid. That’s a interesting trick which we’ll keep in mind along with some of our favorite creative structural uses of PCB.

The top of the cube has four LED’s which light up the Mario “Question Mark” symbols on the four sides of the cube while the base contains all of the electronics. The outside of the base piece was a large copper plane to act as the capacitive sensing element. This meant all electronics needed to be surface mounted with tracks laid out on one side – which posed some layout challenges. Adding the Capacitive sense function was a cinch thanks to support from the in-house design team. PWM output from the micro controller takes care of audio, and the output is routed through a buffer to boost the signal. A bandpass filter then cleans up the PWM output before feeding it to the speaker.

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Comparing Movies between Rottentomatoes and IMDB

Well, it’s the holiday season! Which means two things. Long, sometimes uncomfortable gatherings with family, and our favorite — free time. So if you’re looking to catch up on some movies, [Rajesh Verma] has you covered. He’s compiled a database that aggregated data from both Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB!

That means you can very easily sort through based on critic’s favorite, audience favorite, IMDB favorite, underrated, overrated, year, etc. He started by dabbling with aggregation scripts with just Rotten Tomatoes, and after he released one showing both Audience and Critic scores, Rotten Tomatoes updated their site to include that sorting method! Coincidence? Maybe.

Either way, it broke his original script when the site was updated — so he’s come back with something even better — a list for both IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes.

He started the project thanks to [Michael] at Meta Film List, who had the idea of making movie databases more accessible. Without further ado, you can check out the list on Google Docs.