Automatic Phone Dialer Illuminates Inner Workings

The invention of the transistor ushered in a lot of technologies that we now take for granted, and one of the less-thought-about areas that it improved living conditions worldwide was by making the touch-tone phone possible. No longer would the world have to fuss with dials to make phone calls, they could simply push some buttons. This technology is still in use today, and it is possible to build external phone dialers that use these tones to make phone calls, as [SunFounder] demonstrates with his latest project.

The tones that a phone makes when a button is pressed correlate with specific frequencies for each number. Automatic dialers like this one help when there are multiple carriers (like different long-distance carriers, for example) where different prefixes can be used to make calls cheaper depending on the destination of the call. A preprogrammed dialer can take all of this complication out of making phone calls. [SunFounder] is able to make a simple dialer from scratch, using an Arduino, its “tone” library, and a speaker that is simply held up to the phone that the call will be placed on.

[SunFounder] points out that he built this more because he’s interested in the inner workings of phones, and not because he needed a purpose-built dialer. It’s a good demonstration of how phones continue to use DTMF though, and how easy it is to interface with such a system. It might also suit a beginner as an introduction to the world of phreaking.

DTMF Robot Makes Rube Goldberg Proud

Sometimes you start building, and the project evolves. Layers upon layers of functionality accrue, accrete, and otherwise just pile up. Or at least we’re guessing that’s what happened with [Varun Kumar]’s sweet “Surveillance Car Controlled by DTMF“.

In case you haven’t ever dug into not-so-ancient telephony, Dual-tone, multi-frequency signalling is what made old touch-tone phones work. DTMF, as you’d guess, encodes data in audio by playing two pitches at once. Eight tones are mapped to sixteen numbers by using a matrix that looks not coincidentally like the old phone keypad (but with an extra column). One pitch corresponds to a column, and one to a row. Figure out which tones are playing, and you’ve decoded the signal.

Anyway, you can get DTMF decoder chips for pennies on eBay, and they make a great remote-control interface for a simple robot, which is presumably how [Varun] got started. And then he decided that he needed a cell phone on the robot to send back video over WiFi, and realized that he could also use the phone as a remote controller. So he downloaded a DTMF-tone-generator app to the phone, which he then controls over VNC. Details on GitHub.

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See Who’s Calling with Caller Pi-D

One of the hardest things in life is watching your parents grow old. As their senses fail, the simplest things become difficult or even impossible for them to do.

[kjepper]’s mom is slowly losing her sight. As a result, it’s hard for her to see things like the readout on the caller ID. Sure, there are plenty of units and phones she could get that have text-to-speech capabilities, but the audio on those things is usually pretty garbled. And yes, a smartphone can natively display a picture of the person calling, but [kjepper]’s mom isn’t technologically savvy and doesn’t need everything else that comes with a smartphone. What she needs is a really simple interface which makes it clear who’s calling.

Initially, [kjepper] tried to capture the caller ID data using only a USB modem. But for whatever reason, it didn’t work until he added an FSKDTMF converter between the modem and the Pi. He wrote some Node.js in order to communicate with the Pi and send the information to the screen, which can display up to four calls at once.  To make a mom-friendly interface, he stripped an old optical mouse down to the scroll wheel and encased it in wood. Mom can spin the wheel to wake the system up from standby, and click it to mark the calls as read. Now whenever Aunt Judy calls the landline, it’s immediately obvious that it’s her and not some telemarketer.

[via r/DIY]

Home security hardware makes you the monitoring service


[Nick] and [Simon] both have home security systems with a monitoring service who will call whenever an alarm is tripped. For [Simon] this ends up happening a lot and he wanted to change the circumstances that would trigger a call. Because of company policy the service is inflexible, so he and [Nick] went to work cutting them out of the loop. What they came up with is this custom electronics board which monitors the security system and calls or texts them accordingly.

They started with the self-monitoring alarm system design we looked at back in September. This led to the inclusion of the SIM900 GSM modem, which is a really cheap way to get your device connected to the cellular network. It also uses a DTMF touch tone decoder to emulate the phone line to keep the security system happy. [Simon] highlights several changes he made to the design, as well as the reasons for them. One idea he has for a possible revision is to do away with the MT8870 chip which handles the touch tones. He thinks it may be possible to use the SIM900’s DTMF features to do that work instead.

Self monitoring a home alarm system

[Lior] wanted to cancel the monitoring system for his home’s alarm, but he didn’t want to stop using the alarm all together. The trick is to rig up some way to monitor it himself. It would have been simple to have it just call him instead of the alarm company since the system just uses a telephone connection. But this would require that he have a land line for it to connect to, and when it calls him he would have no idea what part of the system had been set off. He developed a way to have the system text message him with all of the available details.

An Arduino controls the system, with a SIM900 GSM shield to hand the cell side of things. The board to the left emulates the standard telephone line, with an M8870 DTMF touch tone decoder to figure out what the alarm system is telling him. He also needed to implement touch tone generation to talk back to the system. His write-up includes links to other articles he posted about hardware, software, and protocol specifics.

Android controlled robot extravaganza

We have no idea why, but since we featured Botiful, the Android-powered telepresence robot a few days ago, the tip line has been awash in robot/Android mashups. Here’s a few of the cool ones.

Using an Android as a remote control

[Stef] used a Samsung Galaxy S3 to control an old rc tank. The Android sends accelerometer and gyro data over Bluetooth to an Android where it powers a pair of H-bridges to turn the wheels.

Turning Android into a Robotic Operating System

ROS, or the Robot Operating System, provides a bunch of utilities for any type of robot such as point-cloud mapping to multi-joint arm control. [Lentin] sent in a guide on installing ROS on Android. So far, he can get accelerometer data, stills from the on-board camera, have the robot speak and use the small vibrator motor. Here’s a (somewhat limited) demo of [Lentin] playing with ROS in a terminal.

“Just a quick procrastination project”

Last May, [Josh] wrote in asking if a tread-based robot controlled through Skype would be a cool idea. We said ‘hell yeah’ and [Josh] scurried off to his workshop for a few months. He’s back with his tank-based robot. One really interesting bit is the robot responds to DTMF tones, allowing it to be controlled through Skype without any additional hardware. That’s damn clever. You can see a video of the SkypeRobot after the break.

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GSM controlled car without needing a microcontroller

Nope, no microcontroller here, just a full-blown cellphone used as the brains of this little robot. The secret behind how it works is in the sounds the phone makes. The touch tones, known as DTMF, are monitored by the circuit mounted on the front half of the chassis and are responsible for driving the motors.

[Achu Wilson] built the circuit around an MT8870 chip which decodes the DTMF sounds and uses the BCD output to feed some logic chips. A 4 line to 16 line decoder and an inverter chip format the signals for use as inputs to the L293D motor driver. The video after the break shows him driving the rover directly by pressing number on the phone (like a tethered remote control). But he mentions that it’s possible to call the phone and press the numbers remotely. We assume you need to connect the call manually as we see no way to automatically answer calls.

This is certainly a fun way to play around with the DTMF protocol.

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