Hackaday Prize Entry: Orchestral Invention Defies Convention

Like many of us, [Laurens] likes video game music and bending hardware to his will. Armed with a Printrbot, a couple of floppy drives, and some old HDDs, he built the Unconventional Instrument Orchestra. This 2015 Hackaday Prize contender takes any MIDI file and plays it on stepper and solenoid-based hardware through a Java program.

A while back, [Laurens] won a Fubarino in our contest by using a MIDI keyboard and an Arduino to control the Minecraft environment with Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time songs. The Unconventional Instrument Orchestra uses that Fubarino of victory to control the steppers of two floppy drives. He only needed three pins to control the drives—one to enable, one to set the head’s direction, and one to make it step once per pulse.

If ever you’ve been around a 3D printer, you know they make music as a natural side effect. The problem is getting the printer to obey the rests in a piece of music. In order to do this, [Laurens] used his software to control the printer, essentially withholding the next command until the appropriate time in the song.

The percussive elements of this orchestra are provided by a hard drive beating its head against the wall. Since it’s basically impossible to get an HDD to do this as designed (thankfully), [Laurens] replaced the control board with a single transistor to drive the coil that moves the head.

[Laurens] has made several videos of the orchestra in concert, which are a joy all their own. Most of the visual real estate of each video is taken up with a real-time visualization of the music produced by the software. There’s still plenty of room to show the orchestra itself, song-specific gameplay, and a textual commentary crawl in 16-segment displays. Check out the playlist we’ve embedded after the break.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

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Fail of the Week: Electrically Effective Emulators Exceed Enclosure, Enrage Engineer

After a few years of on and off development, [Steve] from Big Mess ‘o Wires completed work on a floppy disk drive emulator for older Macs such as the Plus. The emu plugs into the DB-19 port on the Mac and acts just like a 3.5″ floppy, using an SD card to store the images. He’s been selling the floppy emus for about the last year, and assembled the first several scores of them himself. At some point, he enlisted a board house to make them, and as of November 2014, he’s had enclosures available in both clear acrylic and brown hardboard.

[Steve] recently ran out of emu stock, so it was time to call up the board house and get some more assembled. After waiting six weeks, they finally showed up. But in spite of [Steve]’s clear and correct instructions, all 100 boards are messed up. One resistor is missing altogether, and they transposed a part between the extension cable adapter board, connecting it directly to the emu main board. But get this: the boards still work electrically. They don’t fit in the housings, however, and the extension cables are useless. After explaining the situation, the board house agreed to cook up a new batch of boards, which [Steve] is waiting patiently to receive.


2013-09-05-Hackaday-Fail-tips-tileFail of the Week is a Hackaday column which runs every Wednesday. Help keep the fun rolling by writing about your past failures and sending us a link to the story — or sending in links to fail write ups you find in your Internet travels.

A Simple Floppy Music Controller

While playing music with floppy drives has been done many times over, making any device with a stepper motor play music still appeals to the hacker in all of us. [Tyler] designed an Arduino shield and a library which lets you get up and running in no time. [Tyler]’s shield includes pin headers to connect 4 floppy drives, which plug directly into the shield. The drives don’t need any modification before being used.

While you could simply wire a few floppy drives up to an Arduino with some jumpers, this breakout shield makes connecting your drives trivial. In addition to designing the shield, [Tyler] released an Arduino library to make things even easier. The library lets you simply set the frequency you want each drive to play, which saves a bit of legwork.

The floppy-controlling Arduino library is available on GitHub and a video of the controller is included after the break.

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Hackaday Links: May 25, 2014

[Matt] wanted his own light saber. You could argue that this is nearly as dangerous since you can’t see the beam and it doesn’t end a few feet past the business end of the grip. Plus there’s that who “not actually a Jedi” thing.

We don’t know if retro computing fans are going to love or hate this (translated). On the one hand it’s pretty cool to see a ZX81 clone up and running. On the other hand, an Amiga 600 case was sacrificed to serve as the body for the hack. [Thanks Juan]

Watchdog timer. If you know what that is your mind immediately says “good idea” when you hear the word. If you don’t know, you need to learn. Watchdogs are reset timers that are built into most microcontrollers. If your firmware gets stuck and doesn’t maintain the timer’s counter at a regular interval the watchdog it will perform a hardware reset and hopefully your hardware will start functioning again. Here’s a guide for using the watchdog in an Arduino, but the concepts are pretty much universal.

We see all kinds of stepper-motor based music machines. One of our favorites was this recent floppy drive jukebox. But not every song is going to sound good on this type of hardware. One that does sound especially neat is the Doctor Who theme on an array of 8 drives.

And finally, if you’re struggling with surface mount soldering we recommend grabbing two soldering irons. But in a pinch just grab some heavy gauge copper wire and wrap it around your soldering iron tip. It ends up being a two-point soldering iron set for the size of specific components such as 0805 resistors. [Thanks Rupert]

Fail of the Week: CPLDs That Release Blue Smoke

fotw-floppy-emulator-burned-cpld

The card you see above is a floppy drive emulator for Macintosh. [Steve Chamberlain] has been hand assembling these and selling them in small runs, but is troubled by about a 4% burn-out rate for the CPLD which has the red ‘X’ on it. He settled into figure out what exactly is leading to this and it’s a real head-scratcher.

He does a very good job of trouble-shooting, starting with a list of all the possible things he thinks could be causing this: defective part, bad PCB, bad uC firmware, damage during assembly, solder short, tolerance issues, over-voltage on the DB connector, or bad VHDL design. He methodically eliminates these, first by swapping out the part and observing the exact same failure (pretty much eliminates assembly, solder short, etc.), then by measuring and scoping around the card.

The fascinating read doesn’t stop with the article. Make sure you work your way through the comments thread. [Steve] thinks he’s eliminated the idea of bad microcontroller code causing damage. He considers putting in-line resistors on the DB connector but we wonder if clamping diodes wouldn’t be a better choice (at least for testing purposes)? This begs the question, why is he observing a higher voltage on those I/O lines during power-up? As always, we want to hear your constructive comments below.


2013-09-05-Hackaday-Fail-tips-tileFail of the Week is a Hackaday column which runs every Wednesday. Help keep the fun rolling by writing about your past failures and sending us a link to the story — or sending in links to fail write ups you find in your Internet travels.

The Most Beautiful Floppy Disk Jukebox Ever

Playing music on floppy drives is something that has been done to death. [kiu]’s RumbleRail is something else entirely. Yes, it’s still a collection of floppy drives playing MIDI files, but the engineering and build quality that went into this build puts it in a class by itself.

Instead of the usual assemblage of wires, power cords, and circuits that accompany most musical floppy drive builds, [kiu]’s is an exercise in precision and modularity. Each of the eight floppy drives are connected to its own driver with an ATMega16 microcontroller on board. The microcontrollers in these driver boards receive orders from the command board over an I2C bus. Since everything on the RumbleRail is modular, and the fact [kiu] is using DIP switches to set the I2C address of each board, this build could theoretically be expanded to 127 voices, or 127 individual floppy drives each playing their part of a MIDI file.

The RumbleRail can also operate in a standalone mode without the need for a separate computer feeding it data. MIDI files can be loaded off an SD card by the main controller board, and decode them for the floppy drivers.

If you’d like to build your own RumbleRail, all the board files, schematics, and firmware are up on [kiu]’s git. There are, of course, a few videos below of the floppy jukebox in action.

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Hackaday Links: Sunday, April 21st, 2013

hackaday-links-chain

Regular reader and master hacker [Bill Porter] got married. Congratulations [Bill] and [Mara]! The two of them just couldn’t leave their soldering irons at home. The actually swore their vows by soldering together a circuit during the ceremony (blinky wedding dress, el wire tuxedo, and all).

[Kevin] sent in a link to [Red Fathom’s] hacked Wacom tablet. It’s the screen from a Wacom-enabled laptop brought back to life with a Teensy and an LVDS interface module.

The Neato XV-11 is able to find its charging station when the batteries run low. [Derek] figured out that you can make a second station using some reflective tape.

If you use your drill a lot you’ll eventually break the rubber thing that holds the key to the chuck. Here’s a way to 3D print a replacement.

[Torxe] put eight floppy drives to use as a polyphonic Arduino-controlled MIDI player. And while we’re on the subject of Arduino controlled projects you should take a look at this web-interface to tell you if the foosball table is being used.

And finally [Th3 Bad Wolf] sent in this link to a milling machine built out of LEGO. It is able to mill floral foam and uses a lathe-like setup for one of the table axes.