For those new and experienced, this time of year is a great chance for enterprising makers to apply their skills to create unique gifts and decorations for family and friends. [Mike Diamond] of What I Made Today built a phone controlled, light-up menorah. It’s a charming way to display some home automation know-how during the holidays.
Expanding on his previous project — a pocket-sized menorah — a Raspberry Pi Zero with a WiFi dongle, some LEDs, wire, and tea lights suffice for the materials, while setting-up Blynk on the Raspberry Pi and a phone to control the lights ties it together after mounting it in an old monitor housing.
The vintage aesthetic is more popular than ever, and while things like rotary phones aren’t particularly useful anymore, there’s a lot of fun to be had using them in new and inventive ways. For this project, [Sander] built an attractive table lamp out of a Siemens rotary phone.
Switched off, the lamp appears to be nothing more than a phone with its handset floating in midair. However turn the dial, and LEDs mounted in the receiver begin to glow. Taking things a step further as good hackers do, [Sander] used a motorised potentiometer to control the LED brightness with a NodeMCU board featuring the ESP8266. This allows the LEDs to be dimmed either by hand, or by a smartphone connected over WiFi, without the dial getting out of sync.
By using a dual H-bridge setup, the NodeMCU is able to both control the motorized pot as well as generate an AC signal to activate the original bell in the phone, which adds a whole lot of nostalgia points. Fitting the motorized pot into the phone did lend some challenges but that didn’t slow [Sander] down – they simply used a cheap universal joint to allow the motor to connect to the rotary dial off-axis. A great trick to keep in your back pocket.
For the haunting floating effect, [Sander] used a meter of 4 mm brass rod, bending it into shape to hold up the handset. This was used as a ground, and along with a couple of extra wires for power, was covered in a black textile sheath recovered from another electrical cable. [Sander] tells us it wasn’t the easiest thing to pull off, but we definitely agree that the effect is totally worth it.
I’ll admit it. I can be a little cheap. I also find it hard to pass up a bargain. So when I saw a robot kit at the local store that had been originally $125 marked down to $20, I had to bite. There was only one problem. After I got the thing home, I found they expected you to supply your own radio control transmitter and receiver.
Normally, that wouldn’t be a problem but lately… let’s just say a lot of my stuff is in storage and I didn’t have anything handy. I certainly didn’t want to go buy something that would double the cost of this robot that I really didn’t need to begin with.
However, I did have a few ESP8266 modules handy. Good ones, too, from Adafruit with selected 5 V I/O compatibility and an onboard regulator. I started thinking about writing something for the ESP8266 to pick up data from, say, a UDP packet and converting it into RC servo commands.
Seemed like a fair amount of work and then I remembered that I wanted to try Blynk. If you haven’t heard of Blynk, it is a user interface for Android and Apple phones that can send commands to an embedded system over the Internet. You usually think of using Blynk with an Arduino, but you can also program the embedded part directly on an ESP8266. I quickly threw together a little prototype joystick. Continue reading “The Joy of the ESP8266 and Blynk”→
Star Trek is often credited with helping spur the development of technologies we have today — the go-to example being cell phones. When a Star Trek April Fool’s product inspires a maker to build the real thing? Well, that seems par for the course. [MS3FGX] decided to make it so. The 3D printed Star Trek-themed phone dock acts as a Bluetooth speaker and white noise generator. The result is shown off in the video below and equals the special effects you expect to find on the silver screen.
Taking a few liberties from the product it’s based on — which was much larger and had embedded screens — makes [MS4FGX]’s version a little more practical. Two industrial toggle switches control a tech cube nightlight and the internal Bluetooth speaker. An NFC tag behind the phone dock launches the pre-installed LCARS UI app and turns on the phone’s Bluetooth. Despite being a challenge for [MS3FGX] to design, the end product seems to work exactly as intended.
[Kedar Nimbalkar] hyperbolically advertises the ultimate cell phone speaker dock. It costs a dollar. It doesn’t need you to pair with it via Bluetooth or WiFi. It pairs extremely fast, 0.000000000001, he clarifies. It may also look like a broken laptop speaker with a stomped wall wart soldered to it, but who can keep up with industrial design trends these days?
He shows us the device in operation. He starts playing some music on his phone’s speaker. It’s not very loud, so he simply lays the phone on the dock. Suddenly, all the audio fidelity a Dell Lattitude from the 90s can provide erupts from the device! How is this done?
Of course, there’s not much to the trick. Since the cellphone speaker is a coil it can induce a small current in another coil. The resulting voltage can be picked up by an audio amplifier and played through the speakers. Nonetheless it’s pretty cool, and we like his suggestion of betting our friends that we could wirelessly pair with their ear buds. Video after the break.
He starts by cutting away the motor from an iPhone fan to isolate the Micro USB connector. He then removes the charging circuit board from a cheap Chinese USB power bank, and solders wires from the Micro USB connector to one side of the board. Lastly, he cuts away the Lightning connector from a Lightning-to-USB cable and solders that connector to the other side of the circuit board. For longevity and cosmetics, he puts it all in a small wood block and connects a key ring. The result is a small, neat looking box with a Micro USB connector on one side and a Lightning connector on the other. You can see him make it, and then use it to steal power from his friends in the video after the break.
It was one of the more interesting consumer tech stories floating around at the turn of the century, a disposable cell phone manufactured using a multi-layer folded paper circuit board with tracks printed in conductive ink. Its feature set was basic even by the standards of the day in that it had no display and its only function was to make calls, but with a target price of only $10 that didn’t matter. It was the brainchild of a prolific New Jersey based inventor, and it was intended to be the first in a series of paper electronic devices using the same technology including phones with built-in credit card payment ability and a basic laptop model.
The idea of a $10 mobile phone does not seem remarkable today, it’s possible that sum might now secure you something with features far in excess of the Nokias and similar that were the order of the day at that time. But when you consider that those Nokias could have prices well into three figures without a contract, and that the new features people considered exciting were things like integrated antennas or swappable coloured plastic covers rather than the multicore processors or high-res cameras we’re used to today, a phone so cheap as to be disposable promised to be very disruptive.
The product’s wonderfully dated website (Wayback Machine link, we’ve skipped the Flash intro for you) has pictures of the device, and the video below the break features shots of it in use as its inventor is interviewed. But by the end of 2002 the Wayback Machine was retrieving 404 errors from the server, and little more was heard of the product. No sign of one ever came our way; did any make it to market, and did you have one?
With the benefit of fifteen years hindsight, why did we not have paper mobile phones as part of the ephemera of the early years of the last decade? It was not a product without promise; a ten-dollar phone might have been a great success. And the description of a cheap laptop that talks to a remote server for its software sounds not unlike today’s Chromebooks.
Some of you might claim the product was vapourware, but given that they demonstrated a working prototype we’d hesitate to go that far. The likelihood is that it did not find the required combination of component price and manufacturing ease to exploit its intended market segment before its competition improved to the point that it could no longer compete. If you have ever taken apart a typical mobile phone of the period you’ll have some idea of why they were not cheap devices, for example the RF filter modules of the day were individually adjusted precision components. And paper-and-ink printed circuit boards are still a technology with a way to go even now, perhaps the idea was simply too far ahead of its time. Meanwhile within a relatively short period of time the price of simple candybar phones dropped to the point at which they would tempt the $10 buyer to spend more for a better product, so the window of opportunity had passed.