One console to rule them all

[Bacteria] retro console modder extraordinaire, is back at it with a rather massive project. “Unity”(originally Dubbed Alpha Omega), this will be a single unit that can play games from 20 different console systems. It will run from one power supply, have one video output, and strangely enough, one controller.

[Chris Downing] was nice enough to tip us off to a video of the Unity controller in action.  The controller isn’t quite as bulky as we would have assumed with the extensive list of consoles it has to support, but that could be, in part, due to the fact that you actually swap out the brains for the controller for each system’s compatibility.

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Sassy disco bots of the 80s

Surely, this is a glimpse into the future. No? Ok, its a glimpse into 1983. A small chinese fast-food restaurant in California put two 4.5 foot tall, 180 pound robots to work delivering food. Tanbo R-1 and Tanbo R-2 were their names and delivering food was their game. At least, when there wasn’t radio interference or their batteries were running low.  They were built to deliver food to the tables and be polite to the customers. They also had some interesting quirky behavior, like responding “that’s not my problem” and dancing off to some disco music if they didn’t understand you.  Do yourself a favor and go read some of the stories. We wish we could have seen them in action, they sound fantastically absurd.

Giving old appliances a second life with simple tweaks


Cruising estate sales can be a total crapshoot – sometimes you find a goldmine, other times nothing but junk. [John Ownby] recently found a sleek-looking old blender at such a sale and decided to take it home. The chrome plated base and fluted glass immediately caught his eye, but he didn’t buy the blender so he could make mediocre frozen drinks – he wanted a lamp instead.

The conversion was fairly simple, requiring him to gut the machine of its moving parts including the motor and blades, replacing them with a small incandescent candelabra base. While his modifications themselves are not groundbreaking, taking them a step further would make for some really cool (and functional) retro house fixtures.

Indulge me for a moment, if you will, and imagine swapping out the simple incandescent bulb for some LED strips or even EL wire. Replace the blender’s cap with a small speaker, and you can use several of these together as retro-looking surround satellites.

We can definitely get behind his reuse of the blender, which would have otherwise likely ended up in a landfill. It’s great to see solid, durable appliances given a second life, even in ways which were never intended. Have you rescued anything from the trash heap like [John], or do you have other ideas for your fellow hackers who might come across similar goods? Let us know in the comments.

Retro-gaming wall art; it’s playable!

Here’s a wall hanging for the reception area that let’s your customers play retro games while they wait. To give you some sense of scale, the buttons to the right (labeled Start/Jump but we would call them A and B) are arcade buttons larger than traditional arcade buttons. The screen itself is a Samsung widescreen computer monitor — we’d wager that it’s a 16″ model but we’re just guessing. It’s held in the wooden frame by a piece of angle bracket.

This is the product of a hack we looked at in June where an Arduino was used to control digitized retro LCD games. The same hardware is used, monitoring the buttons with the Arduino and using a Python script to translate them to keypresses on a computer. That means this isn’t a standalone, but needs a computer to run the game and feed the LCD monitor. Still, we love the look of it and hold out hope that this will someday migrate to FPGA control (they have not problem driving LCD screens) with selectable games.

Androcade is a controller and stand in one

We remember when retro-gaming required a lot of equipment and a serious time commitment to put together a gaming interface. [Scooter2084] proves that we’ve come a long way with this gaming controller built to complement Android hardware.

It’s not immediately obvious from the image above, but the controller itself looks just like Andy the Android. His head is tilted upward and acts as the tablet stand, while his torso hosts the controls. We don’t the arms and legs have a functional use but they are necessary to complete the look.

Traditionally arcade controls have used a hacked gamepad, or dedicated hardware like the MAME cabinets that use iPac control boards. But this rendition interfaces the joystick and four buttons using an Arduino. A Bluetooth shield lets you control the Android device wirelessly, and opens up the possibility to use this as a controller for laptop-based emulators and the like. Don’t miss the video after the break.

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Resurrecting the Optigan disc format


The Optigan and Orchestron were a pair of electronic organs built by Mattel in the 1970s which used swappable optical discs to store instrument information. The discs can still be found today, but the organs are extremely scarce, much to [Gan’s] dismay. After researching the organs for a bit, he decided he could probably build his own MIDI-compatible interface for the audio discs.

The discs have audio waveform data printed on them, which can be read using an LED on one side of the disc and an optical transistor on another. After successfully prototyping a reader that could interpret one of the disc’s audio tracks, he constructed a device to read all of the tracks simultaneously, just like the original organs.

His makeshift turntable was constructed on top of an old record player using acrylic discs and toy car wheels to keep things steady. Once the disc is placed on the turntable, he sets his reader in place, and via some custom circuitry, he is able to play the discs using his much more modern keyboard. It sounds pretty decent as you can see in the video below, though he does admit he would like to tweak a few things to make it sound even better.

[thanks Bryan]

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Mini LED message board built from retro displays


[Iain] is getting to the point in his life where he finds himself waxing nostalgic about various different technologies from his youth. One item he has always been fond of is first generation 7 segment consumer LED displays, like those found in old calculators.

He was excited to find one of these displays at the bottom of a box full of electronics odds and ends he received from a friend. After identifying the display and tracking down a data sheet online, he decided that he wanted to build some sort of little gadget out of it.

His first inclination was to build a tiny text scrolling gadget from the display, and thus his “Personal Electronic Retro Telegram” (P.E.R.T) was born. With Arduino in hand, he prototyped the circuit on a breadboard, then sent away to have some PCBs built. Once he received the boards, alll of his prototyping components were swapped out with SMD versions, including a TQFP ATMega168 chip in place of the full-sized Arduino board.

The final result is a nice melding old and new technology which he decided to give to his girlfriend as a gift. Continue reading to see a quick video of the P.E.R.T in action.

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