Rotary Cell Phone: Blast from a Past that Never Was

The 1970s called and they want their rotary dial cell phone back.

Looking for all the world like something assembled from the Radio Shack parts department – remember when Radio Shack sold parts? – [Mr_Volt]’s build is a celebration of the look and feel of a hobbyist build from way back when. Looking a little like a homebrew DynaTAC 8000X, the brushed aluminum and 3D-printed ABS case sports an unusual front panel feature – a working rotary dial. Smaller than even the Trimline phone’s rotating finger stop dial and best operated with a stylus, the dial translates rotary action to DTMF tones for the Feather FONA board inside. Far from a one-trick pony, the phone sports memory dialing, SMS messaging, and even an FM receiver. But most impressive and mysterious is the dial mechanism, visible through a window in the wood-grain back. Did [Mr_Volt] fabricate those gears and the governor? We’d love to hear the backstory on that.

This isn’t the first rotary cell phone hybrid we’ve featured, of course. There was this GSM addition to an old rotary phone and this cell phone that lets you slam the receiver down. But for our money a rotary dial cell phone built from the ground up wins the retro cool prize of the bunch.

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Hipster Rotary Dial Adds Bluetooth 4.0

We have seen a few projects that convert a rotary dial for use with modern technology, but this one adds a new twist to the mix: it uses Bluetooth 4.0. [Silent] used a Nordic Semiconductor NRF51 DK development board for the project, which was built from the Nordic SDK source code for creating an HID (Human Interface Device). After what he claims was an hour or so of hacking, he was able to get this Arduino-compatible SoC dev board to detect the pulses from the rotary dial, then pass the appropriate number to a connected device as a key press. This means that his design should work with any device that has Bluetooth 4.0 support. It is powered from a big dry cell because, to quote [Silent], “small coin batteries are not hipster enough”.

It’s a simple project, and we have seen rotary cell phones before, but this still is ripe for expansion. You could either use a smaller, cheaper version of the Nordic chip at the center of this hack, as most of the dev board features aren’t used. Or you could do some more hacking, add support for the Bluetooth HSP headset profile, then wire it up to a vintage phone for the most hipster Bluetooth headset ever. We can’t wait until we see a hipster sitting in a coffee shop banging away on a typewriter and answering this. Get to it, people!

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The Rotary Cell Phone

It’s happened. It’s finally happened. In a move that has hipsters donning their good flannel and breaking out that case of Genesee they were saving for a special occasion, the rotary cell phone is now a reality.

[Jaromir] created this astonishingly retro future device as an entry for the NXP LPC810 challenge, a contest to do the most with an ARM Cortex M0+ microcontroller in an 8-pin package. Having only six I/O pins for controlling a GSM module, display a few buttons, and the fancy rotary dial meant [Jaromir] needed to expand his I/O some way. He chose a shift register to handle the buttons and display in a somewhat impressive demonstration of using a shift register as both an input and output expander at the same time.

From the videos [Jaromir] uploaded, the rotary cell phone isn’t ready for Think Geek to do a production run quite yet. He needs to enter the PIN for the SIM card, AT commands for the GSM module, and is, of course, a horrible method of user input for the younglings who have only seen rotary phones in old movies. That being said, it’s a rotary cell phone running on an 8-pin microcontroller. What more do you want?

Videos of this awesome this truly awesome phone in action below. If you’d like to build your own – and why wouldn’t you – all the files are available on [Jaromir]’s git

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Rotary dial authenticates sudo commands

[W1ndman] won’t win any security awards for this build, but it’s an interesting idea. On many Linux-based systems commands can be run with administrator privileges by prefacing them with the keyword ‘sudo’. Normally you’d be asked for a password but [W1ndman] used the Pluggable Authentication Modules (PAM) to authenticate via his own shell script. That script checks a code from this rotary dial for authentication. An Arduino takes care of listening for each digit that is entered and then sends the code via USB for comparison with a stored file. We’re not sure if that stored code is in a plain file or is otherwise protected, but at the very least this prevents you from using ‘sudo’ willy-nilly.