Another Arduino Compatible? This Time, It’s A Sony

When it comes to microcontroller development boards, we have a plethora of choices at our disposal. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, be they associated with its support and community, its interface capabilities, or its choice of processor family. Most boards you’ll find in our communities come from niche manufacturers, or at least from manufacturers who started as such. Just occasionally though along comes one whose manufacturer you will have heard of, even whose manufacturer the Man in the Street will have heard of.

Which brings us neatly to today’s story, the quiet announcement from Sony, of a new microcontroller development board called the Spritzer. This is Arduino compatible in both physical footprint and IDE, is intended for IoT applications, and packs GPS, an audio codec, and an ARM Cortex M4 at 156 MHz. There is a Japanese page with a little more detail (Google Translate link), on which they talk about applications including audio beam forming with up to eight microphones, and a camera interface. 

The board is due to be available sometime early next year, and while it looks as though it will be an interesting device we’d sound a note of caution to Sony. It is not good enough to have an amazing piece of hardware; the software and community support must be more than just make-believe. If they can crack that then they might just have a winner on their hands, if they fail to make any effort then they will inevitably follow Intel into the graveyard of also-ran boards.

Thanks [Chris] for the tip.

Sony Unveils Swarm Robots for Kids

Sony recently unveiled Toio, an educational robotics toy for young programmers. We all know Sony as an electronics giant, but they do dabble in robotics from time to time. The AIBO dog family is probably their most famous creation, though there is also QRIO, a bipedal humanoid, and on the stranger side, the Rolly.

Toio consists of two small cube robots which roll around the desktop. You can control them with handheld rings, or run programs on them. The robots are charged by a base station, which also has a cartridge slot. Sony is marketing this as an ecosystem that can be expanded by buying packs which consist of accessories and a software cartridge. It looks like the cartridge is yet another proprietary memory card format. Is Sony ever going to learn?

There isn’t much hard information on Toio yet. We know it will be released in Japan on December 1st and will cost around ¥ 20,000, or about 200 USD. No word yet on a worldwide release.

The striking thing about this kit is how well the two robots know each other’s position. Tape a paper pair of pants, and they “walk” like two feet. Attach a paper linkage between them, and they turn in perfect sync, like two gears. Add some paper strips, and the two robots work together to form a gripper.  We can only guess that Sony is using cameras on the bottom of each robot to determine position — possibly with the aid of an encoded work surface — similar to Anoto paper. Whatever technology it is, here’s to hoping Sony puts out an SDK for researchers and hackers to get in on the fun with these little robots.

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The Enchanting Power Of SDDSbot

Who doesn’t love a good robot? If you don’t — how dare you! — then this charming little scamp might just bring the hint of a smile to your face.

SDDSbot — built out of an old Sony Dynamic Digital Sound system’s reel cover — can’t do much other than turn left, right, or walk forwards on four D/C motor-controlled legs, but it does so using the power of a Pixy camera and an Arduino. The Pixy reads colour combinations that denote stop and go commands from sheets of paper, attempting to keep it in the center of its field of view as it toddles along. Once the robot gets close enough to the ‘go’ colour code, the paper’s  orientation directs the robot to steer itself left or right — the goal being the capacity to navigate a maze. While not quite there yet, it’s certainly a handful as it is.

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Circuit Bent CD Player Is Glitch Heaven

Circuit bending is the art of creatively short circuiting low voltage hardware to create interesting and unexpected results. It’s generally applied to things like Furbys, old Casio keyboards, or early consoles to create audio and video glitches for artistic effect. It’s often practiced with a random approach, but by bringing in a little knowledge, you can get astounding results. [r20029] decided to apply her knowledge of CD players and RAM to create this glitched out Sony Discman.

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Replacing a Failed Ebook Reader Battery

Resurrecting a beloved piece of tech can be a trying process when fighting through the mild heartbreak — doubly so if the product has been discontinued. When their old Sony PRS-T1 e-book reader refused to charge after leaving it on their dashboard during a hot day, [Andrea Gangemi] decided to leverage a little techno-necromancy and hack together a fix.

[Gangemi] found the problem to be a battery failure, but there was nary a replacement to be found. An old Motorola mobile phone battery ended up fitting the purpose nicely. Cracking open the e-book reader, de-soldering the old battery and — after deciphering which pins were which — installing the new one was simply done with a fine, high temperature soldering iron tip and Kapton tape to avoid short-circuiting. But hold on — the new battery wouldn’t charge, and the reader displayed a message saying that the battery was over heating; irony, thou art cruel.

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Repairing a Sony Dream Machine

Have you ever fancied a gadget but been put off by what seems like an excessive price? [leadacid44] did just that back in 2009, in his case the gadget in question was a Sony Dream Machine ICF-CL75iP. It’s an alarm clock radio, albeit a very fancy one featuring an iPod dock, SD card slot, and an electronic photo frame. Back then it was just too expensive, but in 2016 [leadacid44] spotted one on an auction site for pennies, and so snapped it up.

Of course, with something cheap there is so often a catch. In the case of this Dream Machine, it would not keep time — something pretty important in a clock. But rather than throw it on the “Hack later” pile, [leadacid44] decided to investigate, and turned up a surprising culprit. The glue Sony had used to secure the timing crystal in 2009 had become conductive with age, causing the oscillator to stop oscillating. A simple fix involving a bit of glue removal and a touch of resoldering, and the clock was back with us.

This was a very simple repair when the problem was diagnosed, but it tells us something about electronic product design, and about quality control. Sony have spent a very long time building a reputation for quality manufacture, and it is likely the Dream Machine was built with their full attention to detail. It is highly unlikely that the Sony engineers chose their crystal glue in the knowledge it would break down, after all the company is likely to make far more money selling a new TV or phone to a satisfied alarm clock owner than it is by selling them a new alarm clock. Instead it tells us that even Sony with a legendary attention to quality control can be caught out by unexpected component failures, and that as engineers we should always expect the unexpected.

So [leadacid44] has a new alarm clock, and presumably now always wakes up on time. It’s interesting to look at the Dream Machine from another perspective, to compare what was hot in 2009 with what you might see now. The Apple Dock connector for instance, or the full-size SD card. Both of which are now becoming historical curiosities, even though this device is not much more than six years old.

Over the years we’ve featured a lot of clocks, and even the odd clock radio. But this isn’t really about clock radios, and with that out of the way we’ve certainly featured a few Sony hacks.

Resurrecting a 1960’s VTR with Foam

Nearly fifty years back, Sony launched the DVC-2400, their first consumer grade video camera. This unit weighed in at 10 pounds, and recorded only 20 minutes of footage per reel. It left something to be desired for $1250, or nearly $9000 in today’s dollars.

[NeXT] got his hands on one of these camera kits, and began bringing it back to life. While all the pieces were included, the Video Tape Recorder (VTR), which is used to play back the footage, didn’t power up. A little poking found a dead transistor. After determining a modern replacement part, the voltages checked out. However, the drum still wasn’t spinning.

Further disassembly found that the drum’s DC motor was made on the cheap, using a foam instead of springs to apply pressure on the brushes. This foam had worn out and lost its springy qualities, so no electrical contact was made. New foam was cut out as a replacement. Once reassembled, the drum spun successfully. After some adjustment, the VTR was running at the correct speed once again.

With this working, the VTR should be ready to go. However, camera still isn’t working, so we’re awaiting a part 2.