Retrotechtacular: The Voder from Bell Labs

voder

This is the under-the-hood view of the keyboard for the Voder (Voice Operating Demonstrator), the first electronic device capable of generating continuous human speech. It accomplishes this feat through a series of keys that generate the syllables, plosives, and affricatives normally produced by the human larynx and shaped by the throat and tongue. This week’s film is a picture montage paired with the audio from the demonstration of the Voder at the 1939 World’s Fair.

The Voder was created by one [Homer Dudley] at Bell Laboratories. He did so in conjunction with the Vocoder, which analyzes human-generated speech for encrypted transfer and re-synthesizes it on the other end. [Dudley] spent over 40 years researching speech at Bell Laboratories. His development of both the Voder and the Vocoder were instrumental in the SIGSALY project which aimed to deliver encrypted voice communication to the theatres of WWII.

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Microcontroller Speech Synthesis Lets Your Project Be Heard

[Aditya] had a project that called for spoken output. He admits that he could have built a PC-based solution, but he found that adding speech by using a microcontroller was not only a cheap and portable alternative, it was also a fun and easy build.

His design uses an ATMega128. Many microcontrollers would work, but his major requirements were PWM generation and plenty of memory to store the file(s). The output is cleaned up in a simple low pass filter before going to the 8Ω speaker.

[Aditya] lays his tracks in WAV format and then compresses it to 8-bit/8kHz. He found a C++ function that converts the track data into a huge arrays and then digitizes it. He uses two timers, one to generate the waveform and second one to time the square wave. [Aditya] has a zip of samples available on his site that will speak the digits 0-9.

Alas, Poor Yorick! I Tweeted Him

yoreck the talking skull

You know Halloween is coming around when the tweet reading skulls start popping up. [Marc] wanted to bring the Halloween spirit into his workplace, so he built “Yorick”. In case you’re worried, no humans were harmed (or farmed for parts) in the creation of this hack. Yorick started life as an anatomical skull model, the type one might find in a school biology lab. Yorick’s skull provided a perfect enclosure for not one but two brains.

A Raspberry Pi handles his higher brain function. The Pi uses the Twitter API to scan for tweets to @wedurick. Once a tweet is found, it is sent to Google’s translate server. A somewhat well-known method of performing text to speech with Google translate is the next step. The procedure is simple: sending “http://translate.google.com/translate_tts?tl=en&q=hackaday” will return an MP3 file of the audio. To get a British accent, simply change to google.co.uk.

The Pi pipes the audio to a speaker, and to the analog input pin of an Arduino, which handles Yorick’s lower brain functions.  The Arduino polls the audio in a tight loop.  An average of the last 3 samples is computed and mapped to a servo position. This results in an amazingly realistic and automatic mouth movement. We think this is the best part of the hack.

It wouldn’t’ be fair for [Marc] to keep the fruits of his labors to himself, so Yorick now has his own Livestream channel. Click past the break to hear Yorick’s opinion on the Hack A Day comments section! Have we mentioned that we love pandering?

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Speech synthesizing valentine from 1991

Internals

Back in 1991, a young [Backwoods Engineer] and his new wife went to a Valentines day get together. One of the conditions of the shindig was having the guys make – not buy – a Valentines day card. Go big or go home, he though, and after a few days he had a talking Valentines day card that would become one of his wife’s most treasured possessions.

The early 90s were a different time; in case you haven’t yet been made to feel very old yet today, 1991 is closer to 1970 than 2013 is to 1991. Likewise, the circuitry inside this heartfelt talking token of appreciation bears more resemblance to something from a 1970s electronics magazine than an Arduino project of today.

The project is powered by an old Intel MCS-48 microcontroller attached to one of the old speech synthesis chips Radio Shack used to sell. These are, in turn, connected to a programmable logic chip and a masked ROM that translates English words into phonemes for the speech synthesizer.

The entire device is constructed on a hacked up piece of perf board and a few wire wrap sockets; sturdy construction, even if the battery compartment has been replaced a few times.

As for what the talking valentine says? “”OK!  Hello, I am a Talking Valentine Card.  “Love Is A Many-Splendored Thing” and in this case also needs batteries!” You can check that out after the break.

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MIDI controlled Speak-and-Spell

We all love the Arduino, but does the Arduino love us back? There used to be a time when the Arduino couldn’t express it’s deepest emotions, but now that [Nick] hooked up a speech synthesis chip from a Speak & Spell, it can finally whisper sweet robotic nothings to us.

The original 1980s Speak & Spell contained a fabulously high-tech speech synthesizer from Texas Instruments. This innovative chip predated [Stephen Hawking]‘s voice and went on to be featured in the numerous speech add-ons for 80s microcomputers like the Apple II, BBC Micro, and a number of Atari arcade games.

[Nick] has been working on his Speak & Spell project for several months now, and he’s getting around to testing the PCBs he made. By his own admission, connecting an Arduino to a Speak & Spell is a little difficult, but he’s got a few tricks up his sleeve to get around the limitations of the hardware. The final goal of [Nick]‘s project is a MIDI-controllable Speak & Sound speech synth for the Arduino. This has been done before, but never from a reverse-engineered Speak & Spell.

You can check out [Nick]‘s progress in interfacing the Speak & Spell speech chip after the break. There’s still work to do, but it’s still very impressive.

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Make an Arduino talk to you

arduino_speech_synthesis

One of the highlights from the Music Hack Day in Berlin was the Arduino singing “Daisy Bell”. If you don’t know, this is an homage to the HAL 9000 in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey; an artificial intelligence that was taught the song in its first steps toward self awareness culminating in an attempt to kill its masters.

It’s unlikely an Arduino will every make it to the point of attempted homicide but with the available code you can find out. Sample code and an explanation of human synthesis is now available through the Cantarino project. The project facilitates the use of phonemes from the SAM Apple II synthesizer to build wave forms that make up recognizable speech on the Arduino platform. The code illustrates how to select and link together speech sounds from the library. Check out the video after the break and then get to work on your own speech synthesis. We’re waiting for someone to put together the theme song from the 1980’s Transformers cartoon. Good luck! [Read more...]

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