An Adventure into Android Makes the VIC-20 Speak

History and [Bil Herd] teaches us that Commodore begged, borrowed, or stole the engineers responsible for the Speak & Spell to add voice synthesis to a few of the computers that came after the C64. This didn’t quite work out in practice, but speech synthesis was something that was part of the Commodore scene for a long time. The Votrax Type ‘n Talk was a stand-alone speech synthesizer that plugged into the expansion port of the VIC-20. It was expensive, rare, but a few games supported it. [Jan] realized the state of speech synthesis has improved tremendously over the last 30 years, and decided to give his VIC a voice with the help of a cheap Android phone.

A few VIC-20 games, including [Scott Adams] adventure games, worked with the Votrax speech synthesizer by sending phonemes as text over the expansion port. From there, the Votrax would take care of assembling everything into something intelligible, requiring no overhead on the VIC-20. [Jan] realized since the VIC is just spitting out characters for each phoneme, he could redirect those words to a better, more modern voice synthesizer.

A small Bluetooth module was wired up to the user port on the VIC, and this module was paired with a cheap Android smartphone. The smartphone receives the serial stream from an adventure game, and speaks the descriptions of all the scenes in these classic adventure games.

It’s a unique experience judging from the video, but the same hardware and software can also be added to any program that will run on the VIC-20, C64, and C128. Video below.

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Speech synthesizing valentine from 1991


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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Talking resistor calculator speaks component values

If there’s one thing that will surely blind us, its reading resistor color bands. It doesn’t help that red looks exactly like orange, brown and black are indistinguishable, and different component manufacturers – for some reason – don’t use identical paints for coding their resistors. [Jeff] over at Gadget Gangster has been having the same problem, so he built a talking resistor calculator to speak resistor values to him.

The electronics part of the build is extremely simple with just an MCP3208 ADC providing 12 bits of resolution. The software side is where this project really shines. [Jeff] used a Gadget Gangster QuickStart board housing a Parallax Propeller. With 8 cores running in parallel the Propeller is more than enough to run [Phil Pilgrim]’s software speech synthesizer. When a resistor is connected to the two alligator leads, the Propeller goes through a lookup table and finds a resistor value matching the number coming from the ADC. From there, it’s just sending a string of phonetic text to the speech synthesizer object.

Even though text-to-speech chips have been around for decades now, [Jeff] chose to build his speech synthesis tool with software. It may just be a testament to the power in the Propeller microcontroller, but anything that keeps us from squinting at resistor color bands is alright by us.

Building the mind of a robot overlord

The folks at the Louisville hackerspace LVL1 now have a fabulous piece of wall art that is also a speech synthesizer. The speech synthesizer is over two feet long and is made of nine panels of stripboard connected with right angle headers. An awesome piece of art if there ever was one.

This speech synthesizer is actually 30 years in the making. In the early 1980s, one of the members of LVL1 across a few text-to-speech ICs in a bin in Radio Shack. These ICs sat in a drawer while college got in the way, and in 1990, the project was resurrected. The speech synth chips sat in a drawer for another decade, and it was finally decided to build a wall-mounted speech synth for LVL1.

This speech synthesizer is intended to be the voice box for FATHER, LVL1’s second hackerspace AI. Already the first AI – MOTHER – is already telling people to take out the trash and generally trying to become the AI-gone-amok we all deserve. FATHER will be implemented in a robotic monkey, so right now the only question we have is who has been messing with the Louisville water supply.

Hackaday Links: April 7, 2012

Need some gears? Got a timing belt?

[filespace] sent in a neat build he stumbled upon: making gears with plywood and a timing belt. Just cut out a plywood disk and glue on a section of timing belt. There’s some math involved in getting all the teeth evenly placed around the perimeter, but nothing too bad. Also useful for wheels, we think.

We’re on a chess kick now.

Huge chess sets are cool, right up until you try to figure out where to store the pieces when they’re not being used. [Jayefuu] came up with a neat solution to this problem. His pieces are cut out of coroplast (that corrugated plastic stuff political campaign signs are made of), making it relatively inexpensive and just as fun as normal giant chess pieces on a tile floor.


[Randy]’s son is in the cub scouts. Being the awesome father he is, [Randy] helped out with this year’s pinewood derby build. It’s a car shaped like a portal gun with the obligatory color-changing LED. The car won the ‘Can’t get more awesome’ award, but wheel misalignment kicked it out of the competition during qualifying rounds. Sad, that. Still awesome, though.

These people are giving you tools for free

Caltech professor [Yaser Abu-Mostafa] is teaching a Machine Learning class this semester. You can take this class as well, even if the second lecture started last Thursday.

Turning an Arduino into a speech synthesizer

[AlanFromJapan] sent in this product page for an Arduino-powered speech synthesizer. We’re probably looking at a relabeled ATmega328 with custom firmware here; to use it, you replace the micro in your Arduino Uno with this chip. The chip goes for about $10 USD here, so we’ll give it a week until someone has this proprietary firmware up on the Internet. There are English morphemes that aren’t in Japanese, so you can’t just ‘type in English’ and have it work. Here’s a video.

Six things in this links post. We’re feeling generous.

What would you build if you had a laser cutter? [Doug Miller] made a real, working fishing reel. No build log or files, but here’s a nice picture.