IoT Cassette Scroller Never Needs A Pencil

The see-through electronics craze of the ’80s and ’90s clearly had an effect on [MisterM], and we can totally relate. Those candy-colored components inside undoubtedly launched a few thousand kids in the direction of electronics, as we can attest.

Though the odds seemed very much against him, [MisterM] was able to fit all the necessary components for a scrolling IoT notifier inside a standard cassette tape. It took a bit of surgery on both the Raspberry Pi Zero W and the donor cassette in the name of getting all the components to fit in such a tight space. We’re glad he kept at it, because it looks amazing.

The Raspi uses Adafruit.IO and IFTTT to get all kinds of notifications — tweets, weather, soil moisture, you name it — and scrolls them across an 11×7 LED matrix. A vibrating disc motor gives a buzzing heads up first, so [MisterM] doesn’t miss anything. Hit the break button and flip this thing over, because the build video is all queued up on the B-side.

If you’d rather play around with cassette decks, add in some playback speed potentiometers to mess with the sound, or go all out and make a Mellotron.

33 thoughts on “IoT Cassette Scroller Never Needs A Pencil

  1. RE: RW;
    Nice project and all but i was really envisioning a wifi enabled cassette i could stick in my old Jeep that doesn’t even have a radio anymore.
    the display could be on my phone, the app that controls the device.
    but still need a cord for power, i guess. battery would be hard pressed. i’d rather never touch it again, once inserted into the tape deck.

    1. Couldn’t you use the spinning cassette wheels and some magnets and coils to generate power? Now that would get at least 4 hacker points, possibly even 5.

      Kinda makes me wish I had a car with a cassette player and a lot of time.

      1. You can not get much torque from that. There are slip clutches to prevent the thin tape to be torn into pieces. I doubt that you could get more than a few mW from there. So batteries or a wire will be necessary.

    2. Find an old mobiBLU MP3 Compact Cassette. Pop in an SD card full of tunes, pop the device into a cassette player. it has sensors on the reel hubs so Play plays (duh), FF and RW are for track skipping. It also works as a standalone player with headphones. Some models had a headphone adapter cord with a control pod.

      But prior to the mobiBLU was another brand. I don’t recall the name. Their first model didn’t have an SD slot, may have predated the SD card. Their second model added a card slot.

      The only one currently available is a cheap white plastic with black and yellow printing POS that’s nowhere near as good as the mobiBLU, the Digisette DUO-DX or others.

    1. EXACTLY what I was thinking! And hoping! But… nah, may as well not even have… wait a sec… it hasn’t even got any bloody tape in it!

      This is just an Arduino in a daft 80s-fetishising case! Just as a footnote, btw, the 80s were terrible politically, musically, artistically and socially. Many suffered and it was just the start. The 80s were shit, mate, and their plastic detritus, that will persist until the end of time, it not something to make an idol out of.

      Actually… the early 80s were pretty good. It just turned to shit at some point right about when Kylie decided she’d have a go at the karaoke. And the Tories realised there really was no stopping them. Anyway you’ve seen Wall Street I don’t need a full lecture here.

      It’s not hard to store data on tape. The ZX Spectrum did it at around 2400bps, where cowardly Americans designed their tape drives at 300bps for some arcane and obsolete ’70s computer club reason. Speccy did it all with the CPU, it’s tape circuit was just a detector for the zero crossing and that’s it. It waited for a crossing, when one arrrived it started counting, until the next one. At that point you look at your count and see how long it took for the signal to cross zero again. If it was a long time, count that as a “1”, if it was short, it’s a “0”.

      All done with something like a Schmitt trigger or an opamp. I dunno, it was all inside a ULA chip.

      Then recording is the same sort of stuff. Apply voltage to tape head, start counting, at the right time, remove voltage. The CPU’s logic signals, it’s data bus, connected more or less straight to the tape, with just a bit of analogue stuff in between.

      An Arduino is much faster than a Z80. With good quality tape it’d be interesting to see how fast he could get data onto tape and have it stay there.

      Maybe connect one to a little LCD screen. I haven’t got one of those. Use the cassette to store video! You could even implement some sort of compression system. I dunno. I did love using tapes on my old computers. And then floppies!

      These daft kids looking like Stig Of The Dump, carrying bits of abandoned 80s culture like they’ve been archaeologising a nearby rubbish tip. Let’s wear a cassette tape! Lets stick a VHS up my arse. Fetishising history that, ironically, isn’t even theirs! When they grew up, things were pretty much exactly as they are now! That’s the way it is when you haven’t lived yet.

    1. Even worse… it’s a full Raspberry Pi Zero.

      Agree with everyone else that it’s a missed opportunity to make specific use of the cassette. Even without that, it’s a cool idea for a project case, but running it off a Raspberry Pi??? Come on!!! A custom PCB with any of the main Arduino micros (328p, 32u4, etc.) and some lipo charger/voltage regulator ICs isn’t that hard to whip up. Just cramming in a Pi? A bit lazy.

  2. Missed Opportunity #42

    Put a tape head in the case to interface with a tape deck, as the audio out for the Pi. That way the audio source cous be anything the Pi could stream.

    1. magnets and hall sensors to the reels so you can detect play and ffwd/rwd and switch between tracks.
      the led matrix could show how much tape is left when idling. on each track change it can display the track name.

      1. I thnk most of the LED matrix would be stuck inside the tape deck and not visible. But that’s OK, you could add some other kind of display.

        There’s not much change of detecting the tape moving cos he’s already cut off big chunks of them, I doubt they go round. That doesn’t matter either though, you can just control the Pi directly in some other way.

        And what you end up with is one of those MP3 -> tape adaptors that cost next to nowt on Ebay a while ago. Or maybe a Bluetooth version would be better.

        Anyway currently the tape casing is just a casing. It’s not functioning as a cassette tape, and I doubt it’s salvagable. Still there’s plenty more tapes in the world but this was a bit pointless but I think Pi owners get competitive about sneaking π into things.

        [just testing

        π π Π Π ΨΩ۞☻☻ ]

    2. My thoughts are the same but do you rember endless tapes which looped. Well now you can really have an endless tape only governed by what you stream to it Or store on the local SD card. So what is this length of that tape ? 60 min , 90 min, 120 min – Nope try 8 hours Or however long the battery lasts. Could also stream Games to old 80’s cassette interfaces..Lots of unintended consequences…

        1. Nah there were real cassette tapes available that looped round. For things like shops playing an endless loop of shite music. Or else things that needed a human voice for announcements, emergency evacuation and stuff. Back when audio was analogue! They were available in various lengths but I think in general they were pretty short.

          Techmoan did a video about looping tape, give it a search. I know we all love Techmoan here!

  3. I thought this was going to be something cool. It would be interesting to see if you could say make a talking clock that has all the numbers and AM and PM recorded on the tape, along with either a subsonic tone that could be used as an index or an optical encoder on the reels and quickly slew the tape back and forth to tell the time with a minimal delay between the numbers. I doubt the tape would last real long, but it would be pretty cool. I think the subsonic tone would be better as you could count the cycles and if the tape stretched, and encoder would start to be off the mark, but the cycle count off the tape would always be correct. Interesting project idea…

    1. Hmmm… First I was thinking “this is a job practically specified for digital audio playback”. But I did realise how boring that would be. You could take advantage, though, of the fact that time only goes forward. That is, after the 5-past announcement definitely comes the 10-past. So minimal amount of tape shuffling needed.

      You could even do it on a stereo tape. Right channel is a voice going “ten past…. quarter past….” and on the left channel are encoded beeps that tell you what’s coming up, and when. So you selectively un-mute the right channel and send it to the speaker just as the moment passes.

      This is sort-of the definition of a real-time system. You could spend an hour with a tape, and every five minutes make an announcement. Maybe a 60-minute tape if it’s just long enough. Then that’s your minutes tape. Have a second tape for hours that you’d probably NOT do in real-time!

      So then you figure out your tones, you have an Arduino (etc) waiting on it’s own internal clock (or buy a clock chip for it). Cometh the time, it plays the tape, checks for the right encoded tones, then at the time specified plays “It is… twenty to” (click) “Seven”.

      I wouldn’t bother with subsonic, just use normal tones on one stereo channel. There’s been all sorts of systems based on that, some of the Atari computers had it as an option, program on one channel, narration on the other. The computer could control the tape drive and it’s audio.

      Just thinking where you could get 2 tape drives from… remember those ghetto blasters that actually played cassettes instead of dicking about with them? Some of them, the expensive ones, were logic controlled, ie electrical signal to control the deck, no physical fingers needed to press mechanisms up and down, it’s all solenoids and motors.

      Even without logic though you could cut the wire to the motor, I suppose.

      Actually I wouldn’t be surprised if China still makes walkmans for a quid each or something.

  4. I can only agree with all the comments before me, i mean it looks sorta neat but really the thing comes across as a glorified led-matrix-example-project.. Not trying to be rude or anything, i for one would prolly spend weeks trying to tie a led matrix to ITTT, but the whole cassette ordeal is just a bunch of missed opportunities, either do something with the cassette (i liked the idea CRJEEA posted above about using the casette tape to store data for the matrix, but theres plenty of other good idea’s in these comments aswell) or just make a nice clear case from scratch that does properly fit all components?

    1. If a maker/hacker cant accept criticism and suggestions on their project then they shouldn’t be posting online. Then again I wouldn’t go as far as to say this project doesn’t have any merits (to me any project is worth it if you have fun making it), but it’s borderline childish to assume that just because it’s a simple project that it should be immune to feedback that isn’t positive.

  5. Impressive, but fantastic improvements would be to play streaming audio through a magnetic head, and (if possible) replace the on-off switch with some kind of playback sensor (movement of the spools).

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