E-Ink Photo Frame Is A Simple, Pleasing Design

Regular photo frames are good, but they tend to only display a single photo unless you pull them to bits and swap out what’s inside. [Ben] decided to make a digital photo frame using an e-ink display to change things up, and unlike some commercial versions we’ve seen, it’s actually pretty tasteful!

The build is based on a Nook Simple Touch Reader, which can be had pretty cheaply on the used market. It was chosen for the fact it runs Android, which makes it comparatively easy to hack and customize compared to some other e-readers on the market. Once it’s running a custom Android brew, it can be set to run an app called Electric Sign which simply shows a given website fullscreen and updates it at regular intervals. That turns the Nook into a remotely updateable photo frame in one fell swoop. From there, it just took a little trickery to access an iCloud album to update the frame with fresh pics. Then [Ben] just had to customize a nice photo frame to neatly mount the e-reader with room for the cable to subtly snake out the back.

It’s a simple build that relies on some existing tools already laying around the Internet. That’s nice, because it makes it easy for anyone to replicate themselves at home given the same materials. We’ve seen some other great digital photo frames before, too. If you’ve built your own neat and creative way to display your pics, don’t hesitate to drop us a line!

Weird Trashcan Is Actually Advanced 1990s Robot

[Clay Builds] found a bit of a gem at a recent auction, picking up a Nomadic Technologies N150 robot for just $100. It actually looks like something out of science fiction, with its cylindrical design, red bumpers, and many sensors. He decided to try and restore the research-grade robot to functionality with the aid of modern hardware.

Right away, it’s clear this was an expensive and serious bit of kit. It’s full of hardcore gears and motors for driving three rubber-tired wheels, each of which has a pivoting mount for steering the thing. Through his research, [Clay] was able to find some ancient websites documenting university work using the robots. His understanding is that the platform was designed for researchers experimenting with simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) algorithms, and other robotic navigation tasks.

[Clay] doesn’t just settle for a teardown, though. He’s been able to get the platform running again in one sense, using an Arduino to manually run the robot’s drive controls under the command of a gamepad. Without official software or resources, it’s perhaps unlikely he’ll be able to get the stock hardware to do much without completely rebraining it, so this method makes sense. In future he hopes to get the bumper sensors and sonar modules working too.

It’s a fair effort given [Clay] was working with no documentation and no supporting software. We’ve seen similar efforts for robotic arms before, too. Video after the break.

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A Dashboard Outside The Car

One of the biggest upsides of open communications standards such as CAN or SPI is that a whole world of vehicle hacking becomes available, from simple projects like adding sensors or computers to a car or even building a complete engine control unit from the ground up. The reverse is true as well; sensors and gauges using one of these protocols can be removed from a car and put to work in other projects. That’s the idea that [John] had when he set about using a vehicle’s dashboard as a information cluster for his home.

The core of the build is an Astra GTE dashboard cluster, removed from its host vehicle, and wired to an Arduino-compatible board, in this case an ESP32. The code that [John] wrote bit-bangs an SPI bus and after some probing is able to address all of the instrument gauges on the dashboard. For his own use at home, he’s also configured it to work with Home Assistant, where each of the gauges is configured to represent something his home automation system is monitoring using a bit mask to send data to specific dials.

While this specific gauge cluster has a lot of vehicle-specific instrumentation and needs a legend or good memory to tie into a home automation system without any other modification, plenty of vehicle gauges are more intuitive and as long as they have SPI they’d be perfect targets for builds that use this underlying software. This project takes a similar tack and repurposes a few analog voltmeters for home automation, adding a paper background to the meters to make them easier to read.

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Voice Controlled Rover Follows Verbal Instructions To Get Around

Typically, when we want to tell a robot where to go, we either pre-program a route or drive it around with some kind of gamepad or joystick controller. [Robotcus] decided to build a simple robot platform that drove around in response to voice commands instead.

The robot is based around a Raspberry Pi Zero, charged with instructing the motor controllers to drive the ‘bot around. The Pi Zero is also in charge of interpreting the voice commands via Google’s speech recognition tool. The ‘bot itself is a fairly simple design using brushed gearmotors for propulsion and a 3D-printed chassis to tie everything together.

The car is capable of understanding five commands – drive, turn left, turn right, go backwards, and “attack”. The last command simply activates a flipper from the robot’s former life as a battlebot. Things ran okay at first, but the Pi Zero was slow at processing commands. The wheels also had minimal traction. A full-fat Raspberry Pi solved the latter issue, while a new chassis provided better grip.

It’s a simple project, but one that taught [Robotcus] plenty about programming and building small robots in the process. Like so many learning experiences, it’s easy to see how the robot starts out flailing uselessly and eventually starts to perform as intended. It’s always nice to see that progression. Video after the break.

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Retrotechtacular: Rebuilding A Fire-Ravaged Telephone Exchange

Those who haven’t experienced the destruction of a house fire should consider themselves lucky. The speed with which fire can erase a lifetime of work — or a life, for that matter — is stunning. And the disruption a fire causes for survivors, who often escape the blaze with only the clothes on their backs, is almost unfathomable. To face the task of rebuilding a life with just a few smoke-damaged and waterlogged possessions while wearing only pajamas and slippers is a devastating proposition.

As bad as a residential fire may be, though, its impact is mercifully limited to the occupants. Infrastructure fires are another thing entirely; the disruption they cause is often felt far beyond the building or facility involved. The film below documents a perfect example of this: the 1975 New York Telephone Exchange fire, which swept through the company’s central office facility at the corner of 2nd Avenue and 13th Street in Manhattan and cut off service to 300 blocks of the East Village and Lower East Side neighborhoods.

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Linux Fu: Name That Tune

If you aren’t old enough to remember, the title of this post refers to an old game show where contestants would try to name a tune using the fewest possible notes. What can we say? Entertainment options were sparse before the Internet. However, using audio fingerprinting, computers are very good at pulling this off. The real problem is having a substantial library of fingerprints to compare with. You can probably already do this with your phone, and now you can do it with your Linux computer.

In all fairness, your computer isn’t doing the actual work. In fact, SongRec — the program in question — is just a client for Shazam, a service that can identify many songs. While this is mildly interesting if you use a Linux desktop, we could also see using the same technique with a Raspberry Pi to get some interesting projects. For example, imagine identifying a song playing and adjusting mood lighting to match. A robot that could display song information could be the hit of a nerdy party.

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Building A Loop Station With An RP2040

Loop stations are neat things, able to replay one or more loops of audio over and over again while you perform over the top of them. Musicians like [Marc Rebillet], [Reinhardt Buhr], and [Dub FX] have made careers out of this style of performance. [Yaqi Gao], [Xiaoyu Liang] and [Alina Wang] decided to build a loop station of their own, using the popular RP2040 chip.

At its simplest, a loop station must take in audio, record it, and then play it back. Generally, it can do this with several tracks and mix them together, while also mixing in the incoming audio as well. The group achieved this by inputting a guitar signal to the chip via an amplifier and the onboard analog-to-digital converter. The audio can be recorded as desired, and then played back via an external digital-to-analog converter. Live audio from the guitar is also passed through to allow performing over the recorded sound. The group also used an external half-megabyte FRAM chip to allow storing additional audio sample data, which can be trucked out over serial and saved.

It’s not the cleanest loop station in the world, with a relatively low sample rate causing some artifacts. Regardless, it definitely works, and taught the group plenty about working with digital audio in the process. For that reason alone, we’d call it a success.

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