Recreating the Radio from Portal

If you’ve played Valve’s masterpiece Portal, there’s probably plenty of details that stick in your mind even a decade after its release. The song at the end, GLaDOS, “The cake is a lie”, and so on. Part of the reason people are still talking about Portal after all these years is because of the imaginative world building that went into it. One of these little nuggets of creativity has stuck with [Alexander Isakov] long enough that it became his personal mission to bring it into the real world. No, it wasn’t the iconic “portal gun” or even one of the oft-quoted robotic turrets. It’s that little clock that plays a jingle when you first start the game.

Alright, so perhaps it isn’t the part of the game that we would be obsessed with turning into a real-life object. But for whatever reason, [Alexander] simply had to have that radio. Of course, being the 21st century and all his version isn’t actually a radio, it’s a Bluetooth speaker. Though he did go through the trouble of adding a fake display showing the same frequency as the one in-game was tuned to.

The model he created of the Portal radio in Fusion 360 is very well done, and available on MyMiniFactory for anyone who might wish to create their own Aperture Science-themed home decor. Though fair warning, due to its size it does consume around 1 kg of plastic for all of the printed parts.

For the internal Bluetooth speaker, [Alexander] used a model which he got for free after eating three packages of potato chips. That sounds about the best possible way to source your components, and if anyone knows other ways we can eat snack food and have electronics sent to our door, please let us know. Even if you don’t have the same eat-for-gear promotion running in your neck of the woods, it looks like adapting the model to a different speaker shouldn’t be too difficult. There’s certainly enough space inside, at least.

Over the years we’ve seen some very impressive Portal builds, going all the way back to the infamous levitating portal gun [Caleb Kraft] built in 2012. Yes, we’ve even seen somebody do the radio before. At this point it’s probably safe to say that Valve can add “Create cultural touchstone” to their one-sheet.

Continue reading “Recreating the Radio from Portal”

Fooling Speech Recognition With Hidden Voice Commands

It’s 2018, and while true hoverboards still elude humanity, some future predictions have come true. It’s now possible to talk to computers, and most of the time they might even understand you. Speech recognition is usually achieved through the use of neural networks to process audio, in a way that some suggest mimics the operation of the human brain. However, as it turns out, they can be easily fooled.

The attack begins with an audio sample, generally of a simple spoken phrase, though music can also be used. The desired text that the computer should hear instead is then fed into an algorithm along with the audio sample. This function returns a low value when the output of the speech recognition system matches the desired attack phrase. The input audio file is gradually modified using the mathematics of gradient descent, creating a result that to a human sounds like one thing, and to a machine, something else entirely.

The audio files are available on the site for your own experimental purposes. In a noisy environment with poor audio coupling between speakers and a Google Pixel, results were poor – OK Google only heard the human phrase, not the encoded attack phrase. Given that the sound quality was poor, and the files were generated with a different speech model, this is not entirely surprising. We’d love to hear the results of your experiments in the comments.

It’s all a part of [Nicholas]’s PhD studies around the strengths and pitfalls of neural networks. It highlights the fact that neural networks don’t always work in the way we think they do. Google’s Inception is susceptible to similar attacks with images, as we’ve seen recently.

[Thanks to Wolfgang for the tip!]

Printed PC Speakers Are Way Cooler Than Yours

On the off chance you’re reading these words on an actual desktop computer (rather than a phone, tablet, smart mirror, game console…), stop and look at the speakers you have on either side of your monitor. Are you back now? OK, now look at the PC speakers and amplifier [Chris Slyka] recently built and realize you’ve been bested. Don’t feel bad, he’s got us beat as well.

The speaker and amplifier enclosures were painstakingly printed and assembled over the course of three months, and each piece was designed to be small enough to fit onto the roughly 4 in x 4 in bed of his PrintrBot Play. While his limited print volume made the design considerably trickier, it did force [Chris] to adopt a modular design approach with arguably made assembly (and potential future repairs or improvements) easier.

The amplifier is made up of rectangular “cells” which are connected to each other via 3mm threaded rods. For now the amplifier only has 4 cells, but this could easily be expanded in the future without having to design and print a whole new case. Internally the amplifier is using two TDA8932 digital amplifier modules, and some VU meters scored off of eBay.

Each speaker enclosure is made up of 10 individual printed parts that are then glued and screwed together to make the final shape, which [Chris] mentions was inspired by an audio installation at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. They house 4″ Visaton FR 10 HM drivers, and are stuffed with insulation.

It’s a bit difficult to nail down the style that [Chris] has gone for here. You see the chunky controls and analog VU meters and want to call it retro, but it’s also a brass cog and sprocket away from being Steampunk. On the other hand, the shape of the speakers combined with the bamboo-filled PLA used to print them almost give it an organic look: as if there’s a tree somewhere that grows these things. That’s actually a kind of terrifying thought, but you get the idea.

If your computer speakers were assembled by mere mortals, never fear. We’ve covered a number of interesting hacks and mods for more run-of-the-mill desktop audio setups which should hold you over until it’s time to harvest the speaker trees.

[via /r/3Dprinting]

Making A Headphone Amp Perform New Tricks

Hands up if you’ve had the misfortune to work in an office with a fondness for following the latest fads. Paperless office, how long did that last? Or moving from physical telephones to a flaky VOIP application on your Windows computer, that’s sure to be a resounding success! We’ve all been there at some point, haven’t we?

[Joshua Wise] found himself in that unenviable situation of the VOIP app move, and since he is a habitual headphone music listener the prospect of wearing his company-supplied headset was not appealing. His solution was to take his HeadRoom BitHead amplifier and plumb into it a microphone channel, and though he went through quite some work to reach that point the quality of his final work is very high.

He was in luck with the headphone amplifier, because the USB audio codec turns out to have an unused audio-in function as well as some HID input lines. His headset has a set of buttons as well as the microphone, which switch in and out a set of resistors to indicate which of them is pressed. Some work with a microcontroller to detect this resulted in a working interface, which he put along with the microphone circuitry on a beautifully done piece of protoboard.

Most constructors would have been happy at this point, but not [Joshua]. He proceeded to design a PCB to fit into the space around the headset socket, to contain the circuitry and better fit within the case. The result is an exceptionally high quality piece of work which he admits consumed a huge amount of resources but for which we applaud him.

So [Joshua] has a cool headset. But is it solar powered?

Eight SEGAs Singing

Way back in the dark ages, before the average computer could play back high quality recorded audio, things were done differently. Music and sounds were stored as instructions to be played back on audio synthesis chips, built into the computers and consoles of the 80s and 90s. These chips and their unique voices hold a special nostalgia that’s key to this era, making them popular to experiment with today. To that end, [little-scale] decided to wire up eight chips from the SEGA Master System to please your ears.

The chips, laid out on a breadboard with a Teensy LC running the show.

The chip in question is the SN76489, which we’ve also noted is used in the Sega Genesis as well. It packs 3 square wave tone generators, and a noise channel as well. With eight of these to play with, that’s 32 total channels. To drive these, [little-scale] decided to go the MIDI route. To get around the MIDI limit of 16 channels, he decided to split the frequency range in half. Each MIDI channel addresses two SN76489 channels, the top pitches being used for one, the lower pitches being used for the other. All this MIDI data is passed to a Teensy LC, which handles transposition of the note data to get everything back in tune, and addresses the eight chips to create a beautiful square wave symphony.

It’s a great way to create a cacophony of sound in a delightful vintage way, and code is available if you’d like to recreate the feat. What we’d like to know is this – what’s your favourite sound chip from yesteryear, and how badly do you want eight of them to sing in glorious harmony? Continue reading “Eight SEGAs Singing”

Raspberry Pi Media Streamer Is Combat Ready

We are truly living in the golden age of media streaming. From the Roku to the Chromecast, there is no shortage of cheap devices to fling your audio and video anywhere you please. Some services and devices may try to get you locked in a bit more than we’d like (Amazon, we’re looking at you), but on the whole if you’ve got media files on your network that you want to enjoy throughout the whole house, there’s a product out there to get it done.

But why buy an easy to use and polished commercial product when you can hack together your own for twice the price and labor over it for hours? While you’re at it, why not build the whole thing into a surplus ammo can? This the line of logic that brought [Zwaffel] to his latest project, and it makes perfect sense to us.

It should come as no surprise that a military ammo can has quite a bit more space inside than is strictly required for the Raspberry Pi 3 [Zwaffel] based his project on. But it does make for a very comfortable wiring arrangement, and offers plenty of breathing room for the monstrous 60 watt power supply he has pumping into his HiFiBerry AMP+ and speakers.

On the software side the Pi is running Max2Play, a Linux distro designed specifically for streaming audio and video remotely. [Zwaffel] says that with this setup he is able to listen to music on his Squeezebox server as well as watch movies via Kodi.

While none are quite as battle-hardened as this, we have seen several other Raspberry Pi Squeezebox clients over the years if you’re looking for more inspiration.

The Grafofon: An Optomechanical Sequencer

There are quick hacks, there are weekend projects and then there are years long journeys towards completion.  [Boris Vitazek]’s grafofon falls into the latter category. His creation can best be described as electromechanical sequencer synthesizer with a multiplayer mode.
The storage medium and interface for this sequencer is a thirteen-meter loop of paper that is mounted like a conveyor belt. Music is composed by drawing on the paper or placing objects on it. This is usually done by the audience and the fact that the marker isn’t erased make the result collaborative and incremental.
 These ‘scores’ are read by a camera and interpreted by software.This is a very vague description of this device, for a reason: the build went on over six years and both hard- and software went through several revisions in that time. It started as a trigger for MIDI notes and evolved from there.
In his write up [Boris] explains the technical aspects of each iteration. He also tells the stories of the people he met while working on the grafofon and how they influenced the build. If this look into the art world reminds you of your local hackerspace, it is because these worlds aren’t that far apart.

Continue reading “The Grafofon: An Optomechanical Sequencer”