Smart Station Runs Entertainment, Is Entertainment

It’s that special time of year—time for the parade of student projects from [Bruce Land]’s embedded microcontroller design course at Cornell. [Timothy], [Dhruv], and [Shaurya] are all into remote sensing and control applications, so they built a smart station that combines audiovisual entertainment with environmental sensing.

As with the other projects in this course, the smart station is built on a PIC32 dev board. It does Bluetooth audio playback via RN-52 module and has a beat-matching light show in the form of a NeoPixel ring mounted atop the 3D-printed enclosure. But those blinkenlights aren’t just there to party. They also provide visual feedback about the environment, which comes from user-adjustable high and low trigger values for the mic, an accelerometer, a temperature and humidity sensor, and a luminosity sensor.

The group wanted to add an ultrasonic wake-up feature, but it refused to work with the 3.3V from the PIC. The NeoPixel ring wanted 5V too, but isn’t as picky. It looks to be plenty bright at 3.3V. Another challenge came from combining I²C, UART, analog inputs, and digital outputs. They had to go to the chip’s errata to verify it, but it’s there: whenever I²C1 is enabled, the first two analog pins are compromised, and there’s no official solution. The team got around it by using a single analog pin and a multiplexer. You can check out those blinkenlights after the break.

Maybe you prefer working in wood. If so, you might like this hexagonal take on audio-visualization.

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Echo Dot Finds Swanky New Home In Art Deco Speaker

The phrase “They don’t make them like they used to” is perhaps best exemplified by two types of products: cars and consumer electronics. Sure, the vehicles and gadgets we have now are so advanced that they may as well be classified as science-fiction when compared to their predecessors, but what about that style. Our modern hardware can rarely hold a candle to the kind of gear you used to be able to buy out of the “Sears, Roebuck and Company” catalog.

So when [Democracity] came into possession of a wickedly retro art deco speaker, it’s no surprise he saw it as a perfect opportunity to bring some of that old school style into the 21st century by rebuilding it with an Amazon Echo Dot at its core. The fact that the original device was a speaker and not a full radio made the conversion much easier, and will have everyone trolling yard sales for months trying to find a donor speaker to build their own.

To start the process, [Democracity] popped the panels off and ripped out what was left of the speaker’s paper cone and coil. In a stroke of luck, the opening where the driver used to go was nearly the perfect size to nestle in the Echo Dot. With a 3D printed cradle he found on Thingiverse and a liberal application of epoxy, the Dot could get snapped into the speaker like it was always meant to be there.

[Democracity] then picked up some absolutely gorgeous speaker cloth on eBay and hot glued it to the inside of the panels. What was presumably the volume knob was pulled out of the bottom and turned out to be a perfect place to run the Dot’s USB cable out of.

A lesser man would have called this project completed, but [Democracity] knows that no hack is truly complete without the addition of multicolored blinking LEDs. With the RGB LED strips installed inside, the light is diffused through the cloth panels and creates a pleasing subtle effect. You can almost imagine a couple of vacuum tubes glowing away inside there. Judging by the final product, it’s no surprise [Democracity] has a fair bit of experience dragging audio equipment kicking and screaming into the modern era.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen an old piece of audio equipment get a high-tech transfusion, and isn’t even the first time we’ve seen the Dot used to do it. But it’s certainly the one we’d most like to see sitting on our shelf.

DIY Diner Booth with Cocktail Table Arcade

[Glennzo] has a house with some odd interior design choices. The most glaring one is a living room/den complete with a green Jacuzzi hot tub straight out of the 1980s. The tub really didn’t fit with [Glennzo’s] plan to use the space as a bar and game room, so out came the Sawzall and demo hammer. The tub was in its own little alcove, possibly a converted closet. [Glennzo’s] turned the space into a restaurant style booth complete with a cocktail arcade table.

The fiberglass tub was relatively easy to cut up and remove. This left the wood framed tile tub surround. The surround was extended to become a booth seat. A bit of creative woodworking, some vinyl cushions, and the booth itself was ready. But what good is a booth without a table?

The cocktail table arcade machine is powered by a mini-tower running MAME. The monitor is an old 21″ LCD. The frame of the table is plywood and pine lumber, finished with stain and polyurethane. The illuminated buttons and interface came from an arcade control kit, which made wiring a snap. The table is topped off with a custom 3/8″ thick piece of glass.

The final product looks great and fits the room perfectly. Now [Glennzo] just needs a BarBot to finish off the perfect hacker and gamer paradise!

Dumb STB gets smart

[Vincent Deconinck] gave a fresh lease of life to an old set top box by adding a few Euro’s worth of hardware and some software smarts. The device in question is an old VOOcorder – a Cisco set-top box provided by VOO, his cable service provider in Belgium.

The VOOcorder doesn’t have any WiFi hardware or browser / app based interfaces. It’s a simple device controlled either via an IR remote or front panel buttons. [Vincent] added an ESP8266 and hooked it up to the IR receiver on the set-top box. He also set it up as an SPI slave to the front panel VFD display controller and connected it to the debug serial interface of the VOOcorder as well. The software, on the other hand, required a lot more work consisting of code running on the ESP itself, several HTML pages and JavaScript code for the browser front end, and a few scripts running in the background.

The result was bidirectional interactivity from within a browser, allowing him to send commands and receive status information as well as providing a user-friendly search interface. Further, his browser interface was integrated with information from the service providers website letting him do scheduling and recording of programs. The stuff that interested us is how he sniffed out the IR signals, figured out the SPI protocol used by the front panel controller, and implemented SPI-slave mode for the ESP8266. [Vincent] was surprised that such a cheap device could handle three distinct web servers while parsing two message streams without a hitch.

It’s a great hack showing us how to use super cheap electronics to upgrade and modernize old hardware. Check out the two videos after the break – showing a demo of the hack in action, and a walk through of the hardware modifications.

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Shed Pounds and Inches while Binge Watching Netflix

Feel like breaking out of your streaming-induced vegetative state but can’t seem to break the binge-watching cycle? Maybe you’re a candidate for this exercise bike that controls how much Netflix you watch.

The concept behind [Roboro]’s anti-couch potato build is simple — just keep pedaling and you get to keep watching. The details are pretty simple too and start with an Arduino monitoring the signal coming from a jack thoughtfully provided by the manufacturer of his exercise bike. The frequency of the square wave is translated into a speed which a Python script on a PC reads over USB. Once a Netflix stream is started, dropping below the user-defined speed pauses the movie. The video below shows it doing its thing.

Improvements readily spring to mind, like adding a speed buffer so that pedaling faster lets you bank some streaming time and earn a rest. Maybe it could somehow integrate with these Netflix-enabled socks, or even with the Netflix and Chill button. But those sort of defeat the purpose a bit.

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Life-Sized Pinball Drop Targets

[Bob] wanted to build a pinball-drop-style resetting target that he could use while practicing with his pistol. His first idea was to make the targets sturdy enough for use with 9 mm ammunition, and he planned to use 1/2” thick steel for the targets and 11-gauge steel tubing for the frame. However, the targets weighed 50 pounds together and that was more weight than the pneumatic actuators could lift. He ended up using 1/4” steel and thereby halving weight. The downside was that [Bob] had to switch out the nine for a .22.

Controlling everything is a 555 circuit. When triggered, it opens up a relay for one second, which trips the solenoid valve controlling the pneumatic actuators. Originally he wanted to have switches under each target, and only by dropping all four would the reset circuit be triggered. However, he built a simpler solution: a bulletproof button off to one side–effectively a fifth target–that when triggered resets the targets.

HaD have some pretty good shots in our number but we’d probably end up hitting the pneumatic actuators at least once. [Bob] did add 16-gauge steel sheeting to protect the air lines and wires from bullet splatter, which in his experience is more of a threat than a direct hit.

 

 

Hackaday Prize Entry: A Modular Open-Source AV Receiver

Hi-Fi hasn’t changed much in decades. OK, we’ll concede that’s something of a controversial statement to make in that of course your home hi-fi has changed immensely over the years. Where once you might have had a turntable and a cassette deck you probably now have a streaming media player, and a surround sound processor, for example.

But it’s still safe to say that hi-fi reproduction hasn’t changed much in decades. You can still hook up the latest audio source to an amplifier and speakers made decades ago, and you’ll still enjoy great sound.

Not so though, if instead of a traditional amplifier you bought an AV receiver with built-in amplifier and processing. This is a fast-moving corner of the consumer electronics world, and the lifetime of a device before its interfaces and functionality becomes obsolete can often be measured in only a few years.

To [Andrew Bolin], this makes little sense. His solution has some merit, he’s produced a modular open-source AV processor in which the emphasis is on upgradeability to keep up with future developments rather than on presenting a black box to the user which will one day be rendered useless by the passage of time.

His design revolves around a backplane which accepts daughter cards for individual functions, and a Raspberry Pi to do the computational heavy lifting. So far he has made a proof-of-concept which takes in HDMI audio and outputs S/PDIF audio to his DAC, but plans are in hand for further modules. We can see that this could become the hub of a very useful open-source home entertainment system.

If you make one, please remember to enhance it with our own sound-improving accessory.