Retro Wall Phone Becomes A Doorbell, And So Much More

We have to admit that this retasked retro phone wins on style points alone. The fact that it’s filled with so much functionality is icing on the cake.

The way [SuperKris] describes his build sounds like a classic case of feature creep. Version 1 was to be a simple doorbell, but [SuperKris] would soon learn that one does not simply replace an existing bell with a phone and get results. He did some research and found that the ringer inside the bakelite beauty needs much more voltage than the standard doorbell transformer supplies, so he designed a little H-bridge circuit to drive the solenoids. A few rounds of “while I’m at it” later, the phone was stuffed with electronics, including an Arduino and an NFR24 radio module that lets it connect to Domoticz, a home automation system. The phone’s rotary dial can now control up to 10 events and respond to alarms and alerts with different ring patterns. And, oh yes – it’s a doorbell too.

In general, we prefer to see old equipment restored rather than gutted and filled with new electronics. But we can certainly get behind any effort to retask old phones with no real place in modern telecommunications. We’ve seen a few of these before, like this desk telephone that can make cell calls.

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Vintage Rotary Phone Turned Virtual Assistant

Like many of us, [Zoltan Toth-Czifra] has completely embraced 21st century living. His home is awash in smart gadgets and dodads, from color changing light bulbs to Internet-connected cameras. But he’s also got a soft spot for the look and feel of vintage hardware, like the rotary phone he keeps kicking around to remind him of the old days. He recently decided to bridge these two worlds by turning the rotary phone into a modern voice controlled assistant.

The first piece of the puzzle was getting the old school phone connected to something a bit more modern, namely a Raspberry Pi. He didn’t want to hack the vintage phone apart, so he picked up a Grandstream HT801, an adapter that’s used to convert analog telephones to VoIP. [Zoltan] says this model specifically fit the bill as it had a function that allows you to configure a number to dial as soon the phone is lifted off the hook. This allows the user to just pick up the phone and start talking without having to dial anything manually. If you’re looking to pull off a similar setup, you should check to make sure the adapter has this function before pulling the trigger.

With the rotary phone now talking a more modern protocol, [Zoltan] just needed to get the Raspberry Pi side sorted out. He installed a SIP server so it could communicate with the HT801 adapter, and then got to work putting together his virtual assistant. Rather than plug into an existing system, he rolled his own by combining open source packages for controlling his various smart devices with the aptly named SpeechRecognition library for Python.

Right now he’s only programmed a few commands that his system can respond to for controlling his lights and music, but mentions that the system is modular enough that he can add new functions easily. He’s put the source for his virtual assistant framework up on GitHub, which he notes was written in less than 200 lines of original code by virtue of utilizing existing libraries for a lot of the heavy lifting. Open source is a beautiful thing.

In the past we’ve seen rotary phones go mobile thanks to GSM upgrades and dragged kicking and screaming onto the modern phone network with a built-in Raspberry Pi. But we think there’s something especially appealing about the approach [Zoltan] took which preserves the phone’s original hardware.

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DIY Telepresence Robot Built From Off-The-Shelf Parts

Petite, but it does the job. Note the huge LED headlight in the center.

Telepresence hasn’t taken off in a big way just yet; it may take some time for society to adjust to robotic simulacra standing in for humans in face-to-face communications. Regardless, it’s an area of continuous development, and [MakerMan] has weighed in with a tidy DIY build that does the job.

It’s a build that relies on an assemblage of off-the-shelf parts to quickly put together a telepresence robot. Real-time video and audio communications are easily handled by a Huawei smartphone running Skype, set up to automatically answer video calls at all times. The phone is placed onto the robotic chassis using a car cell phone holder, attached to the body with a suction cup. The drive is a typical two-motor skid steer system with rear caster, controlled by a microcontroller connected to the phone.

Operation is simple. The user runs a custom app on a remote phone, which handles video calling of the robot’s phone, and provides touchscreen controls for movement. While the robot is a swift mover, it’s really only sized for tabletop operation — unless you wish to talk to your contact’s feet. However, we can imagine there has to be some charm in driving a pint-sized ‘bot up and down the conference table when Sales and Marketing need to be whipped back into shape.

It’s a build that shows that not everything has to be a 12-month process of research and development and integration. Sometimes, you can hit all the right notes by cleverly lacing together a few of the right eBay modules. Getting remote video right can be hard, too – as we’ve seen before.

Hello, And Please Don’t Hang Up: The Scourge of Robocalls

Over the last few months, I’ve noticed extra calls coming in from local numbers, and if you live in the US, I suspect maybe you have too. These calls are either just dead air, or recordings that start with “Please don’t hang up.” Out of curiosity, I’ve called back on the number the call claims to be from. Each time, the message is that this number has been disconnected and is no longer in service. This sounds like the plot of a budget horror movie, how am I being called from a disconnected number? Rather than a phantom in the wires, this is robocalling, combined with caller ID spoofing.

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Smartphone Mod Goes Out On A Limb

The modern smartphone has a variety of ways to interact with its user – the screen, the speakers, and of course, the vibration motor. But what if your phone could interact physically? It might be unnerving, but it could also be useful – and MobiLimb explores exactly this possibility.

Yes, that’s right – it’s a finger for your mobile phone. MobiLimb has five degrees of freedom, and is built using servomotors which allow both accurate movement as well as positional feedback into the device. Additionally, a touch-sensitive potentiometer is fitted, allowing the robofinger to respond to touch inputs.

The brains behind the show are provided by an Arduino Leonardo Pro Micro, and as is usual on such projects, the mechanical assembly is 3D printed – an excellent choice for producing small, complex parts. Just imagine the difficulty of trying to produce robotic fingers with classic machine tools!

The project video shows many different possibilities for using the MobiLimb – from use as a basic notification device, to allowing the smartphone to crawl along a table. We frankly can’t wait until there’s a fully-functional scorpion chassis to drop an iPhone into – the sky really is the limit here.

Interested in other unique ways to interact with your smartphone? Check out these nifty 3D printed physical buttons.

Unphotogenic Lighting As A Feature

Have you ever taken a picture indoors and had unsightly black bars interrupt your otherwise gorgeous photo? They are caused by lighting which flickers in and out in its normal operation. Some people can sense it easier than others without a camera. The inconsistent light goes out so briefly that we usually cannot perceive it but run-of-the-mill camera phones scan rows of pixels in sequence, and if there are no photons to detect while some rows are scanned, those black bars are the result. Annoying, right?

What if someone dressed that bug of light up as a feature? Instead of ruining good photos, researchers at the University of California-San Diego and the University of Wisconsin-Madison have found out what different frequencies of flicker will do to a photograph. They have also experimented with cycling through red, green, and blue to give the effect of a poorly dubbed VHS.

There are ways an intelligent photographer could get around the photo-ruining effect with any smartphone. Meanwhile DSLR cameras are already immune and it won’t work in sunlight, so we are not talking about high security image protection. The neat thing is that this should be easy to replicate with some RGB strips and a controller. This exploits the row scanning of new cameras, so some older cameras are immune.

The Bad Old Days of Telephone Answering Machines

Telephone answering machines were almost a fad. They were hindered for years by not being allowed to connect to the phone lines. Then a mix of cell phones and the phone company offering voicemail made the machines all but obsolete. Unless you are really young, you probably had one at some point though. Some had digital outgoing messages and a tape to record. Some had two tapes. But did you ever have one that didn’t connect to the phone line at all? Remember, there was a time when they couldn’t. My family had one of these growing up and after doing enough research to find it in an old catalog, I decided you might like to know how it really worked.

Even if you grew up in the 1960s and 1970s, it is hard to imagine how little technology there was in an average person’s home at that time. You probably had one TV and one wired telephone. You probably had a radio or two and maybe even a record or tape player. If you were very fancy, you had a big piece of furniture that had a TV, a turntable, a radio, and a tape player in it. No cell phones, no computers, no digital assistant, and appliances were electro-mechanical and didn’t have displays. So when you saw a new piece of tech — especially if you were a kid who didn’t know what a hacker was, but still wanted to be one — it made an impression.

I still remember the first time I even saw a tape recorder. I was amazed! But a tape recorder is a far cry from a telephone answering machine.

A Bit of Background

My Dad always had a regular job and his side business. He had a lot of different side businesses at one time or another, but he was always concerned about missing a phone call from a customer. We had two phones: the old wall mount phone with a dial and another desk phone in the “store” (the front room of the house) which also had a dial — we were way too cheap to pay for TouchTone service.

Remember, there was no call waiting and getting a second phone line was out of the question for my frugal parents. So they were always nervous about keeping the phone line clear during the day. But if you had to leave, you might miss a call. What do you do about that?

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