WOPR: Building Hardware Worth Sharing

It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to assume that anyone reading Hackaday regularly has at least progressed to the point where they can connect an LED to a microcontroller and get it to blink without setting anything on fire. We won’t even chastise you for not doing it with a 555 timer. It’s also not a stretch to say if you can successfully put together the “Hello World” of modern electronics on a breadboard, you’re well on the way to adding a few more LEDs, some sensors, and a couple buttons to that microcontroller and producing something that might come dangerously close to a useful gadget. Hardware hacking sneaks up on you like that.

Here’s where it gets tricky: how many of us are still stuck at that point? Don’t be shy, there’s no shame in it. A large chunk of the “completed” projects that grace these pages are still on breadboards, and if we had to pass on every project that still had a full-on development board like the Arduino or Wemos D1 at its heart…well, let’s just say it wouldn’t be pretty.

Of course, if you’re just building something as a personal project, there’s often little advantage to having a PCB spun up or building a custom enclosure. But what happens when you want to build more than one? If you’ve got an idea worth putting into production, you’ve got to approach the problem with a bit more finesse. Especially if you’re looking to turn a profit on the venture.

At the recent WOPR Summit in Atlantic City, there were a pair of presentations which dealt specifically with taking your hardware designs to the next level. Russell Handorf and Mike Kershaw hosted an epic four hour workshop called Strategies for your Projects: Concept to Prototype and El Kentaro gave a fascinating talk about his design process called Being Q: Designing Hacking Gadgets which together tackled both the practical and somewhat more philosophical aspects of building hardware for an audience larger than just yourself.

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The Only Cassette Player Worth Owning in 2019

Vinyl has the audiophiles to keep it relevant, and CDs still have the people who are scared of streaming music, but who mourns for the cassette tape? Yesterday we would have said nobody, but now that [Igor Afanasyev] has unleashed his latest creation onto an unsuspecting world, we aren’t so sure anymore. A portable tape player that started as a $5 find from the Goodwill is now an outrageously gorgeous piece of electronic art thanks to 3D printing and a liberal application of LEDs.

After freeing the tape mechanism from the original enclosure and extraneous electronics like the AM/FM tuner, [Igor] got to work designing a retro styled enclosure for the hardware which would show off the complex electromechanical bits which would traditionally be hidden. With the addition of a clever 3D printed holder, he was even able to add microswitches under the original player’s buttons so he could detect the player’s current state without having to modify the electronics. This lets the finished player change the color of the RGB LEDs based on what it’s currently doing.

[Igor] came up with a very clever way of integrating light-up icons into the case by placing bright LEDs behind specially crafted thin sections of the print. It looked awesome in his tests, but after the considerable sanding, priming, and painting it took to turn the 3D printed parts into a production-quality enclosure, the LEDs are no longer visible on the final product. Even though they didn’t work in this particular case, we think it’s a brilliant technique worthy of stealing further research.

The detail that [Igor] but into this build is phenomenal. Seeing all the individual components he had to design and print to make the final product come together is really nothing short of inspirational. Projects like these are where 3D printing really shines, as trying to replicate this build with traditional manufacturing techniques would be an absolute nightmare.

If you can’t quite shake the feeling that you’ve seen this name or attention to detail before, it’s for good reason. Last year we covered another build showing the knack [Igor] has for turning the ordinary into the extraordinary.

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RetroPie NES Clock Tells You When it’s Game Time

We’ve all seen the 3D printed replicas of classic game consoles which house a Raspberry Pi; in fact, there’s a pretty good chance some of the people reading this post have one of their own. They’re a great way to add some classic gaming emulation to your entertainment center, especially compared to the bare PCB chic of just having a Pi hanging off your TV’s HDMI port.

[Victor Heid] loved the look of these miniature consoles, but wanted to challenge himself to design something that was also multi-functional and unique. So he decided to create an NES-inspired case for the Raspberry Pi 3 A+ that doubles as a LED matrix clock with a decidedly retro feel. Frankly, even if it was just a clock we would have been impressed with the final product; but the fact that it’s also a fully functional RetroPie build really goes above and beyond.

It should be obvious just looking at the completed product that [Victor] put a lot of effort into sanding and finishing the 3D printed case. But we don’t have to imagine the process, since he was kind enough to thoroughly detail the steps and materials he used. As you might have guessed, the short version is a lot of filler and a lot of time; but it’s worth looking at the complete write-up if you’ve ever considered trying to make your own printed parts look less…printed. His method of applying the lettering on the front of case using a laser printer, some Mod Podge, and a healthy dose of patience is also something you might want to file away for a future project.

The electronics for this project are exceptionally simple, as [Victor] used the Pimoroni Scroll pHAT HD rather than trying to roll his own LED matrix in such a limited space. So it was just a matter of connecting up the wires to the Pi’s GPIO header and getting the various bits of software talking to each other, which he also details for anyone who might be interested.

It’s been a few months since the Raspberry Pi 3 A+ was unveiled, and we’re finally starting to see projects that make use of the new board’s reduced footprint. The ability of hardware like the A+, combined with the lackluster attempts by manufactures to produce official “mini” systems, seems to have set the stage for hackers to once again outshine commercial offerings. Not that we’re complaining, of course.

Rock Out to the Written Word with BookSound

With his latest project, [Roni Bandini] has simultaneously given the world a new type of audiobook and music. Traditional audiobooks are basically the adult equivalent of having somebody read you a bedtime story, but BookSound actually turns the written word into electronic music. You won’t be able to boast to your friends that as a matter of fact, you have read that popular new novel, but at least you might be able to dance to it.

[Roni] says he’s still working on perfecting the word to music mapping, so the results shown in the video after the break are still a bit rough. But even in these early stages there’s no denying this is an exceptionally unique project, and we’re excited to see where it goes from here.

Inside the classy looking 3D printed enclosure is a Raspberry Pi, an OLED display, and the button and switch which make up the extent of the device’s controls. At the end of the arm is a standard Raspberry Pi Camera module, which gives the BookSound a bird’s eye view of the book to be songified.

To turn your favorite book into electronic beats, simply open it up, put it under the gaze of BookSound, and press the button on the front. Because the Raspberry Pi isn’t exactly a powerhouse, it takes about two minutes for it to scan the page, perform optical character recognition (OCR), and compose the track before you start to hear anything.

If you’re wondering what the secret sauce is to turn words into music, [Roni] isn’t ready to share his source code just yet. But he was able to give us a few high-level explanations of what’s going on inside BookSound. For example, to generate the song’s BPM, the software will count how many words per paragraph are on the page: so a book with shorter paragraphs will consequently have a faster tempo to match the speed at which the author is moving through ideas. Similarly, drum kicks are generated based on the number of syllables in each paragraph. In the future, he’s looking at adding “lyrics” by running commonly used words on the page through a text to speech engine and inserting them into the beat.

We’ve seen practical applications of OCR on the Raspberry Pi in the past and even similar looking book scanning arrangements. But nothing quite like BookSound before, which at this point, is really saying something.

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ESP8266 Monitor Keeps an Eye on OctoPrint

At this point, you’ve almost certainly heard of OctoPrint. The web-based control interface for 3D printers is especially popular for those who’s primary computers run on an operating system that has a penchant for occasionally imploding. Even if you aren’t laboring under that common software handicap, OctoPrint offers a wide away of compelling features. Perhaps chief among them the ability to monitor your printer over the network, and if you insist, over the Internet. But while OctoPrint provides the server side for getting your printer on the net, you’re on your own for the client.

Rather than using a web browser like some kind of peon, [David Payne] has come up with a very slick desktop OctoPrint monitor using the WeMos D1 Mini ESP8266 board. With an exceptionally low part count and housed in a (what else) 3D printed enclosure, this is a cheap and easy OctoPrint accessory that we suspect will be decorating many a hacker’s desk before too long.

The electronics are simple to the extreme, just hook the 4 wires of an 128×64 OLED I2C display to the appropriate pins of the ESP8266 board, and you’re ready to upload the Arduino code [David] has come up with.

His code is very polished, from using WiFiManager for initial network setup to providing its own web-based configuration menus to get the device linked up to your OctoPrint instance, [David] clearly wanted this to be as smooth an experience as possible for the end user. When the 3D printer isn’t working on a job, the monitor will even switch over to showing you the time and weather. We’ve seen commercial products that weren’t this user-friendly.

We also love the case design on this little gadget. While the aesthetics are perhaps debatable (sort of reminds us of the little fellows from Darwinia), we appreciate any functional print that doesn’t require supports. You’ll need to provide a couple of little screws to keep the back panel on, but other than that everything snaps into place.

Of course, you could always just use your smartphone to keep an eye on OctoPrint, and even if the remote management capabilities don’t grab your interest, there’s plenty of interesting plugins to keep you occupied.

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Gorgeous Omnidirectional 3D Printed Speaker

With all due respect to the hackers and makers out there that provide us with all these awesome projects to salivate over, a good deal of them tend to prioritize functionality over aesthetics. Which isn’t a bad thing necessarily, and arguably better than the alternative. But for many people there’s a certain connotation around DIY, an impression that the final product is often a little rough around the edges. It’s usually cheaper, maybe even objectively better, but rarely more attractive.

Which makes builds like this absolutely beautiful 3D printed Bluetooth speaker by [Ahmsville] especially impressive. Not only did he engineer a fantastic sounding speaker that projects stereo sound no matter where you are in the room, he clearly gave a lot of thought into making the final product look as good as it sounds.

The 3D-printed enclosure provides separation for the four internal speakers and two passive radiators, as well as holding the electronics. A custom made 3S battery powers the Bluetooth module though an isolated step-down module, and the twin 18 W TDA2030 amplifiers feed their respective pair of drivers.

The device is surrounded by an impressively detailed 3D-printed mesh, which is then wrapped with some speaker grill fabric to give it a very professional look. In the video after the break, [Ahmsville] shows a time-lapse of building the speaker, as well as a demonstration of how it sounds on his desk.

If you’re more about function than what the finished product looks like, we’ve covered speaker enclosures made out of various types of actual trash which you can take a look at.

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Cheap FPV Goggles Turned Pocket Sized Display

Thanks to the exploding popularity of First Person View (FPV) RC flying over the last couple of years, the cost of the associated hardware has dropped rapidly. Today you can get entry-level FPV goggles for under $40 USD on various import sites. For the money you’re getting a 5.8 GHz receiver, battery, and an LCD display; even if the components themselves aren’t exactly high end, at that price it’s essentially an impulse buy.

[nomand] didn’t necessarily have a use for a cheap FPV headset, but he did like the idea of having a pocket sized display that he could pass off to others so they could see what he’s seeing during flights. So he harvested the principle components from a Eachine VR006 headset and designed a new 3D printed enclosure for them. The final result looks fantastic, and is much cheaper than commercial alternatives on the market.

He’s created an exceptionally detailed step-by-step guide on how you can perform the conversion yourself in the project’s GitHub repository, and has also put together a video where he goes over the modification and discusses the end result. [nomand] clearly intends for this to be a project for others to duplicate instead of a one-off build, and given the price and final results, we wouldn’t be surprised if this conversion becomes popular in FPV circles.

Perhaps the best part of this project is that it requires almost no modification of the original hardware; just soldering two wires because the original connector is too large. Otherwise just need to take the headset apart carefully, and transplant the components into the 3D-printed case [nomand] has meticulously designed. The case is so well designed it doesn’t even need any fasteners, it slides together and everything is held in with some strategically placed pieces of foam.

Between this modification and the custom built spectator display we covered recently, it looks like there’s a clear demand for sub-$50 portable FPV monitors. Seems odd that no manufacture is trying to fill this niche so far.

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