Put Another Dime In The Jukebox

We don’t always acknowledge it, but most people have an innate need for music. Think of all the technology that brings us music. For decades, most of the consumer radio spectrum carried music. We went from records, to tape in various forms, to CDs, to pure digital. There are entire satellites that carry — mostly — music. Piracy aside, people are willing to pay for music, too. While it isn’t very common to see “jukeboxes” these days, there was a time when they were staples at any bar or restaurant or even laundrymat you happened to be in. For the cost of a dime, you can hear the music and share it with everyone around you.

Even before we could record music, there was something like a jukebox. Coin-operated machines, as you’ll recall, are actually very old. Prior to the 1890s, you might find coin-op player pianos or music boxes. These machines actually played the music they were set up to play using a paper roll with holes in it or metal disks or cylinders.

Early Days

That changed in 1890 when a pair of inventors connected a coin acceptor to an Edison phonograph. Patrons of San Francisco’s Palais Royale Saloon could put a hard-earned nickel in the slot and sound came out of four different tubes. Keep in mind there were no electronic amplifiers as we know them in 1890. Reportedly, the box earned $1,000 in six months.

Continue reading “Put Another Dime In The Jukebox”

Antique Beat Box Showcases 1950’s Engineering Prowess

Before you could just put a drum machine app on your phone, or fire up Garage Band, there were breakthroughs like the Roland 808 drum machine. But that’s not where it all started. In 1959 a company called Wurlitzer (known for things like juke boxes, pianos, and giant pipe organs) produced a new device that had musicians worried it would put drummers out of a job: The 1959 Wurlitzer Sideman. And in the video below the break, we have the joy of watching [LOOK MUM NO COMPUTER] open up, explain, and play one of these marvelous machines.

Can you spot the early circuit sculpture?

It’s noteworthy that in 1959, almost none of the advancements we take for granted had made it out of the laboratory. Transistors? Nope. Integrated Circuits? Definitely not. What does that leave us with? Vacuum tubes (Valves for those across the pond), resistors, capacitors, relays, and… motors? Yep. Motors.

The unit is artfully constructed, and we mean that quite literally- the build was clearly done with care and it is easy to see an early example of circuit sculpture around the 3 minute mark. Electromechanical mechanisms take on tasks that we’d probably use a 555 for these days, but for any of you working on mechanical projects, take note: Wurlitzer really knew what they were doing, and there are some excellent examples of mechanical and electrical engineering throughout this primordial beat box.

If you move to the beat of interesting drum machines, you might enjoy this Teensy based Open Source drum machine that you can build. No tubes required!

Continue reading “Antique Beat Box Showcases 1950’s Engineering Prowess”

A doorblell made from a stepper motor and a hard drive

Minimalistic Doorbell Doesn’t Need An Internet Connection – Or Even A Power Supply

Doorbells are among those everyday objects that started out simple but picked up an immense amount of complexity over the years. What began as a mechanism to bang two pieces of metal together evolved into all kinds of wired and wireless electric bells, finally culminating in today’s smart doorbells that beam a live video feed to their owners even if they’re half a world away.

But sometimes, less is more. [Low tech obsession] built a doorbell out of spare components that doesn’t require Internet connectivity or even a power supply. But it’s not a purely mechanical device either: the visitor turns a knob mounted on a stepper motor, generating pulses of alternating current. These pulses are then fed into the voice coil of an old hard drive, causing its arm to vibrate and strike a bell, mounted where the platters used to be.

Besides being a great piece of minimalistic design, the doorbell is also a neat demonstration of Faraday’s law of induction. The stepper motor is apparently robust enough to withstand vandalism, although we can imagine that the doorbell’s odd shape might confuse some well-meaning visitors too. If you’re into unusual doorbells, you might want to check out this one made from an old wall phone, as well as this electromechanical contraption.

Continue reading “Minimalistic Doorbell Doesn’t Need An Internet Connection – Or Even A Power Supply”

Jukebox Electromechanical Automation Explained

If you ever been curious how old-school jukeboxes work, it’s all electromechanical and no computers. In a pair of videos, [Technology Connections] takes us through a detailed dive into the operation of a 1970 Wurlitzer Statesman model 3400 that he bought with his allowance when he was in middle school. This box can play records at either 33-1/3 or 45 RPM from a carousel of 100 discs, therefore having a selection of 200 songs. This would have been one of the later models, as Wurlitzer’s jukebox business was in decline and they sold the business in 1973.

This may be the ugliest jukebox ever produced.

This jukebox is actually what turned me into the weirdo that I am today.

External appearances aside, it’s the innards of this mechanical wonder that steal the show. The mechanism is known as the Wurlamatic, invented by Frank B. Lumney and Ronald P. Eberhardt in 1967. Check out the patent US3690680A document for some wonderful diagrams and schematics that are artwork unto themselves. Continue reading “Jukebox Electromechanical Automation Explained”

A screenshot of pinball schematics

Get A Grip On Troubleshooting Your Vintage Pinball Machine

Restoring vintage technology can be a tricky business, especially without the appropriate schematics and documentation. To this end [Mark] has spent the past twelve months building a comprehensive schematic editor and circuit simulator library for electromechanical pinball machines.

Rather than explore each and every table in excruciating detail, the emSim software aims to examine how specific circuits work, and how they are used as part of the gaming experience. The aim of the project is to aid in the diagnosis and repair of vintage electromechanical pinball machines, the types that rely on a dizzying array of switches, gears, motors and coils in their operation, operating like clockwork underneath the play field. While these older pinball machines typically use alternating current, the game logic (for the most part) is still binary, and can be effectively described with Boolean operators.

Like any machine with moving parts, these systems will eventually wear down and require servicing, a task which may not be in the wheelhouse for your casual pinball enthusiast. [Mark]’s hope is that his circuit simulations will allow just about anyone to repair these classic tables, and keep them around for future generations to explore and enjoy.

If tinkering with pinball innards isn’t for you, then make sure to check out our coverage of this awesome virtual pinball table.

A man welds on a chassis

Electric Wheelchair Dump Truck Hack Really Hauls

Have you ever looked at a derelict electric wheelchair and thought “I bet I could make something great with that!” Of course you have- this is Hackaday, after all! And so did [Made in Poland], who managed to get a hold of a broken down electric wheelchair and put the full utility of his well equipped metalworking shop to work. The results? Lets just say it hauls.

What we really enjoyed about the build was that there wasn’t much that couldn’t be done by an average garage hacker with a drill press, angle grinder, and a stick welder. While it’s definitely nicer to have a lathe and a high quality welding table, plasma cutter, and everything in between, nothing that [Made in Poland] did in the video is such high precision that it would require those extensive tools. There may be some parts that would be a lot more difficult, or lower precision, but still functional.

Another aspect of the build is of course the control circuitry and user interface. Keeping the skid steer and castor approach meant that each motor would need to be controllable independently. To achieve this, [Made in Poland] put together a purely electromechanical drive controlled with momentary rocker switches and automotive relays to form a simple H-Bridge for each motor.

Of course you just have to watch until the end, because it really proves that a man will do anything to get out of hauling wood around! Old electric wheelchairs can also make a great base for big robots, as it turns out.

Continue reading “Electric Wheelchair Dump Truck Hack Really Hauls”

The End Of The Electromechanical Era

When viewed from the far future, the early years of the 21st century will probably be seen as the end of a short era in human technological development. In the beginning of the 20th century, most everything was mechanical. There were certainly some electric devices, but consumer products like gramophone players and “movie” cameras were purely mechanical affairs. You cranked them up, and they ran on springs. Nowadays, almost every bit of consumer gear you buy will be entirely electronic. In between, there was a roughly 50 year period that I’m going to call the Electromechanical Era.

Jenny List’s teardown this week of an old Fuji film movie camera from 1972 captures the middle of this era perfectly. There’s a small PCB and an electric motor, but most of the heavy lifting in the controls was actually put on the shoulders of levers, bearings, and ridiculously clever mechanisms. The electrical and mechanical systems were loosely coupled, with the electrical controlled by the mechanical.

I’m willing to argue the specifics, but I’d preliminarily date the peak of the Electromechanical Era somewhere around 1990. Last year, I had to replace all of the rotted rubber drive belts in a Sony Walkman WM-D6C, a professional portable tape player and recorder produced from 1984-2002.

It’s not a simple tape recorder — the motors are electronically regulated to keep ridiculously constant speed for such a small device, and mine has Dolby B and C noise reduction circuitry packed inside along with some decent mic preamps. But still, when you press the fast-forward button, it physically shoves rubber-coated drive wheels out of the way, and sliding pieces of metal make it change modes of operation by making and breaking electrical contacts. Its precision lies as much in the mechanical assemblies and motors as in the electronics. It’s truly half electronic and half mechanical.

But that era is long over. The coming of the CD player signaled the end, although we didn’t see it at the time. Sure, there is a motor, but all the buttons are electronic, and all the “mechanism” is implemented almost entirely in silicon. The digital camera was possibly the last nail in the Electromechanical Era’s coffin: with no need to handle physical film, the last demand for anything mechanical evaporated. Open up a GoPro if you don’t know what I mean.

While I’ll be happy to never have to replace the drive rubber in a cassette recorder again, it’s with a little sadness that I think on the early iPods with their spinning metal hard drives, and how they gave way to the entirely silicon Zoom H5 recorder that I use now. It has a S/N ratio and quiet pre-amps, no wow or flutter, and a quality that would have been literally unbelievable when I bought the WM-D6C.

Still, if you find yourself in the thrift store, and you’ve never done so before, buy and take apart one of these marvels from a bygone era. A cassette recorder, even a cheap one, hides a wealth of electromechanical design.