Tuning Up The ThinkGeek Star Trek Intercom Panel

On Star Trek, all Kirk and friends had to do was snap the button on the always conveniently located intercom panel, start talking, and the intended recipient would immediately respond no matter where they were in the ship. How did it work? Who knows. In spite of, or perhaps even because of, the lightly-explained nature of the technology, the cherry-red wall intercoms still hold a certain charm for fans of the groundbreaking show.

A viewer sent [Fran Blanche] a scaled down replica of the intercom from ThinkGeek, and while it certainly looks fairly close to the original prop, it has a couple of annoying design elements. When triggered by the side-mounted motion sensors, the panel will play either the iconic swoosh of the automatic doors or the “Red Alert” sound effect. It’s a cute idea for a kid’s bedroom maybe, but not exactly ideal for somebody who regularly records YouTube videos.

Peak 23rd century technology

So the first order of business was to cut the motion sensors out of the circuit and replace them with a push button. [Fran] draws up a quick diagram to explain how these sensors work, and shows that they can easily be bypassed with a momentary switch since they normally bring the line high when triggered. She then converted the indicator light on the right side of the panel into a button to enable the alert sound effect, which is more accurate to how it worked in the show anyway.

The other issue, and perhaps the most egregious to Star Trek fans, is that the “Red Alert” indicator on the top of the panel didn’t actually flash like it did in the show. To design and build this panel and not put a few LEDs behind that piece of frosted plastic seems a bit like producing a Matchbox car and forgetting to make the wheels spin. With a couple of red LEDs and a bit of new wiring, the oversight was quickly rectified.

While it might not be perfect, at least ThinkGeek actually produced a functional product this time. It could have ended up like one of their April Fool’s “products” that never get put into production, forcing a desperate Trekkie to begrudgingly build his own version.

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Quick And Dirty: Operate An Intercom Via Telegram

Never underestimate the quick and dirty hack. It’s very satisfying to rapidly solve a real problem with whatever you have on hand, and helps to keep your hacking skills sharp for those big beautifully engineered projects. [Guillaume M] needed a way to remotely open his apartment building door for deliveries, so he hacked the ancient intercom to be operated via Telegram, to allow packages to be deposited safely inside his mailbox inside the building’s front too.

[Guillaume] needed to complete the hack in a way that would allow him to return the intercom to its original state when he moves out. Opening the 30-year-old unit, he probed a row of screw terminals and identified a 13V supply, ground, and the connection to the buildings’ door lock. He connected the lock terminals to a relay, which is controlled by a Raspberry Pi Zero W that waits for the “open” command to be sent to a custom Telegram Bot.

To power the Pi, [Guillaume] connected it to the 13V supply on the intercom via a voltage divider circuit. Voltage dividers usually make lousy power supplies, since the output voltage will fluctuate as the load changes, but it looks as though it worked well enough for [Guillaume]. The intercom had a lot of empty space inside, so after testing everything was packed inside the housing.

If you want to achieve the same with an ESP8266, there’s a library for that. Just keep in mind that being dependent on web servers to open critical doors might get you locked out.

Reverse Engineering A Two-Wire Intercom

There was a time when an intercom was simply a pair of boxes with speakers joined by a couple of wires, with an audio amplifier somewhere in the mix. But intercoms have like everything else joined the digital age, so those two wires now carry a load of other functionality as digital signalling. [Aaron Christophel] installs these devices for a living, and has posted a fascinating reverse engineering video that we’ve also placed below the break.

Power for the system is present as a constant 24V DC, and the audio is still an old-fashioned analogue signal that we’ll all be familiar with. On that 24V DC though are imposed a series of pulse trains to trigger the different alarms and other functions, and he describes extracting these with an oscilloscope before showing us the circuitry he’s used to send and receive pulses with an Arduino. The bulk of the video is then devoted to the software on the Arduino, which you can also find in a GitHub repository.

The result is an interesting primer for anyone who fancies a bit of serial detective work, even if they don’t have a intercom to hand.

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Video Doorbell Focuses On Quality, Aesthetic

One of the most popular futurist tropes of the 20th century was the video intercom. Once this technology was ready, it would clearly become a mainstay of modern living overnight. Our lived reality is however somewhat different. For [MisterM], that simply wouldn’t do, so he set about producing a retro-themed video doorbell that is sure to be the envy of the neighbourhood.

Not one to settle for second best, [MisterM] wanted to focus on quality in video and sound. A Microsoft LifeCam 3000HD handles video and audio capture, with a Raspberry Pi 3B+ providing plenty of grunt to run the show. The Pimoroni pHAT BEAT add-on provides audio output. It’s all integrated into a 1980s vintage intercom, which is painted a deep shade of maroon for an extra classy look. Further parts are integrated into a classic Sony tape deck, with LEDs shining out from under the cassette door for added visual appeal.

The doorbell works by making calls to Google Duo, which allows the user to answer the door from anywhere in the house, or indeed – anywhere with an Internet connection! [MisterM] reports this has already proved useful for communicating with couriers delivering packages to the house. There’s also a standard wireless doorbell and chime integrated into the unit which alerts those within the house in the usual way.

It’s a project that is both highly functional and looks particularly swish. Integrating new brains into old-school enclosures is a great way to give your project a cool look. These aircraft surplus clocks are a great example. Video after the break.

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Fail Of The Week: ESP Walkie, Not-So-Talkie

The ESP8266 has become such a staple of projects in our community since it burst onto the scene a few years ago. The combination of a super-fast processor and wireless networking all on the same chip and sold in retail quantities for relative pennies has been irresistible. So when [Petteri Aimonen] needed to make a wireless intercom system for cycling trips it seemed an obvious choice. Push its internal ADC to sample at a high enogh rate for audio, and stream the result over an ad-hoc wi-fi network.

The result was far from satisfactory, as while early results with a signal generator seemed good, in practice it was unusable. Significant amounts of noise were entering the pathway such that the resulting audio was unintelligible. It seems that running a wireless network causes abrupt and very short spikes of power supply current that play havoc with audio ADCs.

He’s submitted it to us as a Fail Of The Week and he’s right, it is a fail. But in a way that’s an unfair description, because we can see there is the germ of a seriously good idea in there. Perhaps with an external ADC, or maybe with some as-yet-to-be-determined filtering scheme, an ESP8266 walkie-talkie is one of those ideas that should be taken to its conclusion. We hope he perseveres.

Old Intercom Gets Googled With Raspberry Pi And AIY Hat

Old Radio Shack intercom; brand new Google Voice interface for a Raspberry Pi. One of these things is not like the other, but they ended up together in this retro-look Google Voice interface, and the results are pretty slick.

The recipient of the Google hive-mind transplant was one of three wireless FM intercoms [MisterM] scored for a measly £4. Looking much as they did when they were the must-have office tool or home accessory for your modern mid-80s lifestyle, the intercom case was the perfect host for the Pi and the Google AIY hat. Only the case was used — not even the original speaker made it into the finished product. The case got a good scrubbing, a fresh coat of paint to perk up the gone-green plastic, and an accent strip of Google’s logo colors over the now-deprecated station selector switch. [MisterM] provided a white LED behind the speaker grille for subtle feedback. A tap of the original talk bar gets Google’s attention for answers to quick questions, and integration into the family’s existing home automation platform turns the lights on and off. See it in action after the break.

[MisterM] was lucky enough to score an AIY hat for free, and as far as we know they’re still hard to come by. If you’re itching to try out the board, fear not — turns out you can roll your own.

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Lo-Fi Greeting Card Sampler

We’re all familiar with record-your-own-message greeting cards. Generally they’re little more than a cute gimmick for a friend’s birthday, but [dögenigt] saw that these cards had more potential.

After sourcing a couple of cheap modules from eBay, the first order of business was to replace the watch batteries with a DC power supply. Following the art of circuit bending, he then set about probing contacts on the board. Looking to control the pitch of the recorded message, [dögenigt] found two pads that when touched, changed the speed of playback. Wiring these two points to the ears of a potentiometer allowed the pitch to be varied continously. Not yet satisfied, [dögenigt] wanted to enable looped playback, and found a pin that went low when the message was finished playing. Wiring this back to the play button allowed the recording to loop continuously.

[dögenigt] now has a neat little sampler on his hands for less than $10 in parts. To top it off, he housed it all in a sweet 70s intercom enclosure, using the Call button to activate recording, and even made it light sensitive with an LDR.

We’ve seen a few interesting circuit bends over the years – check out this digitally bent Roland TR-626 or this classic hacked Furby.

Check out the video under the break.

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