Hackaday Podcast 078: Happy B-Day MP3, Eavesdropping On A Mars Probe, Shadowcasting 7-Segments, And A Spicy Commodore 64

Hackaday editors Elliot Williams and Mike Szczys go down the rabbit hole of hacky hacks. A talented group of radio amateurs have been recording and decoding the messages from Tianwen-1, the Mars probe launched by the Chinese National Space Administration on July 23rd. We don’t know exactly how magnets work, but know they do a great job of protecting your plasma cutter. You can’t beat the retro-chic look of a Commodore 64’s menu system, even if it’s tasked with something mundane like running a meat smoker. And take a walk with us down MP3’s memory lane.

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always, tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

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MP3 Is 25 Years Old!

In the streaming era, music is accessed from a variety of online services, ephemeral in nature and never living on board the device. However, the online audio revolution really kicked off with the development of one very special format. The subject of bitter raps and groundbreaking lawsuits, this development from Germany transformed the music industry as we know it. Twenty-five years on from the date the famous “.mp3” filename was chosen, we take a look back at how it came to be, and why it took over the world.

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A Wearable That Jives To The Beat Of Your Heart

We’re always searching for the coolest biohacking projects all over the web, so imagine our excitement when we ran across [marcvila333’s] wearable biometric monitor on Instructables. This was a combined effort between [Marc Vila], [Guillermo Stauffacher], and [Pau Carcellé] as they were wrapping up the semester at their university. Their goal was to develop an integrated device that could modulate the wearer’s heart, and subsequently their mood and stress levels, using music.

Their device includes an LCD screen for user feedback, buttons for user input, an MP3 module, and a heart rate sensor module. The user can measure their heart rate and use the buttons to select the type of music they desire based on whether they would like to decrease or increase their heart rate. The science behind this phenomenon is still unknown, but the general sense is that different music can trigger different chemical signals in your brain, subsequently affecting your mood and other subtle physiological effects. I guess you can say that we tend to jive to the beat of our music.

It would be really cool to see their device automatically change the song to either lower or raise the user’s heart rate, making them calmer or more engaged. Maybe connect it to your tv? Currently, the user has to manually adjust the music, which might be a bit more inconvenient and could possibly lead to the placebo effect.

Either way; Cool project, team. Thanks for sharing!

DIY Pocket MP3 Player

When [Neutrino-1] saw DFRobot’s DFPlayer module, he decided he wanted to make his own retro MP3 player. This tiny module comes packed with a ton of interesting capabilities such as EQ adjustment, volume control, and a 3 watt amplifier amongst other things. It can even play ads in between songs, should you want such a thing.

Controlling the DFPlayer module is easy using serial commands from a microcontroller, making it a convenient subsystem in bigger projects, and a potential alternative to the popular VLSI chips or the hard to come by WT2003S IC. [Neutrino-1] does a good job walking readers through the build making it fairly easy to remix, reuse, and reshare.

With the hardware sorted, all you’ve got to do is flash the firmware and load up an SD card with some MP3s. There’s even a small Python GUI to help you get your new player up and running. [Neutrino-1] also introduces users to the U8g2 display library which he says is a bit more feature-rich than the common Adafruit SSD1306 library. Great job [Neutrino-1]!

While you’re here, take a look at some of our other MP3 projects.

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ESP32 Becomes Music Player In Under 40 Lines Of Code

The demo code for [XTronical]’s ESP32-based SD card music player is not even 40 lines long, though it will also require a few economical parts before it all works. Nevertheless, making a microcontroller play MP3s (and other formats) from an SD card is considerably simpler today than it was years ago.

Part of what makes this all work is I2S (Inter-IC Sound), a format for communicating PCM audio data between devices. Besides the ESP32, at the heart of it all is an SD card reader breakout board and the MAX98357A, which can be thought of as a combination I2S decoder and Class D amplifier. The ESP32 reads audio files from the SD card and uses an I2S audio library to send the I2S data stream to the MAX98357A (or two of them for stereo.) From there it is decoded automatically and audio gets pumped though attached speakers.

A few economical components, and only a handful of connections between them.

It’s amazing how much easier audio is to work with when one can take advantage of shuffling audio data around digitally, and the decoder handles multiple formats with an amplifier built in. You can see [XTronical]’s ESP32 player in action in the video embedded below.

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Don’t Forget The Baby!

It must be a common worry among parents, that they might forget their offspring and leave them in the car where they would succumb to excessive heat. So much so that [Matt Meerian] has produced an alarm that issues a verbal reminder to check for the youngster when the vehicle is turned off.

It’s a simple enough device, with an ATmega328, an off-the-shelf MP3 module, and a power supply regulator to deliver 5 V into a pair of supercapacitors from the vehicle accessory socket’s 12 V. The idea is that the  power is cut when the vehicle ignition is turned off, and that the supercaps have enough energy within them to play the reminder sample for the driver to check for forgotten children.

We can’t help remarking that a percentage of cars leave their accessory sockets turned on all the time, so it would be interesting to ponder how one might detect the car being turned off in that case. He muses about using a surplus cell phone instead of his ATmega328, perhaps the MEMS sensor on a phone could also be used to detect the vibrations of the engine stopping as it was turned off. Such cars notwithstanding, this unit is a straightforward solution to the problem in hand.

Musical Mod Lets MRI Scanner Soothe The Frazzled Patient

Hackers love to make music with things that aren’t normally considered musical instruments. We’ve all seen floppy drive orchestras, and the musical abilities of a Tesla coil can be ear-shatteringly impressive. Those are all just for fun, though. It would be nice if there were practical applications for making music from normally non-musical devices.

Thanks to a group of engineers at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, there is now: a magnetic resonance imaging machine that plays soothing music. And we don’t mean music piped into the MRI suite to distract patients from the notoriously noisy exam. The music is actually being played through the gradient coils of the MRI scanner. We covered the inner working of MRI scanners before and discussed why they’re so darn noisy. The noise basically amounts to Lorenz forces mechanically vibrating the gradient coils in the audio frequency range as the machine shapes the powerful magnetic field around the patient’s body. To turn these ear-hammering noises into music, the researchers converted an MP3 of [Yo Yo Ma] playing [Bach]’s “Cello Suite No. 1” into encoding data for the gradient coils. A low-pass filter keeps anything past 4 kHz from getting to the gradient coils, but that works fine for the cello. The video below shows the remarkable fidelity that the coils are capable of reproducing, but the most amazing fact is that the musical modification actually produces diagnostically useful scans.

Our tastes don’t generally run to classical music, but having suffered through more than one head-banging scan, a half-hour of cello music would be a more than welcome change. Here’s hoping the technique gets further refined.

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