The first LED digital wristwatches hit the market in the 1970s. They required a button push to turn the display on, prompting one comedian to quip that giving one to a one-armed man would be in poor taste. While the UIs of watches and other wearables have improved since then, smartphones still present some usability challenges. Some of the touch screen gestures needed to operate a phone, like pinching, are nigh impossible when one-handing the phone, and woe unto those with stubby thumbs when trying to take a selfie.
You’d think that the fleet of sensors and the raw computing power on board would afford better ways to control phones. And you’d be right, if the modular mechanical input widgets described in a paper from Columbia University catch on. Dubbed “Vidgets” by [Chang Xiao] et al, the haptic devices are designed to create characteristic acceleration profiles on a phone’s inertial measurement unit (IMU) when actuated. Vidgets take various forms, from push buttons to scroll wheels, each of a similar size and shape and designed to dock into one of eight positions on the back of a 3D-printed phone case. Once trained, the algorithm watches for the acceleration signature caused by actuating a Vidget, and sends commands to the phone to mimic the corresponding gestures. The video below demonstrates a couple of use cases, of which the virtual saxophone is our favorite.
You’ve seen a landline phone converted into a Bluetooth headset. There’s nothing new there. It’s great for confusing kids when asking them to dial a rotary phone, but that’s about it. It’s the same phone, built by Ma Bell for fifty years, converted with a little Bluetooth breakout board.
You’ve never seen a landline conversion like this. This is [Alessandro]’s Bluetooth-converted Beocom 600, complete with a drop-in replacement circuit board that turns this beautiful Bang & Olufsen design into a useful device for the smartphone era.
This phone was designed as Bang & Olufsen’s entry into phone design, and we’re shocked, simply shocked, that Apple hasn’t tried to lift this design yet. Unfortunately, it’s designed for landlines, making it horrifically inconvenient to take to Starbucks. That’s where the Bluetooth comes in, and [Alessandro]’s custom board that is meant to replace the guts of this vintage phone. Honestly, with Bluetooth modules it’s probably easier to deal with that instead of a telephone line.
Right now, the work is concentrated on the user interface, which means taking apart and mapping the pinout of the buttons. This keypad is plastic over rubber domes contacting a polyester sheet with contacts, feeding out to a ribbon cable. It’s fantastic work and finally some of the best design out there will be brought into the modern era.
Rotary dial phones have a certain romantic charm about them; something never quite captured in the post-Touch Tone era. With landline phone services less popular than ever, these old workhorses aren’t really cut out for daily use anymore. However, with a modern brain transplant, they can still get the job done just fine.
[Xabier Zubizarreta] has undertaken to retrofit his FeTAp-611 rotary phone with a Bluetooth rig, allowing it to be used with smartphones to place and receive calls. A Raspberry Pi Zero W serves as the brains of the operation, chosen for its compact size and onboard Bluetooth and WiFi. Getting the Pi to work effectively with an Android phone as a Bluetooth audio device requires some trickery, but it’s nothing that can’t be fixed by custom compiling a few off-the-shelf tools. [Xabier]’s next big hurdle is finding a tidy way to generate a 30 VAC signal to drive the original ringer, something that proves difficult for most similar projects.
We love to see these telecommunication relics kept ticking, so if you happen to be building a vintage telephone exchange in your garden shed – be sure to let us know.
After spotting some interesting military phones at a museum, [CuriousMarc] wondered what it would take to retrofit these heavy duty pieces of telecom equipment for civilian use. He knew most of the internals would be a lost cause, but reasoned that if he could reverse engineer key elements such as the handset and keypad, he might be able to connect them to the electronics of a standard telephone. Luckily for us, he was kind enough to document the process.
There were a number of interesting problems that needed to be solved, but the first and perhaps largest of them was the unusual wiring of the keypad. It wasn’t connected in the way modern hackers like us might expect, and [CuriousMarc] had to end up doing some pretty significant rewiring. By cutting the existing traces on the PCB with a Dremel and drilling new holes to run his wires around the back, he was able to convert it over to a wiring scheme that contemporary touch tone phones could use.
An adapter needed to be fabricated to mount a basic electret microphone in place of the original dynamic one, but the original speaker was usable. He wanted to adapt the magnetic sensor that detected when the handset was off the hook, but in the end it was much easier to just drill a small hole and use a standard push button.
The main board of the phone is a perfect example of the gorgeous spare-no-expense construction you’d expect from a military communications device, but unfortunately it had to go in the bin. In its place is the guts of a lowly RCA phone that was purchased for the princely sum of $9.99. [CuriousMarc] won’t be able to contact NORAD anymore, but at least he’ll be able to order a pizza. The red buttons on the keypad, originally used to set the priority level of the call on the military’s AUTOVON telephone network, have now been wired to more mundane features of the phone such as redial.
Music, food, and coding style have one thing in common: we all have our own preferences. On the other hand, there are arguably more people on this planet than there are varieties in any one of those categories, so we rarely fail to find like-minded folks sharing at least some of our taste. Well, in case your idea of a good time is calling a service hotline for some exquisite tunes, [Fuzzy Wobble] and his hold music jukebox, appropriately built into a telephone, is just your guy.
Built around an Arduino with an Adafruit Music Maker shield, [Fuzzy Wobble] uses the telephone’s keypad as input for selecting one of the predefined songs to play, and replaced the phone’s bell with a little speaker to turn it into a jukebox. For a more genuine experience, the audio is of course also routed to the handset, although the true hold music connoisseur might feel disappointed about the wide frequency range and lack of distortion the MP3s used in his example provide. Jokes aside, projects like these are a great reminder that often times, the journey really is the reward, and the end result doesn’t necessarily have to make sense for anyone to enjoy what you’re doing.
Way back in the good old days, life ran at a slower pace. It took us almost a decade to get to the moon, and dialling the phone was a lazy affair which required the user to wait for the rotary mechanism to rewind after selecting each digit. Eager to bring a taste of retro telephony into the modern era, [Marek] retrofitted this vintage Polish telephone with a GSM upgrade.
The phone [Marek] salvaged had already been largely gutted, so there was little to lose in the transformation. A Motorola D15 GSM module was sourced from an alarm system to provide a network connection to the project. An Atmega328 was then used to translate the rotary dial mechanics into something more usable by the cellular module.
Attention to detail can really make a project shine, and [Marek] didn’t skimp in this area. The original ringer was rewound to operate with a half H-bridge at a lower voltage more suitable to the modern electronics inside. The microcontroller also helped out by using its PWM hardware to simulate a dialtone and the characteristic sound of pulse dialling.
It’s always nice to see retro hardware given a new lease on life. Unfortunately, GSM networks aren’t long for this world, so a further update may be required before long. These old phones have plenty of potential, as we’ve seen before.
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.