The junk bin can be a great source of inspiration, unless you’re too familiar with the contents to be imaginative with them. But thrift stores are another matter, like giant junk bins that are constantly replenished by underappreciated elves. You never know what kinds of goodies they will pile on the shelves, so it’s easy to become a fixture and visit them once or thrice a week.
[Hunter Irving] haunts a few choice thrift stores in his neighborhood, and a few months ago he found a knockoff Thomas the Tank Engine with an articulated face. It uses a simple mechanism to produce an impressive amount of movement, especially for a cheap knockoff toy. Both of its eyes slide sideways and its mouth opens, resulting in a very animated (and terrifying) range of expressions. Sensing an opportunity to turn his animatronic robot dreams into karaoke-singing nightmare fuel for the rest of us, he forked over a few bucks and took it home.
As luck would have it, a 9g micro servo fit perfectly in the back of the frightening little face. [Hunter] designed an axle to transfer motion to the face mechanism, but it broke almost immediately. We applaud his Plan B, though, which consists of a mounting block for the servo, and a cable tie armature connected with screws. Once that was sorted, [Hunter] designed a bulbous body for it in Blender.
This terrifying train-faced toy uses an Arduino Leonardo to read MIDI note-on and -off messages, and opens his mouth when appropriate to sing hit favorites in a smooth, speech-synthesized contralto. Pour yourself a strong beverage and enjoy the build/demo video after the break.
Interested in making your own? [Hunter] has all the files up on his Patreon page. For just $1, you can access the code, synth files, and STL files. While you’re there, you can also get the scoop on his Nintendo LABO waveform cards.
Continue reading “Thomas The Terrifying Karaoke Robot”
[Monta Elkins] got it in his mind that he wanted to try out an old-style speech synthesizer with the SC-01 (or SC-01A) chip, one that uses phonemes to produce speech. After searching online he found a MicroVox text-to-speech synthesizer from the 1980s based around the chip, and after putting together a makeshift serial cable, he connected it up to an Arduino Uno and tried it out. It has that 8-bit artificial voice that many of us remember fondly and is fairly understandable.
The SC-01, and then the SC-01A, were made by Votrax International, Inc. In addition to the MicroVox, the SC-01 and SC-01A were used in the Heath Hero robot, the VS-100 synthesizer add-on for TRS-80s, various arcade games such as Qbert and Krull, and in a variety of other products. Its input determines which phonemes to play and where it shines is in producing good transitions between them to come up with decent speech, much better than you’d get if you just play the phonemes one after the other.
The MicroVox has a 25-pin RS-232 serial port as well as a parallel port and a speaker jack. In addition to the SC-01A, it has a 6502 under the hood. [Monta] was lucky to also receive the manual, and what a manual it is! In addition to a list of the supported phonemes and words, it also contains the schematics, parts list and details for the serial port which alone would make for fun reading. We really liked the taped-in note seen in this screenshot. It has a hand-written noted that says “Factory Corrected 10/18/82”.
Following along with [Monta] in the video below, he finds the serial port’s input buffer chip datasheet online and verifies the voltage levels. Next he opens up the case and uses dips switches to set baud rate, data bits, parity, stop bits and so on. After hooking up the speakers, putting together a makeshift cable for RX, TX and ground, and writing a little Arduino code, he sends it text and out comes the speech.
Continue reading “MicroVox Puts the 80’s Back into Your Computer’s Voice”
[Scott Baker] wanted to take on a new retrocomputing project. He decided to build an RC2104. Lucky for us, he documented everything along the way. In addition to the main board, [Scott] built bus monitoring and debugging tools, a front panel, a real time clock, an analog to digital converter, and a speech synthesizer.
You can follow along in the 8-part post that includes videos. He started with the basic kit:
- CPU – The Z80
- ROM – 27C512 64 KB ROM, selectable in 8KB banks
- RAM – 62256 32 KB RAM
- Clock – 7.3728 Mhz crystal that drives a 74HC04 hex inverter (for the CPU and the UART)
- Serial I/O – MC68B50 UART
In addition, he picked up a digital I/O board.
Continue reading “Talking DIY Z-80 Retrocomputer Complete with Dev Tools”
History and [Bil Herd] teaches us that Commodore begged, borrowed, or stole the engineers responsible for the Speak & Spell to add voice synthesis to a few of the computers that came after the C64. This didn’t quite work out in practice, but speech synthesis was something that was part of the Commodore scene for a long time. The Votrax Type ‘n Talk was a stand-alone speech synthesizer that plugged into the expansion port of the VIC-20. It was expensive, rare, but a few games supported it. [Jan] realized the state of speech synthesis has improved tremendously over the last 30 years, and decided to give his VIC a voice with the help of a cheap Android phone.
A few VIC-20 games, including [Scott Adams] adventure games, worked with the Votrax speech synthesizer by sending phonemes as text over the expansion port. From there, the Votrax would take care of assembling everything into something intelligible, requiring no overhead on the VIC-20. [Jan] realized since the VIC is just spitting out characters for each phoneme, he could redirect those words to a better, more modern voice synthesizer.
A small Bluetooth module was wired up to the user port on the VIC, and this module was paired with a cheap Android smartphone. The smartphone receives the serial stream from an adventure game, and speaks the descriptions of all the scenes in these classic adventure games.
It’s a unique experience judging from the video, but the same hardware and software can also be added to any program that will run on the VIC-20, C64, and C128. Video below.
Continue reading “An Adventure into Android Makes the VIC-20 Speak”
Back in 1991, a young [Backwoods Engineer] and his new wife went to a Valentines day get together. One of the conditions of the shindig was having the guys make – not buy – a Valentines day card. Go big or go home, he though, and after a few days he had a talking Valentines day card that would become one of his wife’s most treasured possessions.
The early 90s were a different time; in case you haven’t yet been made to feel very old yet today, 1991 is closer to 1970 than 2013 is to 1991. Likewise, the circuitry inside this heartfelt talking token of appreciation bears more resemblance to something from a 1970s electronics magazine than an Arduino project of today.
The project is powered by an old Intel MCS-48 microcontroller attached to one of the old speech synthesis chips Radio Shack used to sell. These are, in turn, connected to a programmable logic chip and a masked ROM that translates English words into phonemes for the speech synthesizer.
The entire device is constructed on a hacked up piece of perf board and a few wire wrap sockets; sturdy construction, even if the battery compartment has been replaced a few times.
As for what the talking valentine says? “”OK! Hello, I am a Talking Valentine Card. “Love Is A Many-Splendored Thing” and in this case also needs batteries!” You can check that out after the break.
Continue reading “Speech synthesizing valentine from 1991”
If there’s one thing that will surely blind us, its reading resistor color bands. It doesn’t help that red looks exactly like orange, brown and black are indistinguishable, and different component manufacturers – for some reason – don’t use identical paints for coding their resistors. [Jeff] over at Gadget Gangster has been having the same problem, so he built a talking resistor calculator to speak resistor values to him.
The electronics part of the build is extremely simple with just an MCP3208 ADC providing 12 bits of resolution. The software side is where this project really shines. [Jeff] used a Gadget Gangster QuickStart board housing a Parallax Propeller. With 8 cores running in parallel the Propeller is more than enough to run [Phil Pilgrim]’s software speech synthesizer. When a resistor is connected to the two alligator leads, the Propeller goes through a lookup table and finds a resistor value matching the number coming from the ADC. From there, it’s just sending a string of phonetic text to the speech synthesizer object.
Even though text-to-speech chips have been around for decades now, [Jeff] chose to build his speech synthesis tool with software. It may just be a testament to the power in the Propeller microcontroller, but anything that keeps us from squinting at resistor color bands is alright by us.
The folks at the Louisville hackerspace LVL1 now have a fabulous piece of wall art that is also a speech synthesizer. The speech synthesizer is over two feet long and is made of nine panels of stripboard connected with right angle headers. An awesome piece of art if there ever was one.
This speech synthesizer is actually 30 years in the making. In the early 1980s, one of the members of LVL1 across a few text-to-speech ICs in a bin in Radio Shack. These ICs sat in a drawer while college got in the way, and in 1990, the project was resurrected. The speech synth chips sat in a drawer for another decade, and it was finally decided to build a wall-mounted speech synth for LVL1.
This speech synthesizer is intended to be the voice box for FATHER, LVL1’s second hackerspace AI. Already the first AI – MOTHER – is already telling people to take out the trash and generally trying to become the AI-gone-amok we all deserve. FATHER will be implemented in a robotic monkey, so right now the only question we have is who has been messing with the Louisville water supply.