Can You Build An Open Source Pocket Operator?

Toys are now musical instruments. Or we’ll just say musical instruments are now toys. You can probably ascribe this recent phenomenon to Frooty Loops or whatever software the kids are using these days, but the truth is that it’s never been easier to lay down a beat. Just press the buttons on a pocket-sized computer.

One of the best examples of the playification of musical instruments is Pocket Operators from Teenage Engineering. They’re remarkable pieces of hardware, and really just a custom segment LCD and a few buttons. They also sound great and you can play real music with them. It’s a game changer when it comes to enabling musicianship.

Of course, with any popular platform, there’s a need for an Open Source copy. That’s where [Chris]’ Teensy Beats Shield comes in. It’s a ‘shield’ of sorts for a Teensy microcontroller that adds buttons, knobs, and a display, turning this into a platform that uses the Teensy’s incredible audio system designer.

When it comes to the world of microcontrollers and audio processing, the Teensy is a champ. The Teensy Audio Library has polyphonic playback, recording, synthesis, analysis, and effects, along with multiple simultaneous inputs and outputs. If you’re building a tiny synth that can fit in your pocket, the Teensy is the way to go, and [Chris]’ Teensy Beats Shield does it all, with a minimal and useful user interface. You can check out a video of the Teensy Beats Shield below.

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Gaze Upon This Daft Punk Helmet’s Rows of Utterly Perfect Hand-Soldered LEDs

The iconic robot helmets of Daft Punk feature prominently as challenging DIY hardware projects in their own right, and the results never disappoint. But [Nathaniel Stepp]’s photo gallery of his own version really sets the bar in both quality and attention to detail. The helmet uses a Teensy 3.2 as the main processor, and the visor consists of 328 hand soldered through-hole APA106 addressable RGB LEDs. A laser cut panel serves as the frame for the LEDs, and it was heat-formed to curve around the helmet and mate into the surrounding frame. Each LED is meticulously hand-soldered, complete with its own surface mount decoupling cap; there’s no wasted space or excess wire anywhere to be seen. It looks as if a small 3D printed jig was used to align and solder the LEDs one or two columns at a time, which were then transferred to the visor for final connections with the power bus and its neighboring LEDs.

After the whole array was assembled and working, the back of each LED appears to have then been carefully coated in what looks like Plasti-Dip in order to block light, probably to minimize the blinding of the wearer. A small amount of space between each LED allows the eyeballs inside the helmet to see past the light show in the visor.

The perfectly done array of LEDs in the visor is just one of the design elements showing the incredible workmanship and detail in [Nathaniel]’s helmet. His website promises more build details are coming, but in the meantime you can drink in the details shown in the aforementioned photo gallery.

With Halloween approaching, you might be interested in rolling your own Daft Punk inspired helmet. Not ready to do everything from scratch? No problem, because it’s never been easier to make your own with the help of a 3D printer and some LED strips.

[via SparkFun Blog]

Bixel, An Open Source 16×16 Interactive LED Array

The phrase “Go big or go home” is clearly not lost on [Adam Haile] and [Dan Ternes] of Maniacal Labs. For years they’ve been thinking of creating a giant LED matrix where each “pixel” doubled as a physical push button. Now that they’ve built up experience working on other LED projects, they finally decided it was time to take the plunge and create their masterpiece: the Bixel.

Creating the Bixel (a portmanteau of button, and pixel) was no small feat. The epic build is documented in an exceptionally detailed write-up on the team’s site, in addition to the time-lapse video included after the break. [Adam] tells us the Bixel took around 100 hours of assembly, and we don’t doubt it. This is truly one of those labors of love which is unlikely to be duplicated, though all of the source files for both the hardware and software are available if you’re feeling brave enough.

The write-up contains a lot of fascinating detail about the design and construction of the Bixel, but perhaps the least surprising of all of them is that the final product ended up being very different from what they originally envisioned. The plan was to simply use lighted arcade buttons in a 16×16 grid, as they were purpose-built for exactly what the guys had in mind. But when they priced them out, the best they could do was $2 a pop. That’s $500 for just the buttons alone, before they even got into the enclosure or electronics. Like any good hackers, [Adam] and [Dan] decided to ditch the ready-made solution and come up with something of their own.

In the end, they cut the individual LEDs out of RGB strips, and soldered them down to their custom designed 500mmx500mm PCB. To the sides of each section of strip are two tactile switches, and above is a “sandwich” made of laser cut acrylic. The sheet closest to the LEDs has a 25mm hole, the top sheet has a 20mm hole, and between them is a circle of acrylic that acts as the “button”. Once it’s all screwed together, the button can’t fall out of the front or move from side to side, but it can be pushed down to contact the tactile switches.

To wire it all up they took a cue from the DIY keyboard scene and used a Teensy, some 595 shift registers, and 256 1N4148 diodes. A Raspberry Pi running their Python framework does the heavy computational lifting, leaving the Teensy to just handle talking to the hardware. Overall it’s a fantastic design to emulate if you’re looking to create large arrays of buttons on the cheap; such as whenever you get around to building that starship simulator.

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Sad Without a SID? This Comes Pretty Close

The MOS Technologies 6851, popularly known as the SID, is a legendary sound synthesiser integrated circuit from the early 1980s that is most famous for providing the Commodore 64 home computer with its ability to make noise. At the time it was significantly better than what could be found in competitor machines, making it a popular choice for today’s chiptune and demo scene artists.

There’s a snag for a modern-day SID-jockey though, the chip has been out of production for a quarter century and is thus in short supply. Emulation is a choice, but of little use for owners of original hardware so it’s fortunate that [Petros Kokotis] has produced a SID replacement using a Teensy 3.6.

The operation is simple enough, the Teensy provides all the requisite SID data lines via some level shifters for the host microcomputer, and uses [Frank Boesing]’s ReSID library to do the heavy lifting part of being a SID. You can download the code from a GitHub repository, and he’s posted a video we’ve put below the break showing a prototype in action with a real Commodore 64. The audio quality isn’t brilliant due to a phone camera recording from a very tinny speaker, but notwithstanding that it has the air of the real thing.

This isn’t the first SID we’ve seen here. How about a MIDI synth using one?

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Mademoiselle Pinball Table Gets Rock ‘n Roll Makeover

Once upon a time, there was a music venue/artist collective/effects pedal company that helped redefine industry in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. That place was called Death By Audio. In 2014, it suffered a death by gentrification when Vice Media bought the building that DBA had worked so hard to transform. From the ashes rose the Death By Audio Arcade, which showcases DIY pinball cabinets made by indie artists.

Their most recent creation is called A Place To Bury Strangers (APTBS). It’s built on a 1959 Gottlieb Mademoiselle table and themed around a local noise/shoegaze band of the same name that was deeply connected to Death By Audio. According to [Mark Kleeb], this table is an homage to APTBS’s whiz-bang pinball-like performance style of total sensory overload. Hardly a sense is spared when playing this table, which features strobe lights, black lights, video and audio clips of APTBS, and a fog machine. Yeah.

[Mark] picked up this project from a friend, who had already cut some wires and started hacking on it. Nearly every bit of the table’s guts had to be upgraded with OEM parts or else replaced entirely. Now there’s a Teensy running the bumpers, and another Teensy on the switches. An Arduino drives the NeoPixel strips that light up the playfield, and a second Uno displays the score on those sweet VFD tubes. All four micros are tied together with Python and a Raspi 3.

If you’re anywhere near NYC, you can play the glow-in-the-dark ball yourself on July 15th at Le Poisson Rouge. If not, don’t flip—just nudge that break to see her in action. Did we mention there’s a strobe light? Consider yourself warned.

Want to get into DIY pinball on a smaller scale? Build yourself a sandbox and start playing.

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Homebrew SDR Ham Radio in 9 Parts

It used to be homebrew ham gear meant something simple. A couple of active devices that could send CW. Maybe a receiver with a VFO. But only the most advanced builders could tackle a wide range SSB transceiver. Today, that goal is still not trivial, but it is way easier due to specialty ICs, ready access to high-speed digital signal processing, and advances in software-defined radio techniques. [Charlie Morris] decided to build an SSB rig that incorporated these technologies and he shared the whole process from design to operation in a series of nine videos. You can see the first one below.

The NE612 is a child of the popular NE602 chip, which contains a Gilbert-cell mixer, and an oscillator that makes building a receiver much easier than it has been in the past. The chips are set up as direct conversion receivers and feed a Teensy which does the digital signal processing on the recovered audio.

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Hacked RC Transmitters Control All The Things

If you have lots of RC creations about, each with their own receiver, you’ll know that the cost of a new one for each project can quickly mount up – despite RC receivers being pretty cheap these days. What if you could use a NRF24L01+ module costing less than $3?

That’s just what [Rudolph] has done for his Hackaday Prize entry, rudRemoteThough many people already spin their own RC link with the NRF24 modules, this sets itself apart by being a complete, well thought out solution, easily scalable to a large number of receivers.

The transmitter can be made of anything to hand; stick an NRF24 module and Teensy inside, some gimbals if needed, and you have a rudRemote transmitter. Gaming controllers, sandwich boxes and piles of laser cut parts are all encouraged options. [Rudolph] used some 40-year-old transmitters for his build – on the outside they remain unchanged, apart from a small OLED and rotary encoder for the function menu. The gimbal connections are simply re-routed to the Teensy I/O.

The protocol used is CRTP (Crazy RealTime Protocol); this is partly because one of the things [Rudolph] wanted to control is a CrazyFlie quadcopter. It’s a protocol that can easily be used to control anything you like, providing it fits into the 29-byte payload space. The CrazyFlie only uses 14 bytes of that, so there’s plenty of headroom for auxiliary functions.

We’d be interested to see the latency of this system – we’ve some surprising results when it comes to measuring cheap RC transmitter latency.