Toddler-Friendly MP3 Player Navigates With Light

When designing this custom MP3 player for his grandson, [Luc Brun] ran into a unique problem. He wanted the boy to be able to operate the player on his own, but being only 2½ years old, the user interface would have to be exceedingly straightforward. Too many buttons would just be a distraction, and a display with text would be meaningless at his age.

In the end, [Luc] came up with a very interesting way of navigating through directories full of MP3 files using a few push buttons and a ring of WS2812 LEDs. The color of the LEDs indicate which directory or category is currently being selected: spoken nursery rhymes are red, music is orange, nature sounds are yellow, and so on. The number of LEDs lit indicate which file is selected, so in other words, three orange LEDs will indicate the third music track.

At his grandson’s age, we imagine at least a little bit of him navigating through this system is just luck. But as he gets older, he’ll start to form more solid connections between what he’s hearing and the color and number of the LEDs. So not only is this interface a way to help him operate the device himself, but it may serve as a valuable learning tool in these formative years.

On the other hand, if your goal is just to distract a youngster for as long as possible, an overwhelming number of LEDs, buttons, and switches might be exactly what you want.

A Smart Controller For Your DIY UV Cure Box

Resin 3D printers are finally cheap enough that peons like us can finally buy them without skipping too many meals, and what means we’re starting to see more and more of them in the hands of hackers. But to get good results you’ll also want a machine to cure the prints with UV light; an added expense compared to more traditional FDM printers. Of course you could always build one yourself to try and save some money.

An earlier prototype build of the interface.

To that end, [sjm4306] is working on a very impressive controller for all your homebrew UV curing needs. The device is designed to work with cheap UV strip lights that can easily be sourced online, and all you need to bring to the table is a suitable enclosure to install them in. Here he’s using a metal paint can with a lid to keep from burning his eyes out, but we imagine the good readers of Hackaday could come up with something slightly more substantial while still taking the necessary precautions to not cook the only set of eyes you’ll ever have.

Of course, the enclosure isn’t what this project is really about. The focus here is on a general purpose controller, and it looks like [sjm4306] has really gone the extra mile with this one. Using a common OLED display module, the controller provides a very concise and professional graphical user interface for setting parameters such as light intensity and cure time. While the part is cooking, there’s even a nice little progress bar which makes it easy to see how much time is left even if you’re across the room.

At this point we’ve seen a number of hacked together UV cure boxes, but many of them skip the controller and just run the lights full time. That’s fine for a quick and dirty build, but we think a controller like this one could help turn a simple hack into a proper tool.

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ESP32 Serial Interface Modernizes Old Equipment

There’s still plenty of useful hardware out there that uses an RS-232 interface, like the Behringer Ultradrive loudspeaker systems that [Lasse Lukkari] works with from time to time. Rather than ditch perfectly good gear because modern computers (to say nothing of phones or tablets) don’t have physical serial ports, he decided to come up with a WiFi adapter for these old devices that he calls SerialChiller.

Inside the SerialChiller is an ESP32, a MAX3232 line driver, a LM1117 linear regulator, and a few passives. The professionally manufactured PCB is housed inside of an enclosure that [Lasse] has repurposed from a cheap DB15 breakout adapter. The USB cable is used to power the board and for programming, though it can also be used to turn the SerialChiller into a USB-to-serial cable as well.

The hardware for this project is pretty straightforward, but what we really like is the direction he’s taken with the software. Rather than using the SerialChiller as a simple serial to WiFi bridge, [Lasse] is actually implementing a complete web-based interface directly on the microcontroller. In the video after the break he demonstrates his firmware for controlling the aforementioned Behringer Ultradrive, but that’s just one possible application for the project. Firmware could be spun up for all sorts of classic devices, breathing new life into hardware that might otherwise be in danger of heading to the landfill.

Of course, using the ESP family of chips as serial adapters is hardly anything new. In fact, that’s what they were designed for. But developing modern user interfaces for old hardware thanks to the power of the ESP32 has some fascinating potential.

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Date Clock Requires (Almost) No Interaction

A lot of commercial offerings of technology aimed at helping the elderly seem to do a good job on the surface, but anything other than superficial interaction with them tends to be next to impossible for its intended users. Complicated user interfaces and poor design consideration reign in this space. [7402] noticed this and was able to design a better solution for an elderly relative’s digital day planner after a commercial offering he tried couldn’t automatically adjust for Daylight Savings.

Of course, the clock/day planner has a lot going on under the surface that the elderly relative may not be able to use, but the solution to all of that was to make it update over the network. This task [7402] plans to do remotely since the relative does not live anywhere nearby. It is based on a Raspberry Pi connected to a Uniroi screen which automatically dims but can be switched off by means of a large button in the front. The UI shows the date, time, and a number of messages or reminders in large font in order to improve [7402]’s relative’s life.

This is a great idea for anyone with their own elderly relative which might need something like this but won’t want to interact with the technology other than the cursory glance, but the project is also a great illustration of proper design for the intended users. Commercial offerings often had hidden buttons and complicated menus, but this has none of that, much like this well-designed walker for an elderly Swede.

Designing Sci-Fi Hack Chat

Join us on Wednesday, October 9 at noon Pacific for the Designing Sci-Fi Hack Chat with Seth Molson!

We all know the feeling of watching a movie set in a galaxy far, far away and seeing something that makes us say, “That’s not realistic at all!” The irony of watching human actors dressed up as alien creatures prancing across a fantasy landscape and expecting realism is lost on us as we willingly suspend disbelief in order to get into the story; seeing something in that artificial world that looks cheesy or goofy can shock you out of that state and ruin the compact between filmmaker and audience.

Perhaps nowhere do things get riskier for filmmakers than the design of the user interfaces of sci-fi and fantasy sets. Be they the control panels of spacecraft, consoles for futuristic computers, or even simply the screens of phones that are yet to be, sci-fi UI design can make or break a movie. The job of designing a sci-fi set used to be as simple as wiring up strings of blinkenlights; now, the job falls to a dedicated artist called a Playback Designer who can create something that looks fresh and new but still plausible to audiences used to interacting with technology that earlier generations couldn’t have dreamed of.

Seth Molson​ is one such artist, and you’ve probably seen some of his work on shows such as TimelessStargate Universe, and recently Netflix’s reboot of Lost in Space. When tasked to deliver control panels for spacecraft and systems that exist only in a writer’s mind, Seth sits down with graphics and animation software to make it happen.

Join us as we take a look behind the scenes with Seth and find out exactly what it’s like to be a Playback Designer. Find out what Seth’s toolchain looks like, how he interacts with the rest of the production design crew to come up with a consistent and believable look and feel for interfaces, and what it’s like to design futures that only exist — for now — in someone’s imagination.

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events in the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, October 9 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have got you down, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io. You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

 

Developing An Automatic Tool For CAN Bus Hacking

In the old days, a physical button or switch on the dashboard of your car would have been wired to whatever device it was controlling. There was potentially a relay in the mix, but still, it wasn’t too hard to follow wires through the harness and figure out where they were going. But today, that concept is increasingly becoming a quaint memory.

Assuming your modern car even has physical buttons, pushing one of them likely sends a message over the CAN bus that the recipient device will (hopefully) respond to. Knowing how intimidating this can be to work with, [TJ Bruno] has been working on some software that promises to make working with CAN bus user interfaces faster and easier. Ultimately, he hopes that his tool will allow users to rapidly integrate custom hardware into their vehicle without having to drill a hole in the dashboard for a physical control.

But if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t like to have things done for them (a safe bet, since you’re reading Hackaday), don’t worry. [TJ] starts off his write-up with an overview of how you can read and parse CAN messages on the Arduino with the MCP2515 chip. He breaks his sample Sketch down line by line explaining how it all works so that even if you’ve never touched an Arduino before, you should be able to get the gist of what’s going on.

As it turns out, reading messages on the CAN bus and acting on them is fairly straightforward. The tricky part is figuring out what you’re looking for. That’s where the code [TJ] is working on comes in. Rather than having to manually examine all the messages passing through the network and trying to ascertain what they correspond to, his program listens while the user repeatedly presses the button they want to identify. With enough samples, the code can home in on the proper CAN ID automatically.

The upside to all this is that you can activate aftermarket functions or hardware with your vehicle’s existing controls. Need an example? Check out the forward-looking camera that [TJ] added to his his 2017 Chevy Cruze using the same techniques.

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A Bolt-On I2C Navigation Key For Your Next Project

We often talk about the advantages of modular hardware here at Hackaday; the ability to just order a few parts online, hook them up with some jumper wires, and move onto the software side of things is a monumental time saver when it comes to prototyping. So anytime we see a new module that’s going to save us time and aggravation down the road, we get a bit excited.

Today we present the very slick I2CNavKey developed by [Saimon], a turn-key interface solution for your builds that can’t quite get away with a couple toggle switches. It not only gives you a four-way directional pad with center button, but a rotary “wheel” like on the old iPods. All of which you can access easily and with a minimum of wiring thanks to the wonders of I2C.

But even that might be selling the module short. This isn’t just a couple of buttons on a breakout board, the I2CNavKey is powered by its own PIC16F18345 microcontroller and features three configurable GPIOs with PWM support (perfect for an RGB LED) plus 256 bytes of onboard EEPROM storage.

[Saimon] has released the entire project as open source hardware for your hacking pleasure, but you can also get them as ready-to-use modules on Tindie for $18 USD [Editor’s Note: Because of a typo we originally we left the 1 out of the price]. Whether you’re a paying customer or not, you get access to the project’s absolutely phenomenal documentation, including a nearly 30 page manual that contains everything you’d ever want to know about the I2CNavKey and how to integrate it into your project. If all hardware was documented with this level of dedication, the world would be a much nicer place for folks like us.

If you recognize the name, or perhaps the affinity for neat I2C-connected input devices, it’s probably because you’ve seen his very similar I2C rotary encoder on these pages previously, which was a finalist in our Open Hardware Design Challenge during the 2018 Hackaday Prize.