This lovely Dansette portable radio is now playing the 21st century’s finest internet radio stations thanks to a loving upgrade. The centre of the tuning dial has been replaced with a bright LCD display showing the icon for the current radio station, with a convex glass bubble lens adding to the vintage aesthetic.
The trio of clicky little buttons on top control the power and let you skip up or down through a set of eight station presets. The dials peeping out at each corner are actually large, tactile micro-switch buttons for precisely controlling the volume.
On the inside is a Raspberry Pi, with a Pirate Audio board handling the display and amplification, and a 10,000 mAh power bank supplying plenty of juice for long summer afternoons in the garden. A simple Python script manages the playlists and channel art.
I’ve been meaning to start this project since buying the radio for £2 last October, and it turned out just as I’d planned – all the better for approaching it slowly.
Ever since I started messing about with the Raspberry Pi High Quality Camera I’ve been trying to think of a way to focus it remotely, so that I could just pop it down in the garden and worry about focusing it later – and this weekend I cracked it!
I was sure if I found the right Lego Technic piece I’d be able to drill a hole in it and fix it to the camera lens, and a test part arrived from eBay late last week, a 60 tooth gear. Cutting a lens-sized hole in it was surprisingly easy, and it was an absolutely perfect push-fit.
I ordered a Lego-compatible servo from Pimoroni straightaway, and once it had arrived I spent a pleasant couple of hours rummaging for Lego pieces to make it all fit together. I was really lucky that the little servo cog and the lens cog fitted together so nicely, that could easily have been very tricky.
Next I made a long, thin focus button menu in GUIzero, so that it’d be visible to the side of the camera preview window, when viewed via RealVNC. This works really well, you can click the focus buttons on the side and see the effect immediately on the previewed image. The beauty of RealVNC is that it works equally well on a phone or tablet, which is extremely handy when keeping an eye on a wildlife trap in the garden.
As a proof of concept it’s a lot of fun, I can imagine adding this functionality to an existing pan/tilt camera bracket, or to a robot that needs to constantly re-focus as it moves around. Of course the best part of all was combining Lego with Raspberry Pi, two of my favourite things!
The interchangeable camera lens peeps out from what was the battery cover on the rear, and on the front, the matrix of buttons has been replaced by a HyperPixel four inch capacitive touchscreen.
Still, video, timelapse and slow motion modes are all available on the colourful touch menu, as well as the option to bulk-upload the captured photo and video files to Dropbox.
Additional touches include a handy tripod mount in Merlin’s base, and hardware buttons to manually capture images and video.
This build was a lot of fun, the case specifically was lovely to work with, and had plenty of space for components, for once. I did destroy the battery cover and had to make a new camera mount from perspex, but otherwise things went pretty smoothly!
This old and unusual dial-less telephone now helps well-being and productivity to co-exist in the home office! Beneath its vintage grille a neopixel ring lights up 24 LEDs in sequence over an hour, switching to an eye-catching rainbow display when it’s time to take a break.
Ignore the rainbow and the LED ring starts flashing red, accompanied by a subtle but un-ignorable beep from the phone’s original buzzer unit.
To cancel the beeping or reset the timer at any time I just need to either press the button on the phone or momentarily lift the handset – both of which force me to get up and walk across the room.
This project was nice & quick, just a bit of fun really, challenging myself to build something nice for the Instructables “Work from Home Speed Challenge” – but without buying anything new. I managed to re-use an old Zip Halo and Pi 2, learned a lot about controlling RGB LEDs, and ended up with a break reminder that I actually use daily.
This vintage Apollo microwave detector now has a shiny new purpose as a thermal camera, powered by a Raspberry Pi Zero with an Adafruit thermal camera sensor taking the temperatures, displaying the results in real-time on a bright 1.3″ TFT display.
It has a Preset and a Dynamic mode – in the first the colours shown on screen are based on hard-coded temperature thresholds, and in the second the colour range can be adjusted using temperature sliders on an Adafruit.io dashboard.The dashboard also instantly displays any snapshots uploaded by the device, which are captured using the original thumb button on the grip.
The whole system is powered by a thin, cylindrical USB battery pack concealed in the hand grip, which can be easily recharged by popping off the nose cone and plugging in a USB lead.
Just three Python scripts control the menu logic, sensor and Adafruit.io integration, with the display handled by PyGame.
Working on this project has really helped keep me positive during lockdown, and with the extra time on our hands the kids & I have found many interesting things around the house to point it at!
The Cassette Pi is a self-contained real-time notification scroller, all housed neatly inside a transparent cassette tape. A Raspberry Pi Zero is sandwiched between the two tape reels, retrieving Internet of Things notifications from the fabulous IFTTT service, delivered almost instantly to the Pi via an Adafruit.IO feed and a Python script. The whole cassette vibrates to alert you to the incoming notification, and the text is then scrolled clearly across a Pimoroni 11×7 LED display.
Everything is powered by a 150mAh LiPo battery, connected to the Pi via a LiPo Shim – also within the cassette is an Adafruit Micro Lipo so when the battery runs low it can be plugged directly into a Micro USB power source to grab some juice.
The most fun part is that thanks to some trimming of the Pi itself, the cassette can still fit inside any vintage tape player, turning that old ornament into a functional and classy Internet of Things device.
The Cassette Pi is perfect for use as a conference badge too, dangling from a lanyard and scrolling your name or a custom message – I hope to wear it to a Pi event or jam later this year.
This is probably my favourite Pi project to date, everything went smoothly for once and I love the final result, it’s a very tactile little thing. It was built in a bit of a hurry so that I could enter the Instructables Raspberry Pi contest 2020 – at the time of writing the results haven’t been published but I’m hopeful of winning at least a T-shirt prize pack.
The Old Tech, New Spec YouTube channel somehow hit 1000 subscribers earlier this week, prompting an instruction to share this Gif and the #1KCreator hashtag – who am I to argue?
It’s a great milestone to reach, especially as it’s difficult to keep the content coming during the winter months, when the car boot fairs are washed out and the workshop is freezing. I enjoy making the YouTube videos as much as the projects themselves, but it’s undeniably tricky squeezing everything in with work and family life.
The original idea of the channel was to support my project write-ups, keeping it simple and fun as far as possible so that anyone viewing would get a head-start in attempting something similar, or would at least be able to learn from the many mistakes the cats love to point out in the videos.
It’s very much a learning process, over time I’ve tried to keep the videos shorter and more watchable, this is totally an ongoing effort though. Recording the pieces where I’m on screen is what I find the hardest, being a bit of an introvert, but like many things it boils down to confidence and I’m becoming slowly more comfortable.
For 2020 rather than chasing the next arbitrary number my channel aims are to release better videos more regularly, be more at ease on camera and (trickiest of all) to diversify the audience a bit. There’s certainly no shortage of projects (I have 3 in pieces at the moment) and hopefully one of them will make it to the channel sometime soon!
I was toying with the idea of a Halloween themed build a few weeks back but was stuck for ideas, then I came across an awesome fencing mask in a charity shop, and the idea for Dr. Tape Head was born!
I had a pretty clear idea from the start what I wanted – moving laser eyes, smoke generation and some kind of text to speech function to bring the whole thing to life.
I started by building the individual parts – eyes (ping pong balls with lasers and LEDs, cased in Lego) , ears (old headphones with speakers added) and mouth (cassette tape with pHAT Beat). I then built these into the mask, pulling together the code I needed to control them on the Raspberry Pi.
Next I cobbled together a Python script on the Pi to read text from a Google Sheets spreadsheet, then set this up to be auto-populated from the IFTTT service. This meant that the doctor would read out real-time notifications from the web, as well as messages sent directly to him via SMS or Google Assistant.
Later I just had time to add finishing touches, with hair made from dismantled cassette tapes and an old mannequin hacked about to allow for clothing and a hidden power supply.
Getting the doctor up & running was a really fun project – quite time pressured but great to jump on the Halloween bandwagon and work to a theme, i.e. spooky!
This beautiful little “Flirt” transistor radio from 1970 has had a loving internet radio conversion using a Raspberry Pi Zero. All the original controls have been re-used and with its LiPo battery & LED VU meter it’s ready to bang out tunes in the bathroom.
This could be one of my favourite projects ever, it has just the right combination of Old Tech and New Spec, and was my quickest to date, providing music in the bathroom just a week after I picked it up at the car boot.
As ever I learned new things while building it, including re-using parts of the volume dial to make microswitches that look identical to the original controls – definitely a technique I’ll be using in future projects.
I also used a LiPo battery for the first time in this build, something I’ve been shy of in the past, and was pleasantly surprised with the resulting flexibility and impressive run-time. Using a combination of the Pimoroni LiPo Shim and an Adafruit Micro LiPo I was able to integrate the charging circuit into the build itself, pleasingly tucked away under the original battery lid.
This Cheetah 125 joystick from the 1980s has had a full rebuild with shiny new microswitches, arcade buttons and a Pimoroni Player X controller board. It now has four independent buttons and connects via USB, ready for some serious RetroPie gaming action.
We had great fun converting this old joystick to work on RetroPie – it really brought back the glory days of “gaming” on my old Commodore Vic 20, I had exactly the same model when it was new.
The build wasn’t without surprises though, I’d forgotten that in the 80s all buttons performed the same function – four in this case all wired together! With the help of a Player X board from Pimoroni we were able to make each button independent, and added in a couple of extras to make RetroPie play easier.
The idea behind the joystick conversion was to provide Player 2 controls for the Pi Tourer Game Console, and it’s now added all the blood-pumping fun of head-to-head competition to our retro gaming, with predictable gloating from the younger members of the household!