Getting That Hack On Pt. 3 – Going Pro with the Lilypad Mp3

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**The following posts outline experiences with the Lilypad MP3 over about a one-week period. So much work went into it, that I forget how quick a week is!**

So before getting my hands on the LilyPad MP3, I assumed programming for it would be pretty straightforward and similar to the Arduino UNO. I mean, I expected a learning curve since it was still a different form factor, but I figured that the code would be more streamlined since lilypad projects seem to have simpler tech (as a whole).

Boy, was I wrong.

Standard Lilypad

Standard Lilypad

Special Lilypad MP3

Special Lilypad MP3

Lilypad MP3 != Lilypad

Maybe if it was the Lilypad, minus MP3, things would have been a lot easier. But the moment I loaded the sample “Trigger” and “Player” sketches, I knew it was going to be a long day.

And if you notice the scrollbar on the side of the screenshot, the “Player” sketch went on and on with what looked like cryptic code. I have no doubt that if I had a strict CSE background parsing through the code would have been much easier. And to make things worse, Sparkfun’s website was no help either since documentation is scarce and not so newb-friendly. Even Google, who’s been savior to many a project for me, could barely find information about it since the LilyPad MP3 is relatively new to the market!! But I’m not one to give up and tried my best to understand what was really going on.

What's a volatile boolean and why are there so many of them?!

What’s a volatile boolean and why are there so many of them?!

To be honest, I felt pretty intimidated and was scared that I wouldn’t be able to figure it all out. But there was no way I was going to let the team down, especially since throughout the quarter I had told them to be positive because all the tech was possible. It was just that now it was time for me to eat my words.

Flash forward 2 days later, and I was able to understand and modify the code to work with our zipper potentiometer and preliminary switches! Finally! I had to painstakingly piece together the similarities and differences between the Lilypad MP3, Lilypad, and Arduino UNO. For example, like the Lilypad, the triggers of the sewable pins work by completing a circuit to ground, meaning that the way you read the state of a button is to check if it’s LOW. But the way it’s programmed is just like the Arduino UNO, meaning that defining a pin as “A4” is just stating to look at data from Analog pin 4, “D2” to look at Digital pin 2, and so on.

Comparison of datasheets from all three boards. A little bit from the UNO, a little of Lilypad…

Arduino UNO

Arduino UNO

Lilypad MP3

Lilypad MP3

Lilypad

Lilypad

Always remembering that the code was just like the Arduino UNO was key for me. I may not have a CSE degree, but I have pretty good fundamentals and the scientist in me kept experimenting along the way.

Code-side, it turned out that the length of the “Player” sketch was mainly due to whitespace, lines dedicated to debugging code (Serial.println’s), and functionality related to a rotary encoder. Once I looked past those things, I was able to merge some of the “Trigger” sketch code to make it do what I wanted. WHEW!!

Making the final prototype

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We’ve worked out the interactions and it’s time to put everything together! After initially thinking the product needs to be as narrative-neutral as possible, we switched gears two weeks ago. When we decided to make the sash space-themed, things really took off!

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Artifact from a lively brainstorming session. Photo credit: Andrew Davidson

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Getting That Hack on Pt. 2 — RFID testing, MP3 speaker add-on, and playing around with a potentiometer

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So this post is going to be full of semi-random mini-hacking experiments since we’re trying to do a lot of stuff in parallel and, at the time, I didn’t have access to all the prototyping parts. Experimenting with parts allows one to understand the limitations and usefulness of different components and learn about the best way of implementing specific functionality into a project. I guess I’ll just start with the most simple experiment.

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Textile craziness!

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I’ve been working with textiles a lot over the past couple of weeks. I decided to make the sash prototype out of some leftover khaki twill I had leftover from a previous project. It’s easy to sew, strong enough to hold up to the electronics, and it didn’t cost me a thing.

For our midterm crit, I just applied some placeholder felt patches on the sash. We decided that we will probably use a similar technique for our end-of-the-quarter version. We will make patches containing our buttons and then apply them to the sash via conductive Velcro. That way, we can make changes to the technology without having to completely deconstruct the sash.

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Getting That Hack On Pt. 1 — A cheap, no frills MP3 shield for Arduino

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This post is long overdue. Prior to midterm and CHI craziness, we had originally planned to do a wizard-of-oz prototype which didn’t really use (or minimally used) the arduino, but rather relied on some clever trickery to mimic the Story Sash experience using an mp3 player, some simple buttons/switches, and an LED light show. As part of that experience–and because I wanted an excuse to take stuff apart–I found an instructable detailing how to make a very cheap mp3 shield for the arduino. For only $2 direct from China, or, as I’ve been told, $20 from a local Walgreens, you can easily include sound into any electronics project. Yep, sure makes prototyping a heck of a lot easier!

In all the colors of the rainbow! I personally like blue :)

In all the colors of the rainbow! I personally like blue =)

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Hard at Work

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We’re entering week 7 of this project, and things are starting to come together! Last week, we presented our mid-term status to the group and received a positive reception. I feel like we’re on-track to reach our goal of having a functional prototype by the end of the term. We have some working buttons and a prototype sash and badges to incorporate them all into. Considering that we have only been working on The Story Sash for about five weeks, I feel like we have made great strides (and learned a ton in the process)!

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The Idea

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For more info on how we got here, read The Background!

As we noted in our previous post, with the Story Sash Project, we want to give children a way to see themselves as the protagonists of different narratives, and tie those narratives to engaging, fun STEM-focused activities.  In doing this, we hope to help empower, educate, and ignite children of all backgrounds, and get them actively engaging with their environment in fun, budget-friendly ways.

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