Clara's Remote

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Some lessons learned

  1. Totes “Micron” umbrellas are sold with plastic cases that fit perfectly around a small breadboard, leaving room for power connections on the side. They even have clear plastic top doors, so you can easily see the status of indicators on the board. You can buy the umbrellas on eBay for a little more than a nice electronics enclosure costs (~$8), and in addition to a nice enclosure you get a high-quality, pocket-sized umbrella for free! Several photos - click the right arrow for more.

  2. If your battery-powered circuit is working strangely or not at all… it might be a worn-out battery! Duh!

  3. It was quite useful to add jumpers to the board so I could easily disconnect the diagnostic LEDs. It was also handy to have one on the power supply so I could measure current used while running and while sleeping.

Conclusions

Good project. Clara’s happy using it; she clutches it while watching her movies, and in fact, her mom had to pull out the original DVD remote to use, because Clara wouldn’t give hers up. It provides several benefits over our previous stock remotes, even for adults (after Clara’s in bed). The way Rewind and Fast Forward are implemented on our DVD player is particularly annoying and accident-prone; this remote prevents all the mishaps we used to have, when trying to rewind slightly would take us back to the last chapter point. In fact, the Replay button removes most of our need for Rewind at all. The elapsed time - five weeks to useful, sixteen to completion - isn’t too bad, for a hobby project. And the cost isn’t even TOO bad, for a one-off; the radios are about $38 total, which is pretty steep, but the board and box are the only other parts I didn’t already have on hand.

I will happily share the design resources with anyone who’s interested. The main weakness of this project for widespread use is that the command set and their implementation is customized to my own needs. But if you’re used to dealing with microcontrollers, it should be pretty easy to customize.

Future development

  • Finish the color escutcheon. Color laser print, punch hole for Skip LED, laminate, glue on with cyanoacrylate?

  • Better power supplies. Probably move to a small step-up switcher running from two NiMH AA cells. Switchers tend to have higher quiescent current, though, so that’s a bit tricky. Can also tweak the firmware to turn the radio off more quickly. On the Base, a step-down switcher would produce less heat.

  • More permanent board for the Base.

  • The big one for wider appeal: Auto-learning. Not impossible…

Comments

Thank God...

When I clicked on the link for the pictures (the first thing that caught my eye on the homepage), I thought that Clara had built a remote. Whew. I’m sure she will be an electronics genius if she wants to be, but no teaching her to build remotes yet, okay?

Oh, yeah, cool project! Lucky Clara.

Hee hee!

I didn’t think of reading it that way!

Clara loves to put components on breadboards and look through all the new parts I get, and she’s pretty good at remembering what’s a capacitor and what might be a transistor, but she can’t yet wire up even a LED circuit without help. I too would be a bit frightened if she could. Decoding modulated infrared signals at three… I’d be looking in the yellow pages under ‘exorcism.’

(Though my next project for her will be a kid-friendly electronics experiment board! Mwahahaha!)

—tjw