Sunday, November 15, 2009

R2's sound system

Getting R2's sound sysem rolling has been an interesting process.

Initially I wanted to do what many other builders have done, using a programmable sound device with an FM remote that could play specific sounds. The problem I had with this was the cost of the hardware and the limited number of sounds it could play.

To get by on Halloween, I borrowed my friend's Netbook for sounds. A Netbook is a mini-version of a laptop, with a 10" inch screen. It has wireless networking so I was able to command sounds to play from my laptop on Halloween.

I ran some ideas by my friend Randy since he is a talented, hobby programmer (he would ask I emphasize HOBBY). We've had some great brainstorming sessions and came up with a computer program that uses a wireless conrol pad, in this case a Windows wireless XBOX controller, to play sounds. As we go along, we keep adding and refining things (it may be completely different after I publish this entry!).

At this point, we have divided the sounds into 3 buttons. "Happy", "Chatty" and "Sad/Scared" which each have their own folders and sounds in each. When one of the buttons is hit, it randomly plays one from that sound category. But then we added a STOP button to cease the sounds. Then, we made an "Idle" mode, so that sounds in the "Idle" category would play a random sound every 45 seconds.

I have an 18 minute high-quality sound clip of all of the original R2 sounds. After hunting around Download.Com for a few hours, I finally found a utility that would allow me to cut up the sound file based on pauses so many seconds long. After setting the program to look for pauses that were less than a second, I suddenly had a lot of sound files to work with!

Originally, from the various downloads offered, I had about 30 R2-D2 sounds of good quality. Now I have over 240 in superb quality! (It took a LONG time to categorize those sounds!)

The setup has a few cons...the netbook has a small hard drive, only 4gb. Despite all efforts, this thign is always low on space thanks to Windows Update! I have had to do a lot of system tweaking and it seems like a daily battle to optimize the system setup. We have some ideas to address the issues...but its just a test setup anyways. The 1.5 watt speakers are "ok" but something more powerful, with a modest power requirement, would be better.

Here's how the test setup looks...

....close up...

More soon!