Make Your Robonova-1
by D.G. Smith
Play any sound
file—the voice of Homer Simpson or even Captain Picard!
Since the age of 10, now some 35 years ago, I have always
dreamt of building robots. Back in those days all I had was lollipop
sticks and old radio bits. I would glue and bolt bits together in
the hope that somehow, like a Disney Movie, I could magically spark
life into my creation. Now we are in the age of the Asimo and
Robo-Ones, I can’t help but wonder what Isaac Asimov would have made
of them all.
Anyone with a Robonova or any Robo-One knows that you can draw a
crowd just with the robot’s basic acrobatics; however the effect can
be multiplied by a factor of ten when the robot speaks to the
I have been voicing my robots since the very beginning, often
giving them speech before sensors, everyone knows it’s fun watching
a wheeled robot maneuver around the room bumping into objects and
avoiding them but when it comments every time it avoids an object or
says Homer Simpson’s “Doh” when it bumps into one, your audience is
left transfixed. I learned that people will come miles to see a
talking machine back in the late 80s when I got hold of an early
speech chip for my BBC micro and taught it to utter profanities at
random. I sold more computers based on what I ended up calling
“Dirty Girty” than any technical advances.
Quadravox QV306M1 (With
Robonova With Circuits In
Over the years I have tried a number of sound solutions for my
robots but I keep coming back to chips that will accept sound files;
this level of flexibility means you can source files from anywhere.
Quadravox have built sound chips for a number of years and my
favourite is the QV306M1. It has a small footprint: approximately 1
˝ inches by 1 inch including the connector (Fig. 1), thus making it
small enough to fit inside the centre body cavity of the Robonova
with a small buddy board, containing the voltage regulator. (Fig.
STEP (1) – BUILDING THE SOUND LIBRARY.
The Quadravox comes with a set of well thought out Wav files
including a complete alphabet, numbers and a lot of basic Robot
related words like, “whisker”, “left”, “right”, “infrared” etc. It
also comes with the Phonetic alphabet “Alpha”, “Bravo”,
“Charlie”, “Papa”, “Foxtrot” etc. and a whole set of home automation
sentences, “The air conditioning”, ”Is on”, “Is off”, The alarm”,
“The Motion Detector”, Etc. So before you even start visiting
“fan sites” to download your favourite one liners there is a
whole ready made list you can use.
The QV306M1 will accept up to 4 minutes of audio files. These can
be in varying lengths and can be broken down into up to 240 separate
sound bites. Each sound bite is recorded into the chip and
automatically numbered sequentially. A free piece of editing
software comes with the device and the latest version and a whole
series of wav files can be downloaded from the Quadravox site. The
only disadvantage is that you need to buy a programming docking
station to transfer the files from the PC to the Quadravox so it
does bump up the price of your first recorded chip.
The list is made by adding wav files one by one to the software,
which keeps track of the total recording time used and the length of
each clip. Each file is then displayed in the play order with its
number automatically allocated. You can do some basic editing but it
is worth planning your files sensibly as this will reduce the number
of lines of Robobasic that you will need to write, particularly if
you are going to write routines to speak numbers past 20. Zero to
nineteen exist as wav files but 21 needs to be made from the two wav
files, Twenty and one, spoken without a break. It is only when we
exceed 99 that we might need three files spoken sequentially. It is
worthwhile spending a little time thinking about the sound layout as
it can also help as a software debugging tool.
STEP (2) – PROGRAMMING THE QV306M1
Once you have decided your list it is a simple matter of
connecting the programmer to the PC through the COM port and the
audio out jack. (Fig. 3). The software will then activate the
recording mode on the QV306M1 and play each of the files in order.
The previous contents are automatically wiped.
STEP (3) – MOUNTING IN THE ROBONOVA.
Croc Clips Battery
This is where a little electronics is called for. In
reality it is a simple matter of connecting the power and the ERX
port to the QV306M1 which can be done with as little as three wires,
however if you want a full installation I would recommend the small
buddy board be used. I also included the circuitry for battery
monitoring on the same board to save space inside the back pack for
any later hacks.
Just a brief note on the battery monitor: I tried the online hack
with two 51k resistors but discovered that using equal values
dropped the sensitivity. So in my circuit I use a 56k and a 43k
resistor. This lifts the bridged voltage slightly and helps with
calibration. On my Robonova I discovered the new trip out value was
now 167 for the NiCad to be on 5.8 volts. See figure 4 for the basic
battery monitor circuit.
Because the QV306M1 doesn’t have an onboard crystal if the supply
voltage is too high then the chip runs too fast, the result being
that on a full battery the QV306M1 plays the same file no matter
what command you send, so a small voltage regulator is required.
Using the regulated supply from the Robonova seems to make too high
a demand on the MRC3024’s chip and I have had the robot suddenly
collapse rather worryingly, so I decided to take no chances and
regulate my own supply from one of the spare servo connectors. I
also added a small 100uF capacitor to smooth out any little demand
lumps in the new buddy board supply.
The QV306M1 needs pin one connected to the Robonova ERX Pin, yes
the ERX the ETX seems to be the input side of the comm port, RS232
was always an ambiguous specification, If you look at the MR C3024
circuit board the sockets are arranged so that the ground is nearest
the outside edge of the motherboard. Then the middle pin of each
socket is power, Unregulated on the servo sockets and regulated on 5
volts on the A To D and Communication sockets. It is worth
reminding you not to use power from the Comms or A to D sockets as
the QV306M1 draws more power than the onboard regulator can handle
and if that burns out the Robonova would be dead, and finally the
innermost pin is the action pin, Servo control on the servo sockets,
Sensor on the A To D ports and Comms alike.
Croc Clips Full Circuit
Buddy Board With Speaker
Board On Test attached to
Robonova with Grasping Hands
To control the baud rate pins BR0 and BR1 on the QV306M1 need
connecting to Zero Volts, this sets the baud rate at 2400. This is
done on the buddy board by the two connecting wires. You can select
other baud rates by connecting the 5v rail to BR0 and or BR1, a
table is supplied by the manufacturer.
If the busy wire is to be attached a pull down resistor is
necessary to ensure that the A to D converter gets valid readings
from the QV306M1.You can see all of these parts on the strip board
layout is show in Fig(5).
The actual Buddy board can be seen Fig (6).
Before you mount the buddy board in the body cavity, wrap it in
insulation tape to make sure that it doesn’t short out on the
Robonova metal body. Also the QV306M1 needs to be kept from touching
the casing, A piece of plastic sheet works well, it is wise to leave
the QV306M1 bare so that you can see the pin markings. The plugs are
best fitted when the board is inside the body, on the one occasion
that I did get the plugs out by one pin, the output amplifier
fried and that particular QV306M1 will no longer run a speaker,
however to the board’s credit it still gives line output and now
sits in a “Meet and Greet” face mask with a separate amplifier.
Placing a speaker will be the next challenge. A conventional
moving coil speaker about 8 ohms impedance will do the job, there
are some nice ones used in laptops and if you can afford it a flat
speaker will fit inside the chest cavity easily. I have used a
recovered speaker from a hand held radio in my Robonova. Be careful
of placing the speaker next to the processor as the magnetic flux
could cause the chip to become erratic.
Finally if you want to detect when a file has finished connecting
the busy line to an A to D port will allow you to detect when the
QV306M1 is ready to accept another command. If you want to construct
sentences from within software then this level of control is
essential. The system offers a number of ways that files can be
played and has four addressing modes, it is even possible to have
the unit record live sound with the addition of a microphone and
preamp but for this article I have not explored these options.
STEP (4) – PROGRAMMING THE ROBONOVA
Once the QV306M1 is secreted inside the heart of the Robonova it
can be activated with simple instructions.
DIM sy AS BYTE
Sy = 10
ETX 2400, sy
And the unit will play memory file number 10.
If you want to monitor the progress of the QV306M1 then use an AD
command to insert the value of your chosen A to D port (I use 5). If
the value given is 0 then the QV306M1 is playing files, if the value
is 255 then the unit is silent and will accept another command.
It is worth dropping a 10 millisecond delay in before the next
command to ensure that the unit is settled and ready.
A simple routine could look like this.
DIM sy AS BYTE
DIM ww AS BYTE
Sy = 10
ETX 2400, sy
ww = AD(O)
if ww = 0 THEN loop
However when you get deeper into programming the QV306M1 it makes
sense to have the waiting loop as a gosub.
ww = AD(0)
if ww = 0 THEN WAITQV
The routine can be called from anywhere in the program with
This will save on program memory used. Eventually you will build
a whole series of subroutines to handle multiple voicing events.
This article just scratches the surface of how you can program
the QV306M1 but you now have a Walking, Talking Robonova. As a
technology teacher I hope that chewing gum is a hack nobody ever
In closing Quadravox now has a new chip it is launching called
the QV606 which is intended to replace the QV306M1.It is pin for pin
compatible and the programming is virtually the same, (Which to me
shows the metal of a good company, upwards compatibility is often
abandoned by many manufacturers in the pursuit of profits). The 606
will carry up to 14 minutes of audio files and will handle MP3 files
with a stereo output.
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