ECE297DP Saturday Sounds!

Let’s make noise!

The effects boxes haven’t arrived yet, but we aren’t letting that stop us. We’re exploring Pure Data (Pd), a graphical programming language particularly well suited to synthesizing, playing, modifying, and generally honking around with audio. The concepts from Pd will largely transfer to the programming of the effects boxes.

So come down and play! We have some open seats on Saturday afternoons, 2:30 – 4:30, in Euler’s Good Room. Bring your laptop.

Here are some important links:

Download Pure Data (Pd)
Pure Data tutorials – cheetomoskeeto
Pure Data cheat sheet
Chuck’s Github work on the OpenEffects box
Chuck’s PureData patches for this class, including (in externals) the output~ abstraction

The OpenEffects Project – from whence our open effects boxes will come
The boxes are powered by Teensy microcontrollers from Paul Stoffregen
… and use the same chip found on the Teensy Audio Shield
The Teensy audio effects are programmed graphically using a web tool

Other interesting links:

Onyx Ashanti – beatjazz performer with self-built audio processing
Gordon Reid’s Synth Secrets

It looks like the audio effects boxes will be delayed in arriving, so I’ve ordered some Teensy Audio Boards to use in the meantime. They should be here by the time we have our next meeting (which, you should know, will be September 30)

Circuits & Code 2017

This weekend, members of the ECE 297DP class presented their semester projects in M5.  The projects consisted of various different projects within engineering and technology subfields.

Wayne Hobby constructed a Fourier Transform Fan with led strips on the blades that interpreted the surrounding sounds, and dispersed them as different colors along the radius of the fan.  The greater the frequency, resulting in a higher pitch, and the louder the noise, the further outward the fan would light up.  He demoed his project using Coldplay’s Scientist, where it was able to follow the rhythm of the piano and the sudden changes in the singer’s voice.  To do this, Wayne used a Teensy 3.6, a microcontroller similar to an Arduino, an Electret Microphone Amplifier and LED strips on each of the fan blades.


Sophomore CSE student Zac Little created a homemade set of drum pads by using an Arduino Nano, Codec + MicroSD Breakout – MP3/WAV/MIDI/OGG Play + Record, and piezo sensors.  He made the pads out of old DVDs with the piezoelectric disks in the middle, and assigned each of the sensors to a designated port on the bread board. One improvement he hopes to make is to allow the drums to be able to play two or more of the sounds at the same time.  Because of the code he used, the system thinks linearly and can only process the input of one of the sensors at a time.  Since when using a drum set, you often combine the different instruments, he plans to alter the coding so he can successfully make this change.

There were many other projects from the class that were on display.  One project consisted of a robot that reacted to the sound of the environment and looked in your direction.  Each “ear” contained a sensor to detect the level of noise in the environment, and if the noise was above a certain threshold, it would send a signal back to the microcontroller to move the head in whatever direction the noise came from.  Another project was an LED Clock that uses a timer to keep track of the time, and then displays the numbers in respective colors based on a color code.


If you are interested in working on a project like this next semester, you can enroll in ECE 297DP with Professor Baird Soules.

Dr. Seuss Interactive Exhibit Project: Circuits and Code Preview

Coming into this semester, a group of five Electrical and Computer Engineering students had some ordered parts to create an exhibit for the new Dr. Seuss Museum in Springfield, and went from there.  The idea was to develop an interactive exhibit composed of an audio system that would be triggered by museum goers, just as companies hire Professional Engineering companies do.  However, Jack Kenney, Eric Lee, Jason Sproviero, Sean Sproviero, and Tim Zhang were up for the challenge.

First they had to decide what they were going to use to control the audio system, and went with the Adafruit Audio FX as the sound board. Tim Zhang explained that they went this because “the Adafruit soundboard provides a simple, reliable, and cost effective solution for enabling us to play audio without the need for a microcontroller or more advanced systems”.   This seemed to be the best choice because it was the cheapest and most reliable based on the minimal functions needed within the system.

Next, the group had to determine what type of triggering mechanism they wanted to use for the system.  They wanted to make the exhibit interactive for people of all ages, but also keep in mind cost.  Three different ideas were experimented with, including arcade-style button, capacitive touch, and infrared sensors.  After testing, they decided to go with X-Arcade Buttons because they were cheaper, more durable, and have a lifetime of 10,000,000 Cycles.


After all of the hardware was figured out, the group had to fine tune exactly what the exhibit would do and what sounds it would trigger.  The exhibit involved sound for the Seuss Brewery, Mulberry Street Band, and many more “Seussical” sounds.

Throughout the process, the students realized the challenges of “real world” projects, compared to projects they may work on in their own free time.  Here at M5, students can work on their own projects, but this practicum gave students the ability to have a client, and work with them to create a project.

Instead of calling upon a company, the developers looked towards the ECE students with the same standards to provide the same quality product.  In this circumstance, you have to take into considerations and factors that you may not have to when working on an individual project.  Because of the time constraint of having one semester to develop, prototype, and have the final product, the exhibit had to have a simplified design.  They also had to consider cost, but still wanted to have a reliable finished product that contained as little parts as possible.

Overall, all students really enjoyed the experience and it gave them an opportunity to put what they learn in all of the engineering classes to practical use.  They had some mentorship from professionals in sound and engineering, and learned a lot about future careers in the field.  Jason Sproviero shared that he was hesitant to partake in the practicum at first, but the experience has been extremely beneficial: “I was afraid that I would get left behind, but now that I am immersed, I am really learning”.  It was a once in a life time chance for all students, and they are excited to share their work with the community at Circuits & Code!

Surface Mount Prototyping Workshop

Friday April 21st, 3:00pm

UMass Alum Chris Montoya will be joining us in M5 for a surface mount prototyping workshop, using a reflow oven! This is an excellent opportunity to get some hands on experience working with surface mount electronics, and to speak with a knowledgeable engineer working in the field. We will dive right into the workshop and then have time to ask any other general questions. Each student will have their own kit to work with, so spots are limited. so RSVP soon if you would like a spot!

TO RSVP: Email Dan Travis (dtravis AT umass DOT edu). First come first serve reservations.

Altium Designer Workshop Slides by Daniel Travis

Daniel Travis says:

Altium Designer is the absolute best PCB design software available today. It is jam packed with advanced features that make designing your very own PCB easier than ever. Two weeks ago I hosted an Altium workshop for ECE students here at UMass, and now I’m back to share the workshop with you! This Altium Tutorial link will take you to a folder on Google Drive which contains the following: PowerPoint presentation, schematic, custom libraries, my completed schematic file, my completed PCB file, and additional links to more tutorials. These resources should provide you with everything you need to get started on a PCB design today.

Sparkfun’s Internet-of-Things Database: Phant

Phant (think elePHANT, I guess) “acts as a logging tool which allows any device to read and write data to and from the service”. After creating an account with Sparkfun, one can create feeds by interactively describing the data that will be included. Two keys are then supplied to the user: a private (read-write) one that can be used to submit or modify the data, and a public read-only one (all feeds are publicly viewable).
To submit data, one simply sends it in an html GET or POST request. It will then be captured by the database and a confirming reply sent. Similarly, one can retrieve data with a GET or POST request.

There is a space limit and a bandwidth limit, but these are set reasonably so that most users won’t be inconvenienced by them.

I have been storing data automatically into Phant for a few months now. I have a solar-powered ESP8266 WiFi-enabled processor which wakes up every ten minutes, takes temperature and battery-voltage readings, connects to my home network, and sends them up to Phant. You can view them as raw data at, or graphed by another free service at

I am working with MQTT also as another, fairly different, IoT data broker, and will publish another blog entry about MQTT. A key difference between the two is that Phant is entirely passive – you can get data from it or put data into it, but it won’t notify you when new data arrives. MQTT is designed with a publish/subscribe architecture; you subscribe to a topic and when new data is published to that topic, you are notified with the new data.

Circuits and Code 2016S

Denizens of M5 and other interested people – rejoice!

Another exciting term at UMass is coming to a close, and with it three amazing prospects:

  • SDP Demo Days – Senior Design Project extravaganza (about which see,
  • summer vacation, but, most importantly,
  • Circuits and Code! People that have been making stuff at M5 – especially students in the Design Projects course ECE297DP – will be presenting their work on Saturday, April 23, from 1 to 4, in Euler’s Good Room at M5 in the Marcus basement. Community members will be welcome to come and see the projects, and there will be refreshments available.

If you’ve been working on something cool and want a forum wherein you can brag about it, Circuits and Code is just what you’ve been looking for!

Chuck Malloch

mbed Discussions and Workshops

M5 is hosting discussions during the Spring 2016 term addressing mbed-enabled ARM-based microcontrollers. On Wednesday afternoons at 2:30 we will be working with STM Nucleo microcontrollers and will address hardware and software issues. More details and a reading list are posted at For more information, visit the link or contact Chuck Malloch (CBMalloch /