14 SERVO 03.2014
Q. I want to add a voice and stuff to a robot hat I've been building most of last year. When digging through my junk box, I found a Savage
Innovations Soundgin board. It has an RS-232 translator
chip on it for connecting to a PC. I've looked and looked
but can't find any program that I can run on my PC to talk
to it. I want to interface it to an Arduino robot (that I am
making). How can I make this work to give my robot a
A. Wow, you are reaching back a ways with this board! Okay, so it isn't as old as, say, a HERO 1 robot kit, but still! Savage Innovations made this
board at least seven or eight years ago. Some of you
might remember this as the company that gave us the
OOPIC microcontroller systems back in the day. The
Soundgin chip can create complex and sophisticated
sounds, and even spoken voice. The latter is pretty
primitive speech that reminds me of the RadioShack
"Votrax" style voice synthesizers from long ago. The chip is
really best at making lots of cool sounds. Regardless, the
Soundgin has generic phonemes that can be programmed
to synthesize spoken words. You have to craft your
phrases by hand, but it works! I'll show you some
A while back, I worked with
Scott Savage with the OOPIC and
other projects, and he sent me one
of his Soundgin boards he was
developing to play with. That is why I
just happen to have one in my junk
box. I don't have any software for it
(the OOPIC had a Soundgin object to
handle that), and I don't have any
documentation either. Fortunately for
us, some other folks out there appear
to have licensed the Soundgin chip
and are making boards for Arduino
that use it.
Okay. This means that the
simplest way to use a Soundgin is
with an Arduino shield, but you
wanted to know how to get your
board working, so all of this is the challenge, right?
Regardless, this site has documentation on the Soundgin
chip that will help you experiment with it: www.
Go to their Downloads page and get the datasheet
PDF. (Thank you, Babblebot!) There are lots of holes in this
document that make this such an interesting project to
work with, but it is still an essential reference.
For every microcontroller project, there are two
phases: hardware and software. Let’s get started on the
hardware that will give your Arduino a voice!
Part 1: The Hardware
The Soundgin demo board has a useful layout. It has
its own audio amplifier and volume knob, as well as an
RS-232 interface that can be disabled so you can connect
the board directly to your microcontroller. To connect the
board to your Arduino, you will need to remove the
RS-232 converter chip that is mounted in a socket (if you
are lucky, like I was) next to the DB9 serial port connector
(on the right side of Figure 1).
Notice that the Soundgin board is partitioned into
several functional blocks. Notice also there are two rows
of holes next to each other between the Soundgin block
and the RS-232 serial block. You can cut the traces
by Dennis Clark
Our resident expert on all things robotic is merely an email away.
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s I write this column, I find that we are in the long
stretch between holidays here in the USA. We
working stiffs don't get another day off until the
end of May. We have to use our time carefully if
we are to build new robots or maintain our existing ones. I
find that it is usually faster to re-purpose an existing robot for
a new project rather than starting from scratch. This works
well until I start to notice that my components are horribly
dated and I can't find documentation for them any more.
At that point, I generally start over with newer and usually
This month's column covers a question that lines up nicely
with the "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" mantra for today's hobbyist
(or anyone else for that matter!).