Raspberry Pi for the Talking Chatter Smartphone

You may have seen and even played with the Chatter Telephone, as the classic Fisher Price toy has been around since 1962. Although the design of the toy evolved over the years, in 2010, the Disney/Pixar film Toy Story 3 managed to depict the Chatter phone in its original classic form. Coinciding with the release of the movie, Fisher Price updated their model as the Talking Chatter Telephone. The new model carried some voice clips from the movie and had an all-plastic body, reminiscent of the boxy shape of the 1960’s original model.

Grant has used the famous Raspberry Pi or RBPi single board computer to turn the Talking Chatter Telephone into a Talking Chatter Smartphone. The modified phone gets its enhanced brains from an RBPi Model B+. All the logic comes from a Python script that runs on startup and access to the network is via a tiny Wi-Fi dongle. To retain the original factory look of the phone, Grant has avoided adding unnecessary buttons or screen and retained the original components and controls for interaction.

Internally, Grant has added a sensor to the hook cradle, but retained the original rotary dial that controls playback of the movie clips. For the eye movements, he has added a servo, while retaining the built-in speaker for providing audio output. He has retained the three micro switches the dial uses as a digital encoding system to sense the five dial positions. The RBPi replaces the battery box and the original PCB.

The phone pulls data from various online services via JSON format APIs. As of now, it connects to Forecast.io for receiving weather information and to Rotten Tomatoes for information on movies. However, one can easily extend this to other APIs as well. For example, the phone could be made to swap APIs for weather forecast with APIs providing current exchange rates, stocks or a Quote for the Day.

The phone also has a push notification system that uses a Twitter account. Grant uses it to pull new alerts from that account and to push them onto the account using IFTTT. He uses pre-defined alerts or recipes that he drives from his iPhone. For example, the IFTTT alerts the phone when Grant leaves work, there is rain forecast for tomorrow, the garden temperature is getting close to 10°C and when the International Space Station is about to pass overhead.

Grant has given the Chatter Smartphone a Wall-E startup sound for its boot up. That serves a dual purpose as the RBPi makes the sound when it has finished booting and lets Grant know that it is ready for an SSH connection. According to Grant, this should be made a standard feature for every RBPi. If you feel the volume of sound is low, it is easy to extend the RBPi’s audio jack to the back panel of the phone. This has the added potential of turning the Fisher Price phone into a high-end hi-fi system.

Using a Bluetooth add-on for the RBPi it is also possible to extend the audio to powered Bluetooth speakers outside the phone – making it wireless.