Make a PodBox Single-Purpose Podcast Player

The single-purpose “PodBox” Podcast Player

Build a Rasberry Pi speaker box that plays the latest episode of your favorite podcast

I’ve worked in the technology industry for more than two decades, and back when I got into it everyone was talking about “convergence.” It was a decade before the iPhone, but companies were hard at work looking to discover the perfect combination of features and functionality in a single hardware device.

After some fits and stops, here we are 20 years later and the quest for convergence has been conquered. Today, everything fits into a “phone.” The iPhone and Android unleashed a massive universe of apps that transformed a hunk of glass and metal into anything and everything you want it to be. Point it at the sky to identify the aircraft flying overhead with augmented reality (FlightRadar24). Hail a taxi cab on the fly at your exact location and pay the driver without your wallet(Uber/Lift). Take a photo (Camera) and share it with friends, family, and strangers (facebook, instagram, twitter). Unlock your front door before you arrive home (August locks), or spy on your babysitter (Nest). Deposit a check into your savings account with a photo (Wells Fargo), and order and pay for your Latte before you arrive at Starbucks.

Our phones have become so converged we can’t leave home without them!

The future is singular! 

With all this access to everything on demand in a single device, I predict that humans will eventually reject this all-you-can-eat buffet of information and evolve toward a more singular and focused future. 

Which leads to my latest woodworking project and invention: The PodBox! It’s an elegant little speaker box featuring a handmade Kumiko panel, that subscribes to a single podcast. My prototype tunes in every day to Marketplace with Kai Ryssdal. Plug it in and connect to WiFi, and the box will download the latest episode. Press a button to play it. That’s it!

The Hardware

I built a handmade wooden box a few years ago and recently repurposed it to feature a small Kumiko panel in the lid. It’s a traditional style of Japanese woodworking, and it’s recently become popularized thanks to a kit available from my woodworking hero and friend Michael Pekovich.

Inside my handmade wooden Kumiko box is a small, affordable computer that is simple to program, called a Rasberry Pi. A handful of companies make hardware based on Rasberry Pi in different configurations and for different purposes. I purchased the Rasberry Pi Zero W from a company called Ardafruit.

The Zero W costs about $10 and is one of the most advanced Pi devices. It has built-in WiFi so you can connect to the internet. And it includes a few inputs and parts necessary to turn it into a Podcast player: A micro SD card runs the player program and stores the latest episode audio from the Podcast feed; a mini HDMI port connects to a monitor or HD TV when you’re setting it up the first time; two micro USB ports (for a 5v power supply and USB accessories like a keyboard and mouse), and 512MB of on-board RAM for running processes on the single-core 1 GHz processor chip.

I also purchased an audio amplifier chip and a small speaker that attaches to the Rasberry Pi, as well as a button to click when you’re ready for playback.

The Software and Operating System

To create the internal brains for the Podbox, I enlisted my friend Jimmy who like me tinkers in many hobbies, skills, and interests. Jimmy is a pro-hobby vegetable gardener, sourdough bread baker, DJ, and electronics engineer, and Python programer.

He wrote a simple script in Python that looks up the RSS feed of the Marketplace podcast. Finds the latest episode. Compares it to the episode currently saved on the PodBox (if there is one). And then downloads the audio file if it’s different. Once downloaded, the Python code sniffs for the button to get pressed, and when it does begins audio playback.

Plug and play!

The program runs on top of an open-source operating system called Raspbian, which is the official operating system for all models of the Raspberry Pi and handles all the stuff you’d expect from a computer, like booting it up and connecting to speakers, right out of the box.

And pleasurable to look at between episodes.

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