My plan for a final project.

My Proposal

A music playback device that incorporates the rough industrial aesthetics of 1970-80s sci-fi set design, with the ‘slow’ user interface of physical music media. The device is in part a love letter to sci-fi prop design, and a response to the choice-paralysis and devaluing of music caused by ubiquitous, immaterial, on-demand music.

What will it do?

  • Play back music from physical ‘media’, in which one album or playlist is represented by one piece of media.
  • The media will be ‘keys’, with an identifying pattern of holes that can be read by the device to identify which piece of media has been inserted.
  • Music will be stored not on the media, but on an SD card in side the device, pre-loaed with directories of MP3s corresponding to each media ‘key’
  • There will be basic playback controls on the device to allow pausing and skipping of tracks, but not the selection of albums
  • There will be screen showing basic information such as artist name and album title

Who’s done what beforehand?

Many projects exist to use platforms like Raspberry Pi to build MP3 players.

There is a commercial project, Qleek, which uses a similar idea of artificially tying digital music back to a piece of physical media There are many DIY projects to incorporate MP3 players into old casings, such as vintage radios

However, I’m not aware of a project that uses this punchcard-style method to key the media, or of a project based around an industrial/sci-fi style casing.

The project uses a breakout board (for the SD card reader and VS1053 chip) and MP3 playback library, which handles much of the low-level file handling and audio playback work.

What will you design?

  • A casing for the project
  • Physical media
  • An internal mechanism to hold the electronic components, controls and circuit boards
  • Circuit boards for the media identification components (photo-interrupt sensors), playback controls, and microcontroller board
  • Software to control media identification, music playback, user controls and screen interface

Materials and components

Where I’m buying components or raw materials, a price is given below. Otherwise, parts will be made in the lab.


  • 2mm x 600mm x 400mm Anodised aluminium sheet (£8 from sheet metal supplier, made in the lab)


  • Laser-cut acrylic, IR-opaque (lab supplies, made in the lab)

Physical controls

  • Volume encoder (£1, eBay)
  • Volume knob (TBC, likely bought)
  • Cherry MX Brown switches (£4, eBay)
  • Button keycaps (TBC, likely bought)
  • 128x64 OLED Screen (£3, eBay)

Internal structure

  • Acrylic frame (lab supplies, made in the lab)
  • 3D-printed brackets (lab supplies)
  • Bolts (lab supplies)


  • Media identification board (made in the lab)
  • Media identification sensors (photo-interrupt switches, £4, eBay)
  • SD card and MP3 playback board (£25, Adafruit)
  • Playback controls board (made in the lab)
  • Main microcontroller board, likely to be based on n ATMega32u4 (made in the lab)

Power supply

  • 5V DC adapter (salvaged from an old device)

What processes will be used?


  • Circuit design in Eagle
  • Circuit milling on milling machine
  • Soldering of components
  • Testing using lab test equipment


  • Box net design in Illustrator
  • Outline an score line milling on milling machine
  • Finishing, folding and assembly by hand

Internal structure

  • 2D design in Illustrator
  • Cut on laser cutter
  • 3D design in Fusion 360
  • Printed on Cura 3D printer

Media keys

  • 2D design in Illustrator
  • Cut on laser cutter


  • Code written in Arduino IDE

What questions need to be answered?

  • Can I write the software needed to integrate all the components, provide a user interface, and play music?
  • What kind of internal structure is needed to hold all the components in place, with stability, access where required, compactness and robustness?
  • Will the hardware and software platforms I’ve chosen be capable of handling the functional requirements of the system?
  • Can I combine these materials to create a device with the aesthetic qualities needed?
  • What other materials, finishes, trim, or processes could be used to make it a more aestheticly enjoyable device?

How will it be evaluated?

  • Aesthetic quality – would this device look at home on the Nostromo?
  • Reliability in identifying media keys, SD card handling, user interface and music playback
  • Tactile feel (material finish, sound and haptic feedback of the controls, feel of the media cards, and placing/removing them from the device)
  • How is the experience of using the device to play music in the home. Does the constrained interface make listening to music more pleasurable?