Using a Raspberry Pi, RFID tags, man builds audiobook player for his nearly blind grandfather

Putting different connected technologies together for individual purposes isn’t just for the geeks any more: we’re now in an age where the ability for a mainstream consumer to hack or tweak an electronic device is seen as a positive feature. That enables people to create their own devices on an as-needed basis, which is a very powerful concept.

raspberry pi audiobook reader inside

Take the example of Willem, who wanted to find an audio-book player for his 93-year grandfather who is now nearly blind. Willem originally considered an iPod touch for the player but realized it would be difficult for his grandfather to control, even with Apple’s accessibility features built into iOS. So what did Willem do? He built his own audiobook player using the highly extensible Raspberry Pi module.

The Pi is the brains of the device: It’s the computer that plays back MP3 files of audiobooks. It also connects to the web to let Willem know when his grandfather has listened to all of the pre-loaded books. In that case, Willem simply uploads additional books to the player.

raspberry pi audiobook player outside

Individual book files are tied to DVD cases, each of which has a unique RFID card inside that corresponds to a different book title. By placing different DVDs on the player, different books are read; the Raspberry Pi has an RFID reader to determine which tag is in proximity.

How well does it work? Pretty good according to Willem:

“I spoke to my grandmother today because it’s her birthday, and almost one year after having finished the reader, my grandfather still uses it daily, and proudly shows it to anyone who’s visiting. He started requesting for music on it too, and whenever the reader is at my brother’s, he’s having a hard time not being able to use it. I’m so happy that this little project was able to give some pleasure to a person that’s been so enormously important in my life. It’s harsh to say it with these words, but when I saw him last year, I was afraid he was close to being bored to death, literally.”

While it took some programming smarts to design the solution, this audiobook player is a perfect example of the hackable-device era we’re in; tinkerers unite!