Introduction: Remote Control IPod Gloves
First Prize in the
Soft Circuit Contest
Some time ago, I picked up a cheap, wired iPod remote (like the one pictured below: $5). I wanted to keep the iPod safely tucked away in a jacket pocket, but still listen to (and control) it while snowboarding. Or, more accurately, I wanted to be able to pause it when getting on the lift (because it's rude not to talk to people) and start it up when getting off, and to adjust the volume as I went (so I could still hear my surroundings). The remote had a nice clip that attached to the jacket's lapel securely enough.
I couldn't see the buttons while it was clipped on there, much less operate them with gloves on. My first thought was to wire buttons to my helmet, but then I figured that I still wouldn't be able to see them, and my friends would be constantly smacking me on the head to mess with me. So the idea for Remote Control iPod Gloves was born.
Disclaimer: yes, there are better ways to do this. Nicer-looking ways. Wireless ways. Elegant ways. Ways that people who know more than I do about electronics would use.
But this is my way. The easy(ish) way. The cheap way. The geek way?
Step 1: What You'll Need
Here's what I used to do this:
- Snowboard gloves
- iPod Photo (I know, it's ancient!)
- Remote that you don't mind taking apart and possibly never using again
- wires of miscellaneous gauge
- heat-shrink tubing
- solder of my choice (I'm sure there are lots of Instructables about soldering to help you choose some!)
- soldering iron
- couplers, connectors, or whatever else you want to call 'em
- conductive thread (ooh... that's a tough one! I used the Lilypad Bobbin from Sparkfun.com for around $5: http://www.sparkfun.com/commerce/product_info.php?products_id=9384)
- hot glue gun (although epoxy would work fine)
- cyanoacrylate glue, CA glue, Crazy Glue, Super Glue
Step 2: Destruction
Now, take a deep breath and prepare to void whatever warranty your remote came with. Pry that sucker open with whatever tools, know-how, and force you deem appropriate. But try to use the minimum so that you don't wreck anything or hurt yourself along the way.
My remote was easy to pry apart with a very small, flat-tipped screwdriver.
Take a look at the button pads. Those are what we need to hijack. When you push one, it should act as a bridge between two electrical contacts. In my case, the large, silver button is one contact, and a little pad underneath it is another. I removed the large buttons, which were just held on with round bits of tape. After seeing what was under there, I put them back on.
Step 3: Poking Around
Strip off the ends of a piece of spare wire, and plug your remote into your iPod. Test that the buttons still work, if you left them on. Now, try to follow the solid lines from the pads to the rest of the circuit to see if you can decipher it. Your goal is to try to follow the traces to a good soldering point.
I tried to find points that didn't have other electrical stuff (button pads, resistors, capacitors, chips, or wires) attached to them. Luckily, my remote had several through-holes that were perfect for this.
I made a sketch to try to figure out what was connected to what. My theory was that there would be a common ground for all the buttons (they would all be connected together) and there would be one trace going from each button through a resistor to the chip. I had planned for my glove's thumb to be connected to ground, and for each finger on the same hand to be a button, with two of the fingers having two buttons.
My theory about the circuit was WRONG! It seems that there are two "grounds" and three "positives". In other words, depending on which ground was connected with which positive, that trace would do 2 different things. So I ended up deciding to use 2 gloves. More on this later.
Still got that length of wire stripped at both ends? Good. Still sure you want to risk letting the magic smoke out of your electronics? Good. Start poking the points that you're thinking of soldering to see if you can get the remote to do its thing. If you fry your remote or your iPod, I'm sorry, but you knew what you were getting into, right? Draw a picture of your solder points, and take some notes on what needs to connect to what for each function to work.
Step 4: Soldering and Potting
I wanted just one cable coming out of the remote, with an easy-to-use connector on it. Luckily, I had a bin of junk electronic parts with just such a cable. It looks like a phone cord, but it has 6 wires inside. That's good, because I needed 5 of them.
By now, you should know what needs to touch what to make the remote do its thing. If not, you're not ready for this step and you should back up and do some more poking. But if you're ready, solder away! Of course, first unplug your iPod!!!
Try to apply as little heat as possible while still getting a good solder melt. You don't want to fry the microchip or have one of those tiny surface-mount resistors float loose.
If you're lucky, you will be able to notch out a space for your cable and reassemble the remote. Before you do this, test your new cable *and* the remote buttons to make sure everything works.
I was not so lucky... the backing wouldn't fit anymore. So I "potted" the whole thing in hot glue to stop anything from moving around. Before you do this, test your new cable and make sure everything works! At this point, I decided that if the glue flowed to the front side and stopped the old buttons from working, it would be okay. I also was careful to leave the audio jack open, but to seal up everything else in the interest of water resistance.
Are you done with the glue? Did you test your cable? Do all the functions still work? If you scored 3 yesses, you get a virtual high-five! Do the original buttons still work? Oh, yeah... high-ten! The scary part is over... unless you value your gloves.
Step 5: Get Your Sewing On!
Snip off a good length (a couple of feet or 2/3rds of a meter) of the conductive thread. Strip the end of a wire and tie the thread and copper together. Now add a touch of CA glue and let it dry. I tried soldering the thread to the wire, and all that did was melt the thread and set me up for some soldering iron tip cleaning. I found a knot and CA glue to be the best way to join these things. You might also use hot glue, but CA wicks and is neater. After the CA dries, check that the wire and thread still conduct nicely.
Then, sew a nice bead of thread onto your glove. Remember that it has to stick out enough for you to touch the contacts on the other glove with it, but you don't want it right on the fingertip where you might grab metal things (lift chair, ski pole, etc.).
I really like my gloves and wanted them to stay waterproof, especially at the fingertips since they frequently dig into the snow! Unfortunately, my glove liners don't come out so I ended up routing the wire on the outside. It's a nod to geek fashion and soft circuits. I did pull the liner away from the shell at the fingertips enough to make sure I didn't puncture it. Robert Gore's magic fabric need not fear me!
I flexed the fingers and sewed the wires to the outside of the glove with fishing line. If you want them more hidden than mine, use wires that match your glove color, or route them on the inside.
Step 6: Sewing, Part Deux
Now for the other glove. I though it would be cool to sew remote symbols onto the back of the glove, so that's what I did. I prepped my 3 conductive thread leads ahead of time using some computer hard drive ribbon cable. That stuff is nice because you can just peel off as many (or as few) strands as you need. The knot is to make sure they don't unravel any farther.
Make sure you snip the ends off the thread after gluing, and that the pads can't possibly touch each other on the inside or outside of the glove!
If you were curious, the Gore-Tex is still intact under there... it's on the liner, not the shell.
Step 7: Wire Up and Rock On!
So here's how my final system is connected. The cable coming out of the remote ends in a phone-jack type, 6-pin, male connector with just 5 pins in use. That way I can leave that thing dangling and still use the remote on its own. The remote and iPod now go in my inside jacket pocket.
From there, the new remote cable plugs into a jack that I took from an old phone (see picture below), which is connected to 2 wires. One goes up to my right shoulder and down the right sleeve to a 2-pin, female connector at the cuff. The other goes up to the right shoulder, across the back to the left shoulder, then down the sleeve to the left cuff, ending in a 3-pin, female connector. These all run on the inside of the jacket and go through loose hoops that I sewed into the jacket so they could be removed for jacket-washing. I also made sure they were long enough that I could put the jacket on top of lots of layers and still have complete freedom of movement without stretching or pulling them.
The right glove's wires end in a 2-pin, male coupler (I just used header pins left over from another project... see pictures below). The left glove's wires end in a 3-pin, male coupler that came off a car. It isn't exactly like the one in the picture below, but you get the idea.
Some important notes about all these couplers:
1) Couplers closest to the powered side should be female. The astute reader will note that I screwed that up in my 5-pin coupler. The reason for this is so that any contact with metal will not result in a short-circuit. In this case, though, I did so much poking around in that open remote that I know it is fairly indestructible.
2) Why all the different couplers? To eliminate the chance of wiring them up wrong, of course! Actually, they were what I had lying around... but the wiring thing makes sense too.
3) Make everything a little longer than you need it. You can always cut some out later if you need to, but adding length isn't as easy.
4) Always, always, always remember to cut, strip, apply heat shrink tubing, *then* solder. This is the first project that I haven't had to de-solder something to apply the forgotten heat shrink!
5) That first coupler is nice because it means I can make other buttons compatible with this remote... I just have to find more phone jacks. I could put it on bike handlebars. Or the back of my car steering wheel. Or on the outside of a backpack.
Step 8: All Done
Here's how it all works:
Right index finger to triangle = Play/Pause
Right index finger to dash = Volume Down
Right middle finger to dash = Volume Up
Right index finger tap to "skip" symbol = Previous Track
Right index finger hold to "skip" symbol = Rewind
Right middle finger tap to "skip" symbol = Next Track
Right middle finger hold to "skip" symbol = Fast-Forward
One final disclaimer: I have not tried these in the snow yet. Hopefully they work. I'll check back in December or January!
I hope you enjoyed this Instructable! As I said, I'm not an electrical engineer, so I know there are more elegant ways to do this. But for a $5 remote, some thread, and some wire, I'm pretty happy with my Remote Control iPod Gloves!
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