IPod Information Screen Rev. 2




Introduction: IPod Information Screen Rev. 2

About: A materials scientist gone electrical engineer my hobbies include experimenting with electronics and making fun and interesting things. I rarely know what I'm doing when I start a project, but learning new s...
I'm not usually one to revisit a project after I've finished it, but I made an exception because the problems with the original design were making this device unpleasant to use. For those of you just now viewing this project, it is the second iteration of an iPod information screen I made for my girlfriend a little over a year ago (see https://www.instructables.com/id/iPod-Information-Screen/). While she liked the first iteration, it left much to be desired in terms of functionality and appearance. This iteration addresses some of the biggest issues and makes for a better and more pleasant to use device.

This has been tested and works with the following iDevices. And I suspect it will work with any earlier generations also:
  • iPod Touch 1st, 3rd,  4th generation
  • iPhone 3GS

A quick introduction to what exactly this is:
My girlfriend, a huge music buff, asked me to come up with a better way for her to look at the track information of the current song playing on her iPod touch while she was using it in the car. Those of you that have or have had an iPod touch know that it's not the easiest thing to read while driving. To see the song information you have to double tap the home button and then still the text is extremely small. Also, controlling playback is difficult as the iPod touch has no tactile buttons so it requires the user to look at the screen to find the location of the soft buttons.

My solution was to construct a device that would interface with the iPod and take the song information and then display it on a screen somewhere within easy view of the driver. After quite a bit of work and research I finally arrived at the product you see here. My iPod information screen displays the song title, artist, album, song time, and play/pause symbol. It provides skip back, skip forward, and play/pause playback control as well as charges the iPod.

The video is from the first revision, but it still shows the functionality.

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Step 1: New Design Considerations

For me, updating this project was a great study in design. I learned a lot not only about how to make this better, but also knowledge I can apply to future projects. In this step I'm going to go through major design goals and my reasoning behind them.

1. Make Main Unit Smaller
The main unit is the assembly that houses the screen, buttons, and Arduino. The original design used female headers that added significant thickness to the assembly and the board layout made the the assembly unnecessarily tall.

2.  Better Main Unit Enclosure Aesthetics
I'll admit it, the first iteration of this project was ugly. The black box was unattractive and the holes had uneven edges and weren't the right size. Also, I had an old windshield suction cup mount that I hacked together something to make it stay on the windshield. It involved a lot of velcro and didn't work very well. This time I wanted to make sure the unit attached directly to the mount.

3. Power Switch
The first iteration had no power switch. You turned it on and off by plugging and unplugging the USB cable that provided power. This is a hassle to a user who wishes to leave the device plugged up, yet still wants to turn it off.

4. Better Connection to iPod
The iPod connector breakout I used originally was large and it was difficult to make look nice with all the wires going to it. Another problem was that all the wires I used to connect the connector to the interface board were solid core and very rigid. Wrapping them in electrical take was another mistake. It was hard to put the iPod where you wanted it.

Note: A lot of people have mentioned that some sort of volume control would be good to add. As it turns out when the iPod is controlled through the method used in this instructable, volume control is disabled. I suspect this is because this mode is meant to be used with some other device controlling all playback functionality remotely and so volume would be controlled with the device. In this case, volume is controlled with the car stereo's volume control.

Step 2: The Research

This is a necessary first step to any project. The following is taken from the original Instructable so that you don't have to find that one to have access to these resources.

The first step in making this device was to find out if it was even possible. I had never even really given interfacing with an iPod much thought before this and I had no idea if protocols publicly existed to do so.

One of the first websites I came across when researching was a Cornell senior design website that detailed the development of an iPod dock that took and sent commands to an iPod. The site, https://courses.cit.cornell.edu/ee476/FinalProjects/s2007/awr8_asl45/awr8_asl45/index.html, was very helpful in detailing the necessary connections, but most importantly it showed that this was in deed possible to do.

I came across several more resources, and then stumbled upon my primary resource. I found David Findlay's blog, http://davidfindlay.org/weblog/files/2009_09_07_ipod_remote.php, and on it he talked about his development of an iPod remote and an Arduino library that handled all the iPod interfacing in a very simple way. This is the library I used in my project.

I also found this website useful outlining the Apple Accessory Protocol, https://nuxx.net/wiki/Apple_Accessory_Protocol. It's not really necessary to understand as David's library handles this behind the scenes, but I thought it was good to know and it may be useful for other applications.

Step 3: Components and Parts

  • Arduino Pro Mini (I did some prototyping with an UNO)
  • PodBreakout Mini
  • Push Buttons
  • Graphical LCD (I'm using the MONOCHRON from Adafruit)
  • 10k Contrast Potentiometer
  • USB Mini Connector
  • 3.5mm Audio Jack
  • Rocker Switch
  • Green LED
  • 150k Ohm Resistor
  • 100 Ohm Resistor
  • 1k Ohm Resistor (3x)
  • 1M Ohm Resistor (2x)
  • 33k Ohm Resistor (2x)
  • 22k Ohm Resistor
  • 47k Ohm Resistor
  • Male Headers
  • Wire
I got almost everything from Sparkfun.com.

The main unit enclosure I had 3-D printed by shapeways.com, more on that later. The interface enclosure in just a small project box from Radio shack.

Printed Circuit Boards
There are three boards in total. I had one manufactured by Seeed Studio and the other two I etched myself. I will talk more about these later. 

You'll need basic electronic tools like wire stripper, cutter, plyers, soldering iron, etc. 

Step 4: The Hardware

Since I'm using an Arduino the circuit is simplified as all the components to make the microcontroller run are on the Arduino board. The remaining connections are just attaching wires and resistors. The pinouts of the iPod connector is, of course, very important to know and can be found here: http://pinouts.ru/PortableDevices/ipod.shtml.

The connections that need to be made are detailed next to each pin on the website above. Also, the websites I've listed earlier in this Instructable talk about them too. I'm also going to touch on it. The Fritzing drawing should help clarify any confusion with the EagleCAD schematics shown.

The LCD display uses the KS0108 chip popular to a lot of LCDs. There is a library for Arduino called GLCD. This takes most of the pins from the Arduino. For proper connections I'll refer you to the documentation that comes with the library. A link to the library will be provided in the next step.

The serial transmit TX and receive RX, pins 1 and 0 respectively, go to the serial lines of the iPod. Be sure TX of the Arduino goes to RX of the iPod and vice-versa. That is, Arduino pin 1 to iPod connector pin 18 and Arduino pin 0 to iPod connector pin 19. Since the iPod operates at about 3V and the Arduino operates at 5V we need to use a voltage divider on the Arduino's transmit line. That's what the 1k Ohm resistors are for. Technically, I should be using a level shifter, but I found that it worked fine without it and the Arduino has no problem with receiving the incoming 3V data.

The remaining connections are for buttons.

Pin 21 of the iPod connector will be connected to ground through a 500k Ohm resistor, or in my case I used two 1M Ohm resistors in parallel. Connector pins 25 and 27 control how the iPod charges. If we put 2.8V on pin 25 and 2.0v on pin 27 we can get the iPod to draw about 1A and charge the battery. The is accomplished by simple voltage division as can be seen in the second schematic.

All other connections are just straight connections. See the schematic and pinouts.

Step 5: The Software

I am assuming you're somewhat familiar with C programming as well as working with an Arduino.

You will need the following libraries to successfully compile the attached code: For how these are used I'll refer you to the documentation that comes with each. David does a great job explaining out to use his iPodSerial library, so check it out to better understand how it works; the link again is http://davidfindlay.org/weblog/files/2009_09_07_ipod_remote.php

The code that actually runs the iPod Information Screen is attached. I'm using the Advanced Remote as defined by the iPodSerial library. It handles translating user input from the buttons and putting information up on the screen, while the iPodSerial library handles talking to the iPod. I'm not going to go through the code here, but you can download it and take a look for yourself. I is well commented and should be easy to understand if you're familiar with C and the Arduino.

Step 6: Designing the PCBs

As previously mentioned, there are three PCBs that I needed to create for this project. One board, what I refer to as the "main" board, connects to the Arduino and screen and is essentially a backpack to the LCD screen. Another board is a small board that simply has the push buttons on it. And the last board, the "interface" board, connects to the iPod and has the USB and audio jack on it.

The main board's dimensions were designed around the screen. The button board was designed around the buttons. And the interface board was designed to fit inside the Radio Shack enclosure.

Since the main board had a lot of connections and needed to be double sided, I had it manufacture by Seeed Studio. I can decently etch single sided PCBs but it wasn't worth the the hassle to try and do a double-sided board myself. The button and interface boards could be made one sided so I decided to etch those myself and save some money. I'm not going to talk about etching boards here but if you want to try your hand at it there are several good instructables that cover it in great detail.

EagleCAD files are attached.

Step 7: Designing the Main Unit Enclosure

If there's one word of advice I can give to any maker, it's design. Design makes projects proceed so much smoother. I knew that the only way I could achieve the look I wanted for the device was to put time into designing. And so I did. I modeled everything in SolidWorks and designed an enclosure that achieved all of my design goals.

Once I had a design, I had it 3-D printed by shapeways.com. It was a bit costly but allowed me get exactly what I wanted. And not having to waste a lot of time and frustration on cobbling something together and still not having exactly what I wanted was worth the cost right there. Something worth mentioning is why the enclosure is now white instead of black. I found that placing a black box in the windshield of a care wasn't the best idea- as you can probably imagine it got quite hot. My hopes is that the white enclosure will reflect most of the sunlight and prevent excess heat. It also looks pretty sleek if I do say so myself.

I'm including the SolidWorks files so you can take a look at them and see exactly what the enclosure looks like. If you don't have SolidWorks don't worry, you can download a free file viewer from http://www.edrawingsviewer.com/ed/download.htm

Step 8: Putting It All Together

Once I had everything manufactured, putting the whole thing together was just a matter of soldering, drilling holes, and tightening some screws. The assembly went surprisingly well and I suspect that's a result of the time I took to do proper design.

Step 9: Using the Device

Using the iPod Information Screen is simple. Just hook up the USB from your car charger, the audio to your AUX input, and the iPod. Flip the switch to on; power is indicated by the LED. Next press the connection button on the main unit and you should have control of the iPod. Then it's just as simple as using the most common playback controls.

I'm extremely happy with the updates to this project. It looks great and works great and I learned a lot from the whole process. And most importantly my girlfriend loves it even more.

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    12 Discussions


    Question 1 year ago

    Is there a way to make bypass the conect button by making it conect on power on? I am trying to make a version that will mount on my motorcycle to replace the tape deck.


    4 years ago

    Hello everyone,

    I think the PodBreakout Mini no longer produced. Did you know where we could find some equivalent part?


    Reply 1 year ago

    There are plenty of 30 pin dock connectors on ebay but you will have to make connections directly to the pins.


    6 years ago on Introduction

    if i want to use an iphone 5, i just have to use a lightning to 30-pin adapter? or i will have to change the project?


    6 years ago

    Very interesting and useful project! I have a slightly different problem for the medical device, called accommodometer in which I want to use the iPod to display images. Can you, as a person who has experience in managing iPod, say it is possible to control the display of pictures to my iPod nano?

    I love what you've done here! Just another idea...is it possible to plug in your iPod into the top of the display? Or isn't there enough room to put the electronics? Then have one cable running to the car's power?


    6 years ago

    Sorry if I don't quite understand how you have the cords all set up, but I'm assuming the most simple setup for this would be one cable running from the iPod to the display and then an AUX cable and a 12V DC (cigarette lighter) power cord from the device to the car.
    Once again I apologize if this is basically what your setup is, I'm just trying to figure it all out from your pic.

    13, 4:17 PM.jpg

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    That's more or less what's going on. Instead of all the cables going straight to the display, I have a smaller enclosure that connects with a cable to the display. That enclosure houses a PCB that has a 3.5mm audio jack and a mini USB port for power. (I had a cigarette lighter converter that provides 5V via USB). The iPod also connects to that board. My reasoning behind connecting everything like that is I wanted to have just have one cable running to the screen that's mounted on the windshield and all the other cables connect away from the dash board eliminating clutter and distraction. Does that make sense?


    6 years ago

    Great works.