Ethos and Backstory

A project log for Positivity Pusher | infinite affirmation generator

Hear a new encouraging phrase with every push

stephSteph 05/03/2023 at 07:410 Comments

Simple Access to Complicated Systems

While designing the speech and thought synthesis system for a robot radio show host, I discovered rather accidentally that the GPT3 AI text generation model, when properly prompted, was capable of providing wholesome personalized affirmations. 

Friends who met the robot and received an affirmation from it were genuinely touched by its tender words. They expressed a desire for something that they could incorporate into their daily lives and interact with directly to produce these encouragements and kind works. The Positivity Pusher is the result. The first four were built as holiday gifts and presented to recipients in late 2022.

Here are some important factors that shaped the design.

Avoid New Parts When Possible

Since the Positivity Pusher is meant to inspire warm and positive thinking, it's design attempts to avoid materials which might invoke negative feelings due to social or environmental impact.  Consider the benefits of used and second hand materials:

The button:

The Positivity Pusher is based on recordable buttons often used in pet training. The owner will record a short message on the button like "Walk" or "Treats," in the hopes that the animal will learn each button's meaning, and use them to communicate with the owner. 

In cases where the animal turns out to be of the more traditional non-verbal variety, these buttons often end up in flea markets and thrift stores or returned to  big online retailers. 

A quick search online as I'm writing this revealed two sets posted for sale online near me within the last 24 hours alone:

There seems to be an abundant supply of these buttons in the used market. 

Choose a used unit and feel no guilt about unsustainable manufacturing!

The brains:

The original four Positivity Pushers were each fitted with second-hand Raspberry Pi Pico W microcontrollers. These have since proven to be harder to acquire used than the buttons, but it is possible! I scour places for local reselling like OfferUp and Craigslist. The Pico W costs just $6 new, so buying a used model often costs just as much (or more) as a used one.

The Positivity Pusher uses very few of the available GPIO on the Pico W, and which pins you choose to use is very flexible. As such, a Positivity Pusher can be a great way to reuse units that have some broken or burnt-out pins and can't be used for their original purpose.

If you're up for some code modification, other microcontrollers with WIFI, like the ESP32 line, might be more readily available used, and should work just fine. 

The batteries:

The Positivity Pusher can run on any type of AAA battery: alkaline, rechargeable or lithium. The best lifespan comes from lithium, but these are not reusable. If using non-rechargeables, the batteries will still have some charge left  over even when they can't run the button anymore, so they can can be re-deployed for second duty in low-consumption devices like remote controls. 

The Basics:

The rest of the components in the Positivity Pusher are simple and inexpensive: one transistor and one LED. Both can be easily salvaged from other broken electronics at no cost.