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2012/11/05

Hacking NTP into an Alarm Clock - Talking Through A Problem

Photo by  Douglas Heriot. Thanks.
In my life, there are very few clocks I rely on, and few of them need me to manually set them. The ones in my computers are connected to the network and use NTP to stay correct. My phone syncs to the phone network, which isn't quite as accurate as NTP, which can cause problems for flashmobs but is within tolerances for my daily life. The clocks with my cable boxes similarly connect outside of themselves to keep correct time.

There are three that I can think of that need manual maintenance: my watch, my car and my alarm clock.

My watch is an analog self-winding Seiko watch and I really don't think it is hackable. I have never really trusted in-car timepieces, so while driving, I'll check my watch or my phone. This leaves my alarm clock.

For me, I don't set the alarm, so that's almost a wash. But I might want to set it up for one. So, an alarm clock has 
  • An LED display
  • A speaker
  • A snooze button
  • Other buttons for different purposes
  • Stuff to be cleared out to make room for my stuff.
It strikes me that, if there was something that could do NTP within the case, the only issue is knowing where it is, and you could use IP Location lookup (like IPLocation.net ) to figure out where you are, and determine time zones from there. That is, if all the smarts are within your alarm clock, which doesn't have to be true.

The snooze button is a switch like any other, so you could easily connect them to whatever electronics project you put together, and we're talking just a few LEDs and four seven-segment displays, so driving the display itself should be easy enough. One alarm clock hack I saw went to 24-hour time rather than learning how to drive the AM/PM light, which is fair enough.

If this ends up being an Arduino project, you could write your alarm to the speaker output yourself, but if you use an MP3 shield or go Raspberry Pi, it would be just as easy to use an audio file for your alarm. And, once you factor in the $80 for a WIFI shield vs the $10-20 or so for one that plugs into your Raspberry Pi, the Pi solution seems less and less overkill.

So, this seems like a doable thing. Is there anything I'm missing?