Eyes, JAPAN Blog > Office tuning and gadgets 2021

Office tuning and gadgets 2021

Peter Kudry

The year of 2021 will be slowly coming to an end and as we reminisce about things that happened throughout the year with our loved ones, in front of a Christmas tree, wrapped in warm blanket and with smell of cinnamon tea in the air ; We would like to do the same about hardware side-projects we implemented during 2021 and reminisce a little.

So before you continue reading, make a cup of your favourite coffee or tea, and make yourself comfortable. It will be holiday season soon after all.

Let’s start with a revival of an older project;

The Fukushima Wheel

Couple of years ago, Eyes, JAPAN created the Fukushima wheel project which presented a new smart bike with multiple features.

“FUKUSHIMA Wheel, smart bike for hipsters featuring environmental sensors to measure live city data such as temperature, humidity, CO, NOX, radiation and so on. Gyrostabilized LEDs on the wheels display location/time-based advertisements all over the city and make this program profitable. Our App encourages sharing, dynamic pricing, navigation and shop coupons. Our mission reinvents the business model of share bike, last one mile mobility, way of sustainability, environmental sensing by citizen science, prevention from bike theft and vandalism.”

Source: Fukushima wheel home page

As this project is not canon any more, we decided to revive one of the remaining units in form of a display piece in one of the meeting rooms.

Fukushima Wheel

Fukushima Wheel Stand

Smartifying a bell alarm system from 1973

The building where Eyes, JAPAN operates from has been originally built sometime in the 60s with the main purpose of housing main telephone switch panels for the Aizuwakamatsu area. Later, it became the main hub for dial-up internet connection and now it serves the same purpose, as an Internet Service Provider (ISP) area hub, but for FLET’S HIKARI optical internet services.

As one can imagine, a building with such important role in communication networks, safety was, and still is, one of the most important operational factors especially in terms of fire prevention. However, in case fire did occur, it was crucial to react swiftly and extinguish any fire to minimize damage to the network. Therefore a quite elaborative fire alarm was put in place, which has also been directly connected to the local fire station. This system, however, has been long replaced with newer and more reliable systems, but remnants of the old system could still be found on the premises.

One such remnant is still present in our main office which served as a control room in the past. It would be sad and wasteful to eradicate such vintage piece of history, so we decided to revive the alarm bells and smartify them.

Overall, the bells were in great condition for their age and even the old wiring, its insulation and striker coils were still functional so we decided to only clean and polish the gongs.

Fire alarm bell system from 1972

Fire alarm bell system from 1972

However, the bell controllers were missing completely, so we implemented our own in a form of a relay array controlled by an ESP32 DevKit board running ESPHome. The board’s power delivery is handled by a stripped phone charger with input of 100VAC and output of 5VDC. Power delivery requirements of the bells vary, but 2 of them require 48VAC and one 48VDC. As the main power source is an AC step-down converter from 100VAC to 48VAC, the middle bell has bridge rectifier between the coil and a relay to convert AC to DC. Furthermore, the step-down converter’s output is only enabled under load so when all bells are off, output voltage is 0. To protect the bells from voltage spikes upon relay actuation and load being applied on converter, we simply added a small lightbulb which serves as a dummy load to ensure that the converter outputs 48VAC at all times.

Bell system controller

Bell system controller

The ESP32 board connects over Wi-Fi to a Raspberry Pi running Home Assistant OS. The Pi functions as a main control hub of all IoT-enabled devices in our office. Hence it is quite easy to automate behaviour of various gadgets, as well as set up various schedule-driven triggers for the bell system.

Smartifying a broadcast speaker from 1970s

As described in the previous section, the building in which Eyes, JAPAN resides had various systems from previous century left behind. Another system was a broadcasting system but unfortunately, the only remainder of this was a single speaker with 8 Ohm impedance. As this was the only piece left, we decided to transform this speaker to a portable one with Bluetooth connectivity and give it a second life in 21st century.

The original speaker driver was in a good shape, however the enclosure had evident signs of its age. The first step was to sand off the old, yellowed paint and give the enclosure couple of fresh coats of milky white paint to preserve the vintage aesthetics. Furthermore, we added a beige leather handle originally meant for a guitar amplifier combo.

Inside, we added new acoustic insulation, power bank with various input and output capabilities, as well as a Bluetooth receiver with integrated amplifier.

Overall, new speaker has the following features:

  • Charging of various devices via USB Type-A or Type-C
  • Bluetooth music playback
  • Playtime of about 12 hours
Smartified speaker front

Smartified speaker front


Smartified speaker back

Smartified speaker back

Reverse steering bicycle

At Eyes, JAPAN, each Thursday evening, we hold a weekly meeting where each employee presents their progress, challenges and plans for next week. This update meeting is followed by a so-called ‘Study Session’ where one of the employee prepares a 30-minutes-long presentation about practically any topic. One of the presentations referenced the following video about ‘The Backwards Brain Bicycle” by Smarter Every Day:

It intrigued us so much that we decided to build our own “Reversed Bicycle” and put a bounty/reward of 10,000 Yen (about 100 USD) for anyone who can ride it for 5 meters or more.

The build process of this bicycle began with sourcing of appropriate parts, especially the cog wheels and exactly 22.2mm outer diameter pipe as a replacement for the existing handle bars stem in the steering collar. Then we saw off a steering column from an old bicycle and welded it onto the bicycle we wanted to convert. After couple coats of white spray paint, our very own reversed steering bicycle was born.


Reversed steering bicycle

Reversed steering bicycle


Reversed steering column

Reversed steering column

In conclusion, the year 2021 has been quite fruitful in terms of fun hardware projects and building unique office gadgets. Each of the gadgets we described in this “introductory” blog post will be described to further details and build instructions in future posts made by Peter.

So do not forget to keep your eyes out for these!


And lastly the entirety of Eyes, JAPAN wishes you Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and peacefully spent holiday season in your circle of loved ones.

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