Smart Home

How to Make a Super Loud Email Ringer with LittleBits

Christian Cawley 20-07-2015

You left your phone on charge, but you have to work outside (perhaps on your car) and you’re expecting a very important email from Big Corporate Potential Employer.


There’s no way you want to miss that email.

What you need is a solution, and the littleBits Smart Home kit can help you out. We’ve already seen how it can help you remotely switch on lights How to Switch on Lights Remotely Using Cloudbit The littleBits Smart Home Kit does more than just look pretty. It is a fully-functioning DIY smart home solution. We can use the kit with a remotely-activated light switch with ease. Read More and other hardware, but what can this kit do to alert you to an important email?

An Outdoor Alarm

The solution is simple in concept, and ingenious in execution. It’s a sort of mashup of the old outdoors phone ringer, mounted on the side of walls at industrial installations, auto repair garages, coach stations, etc., and an IFTTT recipe.

In the middle of this is the littleBits Smart Home kit, specifically the USB power, MP3 Player, cloudBit and synth speaker modules (also known as bits). You’ll also need some shoes (for the littleBits, not your feet) and the USB power adaptor, as well as a large external speaker.

Before you get started, however, you’ll need to choose just how you would like to be alerted to your Very Important Message.


Choosing an MP3 for Your Alert

You’ll need an MP3 file for the alert, so choose something suitable. It might be a heraldic chime, guitar chord, or something else recognizable. Alternatively, you might opt for a pseudo AI solution, one that declares to all and sundry that “You’ve got mail”.

But where can you find a suitable MP3 file? A browse of the web should reveal sound clips and sound boards that you can use to download something suitable. If the clip is too long, use an MP3 clipping tool, or even something a little more feature-packed like Audacity 7 Audacity Tips for Better Audio Editing on a Budget Here are several useful Audacity tips that will make your life much easier when editing audio, especially if you're on a budget. Read More (ideal for virtually any desktop audio recording or editing project) to trim it down.


With this done, copy the MP3 to the microSD card which should already be inserted in the MP3 Player bit. This is ejected with a push-push spring system, and will probably need to be inserted into a microSD card Make The Most Out Of Your MicroSD Cards Read More adaptor before you slip it into your desktop computer. Copy the MP3 to the root directory of the microSD card, and when you’re done, eject safely Do You Really Need to Eject Your Flash Drive (or Device) Before Removing It? It's well known that USB flash drives are supposed to be ejected before removing them. But do you really still need to do this? What happens if you don't? Read More  and replace it in the MP3 Player bit.


Connect Your LittleBits Smart Home Modules


Next is the simple bit. Place the USB power, cloudBit, MP3 Player, and synth speaker bits on a flat surface or work area, and connect them all up. Plug in the USB power cable, and test the MP3 player is working correctly. You should find that the chosen MP3 plays – if not, ensure the player’s switch is set to Once Mode.


By now, the cloudBit should have synced to your local wireless network (see our review for more on setting up the cloudBit littleBits Smart Home Kit Review and Giveaway littleBits Smart Home Kit is a collection of magnetized modules that can be arranged to create simple circuits. Read More ), so open up the website on your smartphone or desktop computer and press the big purple button on the Send screen.



This should result in your littleBits build playing back the MP3, which you should be able to hear through the synth speaker.

Use IFTTT to Prompt Automatic Email Alerts

Head to and if you don’t already have an account, sign up.

Next, open the IFTTT Gmail Channel page and Connect it to your IFTTT account. Follow this by adding this recipe for email alerts.



When an email is received in your IFTTT-connected The Ultimate IFTTT Guide: Use the Web's Most Powerful Tool Like a Pro If This Then That, also known as IFTTT is a free web-based service to get your apps and devices working together. Not sure how to build your applet? Follow along with this guide. Read More inbox from the specified email address, the cloudBit will be sent a message and the MP3 will play. Try it out by setting it up first with an email from a secondary account to confirm that the MP3 plays.

Once you’re done testing, replace with the email address that you’re expecting something important from.

It’s Not Loud Enough!

No doubt you’ve noticed that the MP3 player module isn’t quite loud enough to let you hear the alert outside. You have two options here: take the littleBit project outside with you (ideal if you are in range of your wireless Internet connection) or attach a loudspeaker.

Naturally you’ll need speakers with a compatible jack, so if you don’t have anything on hand, use a standard surround sound or even PC speakers. Depending on the size, these might be dangled out of a window or even fixed to a wall. In fact, if you have a PA system that you have access to, you might even connect the littleBits smart home project into this…

Planning to build this completely over the top email alert system? Let me know if you have any questions!

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