Inventive grandson builds Telegram messaging machine for 96-year-old grandmother

Making sure elders can keep in contact with children and grandchildren has never been more important in a time of global lockdown. That’s why Twitter user @mrcatacroquer, Manuel Lucio Dallo, built the Yayagram — a DIY project that makes sending and receiving voice and text messages over Telegram a physical process just like using an old-fashioned phone switchboard.

It’s important, of course, not to generalize about the ability of older generations to get to grips with new technology. But speaking from personal experience, I know my own grandparents struggled with the digital interfaces of modern phones and smartphones. They much preferred physical buttons and switches to apps and touchscreens.

That’s why the Yayagram is so compelling (“Yaya” is slang for “granny” in Castillean, says Dallo, “a warm way to refer to your grandmother”). To send a message, the user physically plugs in a cable next to the recipient’s name. They then press and hold a button to record audio and speak into the integrated microphone. The message then appears on the recipient’s phone like a regular voice note. And when the operator of the Yayagram receives a text message, it’s printed off using a built-in thermal printer.

Dallo, who’s a senior engineer for software firm Plastic SCM, goes into some detail about how the device was made in this Twitter thread. It’s powered by a Raspberry Pi 4, runs on Python, and uses several third-party software libraries to tie everything together. The microphone is a cheap USB one and the printer similar to those used in cashier tills. He notes that he chose to use Telegram rather than WhatsApp or another messaging service as it’s more open (and he doesn’t like Facebook).

Dallo said his grandmother is 96 and lives with his parents in Burgos, a city in Spain where he also resides. He says he was inspired to build the device because of the pandemic lockdowns. “Most of the grandchildren live outside of Burgos and because of covid movement restrictions they can’t visit us and her,” said Dallo.

Dallo adds that his grandmother is hard of hearing, which makes regular phone calls and video calls difficult. The Yayagram, by comparison, gives her the independence to make and receive messages by herself. “It empowers her and builds communication bridges with the rest of her grandchildren who are not lucky enough to live nearby,” he says.