Amazing quad pick and place system tirelessly sorts your Legos


[Chris] is quite the devoted tinkerer. He recently wrote in to share what can only be described as a labor of love. His Quad Delta Robot system has been in the works for about six years now, split into periods of research, building, more research, and rebuilding until arriving at its current form.

The system is made up of four Lego NXT robots which are tasked with sorting Lego cubes by color as they come down a pair of conveyer belts. The robots were built to mimic commercially available pick and place robots which can be found on assembly lines all over the world.

Each robot operates independently, receiving signals via a light sensor which tells the robot where the next brick is located, as well as what color it is. This data is sent by the main NXT unit, which uses a lights sensor to determine brick color and position, relaying the information to the other bots via flashing LEDs. All of the robots receive the same signal, but much like NIC cards ignore frames not destined for their MAC, the bots ignore messages that are not addressed to them.

The machine is truly amazing to watch – it’s clear that all of [Chris'] research and planning has paid off. You have to check out the video embedded below to truly appreciate all of the work that went into this system. Also, be sure to swing by his site for a far more in-depth look at how the machines work, it is definitely worth the time.

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Trackuino – an Open Source Arduino APRS Tracker

trackuino board

Trackuino is a new open source (GPLv2 license) Arduino APRS tracker designed by [Javier Martin]. If you are unfamiliar: APRS (Automatic Packet Reporting System) is an amateur radio method used to relay small packets of position-tracking data to an online database for easy access and mapping. In this case, GPS telemetry data is used to track latitude, longitude, altitude, course, speed, and time measurements in near real-time via

Although this reminds us of the WhereAVR that we covered previously, the Trackuino includes an onboard radio so no external handheld unit is necessary. Since the Trackuino was designed primarily for high-altitude balloon tracking, a number of useful related features are also included: dual temperature sensors, support for a humidity sensor, and a remote “cut-down” trigger really make this a complete package.

Initially there was some concern that the 300mW radio used would not be powerful enough to reach the ground-based receivers from peak altitudes. This was clearly not an issue however, as the signal was heard from nearly 600Km away during the maiden voyage. If this still doesn’t sound like enough power, a 500mW radio is also supported.

Make sure to check out [Javier]’s blog for some amazing high-altitude photos and everything needed to get your own Trackuino up and running in no time!

Thanks [Brad]!

Larson scanner using 7400 series logic hardware

[RandomTask] is sharing a Larson scanner he built a few decades ago. These days you can whip one of these up using an Arduino in under an hour. He mentions this, but we agree that for nostalgic purposes there’s nothing like implementing the scanning LED effect using hardware.

Often called a Cylon Eye (after the television show Battlestar Gallactica) or referred to as the lights on the front of Kitt (the car from Knight Rider), the effect doesn’t just involve switching LEDs on and off in the proper order. A true Larson Scanner fades the LEDs as the bright point moves away from them, resulting in a tail that dims over time.

This implementation uses a 555 timer as the clock signal, allowing for speed control through a potentiometer. A counter chip, J-K flipflop, and line decoder all work with each other to address the movement of the brightest light. The fading effect is managed via a capacitor and resistor for each LED. The video after the break shows the pleasing result of this setup.

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Capacitive touch sensor shield for the TI Launchpad

Texas Instruments just released a product they call the Capacitive Touch Boosterpack which is basically a touch-sensitive shield for the Launchpad. The video after the break shows an unboxing and demonstration of the product which TI is launching with a $4.30 limited-time price tag. The red PCB itself has a capacitive touch button in the center, surrounded by a touch-scroll wheel, which is centered in a proximity senor that takes up the rest of the board. There are also nine LEDs which look like they’re soldered on the underside of the board, through routed holes that mount them flush with the top surface. The pack also comes with a new MSP430 microcontroller, the G2452, which has 8 KB of flash memory and takes care of calibrating, reading, and processing signals from the board thanks to the software package that goes along with the add-on kit.

Looks quite nice. There’s a heck of a lot of information in the documentation for this hardware. We do wish it was a bit easier to find board layout information, but we’re sure it’s there somewhere.

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Interactive sun exhibit uses 3D projection screen and Kinect

A few common components come together to make this interactive museum exhibit that teaches about the sun (translated). It uses three main physical components to pull this off. The first is a custom projection surface. It’s a hemisphere of the sun with a slice cut out of it. This is presumably coated with the paint you’d use to turn a wall into a projection surface. Software translates a projected image to map correctly on the topographic surface, resulting in what you see above, with a Kinect for user input.

Take a look at the video embedded after the break to see how the exhibit works. It instructs patrons to stand on a pair of footprint markers on the floor. This positions them at the proper range from a Kinect depth camera, which translates their outline into cursor commands. By moving a hand around they can explore the different parts of the sun.

We’re in love with how easy this type of interaction is becoming. Granted, there’s a fair amount of work that goes into to the coding for the project, but the physical build is quick and relatively inexpensive.

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iPhone watching every breath you take, every move you make


Most people tend to enjoy a certain modicum of privacy. Aside from the data we all share willingly on the web in the form of forum posts, Twitter activity, etc., people generally like keeping to themselves.

What would you think then, if you found out your iPhone (or any iDevice with 3G) was tracking and logging your every movement?

That’s exactly what two researchers from the UK are claiming. They state that the phone is constantly logging your location using cell towers, placing the information into a timestamped database. That database is not encrypted, and is copied to your computer each time you sync with iTunes. Additionally, the database is copied back to your new phone should you ever replace your handset.

We understand that many iPhone apps use location awareness to enhance the user experience, and law enforcement officials should be able to pull data from your phone if necessary – we’re totally cool with that. However, when everywhere you have been is secretly logged in plaintext without any sort of notification, we get a bit wary. At the very least, Apple should consider encrypting the file.

While this data is not quite as sensitive as say your Social Security number or bank passwords, it is dangerous in the wrong hands just the same. Even a moderately skilled thief, upon finding or swiping an iPhone, could easily dump the contents and have a robust dataset showing where you live and when you leave – all the makings of a perfect home invasion.

Continue reading to see a fairly long video of the two researchers discussing their findings.

[Image courtesy of Engadget]

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Zork on the Microtouch

[Rossum] just finished porting Zork over to the Microtouch. This hardware, which he originally designed, is now available for purchase through Adafruit. It’s a tiny 320×240 TFT touchscreen, driven by an AVR ATmega32u4 microcontroller. The device draws power from a lithium battery, and also boast a USB connection and a MicroSD slot.

The hack here is getting Zork to run with the limited resources available on the device. [Rossum] needed to emulate the Z80 processor, but didn’t want to use extra hardware in the way that [Sprite_TM] did when he emulated a Z80 using an AVR. Instead, this is based on a stripped-down implementation of Frotz. The final code is too big to fit on the chip along side of the bootloader. This means you’ll need to use an ISP programmer in order to flash this example to the chip. We’re pretty sure that AVRdude can program the ATmega32u4, so pretty much any ISP (including an Arduino) can be used to do the programming.