Hacklet 121 – Tea Hacks

Last week on the Hacklet I covered coffee hacks. Not everyone likes coffee though. A good portion of the world’s population enjoys a nice cup of tea. Different cultures are rather particular with how they prepare their drink of choice. Americans tend to use teabags, while British, Chinese (and much of the rest of the globe) generally prefer loose tea leaves. Everyone has their own particular style, which has led to quite a few tea hacks. This week’s Hacklet is all about some of the best tea projects on Hackaday.io!

teapiWe start with [James P.] and Tea Pi. Tea Pi is designed to emulate commercial tea makers costing hundreds of dollars. The heart of the operation is a Raspberry Pi, making this one of the first Linux powered tea makers we’ve ever heard of. An Adafruit PowerSwitch Tail allows the Pi to control a standard tea kettle. The Pi monitors water temperature with a DS18B20 temperature sensor. A simple servo drops a tea basket into the water for brewing. When the time is up, the servo pulls the basket up and the tea is ready to serve. [James P] planned to add voice control to his tea creation. I’m betting that would be pretty easy with Amazon’s voice services for the Raspberry Pi.

eyeoteaNext up is [Tom] with Eye-O-Tea. With this project, even your cup of tea can join the Internet of Things. Eye-O-Tea essentially is a web connected coaster with temperature monitoring built right in. Temperature is measured with a Melexis MLX90615 IR thermometer. An Arduino Pro Mini reads the temperature and passes it on to an ESP8266 WiFi module. The entire device is powered by a LiPo battery, and neatly housed in a gutted cup warmer. On the cloud side, [Tom] used ThinkSpeak and freeboard.io to make an interface he can access with his cell phone. If his tea is too hot, Eye-O-Tea will let him know. It will also send him an SMS if he’s forgotten his cup and it’s going cold.

chaiNext we have [Adrian] and ChaiBot. Chaibot was created by [Adrian’s] son [Oliver] to combat a common problem. Both father and son would pour cups of tea, then get involved in a project. By the time they came back, they had ink. ChaiBot steeps the tea for a set amount of time, stirring every minute. The mechanics of the project came from an old CD-ROM drive. A PIC16F887 runs the show, ensuring the steep time is accurate, and activating the motor drive. When the tea is done, an ESP8266 sends a push notification to the user’s phone. The project is housed in a wooden case that fits perfectly on the kitchen counter.

inductFinally, we have [Siggi] with Camper Induction Cooker, a 2016 Hackaday Prize entry. [Siggi] needed hot liquids on the go, but he didn’t want to fool around with heating elements. An induction heater was the way to go. A Cypress PSOC micro controls the system. Metal travel style mugs can be used without modification. For ceramic or plastic mugs, a metal washer (hopefully coated with something food safe) acts as an immersion heater. The project is definitely a bit unwieldy at the moment, but I could see [Siggi’s] idea being incorporated into automotive cup holders. [Siggi] put his project on hold back in June. I hope seeing his work on the front page will get development moving again.

If you want to see more tea projects, check out our new tea projects list. See a project I might have missed? Don’t be shy, just drop me a message on Hackaday.io. That’s it for this week’s Hacklet, As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io!

HardWino Takes The Effort Out of Happy Hour

A personal bartender is hard to come by these days. What has the world come to when a maker has to build their own? [Pierre Charlier] can lend you a helping hand vis-à-vis with HardWino, an open-source cocktail maker.

The auto-bar is housed on a six-slot, rotating beverage holder, controlled by an Arduino Mega and accepts drink orders via a TFT screen. Stepper motors and L298 driver boards are supported on 3D printed parts and powered by a standard 12V DC jack. Assembling HardWino is a little involved, so [Charlier]  has provided a thorough step-by-step process in the video after the break.

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MicroPython on the ESP8266: Kicking the Tires

Scripting languages are for large computers, right? “Real” embedded device work is a hellish, never-ending cycle of code, compile, and re-flash. Well, I used to think so too, but with the proliferation of scripting and other interactive languages to microcontrollers over the last few years, the hurdle to interactive development on the small chips has gotten a lot lower.

On the ESP8266 platform, I’ve tried out NodeMCU’s Lua and ESP8266 BASIC. (For the last half-year, I’ve been using the awesome Mecrisp-Stellaris almost exclusively on the STM32F1xx and F4xx chips, but haven’t dipped into ESP8266 Forth yet.)

NodeMCU is great because it’s got everything you could want built in, and through cloud services it’s easy to get a tailored build made that maximizes free flash memory for your projects. I just don’t dig the asynchronous Lua thing (you might, try it!). ESP BASIC has a different set of libraries, and is missing MQTT for my purposes. Still it’s pretty slick, and worth a look.

So when the MicroPython folks announced that they were releasing the binary builds for the ESP, I thought it was time to give it a spin. I’ve used Python for nearly twelve years now, so it’s like a comfortable shoe for me. Would MicroPython be the same on the ESP8266? The short answer is yes and no.

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Ball Run Gets Custom Sound Effects

Building a marble run has long been on my project list, but now I’m going to have to revise that plan. In addition to building an interesting track for the orbs to traverse, [Jack Atherton] added custom sound effects triggered by the marble.

I ran into [Jack] at Stanford University’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics booth at Maker Faire. That’s a mouthful, so they usually go with the acronym CCRMA. In addition to his project there were numerous others on display and all have a brief write-up for your enjoyment.

[Jack] calls his project Leap the Dips which is the same name as the roller coaster the track was modeled after. This is the first I’ve heard of laying out a rolling ball sculpture track by following an amusement park ride, but it makes a lot of sense since the engineering for keeping the ball rolling has already been done. After bending the heavy gauge wire [Jack] secured it in place with lead-free solder and a blowtorch.

As mentioned, the project didn’t stop there. He added four piezo elements which are monitored by an Arduino board. Each is at a particularly extreme dip in the track which makes it easy to detect the marble rolling past. The USB connection to the computer allows the Arduino to trigger a MaxMSP patch to play back the sound effects.

For the demonstration, Faire goers wear headphones while letting the balls roll, but in the video below [Jack] let me plug in directly to the headphone port on his Macbook. It’s a bit weird, since there no background sound of the Faire during this part, but it was the only way I could get a reasonable recording of the audio. I love the effect, and think it would be really fun packaging this as a standalone using the Teensy Audio library and audio adapter hardware.

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Mike Szczys Ends 8-Bit vs 32-Bit Holy War!

If you’ve read through the comments on Hackaday, you’ve doubtless felt the fires of one of our classic flame-wars. Any project done with a 32-bit chip could have been done on something smaller and cheaper, if only the developer weren’t so lazy. And any project that’s squeezes the last cycles of performance out of an 8-bit processor could have been done faster and more appropriately with a 32-bit chip.


Of course, the reality for any given project is between these two comic-book extremes. There’s a range of capabilities in both camps. (And of course, there are 16-bit chips…) The 32-bit chips tend to have richer peripherals and run at higher speeds — anything you can do with an 8-bitter can be done with its fancier cousin. Conversely, comparatively few microcontroller applications outgrow even the cheapest 8-bitters out there. So, which to choose, and when?

Eight Bits are Great Bits

The case that [Mike] makes for an 8-bit microcontroller is that it’s masterable because it’s a limited playground. It’s a lot easier to get through the whole toolchain because it’s a lot shorter. In terms of debugging, there’s (often) a lot less that can go wrong, letting you learn the easy debugging lessons first before moving on to the truly devilish. You can understand the hardware peripherals because they’re limited.

And then there’s the datasheets. The datasheet for a chip like the Atmel ATMega168 is not something you’d want to print out, at around 660 pages long. But it’s complete. [Mike] contrasts with the STM32F405 which has a datasheet that’s only 200 pages long, but that’s just going over the functions in principle. To actually get down to the registers, you need to look at the programming manual, which is 1,731 pages long. (And that doesn’t even cover the various support libraries that you might want to use, which add even more to the documentation burden.) The point is, simpler is simpler. And if you’re getting started, simpler is better.

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Running a Hackerspace is Hard: Egypt Edition

It’s no secret that it’s difficult to run a hackerspace. Different personalities, different material requirements, and often constrained spaces can require continual negotiation. But if you think that having the metalworking types getting their shavings on your electronics bench is a problem, try having your entire hackerspace demolished on short notice.

The situation in Cairo is far from normal at the moment. The building that Cairo Hackerspace had recently moved to was raided, closed for two months, and then re-opened under strict surveillance in February.

All was well until a part of the building unexpectedly collapsed. Then they got a demolition order, followed by postponement, followed by armed police entering anyway and breaking stuff, followed by a further declaration of the building as safe, and now a heritage site. And all of this over a week’s time. While some of the art studios in the Townhouse were saved, the Cairo Hackerspace’s space is gone.


The good news? Nobody got hurt in all of this, and the Cairo Hackerspace crew were able to get their gear out after the initial demolition notice. They’ve been working on a mobile hackerspace-in-a-van approach lately, so hopefully they’ll be able to keep on hacking.

So when you’re bickering over who didn’t clean up the hackspace’s coffee machine, or the proper location of your favorite soldering iron, think kindly about the Cairo crew and get back to doing what you do best — projects.

How about you? What hackerspace tales do you have? Contact us through the tips line — we’d love to hear.

Hyperloops and Robot Cars, A Glimpse into The Future

His mobile blooped at him with one of those noises a company spent money to get. A timer started on the screen as he rushed to put his shoes on. He finished and pushed open his door, running down the stairs two to a bound. By the time he reached the bottom of the stairs he had his backpack slung over both shoulders, which he mentally cursed himself for since he’d just have to take the dang thing off again.

It was morning on January first, and he was due at his parent’s house for a new year’s dinner fifteen hundred miles away. He should have booked a plane weeks ago, but now the Loop was his only option. The Loop didn’t really have peak rates, and while the plane would be a little faster, more direct, and cheaper IF he had remembered to book it in time, the Loop would take him the same distance today. Plus, the seats were comfier. They reclined nicely, and he intended to nap on the way. Hopefully, by the time he got there, the bleariness from last night’s celebration would be undetectable by parental senses.

He locked the door to his apartment complex, a reassuringly square assembly from the seventies, and walked to the sidewalk where a friendly light blue car waited for him. When he got close, his mobile vibrated and made another distressingly cheery noise. The doors of the car swung open opposite of each other to expose the space inside. The car displayed two rows of inward facing bench seats, a panoramic row of windows around the entire perimeter of the vehicle, and… yes, his nose was telling him before his eyes fixed on it, a very unsettling amount of vomit in the center of the floor.

He turned around, a bit squeamish, and took out his mobile. He navigated through the controls. Where is the menu option? What year is it now? Why is this still hard? Three awkward menus deep and he finally found and selected the option to let the dispatch know the car had an issue which made it uninhabitable. The car immediately began to chirp warnings and the doors soon started to close. In a moment, a human somewhere in the city would be looking at a video of the inside of the car, determining him a liar or not. As expected, a few seconds later, the little car began to drive off. The lights on the rear of the car turned from bright red to the yellow amber of headlights as it decided its front would be its back. It drove off to the dispatch center for cleaning and repair. Someone would be eating a 100 dollar cleaning bill today. He didn’t feel sorry for them.

His phone began to vibrate. He picked it up to answer a call from a bored customer service representative who was trying hard to sound earnest. “Sorry for the trouble sir, the ride today will be free. We have another car on its way”

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