RIP: HitchBot

Equal parts art project and social media experiment, with a dash of backyard hackery “robotics” thrown in for good measure, hitchBot was an experiment in the kindness of strangers. That is, the kindness of strangers toward a beer bucket filled with a bunch of electronics with a cute LED smiley face.

The experiment came to a tragic end (vandalism, naturally) in Philadelphia PA, after travelling a month across Canada, ten days in Germany, and yet another month across the Netherlands. It survived two weeks in the USA, which is more than the cynics would have guessed, but a few Grand Canyons short of the American Dream.

Professors [David Smith] and [Frauke Zeller] built hitchBot to see how far cuteness and social media buzz could go. [Smith], a former hitchhiker himself, also wanted hitchBot to be a commentary on how society’s attitudes toward hitching and public trust have changed since the 70s. Would people would pick it up on the side of the street, plug it in to their own cigarette lighters, and maybe even take it to a baseball game? Judging by hitchBot’s Twitter feed, the answer was yes. And for that, little bucket, we salute you!

But this is Hackaday, and we don’t pull punches, even for the recently deceased. It’s not clear how much “bot” there was in hitchBot. It looks like it had a GPS, batteries, and a solar cell. We can’t tell if it took its own pictures, but the photos on Twitter seem to be from another perspective. It had enough brains inside to read out Wikipedia entries and do some rudimentary voice recognition tasks, so it was a step up from Tweenbots but was still reassuringly non-Terminator.

Instead, hitchBot had more digital marketing mavens and social media savants on its payroll than [Miley Cyrus] and got tons of press coverage, which seems to have been part of the point from the very start. And by writing this blog post, we’re playing right into [Smith] and [Zeller]’s plan. If you make a robot / art project cute enough to win the hearts of many, they might just rebuild it. [Margaret Atwood] has even suggested on Twitter that people might crowdfund-up a hitchBot 2.0.

Our suggestion? Open-source the build plans, and let thousands of hitchBots take its place.

Overengineering Beer Pong

If there’s one game that deserves to be overengineered with hundreds of LEDs, sensors, and electronic modules, it’s beer pong. [Jeff] has created the most ostentatious beer pong table we’ve ever seen. It’s just shy of playing beer pong on a single gigantic LED display, and boy, does it look good.

The table includes a 32×12 grid of LEDs in the center of the table, with 10 pods for Solo cups at each end of the table. These pods have 20 RGB LEDs each and infrared sensors that react to a cup being placed on them. The outer edge of the table has 12 LED rings for spectators, giving this beer pong table 1122 total LEDs on 608 individual channels.

With that many LEDs, how to drive all of them becomes very important. There’s a very large custom board in this table with a PIC24 microcontroller, TLC5955 PWM drivers, and enough IDC headers to seriously reconsider using IDC headers.

Put enough LEDs on something and it’s bound to be cool, but [Jeff] is taking this several steps further with some interesting features. There’s a Bluetooth module for controlling the table with a phone, a VU meter to give the table some audio-based visualizations, and air baths for cleaning the balls; drop a ball down the ‘in’ hole, and it pops out the ‘out’ hole, good as new. If you’ve ever wondered how much effort can go into building a beer pong table, there you go. Video below.

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Thar be Beer in These Walls

When you need a cold one and walking downstairs to your twin-keg refrigerator just won’t do, it’s time to break out the tools to deliver that frothy goodness where it’s needed. And so began [DaveLondres’] inspiring tale of piping beer through the walls of his home.

Now we know what you’re thinking… that beer is going to get mighty warm sitting in long lines from the fridge up to the ground floor. [Dave] thought about that too and designed a double-pipe system to overcome the issue. A run of PVC pipe for each keg connect the in-wall taps to holes drilled in the side of a second-hand fridge. An ingenious branching job yields an extra port for each run which was fitted with computer case fans to keep the cold air circulating. Plastic tubing is snaked inside of the PVC to carry the beer.

Rounding out the craftsmanship on this one is the inclusion of a plumbed drain to whisk away the drippings. If you’re not going to have a beautifully adorned chest-freezer-gone-kegerator in your livingroom this is the best alternative we’ve seen.

[via reddit]

Measuring Alcohol Content With Time of Flight Sensors

[Chris] is a homebrewer – the tasty kind – and wanted a way to track the rate of specific gravity against temperature. Tracking temperature is easy, all you need is a 1-wire temperature probe hooked up to the microcontroller of your choice. Logging the rate of fermentation isn’t as simple, but with a time of flight sensor, a hydrometer, and some pool toys, [Chris] kludged something together that works reasonably well.

Specific gravity, and thus fermentation, has been measured for centuries with hydrometers. Not wanting to complicate matters with electronic sensors, [Chris] built a floating cage for his hydrometer out of a clear tube, a kick board, and a few bits of styrofoam. By placing a Sparkfun time of flight sensor at the top of the tube, and lowering the hydrometer into his fermentation bucket, [Chris] can measure the height of the hydrometer above the level of the liquid in his fermentation bucket.

Both the temperature and specific gravity are logged to a Raspberry Pi, and after combing through this data [Chris] can see a big ‘bump’ in the specific gravity due to a mass of foam, tapering down to the desired values after a day or so.

Brewing Beer with a Sous Vide Cooker

[Ken] found an interesting use for his sous vide cooker. He’s been using it to help him with his home brewing. It’s unlikely that the manufacturer ever intended it to be used in this manner, but as hackers we don’t really care about warranties.

Beer brewing is as much of an art as it is a science. There are a lot of variables that go into the process, and tweaking any one of them can result in your beer tasting different. There is one process during brewing that is called mashing. Mashing is when you soak malted grains in hot water to pull out the sugar. The amount of sugar that gets extracted is very dependent on how long the grains are soaked, and the temperature of the water. If you want your beer to taste a certain way, then you want to ensure that the water stays at constant, repeatable temperature.

As a home brewer, [Ken] has been using his stove top to heat the water. This gets the water warm, but in order to keep the temperature consistent, he has to constantly monitor the temperature and adjust the knob accordingly. Who wants to sit around and do that all day? He needed something to control the temperature automatically. Enter the sous vide cooker.

Sous vide is a method of cooking in which food is placed into an airtight bag and then submerged in a water bath with very strict temperature control. The process takes a long time to cook the food, but the result is supposed to be meat that is cooked perfectly even while also retaining all of the moisture and juices. [Ken] figured he might be able to use a sous vide cooker to control the temperature of the mash instead of a water bath.

His experiment worked wonderfully. He used the stove top to help get the mash up to the close temperature, then the sous vide cooker was used to fine tune things from there. [Ken] says he was able to achieve 75% efficiency with his mash, which is exactly what he was going for. Continue reading “Brewing Beer with a Sous Vide Cooker”

Goldilocks Climate Box Keeps Lager Fermentation Environment Just Right

September was warmish in many places around the world including [Ole]’s native Denmark. But that did not stop him from brewing lager flavored with plums from his own garden, and neither did his indifference to lagers in general.

Lager fermentation requires a consistent, low temperature. While many homebrewers might modify an electric refrigerator, [Ole] wasn’t interested in the cost of running a second one just for brewing beer. Instead, he built a climate box to work with the cool temperature in his garage. Starting with scrap wood from other projects, he lined the walls with polystyrene and put a layer of wood on the floor to help support the fermentation bucket.

Maintaining a consistent temperature in the box called for both heating and cooling. He pulled the Peltier from a 12V cooler meant to run off a car’s cigarette lighter, and used a spare ceramic heater that was lying around in case his primary reptile warmer went on the fritz.

An Arduino and a custom shield drive separate PID controllers for the Peltier and the heater. The shield has a temperature probe, and he extended the USB outside the climate box so the PIDs can be adjusted without disturbing the inside temperature. The schematic, board file, and code are all available in a zip you can get from his post.

The Peltier couldn’t quite compensate for the overly warm weather and the heat caused by the fermentation, but it was stable enough to produce a nice, plum-flavored lager he has dubbed Lektor Blom­mes malt­bol­che, which is a triple Danish pun he explains in the write-up.

Margarita Drip Infuser Ensures a Perfect Mix

In order to get a margarita just right, the various ingredients need to be mixed together quite vigorously to over-come the different viscosity of the fluids. Looking to create his own barbot of sorts, [TVMiller] decided to make a Margarita Drip Infuser to help make margaritas a bit easier.

Using various chem lab supplies, [TVMiller] has cobbled together something pretty awesome. The Infuser can take up to 8 different ingredients into its test tube reserves, and after the drink ingredients are programmed on the computer, the magic begins.

An Arduino Uno controls a bank of 8 relays which control small fluid solenoids, with each control pulse releasing just a single droplet of fluid. An LED for each valve is run in parallel adding a bit of a light show to the mixing experience. If that’s not enough, he’s also created a copper cooling coil to chill the drink as it is poured.

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