Pick-And-Place Machine for Candy

Every December and May the senior design projects from engineering schools start to roll in. Since the students aren’t yet encumbered with real-world detractors (like management) the projects are often exceptional, unique, and solve problems we never even thought we had. Such is the case with [Mark] and [Peter]’s senior design project: a pick and place machine that promises to solve all of life’s problems.

Of course we’ve seen pick-and-place machines before, but this one is different. Rather than identifying resistors and capacitors to set on a PCB, this machine is able to identify and sort candies. The robot — a version of the MeARM — has three degrees of freedom and a computer vision system to alert the arm as to what it’s picking up and where it should place it. A Raspberry Pi handles the computer vision and feeds data to a PIC32 which interfaces with the hardware.

One of the requirements for the senior design class was to keep the budget under $100, which they were able to accomplish using pre-built solutions wherever possible. Robot arms with dependable precision can’t even come close to that price restraint. But this project overcomes the lack of precision in the MeArm by using incremental correcting steps to reach proper alignment. This is covered in the video demo below.

Senior design classes are a great way to teach students how to integrate all of their knowledge into a final class, and the professors often include limits they might find in the real world (like the budget limit in this project). The requirement to thoroughly document the build process is also a lesson that more people could stand to learn. Senior design classes have attempted to solve a lot of life’s other problems, too; from autonomous vehicles to bartenders, there’s been a solution for almost every problem.

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Script Your Way Out Of Video Editing Drudgery

[Victor Frost] has a deep voice and a fancy top of the line camera. While one would assume this to be a more than generous situation for life to put a person in; it’s got its own set of problems. Mainly that his fantastic fancy camera uses the most modern version of the popular h.264 encoding scheme, h.265. Gasp!

While that too seems like a pro, unfortunately h.265 doesn’t play as nice with his editing software. The solution seems easy, just transcode it and get on your way. However, when you start talking about transcoding 4K video from a top-of-the line source and retaining the quality. Well… It can bring a processor to its knees. Since he’d rather be playing overwatch than transcoding video on his main computer, he decided to offload and automate the drudgery to his spare.

That’s how the Ingest-a-Tron 9000 came into play. It uses a lot of open source software and, yes, windows batch files to take the files off his camera, process it on one computer, and dump it to another. Now he can game (or edit) while he waits. For those of us who are estranged from Linux thanks to our favorite software, it’s good to know that there are still ways to automate away the pain. Video after the break.

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Hook Any Mouse to an Acorn

Acorn was one of the great IT giants that rose high and then fell to obscurity during the rise of personal computing. However, for many hobbyists these computers are as important and as loved as the Commodore 64. [Simon Inns] has made a great adapter to interface modern USB mice to these old boxes. 

After thirty years of interaction with people, one might be hard pressed to find a working mouse for an older computer. On top of that, even if you did, these mice are likely a lackluster experience to begin with. They were made long before industrial designers were invited to play with computers and are often frustrating and weird. Cotton swabs and alcohol are involved, to say the least.

[Simon]’s box converts a regular USB HID compliant mouse to a quadrature signal that these 8-bit computers like. The computer then counts the fake pulses and happily moves the cursor around. No stranger to useful conversion boxes, he used an Atmel micro (AT90USB1287) with a good set of USB peripherals. It’s all nicely packed into a project box. There’s a switch on the front to select between emulation modes.

If you’d like one for yourself the code and schematics are available on his site. As you can see in the video below, the device works well!

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Microcontrollers now substitute for CPUs

Microcontrollers are getting faster and faster, as is most of the rest of the computing world. Just like you can play Nintendo console games on the newest Nintendo handhelds, it seems that modern microcontrollers can replace CPUs on personal computers from the 80s. At least, that’s what [Dave] has shown with his latest project: an Atmel microcontroller that directly attaches to the CPU slot on a Commodore PET.

Essentially, the project started out as a test rig of sorts for the Commodore. [Dave] wanted to see if some of the hardware on the Commodore was still functional and behaving properly. From there, it somewhat snowballed. The address bus was easy enough to investigate, but adding only a few more pins on the microcontroller he was already using would be enough to access the databus too. A character table was soon added, a test algorithm, and more useful insights. It’s a masterful manipulation of this older hardware with modern technology and is definitely worth a look.

There’s a lot more going on in the retrocomputing world than meets the eye. One might think these old computers were all in landfills by now, but there is a devoted fanbase that does everything from building new hard drives for old computers or investigating their true audio-visual potential.

Thanks to [Mike w] for the tip!

Staying In and Playing Skyrim Has Rarely Been This Healthy

Looking to add some activity to your day but don’t want to go through a lot of effort? [D10D3] has the perfect solution that enables you to take a leisurely bike ride through Skyrim. A standing bicycle combines with an HTC Vive (using the add-on driver VorpX which allows non-vr enabled games to be played with a VR headset) and a Makey Makey board to make slack-xercise — that’s a word now — part of your daily gaming regimen.

The Makey Makey is the backbone of the rig; it allows the user to set up their own inputs with electrical contacts that correspond to keyboard and mouse inputs, thereby allowing one to play a video game in some potentially unorthodox ways — in this case, riding a bicycle.

Setting up a couple buttons for controlling the Dragonborn proved to be a simple process. Buttons controlling some of the main inputs were plugged into a breadboard circuit which was then connected to the Makey Makey along with the ground wires using jumpers. As a neat addition, some aluminium foil served as excellent contacts for the handlebars to act as the look left and right inputs. That proved to be a disorienting addition considering the Vive’s head tracking also moves the camera. Continue reading “Staying In and Playing Skyrim Has Rarely Been This Healthy”

Triple Monitor Travel Battlestation

[AbyssalUnderlord’s] schedule has him packing up and moving between school, home, and internships every three months. Not an easy task when your computer is a triple monitor CAD and gaming powerhouse. To make his moves easier, he built this portable computer / monitor frame.

The design started with a CAD model. The basic materials for the build are aluminum angle and steel-slotted angle stock. There was no welding involved in this build. Pop rivets, nuts, and bolts hold just about everything together. An angle grinder was used for all of the cutting. [AbyssalUnderlord] used drawer slides to move his monitors from stored to deployed position. The small red extensions at the end of the drawer slides allow the monitors to be positioned in a standard 3 wide triple monitor setup. It’s a clever design.

This schedule isn’t going to last forever so [AbyssalUnderlord] didn’t want to make any permanent mods to his tower or monitors. Blue camping foam acts as a cushion between the hardware and the new case.

We’ll admit that this isn’t the prettiest of builds, but it looks plenty rugged and it gets the job done. As mentioned in the Reddit thread, a few coats of spray paint would go a long way toward improving the aesthetics. Just don’t spend too much time playing Overwatch, [AbyssalUnderlord].

If you like DIY portable setups, check this Transformers-themed portable workbench, or our Hacklet all about portable work stations and toolboxes.

Designing A Single Instruction Computer

Today’s computers are unimaginably complex, and so complicated it’s nearly impossible for anyone to comprehend everything a CPU can do in excruciating detail. It wasn’t always like this – the early CPUs of the 70s and 80s were relatively simple and can easily be recreated at the individual gate level. CPUs can be even simpler, as [Jack Eisenmann] demonstrates with a single instruction computer, the DUO Compact 2, made entirely out of 74-series logic chips and a bunch of memory.

[Jack] has a long history of building strange computers out of individual chips, including a TTL logic CPU and a significantly more complicated single instruction computer. The latest, though, is as simple as it gets. It’s just twenty chips, capable of calculating prime numbers, sorting strings, and everything else a computer is able to do.

With every one-instruction computer, there is the obvious question of what instruction this computer uses. For the DUO Compact 2 it’s a single instruction that accepts three arguments, A, B, and C. The instruction copies a byte from A to B, then jumps to the instruction at C. Is it even possible for a computer to add two numbers with this instruction? Yes, if you have massive look up tables stored in 2 Megabytes of Flash and 512 kB of RAM.

In the video below, [Jack] goes over how his tiny computer works and demonstrates prime number generation (it’s slow), string sorting (also slow), and displaying ’99 bottles of beer on the wall’ on the computer’s LCD. All the files to replicate this computer are available on [Jack]’s webpage, along with an emulator in case you don’t want to break out a breadboard for this one.

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