Trivia Lock Box Spices up Wedding Reception

Any hardware hacker will tell you, a significant other who embraces your passion is a keeper. [Nathan] found a keeper in [Jessica] – they even worked together on a hardware hack for their own wedding. The couple wanted an interactive element for their guests. Disposable cameras are getting a bit hard to find these days, so the solution was a trivia powered lock box designed and built by [Nathan] himself. Guests arrived at their tables to find locked boxes and cards with trivia questions about the couple. Only by answering the questions correctly would they unlock the box to access the prizes inside.

Each box consists of a Really Bare Bones Board, which is essentially an ATmega328 breakout board. The user interface consists of five tactile switches and a 16×2 character based LCD. The box is a clear Vaultz pencil box (Yes, the same brand Ahmed used for his clock). The final element is of course the locking mechanism. One of [Nathan’s] friends noticed that the Vaultz box latch was riveted in, and was spring loaded. It only took a bit of work to flip the latch from the outside to the inside. Cheap 9g micro servos from the far east pull the latch open with a string. The only thing we haven’t figured out is how [Nathan] closed the latches while they were inside the box. Obviously some black magic was involved! [Jessica] decorated the box with circuit traces created on her vinyl cutter.

On the eve of the big day, [Nathan] realized that his tactile switches were… not really switching. The superglue he had used to mount them had seeped into the switch body, freezing it solid. Nathan saved the project with a herculean effort of soldering 5 switches on each of 12 boxes the night before his own wedding.

What was in the box? Alka-Seltzer tablets. When added to vases filled with oil and water, the fizzy tablets turned the vases into mini lava lamps. The boxes also contained coins which were redeemable for Hawaiian Leis.

Click past the break to see the boxes in action on [Nathan] and [Jessica’s] big day and if you’re looking to build a fleet of hardware for your own wedding, take a look at the centerpieces [Bill Porter] created a couple of years ago.

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Automated Pocky Dispenser

Sometimes, along comes a build project that is not so much a fail, as how not to do it. First off, some of us here had to look up what a Pocky is, never having heard, seen or tasted one – seriously. Once satisfied, we turned our attention to [Michael]’s Automated Pocky Dispenser. Took a while for us to figure out if it’s useful or not. But it’s a fun, quick project that [Michael] put together in around an hour using parts lying around in his office.

For those of you who’d like to know, a Pocky is a chocolate-coated biscuit stick, although you can also buy it in other flavors. You can grab one from a box, but maybe it tastes better when you dispense it by banging a big red button. [Michael] says he used  incredibly advanced construction techniques, but we leave it to our readers to decide on that. The key element of the build is the special “flexible coupling” that he built to transfer the rotation of the stepper motor to the dispensing mechanism. The rest of the build consists of an Arduino, stepper motor, driver, and giant red button. Special motor driving code ensures that the dispenser wiggles back and forth every time, preventing any stuck Pocky’s. And the Electronics are, well, hanging out for all to see. Happy with the success of his build, [Michael] is planning an upgraded version – to connect the Pocky Dispenser to the cloud for statistical gathering of office Pocky habits. He claims even Google does not have that data. To see the dispenser in action, check out the video below.

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Enhancing simple circuit kits with microcontrollers


[manuka], aka [Stan Swan] is a teacher in New Zealand who enjoys enlightening his students on the wonders of electrical circuits. He primarily uses “snap connector” circuit kits, sold under the BrainBox name in NZ, for his interactive labs as they can be easily manipulated by pupils of all ages.

While the kits are great, he says that the range of experiments they provide can be a bit limited, so he decided to swap out the kit’s sound module for something far more useful – a PICAXE-08M. The space left by removing the sound module was pretty small, but [Stan] got everything to fit without too much hassle. His modification allows his students to program the PICAXE, as well as utilize four of the uC’s output pins.

Needless to say, the addition of the PICAXE module was a huge hit with his students, allowing them to create far more exciting circuits. [Stan] has been revising his system over the years, adding extra output pins, enabling lamp and motor control, as well as tweaking his setup to respond to IR commands.

We think [Stan’s] work is pretty awesome, and we’re still wondering how this flew under our radar for so long. He says that his students vary from preschool kids to centenarians, so if you’ve got someone that you would like to introduce to the fun world of electronics, we suggest picking up one of these kits and getting to work.

[Thanks Haku]

Rube Goldberg machine puts engineering students in the record books


Rube Goldberg machines are always a fan favorite around here. They truly embody the concept of over-engineering, and are an entertaining departure from what we normally cover on Hackaday.

Back in February, engineering students from two on-campus professional associations at Purdue University teamed up to construct a world record-setting Rube Goldberg machine. Their entry in the Purdue Regional Rube Goldberg Machine Contest not only won them the regional title, but also potentially put them in the books as creating the most complex device of its nature.

Their contraption was dubbed “The Time Machine” and acts out events in our planet’s history. It starts with the big bang, moving through various other time periods, including the stone age, ancient Egypt, and the medieval era. It also makes several stops in more recent times, including World War II and the Cold War, before self-destructing at the Apocalypse.

All told, the machine incorporates 244 steps to water a plant, which is 14 more than the previous record holder. Continue reading to see a video that highlights some of the machine’s more interesting features, and be sure to check out these Rube Goldberg machines we’ve covered in the past.

[via BoingBoing]

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Drag and drop programming gets kids started early

While programming an Arduino is a piece of cake for EEs who have been around the block a few times, there are some groups who would still find it difficult to get started with the IDE. It is touted for its ease of use, but there is a steep learning curve if say, you are 5 or 6 years old. [Julián da Silva] has been hard at work for a while now, to make the Arduino more accessible than ever.

Earlier today, we posted a story about moldable putty which can be used by children to build rudimentary circuits, enabling them to enter the fun world of hobby electronics at a young age. [Julián’s] project “Minibloq” aims to do the same thing with the Arduino. A work in progress, Minibloq uses a graphical interface to “build” Arduino code a block at a time. The code components are dragged and dropped into place on one side of the screen, while the source code is generated on the other half. This helps gently introduce those people new to the Arduino how to write actual code, a little bit at a time.

[Julián] is working hard to ensure that his application works well on OLPC and other classroom-oriented computers to ensure it can reach as wide an audience as possible. We think this would be a great introduction to the world of micro controllers for children as well as those who have never tinkered with electronics at any point in their lives.

Keep reading to see a quick demo of the software in action.

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Squishy circuits for tiny tinkerers


Getting kids interested in electronics at a young age is a great idea. Feeding their developing minds via creative projects and problem solving is not only rewarding for the child, it helps prepare the next generation of engineers and scientists. University of St. Thomas professor [AnnMarie Thomas] along with one of her student [Samuel Johnson] have put together a winning recipe for getting kids started in electronics tinkering at a very young age.

While some 5-year-olds can wrangle a soldering iron just fine, some cannot – and younger kids should probably stay away from such tools. This is where the the team from St. Thomas comes in.

They scoured the Internet looking for Play Dough recipe clones, testing the resistance and useability of each before settling on two formulas. The first formula incorporates salt, and has a very low resistance. The second contains sugar and has about 150 times the resistance of the first formula. If you use them together, you have very simple conductor and insulator substrates that can be manipulated safely by tiny hands.

As seen in the demo video below, a small battery pack can be wired to the conductive putty easily lighting LEDs, turning small motors, and more. We can only imagine the delightful smile that would emerge from a child’s face when they power on their putty circuit for the first time.

While only two different types of putty have been made so far, we would be interested to see what other materials could be integrated – how about homemade peizo crystals?

[Thanks, Spence]

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All that’s needed is a retro paintjob, miniMAME

[Tim’s] miniMAME‘s construction follows the “light and cheap” approach, using foam core board and hot glue. Sure it won’t last a nuclear attack, but at least it’s light enough to carry to a friend’s house.

With a removable netbook at the core, CCFLs, speakers, trackball, and mini arcade fighting stick, the project completely surpassed our expectations. For those looking to build a miniMAME, [Tim] includes lots of pictures, details, and plans allowing anyone to make their own in about an afternoon.