Hackaday Prize Entry: Harmonicas, Candy, And Van Halen

Watch enough How It’s Made, and you’ll soon become very enthusiastic about computer vision and compressed air. In factories all around the world, production lines automatically sort the wheat from the chaff by running a product underneath a camera and blowing defective product off the line.

For his Hackaday Prize entry, [Fabien] is attempting this same task. He’s building a machine that will rapidly sort candy with computer vision and precisely controlled jets of air. He’s also planning for the Van Halen reunion and building a CNC harmonica.

Right now, the design has a hopper full of M&Ms dropping through a channel where a camera looks at each individual piece of candy. A Raspberry Pi, camera, and OpenMV detect all the red, yellow, brown, and blue M&Ms, and send that information to a computer controlling a suite of pneumatic valves. When these valves open, candy of different colors is shuffled off into it’s own bin. It’s the perfect device for someone responsible for reading Van Halen’s rider.

In an interesting little side project, [Fabien] needed a way to test the pneumatic valves before building the color sensor and candy chute. He had a harmonica lying around, and built something we’re surprised we’ve never seen before. It’s a CNC harmonica, capable of belting out a few tunes. You can check out that testing video after the break.

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X-Ray Everything!

We’re not 100% sure why this is being done, but we’re 110% happy that it is. Someone (under the name of [The X-Ray Playground]) is putting interesting devices under an X-ray camera and posting videos of them up on YouTube. And he or she seems to be adding a few new videos per day.

Want to see the inner workings of a pneumatic microswitch? Or is a running pair of servo motors more your speed? Now you know where to look. After watching the servo video, we couldn’t help but wish that a bunch of the previous videos were also taken while the devices were being activated. The ball bearing wouldn’t gain much from that treatment, but the miniature piston certainly would. [X-Ray Playground], if you’re out there, more working demos, please!

How long the pace of new videos can last is anyone’s guess, but we’re content to enjoy the ride. And it’s just cool to see stuff in X-ray. If we had a postal address, we know we’d ship some stuff over to be put under the lens.

We don’t have as many X-ray hacks as you’d expect, which is probably OK given the radioactivity and all. But we have seen [MikesElectricStuff] taking apart a baggage-scanner X-ray machine in exquisite detail, and a DIY fluoroscope (yikes!), so we’re not strangers. Who needs Superman? We all have X-ray vision these days.

Thanks [OiD] for the tip!

Automatic Pneumatic Harmonica

A wise man once said “If all you’ve got is a cute desktop compressor and some solenoid valves, everything looks like a robotic harmonica.” Or maybe we’re paraphrasing. Regardless, [Fabien-Chouteau] built a pneumatic, automatic harmonica music machine.

It’s actually an offshoot of his other project, a high-speed candy sorting machine. There, he’s trying to outdo the more common color-sensor-and-servo style contraptions by using computer vision for the color detection and a number of compressed-air jets to blow the candy off of a conveyor belt into the proper bins.

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Compressorhead: Best Robot Band Ever?

We’ve written about Compressorhead before but we’re writing about them again. Why? Because Compressorhead is the most amazing robot band you’ve ever seen, and because they’ve just opened up a Kickstarter to fund building a lead singer robot and recording an album.

And because they’ve released a bunch of new videos, one of which you’ll find below the break.

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3D Printed Kinetic Art

Artificial muscles and soft robotics don’t get the respect they deserve, but [mikey77] is doing some very interesting work with artificial muscles that can be made on just about any 3D printer.

Like other artificial muscles and soft robotic actuators we’ve seen – like this walking sea slug and this eerie tentacle – [mikey77]’s muscles are powered by air. Instead of the usual casting method, he’s printing these muscles from Ninjaflex, a flexible plastic that is compatible with most 3D printers.

As they come off the printer, these 3D printed pneumatic muscles leak, and that means [mikey77] has to seal them. For that, he created a sealant out of Loctite fabric glue thinned with MEK. The addition of MEK dissolves the outer layer of Ninjaflex, allowing the glue to bond very, very well to the printed muscle.

So far, [mikey77] has created a pneumatic flower that blooms when air is added. He’s also created a muscle that can lift more than four pounds of weight with the help of a 3D printed skeleton. It’s a great way to experiment with flexible robots and pneumatic muscles, and we can’t wait to see what weird creatures can be created with these actuators.

Thanks [Lloyd] for sending this one in.

Pneumatic Multiplexer

This is a pretty cool project [Sebastian Morales] is working on – a 3D printed Pneumatic Multiplexer. Large interactive installations, kinetic art and many other applications require large numbers of actuators to be controlled. For these type of projects to work, a large number of actuators equals higher resolution and that allows the viewer to be captivated by the piece.

The larger the system becomes, the more complex it becomes to control all of those actuators. [Sebestian] wanted to move a large number of components with a relatively low number of inputs. He thought of creating a mechanical equivalent of the familiar electronic X-Y matrix that can control large quantities of outputs using only a few inputs – in a more descriptive form, Outputs=(Inputs/2)^2.

airlogic_01He looked at chemical reactions that change liquids in to gases, but that seemed pretty complicated. Refrigerants used in air conditioning looked promising, but their handling and safety aspects looked challenging.

Eventually, he decided to look at using “air logic“. Air logic uses pneumatic devices to create relays, limit switches, AND gates, NAND gates, OR gates, amplifiers, equivalent to electrical circuits. Electrical energy is replaced with compressed air. His plan was to build a multiplexer whose elements would open only if the combination of pressure between both lines was the right one. As in electronics, NAND logic is easy to implement. A moving element creates a seal and only allows air out if the bottom line was low and the top line was high.

He had access to a high resolution, resin based 3D printer which allowed him to create fully air-tight systems. He started with prototyping a small 4×4 matrix to test out his design, and had to work through 6 to 7 iterations before he could get it to work. The next step was to create a larger matrix of 100 elements controlled by 20 inputs (10×10 matrix). He created Omnifarious – a kinetic sculpture demonstrating the concept of shapeshifting objects. The Omnifarious is a hexecontahedron which would be able to transform its surface to render different geometries via 59 balloons on its surface. Below, you can check the videos of his progress building the various prototypes and another video showing the Omnifarious sculpture.

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Galactic Dimension – a supersized DIY pinball machine

If you are from the 1960’s or 1970’s we know you would have enjoyed furiously punching the buttons of a pin ball machine back in the day. Installation artist [Niklas Roy] recently revisited this old classic game and built Galactic Dimension – a supersized pinball machine for Phæno – an amazing science center in the German city of Wolfsburg. The science centre was planning a big exhibition featuring thirty beautiful, classic pinball machines loaned from the Pacific Pinball Museum in Alameda, California.

The game machine was built on a steep ramp and has a gigantic play field measuring 3m x 6m (10’x20′). It features Sci-Fi game elements in the play field which blend perfectly with the futuristic building where it is housed. The game elements are built from repurposed everyday items like hair dryers and fans, giving visitors the motivation to build some of their own such contraptions.

The players operate the machine via a control desk, and a giant calculator is used to display the game score. The steep ramp had an incline of almost 30° which meant that he had to use a light ball to be able to propel it around the play field. The main user controls are the two flippers, and building giant ones was a big challenge. Solenoids or coils would not cut the ice, and he settled for pneumatic cylinders – easy to control, powerful, not too loud, and the museum already had a compressed air supply readily available. But it still took him three iterations before he could get it right. The plunger, which initially propels the ball, was built from PVC pipes and a hair dryer. Each play field element was built as a separate module to make assembly and maintenance easier. All featured a 220V AC supply, a sensor (either an IR distance sensor or a light barrier) to detect the ball, and an Arduino. Actuators were built from hair dryers and portable fans. Each of them have their own sound effects too – either a hacked toy or a speaker controlled by the Arduino. After everything was built, taken apart, transported, and reassembled at the site, the Galactic Dimension worked without a glitch, and without releasing any magic smoke. To top it off, Andreas Harre, who’s been the German pinball champion for several years in a row, also played the machine when he visited Phæno – and was totally excited about it!

So if you are in that part of Germany anytime until September, do drop in and try to ring up a big score. For photos of his build log, check out the photo album. There’s also a fairly big block diagram (German) and the Arduino sketches (.zip file), if you’d like to take a stab at building an even bigger pinball machine. Check the video to see the machine in action. And if the name [Niklas] sounds familiar, it is because he loves building installations such as the Forbidden Fruit Machine, the Ball Sucking Machine, and another Ball Sucking Machine.

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