Retrotechtacular: Robots, Robots Everywhere, with Kitschy Pronunciation

One of the great things about the human intellect is that we have the ability to build machines of varying complexity to do our bidding. As a major proponent of technology, the Chevrolet automobile corporation once dreamed of a future where the American housewife’s most mundane tasks are handled with the push of a button—one that sets a robot butler into action.

Chevy shows us what this future might look like in this short film, which they presented at the 1940 World’s Fair. A housewife’s faithful ‘robot’, pronounced throughout the picture as ‘robe-it’, has gone on the fritz. Naturally, she calls for a repairman. We see from the console controller that Roll-Oh the Robe-it can take care of all kinds of housewifely duties: he can answer the door and the phone, wash dishes, clean house, make beds, fetch hats, get dinner, and fix the furnace (and only the furnace). And that SCRAM! function? That’s never explained. We like to think it has to do with getting kids off the lawn, or could be used in conjunction with ‘get door’ to chase away would-be burglars. We get a glimpse of this when Roll-Oh answers the door and scares the daylights out of a young [Gary Sinise*] delivering flowers in a cop uniform.

Roll-Oh’s upper limbs have several Swiss Army knife-like implements in them. He uses a sharp one to cut the ribbon off of the flower box. Upon seeing the flowers, he gives them a gentle misting with his sprayer attachment. Dropped petals are no problem for Roll-Oh. He promptly vacuums them up from the thin industrial sound stage carpet with his big metal feet. Roll-Oh is then tasked with getting dinner. This amounts to him painstakingly opening a couple of cans and lighting candles with the torch hidden in his face.

While Roll-Oh the large ductwork butler is only a dream, Chevy wants you to know that smaller robe-its are all around us already. They’re regulating the heat in our stoves, browning our bread without burning it, and brewing our coffee in cool double-globe glass percolators. These tiny servants are capable of performing other tasks, like shutting off machinery when humans are too close, or sensing heat and engaging fire suppression systems. There is brief mention of something called the Petomat, an automatic dog feeding system which is essentially a bowl of food hidden in a latched box. The latch opens rather violently when the alarm clock connected to it goes off.

Robe-its are also performing more serious tasks, like keeping airplanes level and headed in the right direction. Of course, they’re also abundant in Chevrolet automobiles. A small one in the carburetor administers the proper mix of “gasoline calories and fresh air vitamins” to the engine. It’s rare to get to this level of technical detail, you know. Others watch over the spark, the intake manifold, and the voltage regulation. Up in the cab, friendly robe-its will happily traverse the AM dial at the push of a pre-set.

*Probably not actually [Gary Sinise].

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Caption CERN Contest – Safe Science Is No Accident

Week 18 has faded into history, but not before you wrote some great captions! A hearty thanks to all the entrants. Astute reader [jlbrian7] has done it again! He’s uncovered the story behind this image. The woman in this photo is manually analyzing photographs of charged particles taken in a bubble chamber. He linked to an article from Fermilab, and to a 1971 film about Gargamelle, CERN’s largest bubble chamber at the time. The film is well worth a watch. It’s aimed at the layman, explaining the design, construction, and operation of bubble chambers. The photo scanning section starts at 14:40. The video has plenty of “1970’s-isms”, such as referring to the women analyzing the photographs as “scanning girls”. The filmmaker even bookend the section with an actual scanned girl – a possibly NSFW (by today’s standards) ASCII art printout of a nude pin-up model, as printed by a Control Data Corporation supercomputer.

The Funnies:

  • “Tabatha, the dungeon master, plots tonight’s dungeon and dragons game inside the exploded atom.”- [LloydTCannonIII]
  • “CERN, the only place you can watch Netflix on the same table that you eat lunch and plot global domination. Muwahahaha!” – [Joshua]
  • “They take Kerbal Space Program very serious at CERN. Here you can see the first interactive real time orbital view display.” – [haxtormoogle]

This week’s winner is [Jarrett] with “Friday night is Missile Command night in the lab. It’s a serious event”

We’re giving away two prizes this week – one to [jlbrian7] for his research on this and other CERN images, and one to [Jarrett] for his winning caption! Congrats to both of you. Enjoy your Logic Pirates From The Hackaday Store!

Week 19

cern-19-smJust about every workplace has to worry about safety. Many companies have a safety team that is trained to handle emergencies and help patients until proper medical technicians arrive. In a typical office environment this training is pretty easy, but what if you’re working on the bleeding edge of science? CERN’s safety team trains for everything, including badly burned hands and partially removed eyeballs. Don’t worry, these are just simulated injuries, which is probably why this CERN scientist is so calm, even smiling for the photo! CERN’s medical room also appears to be well stocked – with a full skeleton, and no less than four different types of fire extinguishers.

So, even though we already have a pretty good idea of what is going on in this photo (and the accompanying album), we’re sure you’ll come up with some great captions. Have at it!

This week’s prize is a Lightblue Bean from The Hackaday Store. Add your humorous caption as a comment to this project log. Make sure you’re commenting on the contest log, not on the contest itself (or on this post).

As always, if you actually have information about the image or the people in it, let CERN know on the original image discussion page.

Good Luck!

Motion Activated Alarm for your Bag

Many of us carry around a bag with our expensive personal belongings. It can be a pain to carry a bag around with you all day though. If you want to set it down for a while, you often have to try to keep an eye on it to ensure that no one steals it. [Micamelnyk] decided to build a solution to this problem in the form of a motion sensing alarm.

The device is built around a Trinket Pro. The Trinket Pro is a sort of break out board for the ATMega328. It’s compatible with the Arduino IDE and also contains a USB port for easy programming. The Trinket is hooked up to a GY-521 accelerometer, which allows it to detect motion. When the Trinket senses that the device has been moved, it emits a loud high-pitched whine from a piezo speaker.

To arm the device, the user first holds the power button for 3 seconds. Then the user has ten seconds to enter their secret code. This ensures that the device is never armed accidentally and that the user always remembers the code before arming the device. The code is entered via four push buttons mounted to a PCB. The code and code length can both be easily modified in the Trinket software.

Once the code is entered, the status LED will turn solid. This indicates to the user that the device must be placed stationary. The LED will turn off after 20 seconds, indicating that the alarm is now armed. If the bag is moved for more than five seconds at a time, the alarm will sound. The slight delay gives the user just enough time to disarm the alarm. This parameter can also be easily configured via software.

Palatable Pallet Procurement Procedures

Wooden pallets are a versatile and widely-available starting point for a multitude of projects. Best of all, they can usually be acquired free of charge. But choose the wrong kind of pallet and you could end up paying dearly. [Eric] has compiled a great deal of useful information about pallets that will help you find ideal candidates and prepare them for whatever project you have in mind, be it a coffee table or a backyard roller coaster.

Pallets come in several styles and loader configurations. Some are made with space between the boards, and others are closed. If you take nothing else away from his article, just remember to look for plain, untinted pallets with no markings and you’ll be fine.

No markings means the pallet was used domestically, so markings aren’t required. Marked pallets from abroad should feature the IPPC logo as well as a treatment code indicating the method used on the material. Debarked (DB), heat treated (HT), and pallets with the European Pallet Association logo (EPAL) are all safe choices. Pallets labeled (MB) were treated with methyl bromide, which is a poisonous fungicide. Colored pallets should be avoided as well. If you find one in a cool color, take a picture of it and find some paint in a similar hue.

Safe pallets can be had from many places ranging from hardware stores to feed and tack supply stores. Find someone you can ask for permission to take pallets—they might even help you load them. Keep some gloves in your trunk to avoid splinters.

Stop Traffic In This 7-Mode LED Running Jacket

[Miria] was tired of tangling with bicyclists on her nighttime runs. It was obvious to her to illuminate herself, but she thought it would be really cool if the lights responded to her heart rate. The short summary that tipped us off is over at NYC Resistor, and [Miria] gives the gory details on her blog. The LEDs operate in seven different light modes that increase in speed proportionate to her heart rate.

She started the build around an Arduino but found that the compatible heart rate sensors were mostly optical and gave inaccurate readings. Since she was already using a Garmin GPS watch and heart rate monitor band, she decided to hack into the conversation between the two. Garmin uses the ANT protocol for this. While [Miria] found the documentation to be an effective sleeping pill, she also found that SparkFun has an ANT transceiver breakout board. Unfortunately, it’s been discontinued.

[Miria] continued undeterred, using the SparkFun board for prototyping. Her final version uses a Teensy 2.0 and this ANT transceiver in place of the ill-fated SparkFun board. She found an Energizer power pack that plugs directly into the Teensy and can power both Adafruit weatherproof LED strips for about an hour. Look both ways, and check out her demo after the break.

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Retrotechtacular: Upgrading Train Signaling Before the Information Age


What’s surprising about the subject of this week’s Retrotechtacular is that the subject is not from that long ago. But looking at the way in which the work was done makes it feel so far in the past. In 1974 the British Railways Board set out to modernize and interconnect the signaling system. What you see above is one of hundreds of old signal control houses slated to be replaced by an interconnected system.

These days we take this sort of thing for granted. But from the start of the project it’s clear how the technology available at the time limited the efficiency of the development process. We’re not talking about all of the electro-mechanical parts shown during the manufacturing part of the video. Nope, right off the bat the volumes of large-format paper schematics and logic diagrams seem daunting. Rooms full of engineers with stacks of bound planning documents feel alien to us since these days even having to print out a boarding pass seems antiquated.

With fantastic half-hour videos like this one available who needs television? We’d recommend adding this to your watch list so you can properly enjoy it. They show off everything; manufacturing the cables, stringing them between the signal towers, assembling the control panels, testing, and much more.

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Retrofitting a 60-year old electric heater


[John] found an old Kenmore electric heater at a junk store one day, and thought it would look great in his bathroom. The only problem with the unit is that it was built back in the 1940s/1950s, so it lacked any sort of modern safeguards that you would expect from an indoor heater. There was no on/off switch, no fuse, no thermostat, and no tip switch – though it did have a nice, flammable cloth-covered power cord.

Since [John] wasn’t too keen on burning his house down in the name of staying warm, he decided to retrofit the old unit’s shell with a new ceramic heater. He found a $20 unit that looked like it would fit, so he disassembled both heaters and got to work. The Kenmore’s innards were scrapped, then he gave the unit a nice fresh coat of high-temp paint. The new heater was cut to fit inside the old unit’s shell, controls and safety features intact.

He says that it works very well, and that it looks great in his bathroom. If you’re considering doing something similar, be sure to check out his writeup – it is very thorough and has plenty of details that will help you along the way.