Venduino Serves Snacks, Shows Vending is Tricky Business

Seems like just about every hackerspace eventually ends up with an old vending machine that gets hacked and modded to serve up parts, tools, and consumables. But why don’t more hackerspaces build their own vending machines from scratch? Because as [Ryan Bates] found out, building a DIY vending machine isn’t as easy as it looks.

[Ryan]’s “Venduino” has a lot of hackerspace standard components – laser-cut birch plywood case, Parallax continuous rotation servos, an LCD screen from an old Nokia phone, and of course an Arduino. The design is simple, but the devil is in the details. The machine makes no attempt to validate the coins going into it, the product augurs are not quite optimized to dispense reliably, and the whole machine can be cleaned out of product with a few quick shakes. Granted, [Ryan] isn’t trying to build a reliable money-making machine, but his travails only underscore the quality engineering behind modern vending machines. It might not seem like it when your Cheetos are dangling from the end of an auger, but think about how many successful transactions the real things process in an environment with a lot of variables.

Of course, every failure mode is just something to improve in the next version, but as it is this is still a neat project with some great ideas. If you’re more interested in the workings of commercial machines, check out our posts on listening in on vending machine comms or a Tweeting vending machine.

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Wireless Robotic Gripper With Haptic Feedback

We’re not sure what kind of, “High School,” [Sam Baumgarten] and [Graham Hughes] go to that gave them the tools to execute their robotic gripper so well. We do know that it was not like ours. Apparently some high schools have SLS 3D printers and Solidworks. Rather than a grumpy shop teacher with three fingers who, despite that, kept taking the safety off the table saws and taught drafting on boards with so many phalluses and names carved into the linoleum, half the challenge was not transferring them to the line work.

Our bitterness aside, [Sam] and [Graham] built a pretty dang impressive robotic gripper. In fact, after stalking [Sam]’s linkedin to figure out if he was the teacher or the student, (student) we decided they’re bright enough they could probably have built it out of scraps in a cave. Just like [HomoFaciens], and Ironman.

The gripper itself is three large hobby servos joined to the fingers with a linkage, all 3D printed. The mechanical fingers have force sensors at the contact points and the control glove has tiny vibrating motors at the fingertips. When the force of the grip goes up the motors vibrate more strongly, providing useful feedback. In the video below you can see them performing quite a bunch of fairly fine motor skills with the gripper.

The gripper is mounted on a pole with some abrasive tape, the kind found on skateboard decks. At the back of the pole, the electronics and batteries live inside a project box. This provides a counterbalance to the weight of the hand.

The control glove has flexible resistors on the backs of the fingers. The signal from these are processed by an Arduino which transmits to its  partner arduino in the gipper via an Xbee module.

[Sam] and [Graham] did a great job. They worked through all the design stages seen in professional work today. Starting with a napkin sketch they moved onto digital prototyping and finally ended up with an assembly that worked as planned. A video after the break explaining how it works along with a demo video.

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Hacklet 113 – New Robots

I start each day checking out the new and updated projects over on Each day one can find all manner of projects – from satellites to machine vision to rockets. One type of project which is always present are robots- robot arms, educational ‘bots, autonomous robots, and mobile robots. This week’s had a few great robot projects show up on the “new and updated” page, so I’m using the Hacklet to take a closer look.

bot1We start with [Jack Qiao] and Autonomous home robot that does things. [Jack] is building a robot that can navigate his home. He’s learned that just creating a robot that can get itself from point A to point B in the average home is a daunting task. To make this happen, he’s using the Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM) algorithm. He’s implementing SLAM with the help of Robotic Operating System (ROS).  The robot started out as a test mule tethered to a laptop. It’s evolved to a wooden base with a mini ITX motherboard. Mapping data comes in through a Kinect V2, which will soon be upgraded to a Neato XV-11 LIDAR system.


tyrobotNext up is [Tyler Spadgenske] with TyroBot. TyroBot is a walking robot with some lofty goals, including walking a mile in a straight line without falling down. [Tyler’s] inspiration comes from robots such as Bob the Biped and Zowi. So far, TyroBot consists of legs and feet printed in PLA. [Tyler] is going to use a 32 bit processor for [TyroBot’s] brain, and wants to avoid the Arduino IDE at any cost (including writing his own IDE from scratch). This project is just getting started, so head on over to the project page and watch TyroBot’s progress!


friendbotNext is [Mike Rigsby] with Little Friend. Little Friend is a companion robot. [Mike] found that robots spend more time charging batteries than interacting. This wouldn’t do for a companion robot. His solution was to do away with batteries all together. Little Friend is powered by super capacitors. An 8 minute charge will keep this little bot going for 75 minutes. An Arduino with a motor shield controls Little Friend’s DC drive motors, as well as two animated eyes. If you can’t tell, [Mike] used a tomato as his inspiration. This keeps Little Friend in the cute zone, far away from the uncanny valley.


logi-botFinally we have the walking robot king, [Radomir Dopieralski], with Logicoma-kun. For the uninitiated, a Logicoma is a robot tank (or “logistics robot”) from the Ghost in the Shell series. [Radomir] decided to bring these cartoon tanks to life – at least in miniature. The bulk of Logicoma-kun is built carefully cut and sculpted acrylic sheet. Movement is via popular 9 gram servos found all over the internet. [Radomir] recently wrote an update outlining his new brain for Logicoma-kun. An Arduino Pro Mini will handle servo control. The main computer will be an ESP8266 running Micropython. I can’t wait to see this little ‘bot take its first steps.

If you want more robotic goodness, check out our brand new mobile robot list! Did I miss your project? Don’t be shy, just drop me a message on That’s it for this week’s Hacklet, As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of!

Arduino Meets da Vinci in a Gesture-controlled Surgical Robot

Lots of us get to take home a little e-waste from work once in a while to feed our hacking habits. But some guys have all the luck and score the really good stuff, which is how these robotic surgical tools came to be gesture controlled.

The lucky and resourceful hacker in this case is one [Julien Schuermans], who managed to take home pieces of a multi-million dollar da Vinci Si surgical robot. Before anyone cries “larcency”, [Julien] appears to have come by the hardware legitimately – the wrist units of these robots are consumable parts costing about $2500 each, and are disposed of after 10 procedures. The video below makes it clear how they interface with the robot arm, and how [Julien] brought them to life in his shop. A quartet of Arduino-controlled servos engages drive pins on the wrist and rotates pulleys that move the cables that drive the instruments. A neat trick by itself, but when coupled with the Leap Motion controller, the instruments become gesture controlled. We’re very sure we’d prefer the surgeon’s hands on a physical controller, but the virtual control is surprisingly responsive and looks like a lot of fun.

When we talk about da Vinci around here, it’s usually in reference to 3D printers or a Renaissance-style cryptex build. Unsurprisingly, we haven’t featured many surgical robot hacks – maybe it’s time we started.

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Beautiful Cardboard Robot Build

[Miloslav Stibor] may have built Mimobot 2.1 out of cardboard so that it’s not very heavy, but the robot is absolutely no lightweight. Read through his logs (in Czech, or in translation) and you’ll see what we mean.

Our favorite feature is the recharging dock and docking connectors, made respectively out of spring-loaded rivet ferrules and copper-tape-covered cardboard. The video found on that page is also absolutely brilliant: watch in awe as it climbs over children’s books, pulls a wooden train, or scales a mountain of pillows.

We wrote [Miloslav] and asked about the continuous-rotation servos, because they ran so smoothly at low speeds. He replaced the potentiometer with a pair of “carefully matched” 2.2 k resistors, and drives them with a PWM signal. Sounds easy, and obviously works very well. We were always under the impression that it was a little bit more complicated to get proportional control of hobby servos. We’ll have to experiment.

The wheels and lightweight frame (made of “military grade” cardboard — saturated with a wood/paper glue) make it entirely capable in living-room environments covered in cables or rugs, which is something we can’t say about our purchased vacuum-cleaner-bot. And the cell-phone remote interface that lets him control the onboard camera and its elevation and lighting. Driving the thing around with the phone control looks fun.

In short, if you build small robots, give this one a look. Something very much like this is now on our short must-build list. And we can’t wait to see Mimobot v3!

Mechaduino- Closed Loop Stepper Servos For Everyone

Is it something in the water, or have there been a lot of really cool servo projects lately? Mechaduino is a board that sits on a regular stepper motor and turns it into a servo with a closed loop control of 0.1degree.

Whenever we post something about using cheap brushless motors for precision control, someone comments that a stepper is just a brushless motor with a lot of poles, why not just control it like one. That’s exactly what the Mechaduino does. They also hint at doing something very clever with a magnetic encoder on the board which allows them, after a calibration routine, to get the accuracy they’ve promised.

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Simple Robot Arm With Steppers Has Pleasingly Smooth Motion

The usual go-to when building a simple robot arm is the ever-pervasive hobby servo. However, these devices are not precise, and are typically jerky and unreliable. They have their advantages, but if strength is not needed a stepper motor would provide much better motion in the same price range.

Those are the lines along which [Bajdi] was thinking when he forked the Mearm project, and adapted it for small stepper motors. First he tried printing out the servo version on thingiverse. It worked, but the parts were not ideal for 3D printing, and he didn’t like the movement.

So he purchased some 28BYJ-48 motors. These are tiny little geared steppers that tend to show up in the odd project. He modified and simplified the files in FreeCAD. With the addition of a CNC shield and an Arduino he had every thing he needed for the upgrade. A servo is now only used for the gripper.

The robot is almost certainly weaker in its payload ability, but as you can see in the before and after videos after the break, it is dramatically smoother and more accurate.

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