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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Building a resistor substitution decade box

[George] built an incredibly tidy resistor substitution decade box. These devices feature a pair of connections and a way to select the resistance between the two of them. In [George’s] case it’s a pair of banana jacks and these eight thumbwheel switches.

What you see above is the side of each thumbwheel switch. These are panel mount devices which show one digit with an up and down button to change the setting. As you can see, the PCB for each provides connections to which a set of resistors can be mounted. This is the difficult part which he goes to great lengths to explain.

At this point he’s got the resistor groups for each digit soldered in place, the next step is to stack the switches next to each other and connect them electrically. From there it’s off to a project box in which they will be mounted.

This project does a great job of explaining the assembly process. If you’re interested in the theory behind a substitution box check out this other project.

Children’s light up toy is an easy hand-made gift

light-and-switch-toy

While this year’s Christmas lists are dominated by electronic gadgets and other mass-produced toys, it wasn’t always like that. We’re not trying to sound like the old man yelling at the neighborhood kids to get off his lawn, but many of today’s gifts lack the personal touch found in old, hand-made toys.

[henlij’s] son is a budding electronics geek who loves playing with switches and lights, so he was inspired to build him a fun toy to pass the time. He constructed a simple box full of lights and switches that his son could toggle on and off to his heart’s content.

While there’s not a ton going on inside the box, we think that the idea is fantastic. With just a few dollars worth of simple components, anyone who knows their way around a soldering station can build something that will keep a child fascinated for hours.

There’s no reason to stop at buttons and lights either. If we were to build one, we would swap the bulbs out for LEDs, then add a wide variety of switches and dials along with speakers and any other components we could get our hands on.

The options are pretty limitless, so if you happen to know a child that gets a kick out of playing with buttons and switches, why not make him or her something special this year, much like [henlij] did for his son?

[Dino] tells us about transistor-based on/off switches

hackaweek_transistor_onoffswitch

You know them, you love them, you take them for granted – they are single push button on/off switches. As [Dino] explains in the most recent episode of his Hack a Week series, they are typically implemented in the form of IC logic switches nowadays, but it wasn’t always that way. When they first came on to the scene in the 70’s, the single button soft switches were built using a set of transistors and a capacitor to get the job done, so [Dino] decided to research push on/push off transistor switches a bit and build his own.

After reading through a short tutorial, he was ready to go. As he explains in the video, the operation of the switch is fairly simple, though he did run into some odd issues when he prototyped the switch on a piece of breadboard. He’s looking for someone to explain why the unstable circuit suddenly performs better with the addition of a small capacitor between the battery’s positive lead and the circuit’s output, so if you have some insight, be sure to speak up in the comments.

In the meantime, check out [Dino’s] exploration of push on/push off switches below.

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Twittering wall switch lets Dutch hackers know when it’s time to play

hackerspace_open_switch

Hack42, a hackerspace in Arnhem, Netherlands recently moved into some new digs, and they wanted an easy way to let their members know whether they were open or not. Fixed hours of operation typically do not fit this sort of organization, so that was out of the question. Instead, they built a switch into the wall** that will let their members know when they are open for business.

The switch separates the TX and RX pins of two Ethernet ports that reside in an old access point embedded in the wall. When the hackerspace is open, the switch is thrown and the circuit is closed. A cron job checks the state of the eth1 port once a minute, sending the “Open” status message to Twitter and IRC once it notices the status change. When the switch is thrown again and the eth1 port goes down, a “Closed” message is broadcast.

It is a simple but cool hack, and quite befitting of a hackerspace.

**No direct Google Translate link is available, though Chrome will translate it for you without issue.

[Thanks, _Danny_]