Rack ’em Stack ’em Raspberry Pi Controller Board

It isn’t that hard to assemble an array of Raspberry Pi boards and there are several reasons you might want to do so. The real trick is getting power to all of them and cooling all of them without having a mess of wires and keeping them all separated. The ClusterCTRL stack lets you stack up to five Raspberry Pi boards together. The PCB aligns vertically along the side of the stack of Pis with sockets for each pin header. Using a single 12 to 24V supply, it provides power for each board, a USB power connection, and provisions for two fans. There is also a USB port to control the fans and power.

There’s also a software component to deliver more granular control. Without using the software, the PI’s power on in one second and monitor a GPIO pin to control the fans. With the software, you can turn on or off individual nodes, gang the two fans to turn on together, and even add more stacks.

There is a case that you can print from STL files, although you can buy them preprinted on the Tindie listing where the bulk of information on ClusterCTRL is found. You could also have a 3D printing vendor run off a copy for you if you’d rather.

The power supply is a 10A 5.1V DC to DC converter. That works out to 2A per Pi and 51W total. The power supply for the input, then, needs to be enough to cover 51W, the power for the fans, and some overhead for regulator inefficiency and other small overhead.

We’ve seen a lot of Pi clusters over the years including one that is a good learning tool for cluster management. Of course, there’s always the Oracle cluster with 1,060 boards, which is going to take a bigger power supply.

RetroPlug Syncs Gameboy Emulators With Your DAW For Chiptunes Overload

The Gameboy is one of the biggest platforms in the chiptune scene. While it’s possible to play a show with a single handheld, many artists choose to use two or even more to fatten their sound and rock the crowd. To ease the workflow of creating songs for such a setup, [tommitytom] created Retroplug and you can see him walk through the features in the demo video after the break.

Retroplug is a VST wrapper for the Sameboy Gameboy emulator. This makes it possible to run multiple emulated Gameboy instances within digital audio software like Ableton or Fruityloops. Rather than having to juggle multiple 30-year old Gameboys and the associated batteries and link cables, instead, it can all be done within a hosted VST window.

Presently, the software works only with 64-bit Windows and VST2, however source is available for those eager to peek under the hood. It fully implements MIDI support for mGB, and works well with LSDJ and Arduinoboy setups. *.sav files are created for each emulated instance too, so when you’re done composing, you can throw your songs onto real hardware when you go out and perform!

We see no shortage of fresh projects, from Genesis chiptune players to MIDI control for Gameboys.¬† As its adherents always say, chiptune will never die. We’d love to see a similar project done with a C64 emulator, NES, or even the Genesis. If you happen to put it goether, drop us a line!

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Scratch Build Of This Tiny RC Car Is A Handmade Fabrication Masterpiece

Tiny remote control cars burst onto the scene from time to time, often sold from mall kiosks and covered in garish stickers. However, sometimes it’s more fun to build than to buy. [diorama111] clearly fits into this camp, building a tiny 1:150 scale RC car from the ground up.

The build starts with a Tomy 1:150 model Toyota Crown / Avalon. However, only the outer shell remain. From giving the wheels rubber tires and fabricating a delicate steering assembly, to adding motors for both locomotion and turning, the mechanical build is on point. But seeing the ATtiny1616 is deadbugged with a DRV8835 motor driver, with the SMD parts hooked up with magnet wire to save the most space possible is equally impressive. A PIC79603 IR module is used to receive the commands to drive the car.

The build is an artful one, and all done by hand — no 3D printing or CNC parts involved. Watching the car drive is a delight. The smooth analog steering and slow speed give it an excellent scale appearance. The only thing we wonder about is the difficulty of driving it quickly without the aid of self-centering steering. It reminds us fondly of the 1:96 scale fully-functional Mustang RC plane we featured in 2017. Video after the break. Continue reading “Scratch Build Of This Tiny RC Car Is A Handmade Fabrication Masterpiece”

Miniature Star Wars Arcade Lets You Blow Up The Death Star On The Go

If you have fond childhood memories of afternoons spent at the local arcade, then you’ve had the occasional daydream about tracking down one of those old cabinets and putting it in the living room. But the size, cost, and rarity of these machines makes actually owning one impractical for most people.

While this fully functional 1/4th scale replica of the classic Star Wars arcade game created by [Jamie McShan] might not be a perfect replacement for the original, there’s no denying it would be easier to fit through your front door. Nearly every aspect of the iconic 1983 machine has been carefully recreated, right down to a working coin slot that accepts miniature quarters. Frankly, the build would have been impressive enough had he only put in half the detail work, but we certainly aren’t complaining that he went the extra mile.

[Jamie] leaned heavily on resin 3D printed parts for this build, and for good reason. It’s hard to imagine how he could have produced some of the tiny working parts for his cabinet using traditional manufacturing techniques. The game’s signature control yoke and the coin acceptor mechanism are really incredible feats of miniaturization, and a testament to what’s possible at the DIY level with relatively affordable tools.

The cabinet itself is cut from MDF, using plans appropriately scaled down from the real thing. Inside you’ll find a Raspberry Pi 3 Model A+ running RetroPie attached directly to the back of a 4.3 inch LCD with integrated amplified speakers. [Jamie] is using an Arduino to handle interfacing with the optical coin detector and controls, which communicates with the Pi over USB HID. He’s even added in a pair of 3,000 mAh LiPo battery packs and a dedicated charge controller so you can blow up the Death Star on the go.

Still don’t think you can fit one in your apartment? Not to worry, back in 2012 we actually saw somebody recreate this same cabinet in just 1/6th scale.

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RESQ Hunts For Lost Hikers From The Air

When lost hiking out in the back country, a cell phone might not seem like the most useful tool. Absent a signal from the cellular network, it’s not possible to make outgoing calls for help. However, carrying your phone may just make it a lot easier for rescuers to find you, and [Eric] is making a tool to do the job.

The handheld version of ResQ features a directional Yagi antenna to help pinpoint the location of the signal.

[Eric]’s project is named ResQ, and aims to find lost hikers by detecting the beacon packets from a cellphone’s WiFi adapter. The project comes in two forms; a handheld unit with a directional Yagi antenna, and a drone-mounted unit that can overfly terrain to scan for signals.

ResQ is built around the ESP8266, which is a cheap and accessible way to build a custom WiFI scanner. Currently, the system is able to detect WiFi devices and log MAC addresses along with timestamps and GPS location data to an SD card to help rescuers locate lost individuals. Future plans involve adding a live downlink to the drone such that any pings can be reported live for rescuers to investigate.

Similar systems exist commercially, primarily working with cell signals rather than WiFi. Costs are prohibitively high for many organisations though, so we can see ResQ filling in gaps as a useful tool to have. We’ve featured other radio gear for search and rescue before, too. Video after the break.

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The Ever-Accelerating Automation Of Fast Food

In the fast food industry, speed is everything. The concept has never just been about cooking quickly. Players in this competitive space spend huge fortunes every year on optimizing every aspect of the experience, from ordering, to queueing, to cleaning up afterwards. And while fast food restaurants are major employers worldwide, there’s always been a firm eye cast over the gains that automation has to offer.

Flipping Burgers

In the West, fast food most commonly brings burgers to mind. Preparing a quality burger requires attention to the grade of meat, fat content, as well as the preparation steps before it hits the grill. Then it’s all about temperature and time, and getting just the right sear to bring out the natural flavors of the beef. While a boutique burger joint will employ a skilled worker to get things¬†just right, that doesn’t fly for fast food. Every order needs to be preparable by whichever minimum-wage worker got the shift, and be as repeatable as possible across entire countries, or even the world, to meet customer expectations.

Flippy ROAR (Robot On A Rail) at work on the fryers in a White Castle in Chicago.

In their efforts to improve efficiency, White Castle have taken the bold step of installing a robotic burger flipper, imaginitively named Flippy. Built by Miso Robotics, the robot hangs from a ceiling rail to minimise the space taken up in the kitchen area. Based on a Fanuc robot arm, the system uses artificial intelligence to manage kitchen resources, Flippy is capable of managing both the grill and fryers together to ensure fries don’t get cold while the burgers are still cooking, for example. Currently undergoing a trial run in Chicago, White Castle has ambitions to roll the technology out to further stores if successful.

We’ve seen other robotic burger systems before, too. In late 2018, our own [Brian Benchoff] went down to check out Creator, which cooks and assembles its burgers entirely by machine. Despite suspicions about the business model, Creator have persisted until the present day with their unique blend of technology and culinary arts. Particularly impressive were their restaurant modifications in the face of COVID-19. The restaurant received an overhaul, with meals being robotically prepared directly in a take-out box with no human contact. Take-out meals are double-bagged and passed to customers through an airlock, with a positive-pressure system in the restaurant to protect staff from the outside world.

Pizzabots

Pizza is a staple food for many, with high demand and a stronger dependence on delivery than other fast food options. This has led to the industry exploring many avenues for automation, from preparation to order fulfillment.

In terms of outright throughput, Zume were a startup that led the charge. Their system involves multiple robots to knead dough, apply sauce and place the pie in the oven. Due to the variable nature sizes and shapes of various toppings, these are still applied by humans in the loop. Capable of turning out 120 pizzas per hour, a single facility could compete with many traditional human-staffed pizza shops. They also experimented with kitchens-on-wheels that use predictive algorithms to stock out trucks that cook pizzas on the way to the customer’s door. Unfortunately, despite a one-time $4 billion USD valuation, the startup hit a rocky patch and is now focusing on packaging instead.

Picnic aim to make lots of pizza, fast. Their business model involves working directly with existing restaurants, rather than creating their own fast-food brand from scratch.

Picnic have gone further, claiming an output rate of up to 300 twelve-inch pies an hour. The startup aims to work with a variety of existing pizza restaurants, rather than striking out as their own brand. One hurdle to overcome is the delivery of a prepared pizza into the oven. There are many varieties and kinds of pizza oven used in commercial settings, and different loading techniques are required for each. This remains an active area of development for the company. The company has a strong focus on the emerging ghost kitchen model, where restaurants are built solely to fulfill online delivery orders, with no dining area.

Domino’s is one of the largest pizza companies in the world, and thus far have focused their efforts on autonomous delivery. The DRU, or Domino’s Robotic Unit, was launched to much fanfare, promising to deliver pizzas by a small wheeled robotic unit. Equipped with sensors to avoid obstacles and GPS navigation, the project has not entered mainstream service just yet. However, between this and the multitude of companies exploring drone delivery, expect to see this become more of a thing in coming years.

Despite the marketing sizzle, the DOM Pizza Checker does not project holograms.

A more immediate innovation from Domino’s has been the DOM Pizza Checker. With customer complaints about pizza quality plaguing the chain, the pizza checker is an AI-powered visual system. It’s responsible for determining if the correct pizza has been made, with the right toppings and good distribution. An impressive practical use of AI imaging technology, it sounds an alarm if the pizza isn’t up to scratch, prompting it to be remade. However, it has come under scrutiny as a potential method to harass franchisees and workers. Additionally, the limitations of the system mean that Domino’s are still perfectly capable of turning out a bad pizza on occasion.

Other Efforts

One of the most visible examples of fast food automation is the widespread adoption of order kiosks by McDonalds, which kicked off in earnest in 2015. The majority of stores in the US now rely on these to speed up the ordering process, while also enabling more customization for customers with less fuss. Over-the-counter ordering is still possible at most locations, but there’s a heavy emphasis on using the new system.

McDonald’s automated beverage dispenser will be a familiar sight to many. Considered a great help when it works, and a great hindrance when it jams, spills, or simply shuts down.

In general, online ordering and delivery has become the norm, where ten years ago, the idea of getting McDonalds delivered was considered magical and arcane. This writer made seven attempts to take advantage of an early version of the service in China in 2015, succeeding only once, largely due to a lack of understanding of addresses written in non-Latin characters. However, due to the now-ubiquitous nature of services like Ubereats, Postmates, and Menulog, it’s simple for any restaurant to largely automate their ordering and fulfillment process, and reach customers at a distance from their brick-and-mortar locations.

Other efforts are smaller in scope, but contribute to great efficiency gains back-of-house. McDonalds and other chains have widely adopted automated beverage systems. Capable of automatically dispensing cups and the requisite fluids, they take instructions directly from the digital ordering system and take the manual labor out of drink preparation. They’re also great at slightly underfilling the cups, in a way that any human would consider incredibly rude.

Conclusion

Robots in the fast-food kitchen stand to reduce or eliminate tedious, repetitive work. Robots don’t get sick, and less human labour means fewer rostering hassles. It seems to be a foregone conclusion that more automation is on the way, and while some startups may falter, others will surely succeed. Your next meal may just yet be entirely prepared by a robot, even if it’s still delivered by a tired grad student on a moped. Come what may!

 

A Song Of Fog And Fire – Taking A Look Inside A Rubens’ Tube

The dark winter months are still a bit ahead of us, but with night returning even to the northernmost places, it might be a good time to get your next mood lighting project started. Despite the ubiquitousness of LED strips, cave-time nostalgia makes it hard to beat the coziness of an actual flame here — well, assuming it’s a controlled flame. While modern LED candles do a decent enough job to fool you from a distance, there’s one apparatus they’ll have a hard time to replicate though: the Rubens’ tube. Tired of their usual straight pipe construct, [RyanMake] added some twists and turns to the concept and created a flexible Ruben’s tube made from semi-rigid aluminum ducts.

If you’re not familiar with the Rubens’ tube, it’s a combination of science, fun, and danger to visualize standing waves with fire by attaching a loudspeaker to a pipe with equally spaced holes that’s filled with flammable gas, and light it up. As the resulting visual effect depends on the audio signal’s wavelength, and by that the length of the tube itself, [RyanMake]’s flexible duct approach adds some variety to the usual fixed-length pipe versions of it. But that’s not all he did. After seeing the flames in person, he got curious about what’s actually going on inside that tube and decided to build another one, this time using a clear plastic tube and a fog machine. While the fog escapes the tube rather unimpressively (and could hardly compete with fire anyway), it gives a nice insight of what’s going on inside those tubes. See for yourself in the videos after the break.

Of course, no experiment is truly conducted without failure, and after seeing his first tube go up in flames several times, you should probably hold on to building one as decorative item for indoors. On the other hand, if shooting fire is what you’re looking for, you might be interested in this vortex cannon. And for some more twists on a standard Rubens’ tube, check out the two-dimensional Pyro Board.

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