Monster Mindstorms Delta Bot Delicately Picks Candy

A group of embedded developers from Sioux Embedded Systems in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, wanted to get experience working on Microsoft .Net. To make it fun they made it their project to produce a LEGO train with visitors at LEGO World, the official LEGO convention in the Netherlands. The team developed an application in C# to fully automate the train, with Mindstorms NXT and EV3 bricks as well as LEGO Power Functions motors controlling everything.

The train project carries a simple premise: the visitor chooses one of four colors, and the train goes and picks up a piece of simulated candy with the matching color. Called on Track, the project has produced a new train every year since 2012 with improvement goals in place to add features with every version. Ironically, the least interesting part of the setup is the actual train and track. The team’s creativity comes to the fore in two areas of the project: the method by which the candy color is selected, and the assembly that dispenses the correct color into the train car.

Team member [Hans Odenthal] has built candy-grabbers for various years’ trains. He learned about the ABB FlexPicker and this year decided to build a delta robot for the layout. It consists of huge girders constructed from 5×9 and 5×11 Technic beam frames held together with more Technic beams and hundreds of connector pegs. The three arms each move on a pair of turntables which are geared down to provide as much torque as possible — the fake candy pieces are light, but the arms themselves weigh a lot. [Hans] ended up revamping the gearboxes to up the ratio from 1:5 to 1:25.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Open Source Patient Monitor

Vital sign monitors are usually found in developed countries; they just cost too much for less affluent communities to afford. The HealthyPi project aims to change that by developing an inexpensive but accurate monitor using a Raspberry Pi, a custom hat studded with sensors, and a touch screen. The resulting monitor could be used by medical professionals as well as students and private researchers.

[Ashwin K Whitchurch] and his team created HealthyPi, a Raspberry Pi hat that includes an AFE4490 chip serving as the pulse oximeter front end, an analog to digital converter that interprets the ECG and respiration data, and a MAX30205 body temperature sensor. The hat has its own microcontroller, a ATSAMD21 Cortex M0+ that can also be loaded with the Arduino Zero bootloader.

This project is capable of monitoring a patient’s pulse, respiration, body temperature, and all the other vital signs made measure d by other ‘medical-grade’ vital sign monitors at a fraction of the cost. It’s a democratizing technology, and [Ashwin] already has some working hardware available on Crowd Supply.

Learn more about HealthyPi at the project page or download the code from GitHub.

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Using a Decade Counter to Make LEDs Flash

[Andrea De Napoli] created a LED display consisting of a half-dozen LEDs connected to the inverted signals of a CD4017 decade counter, giving the effect that a dark LED is running back and forth. The CD4017 works by activating 10 outputs, one at a time, as controlled by a clock signal sent to pin 14.

The first and last LEDs are lit by outputs 0 and 5 with the help of a PNP transistor and a 12K resistor. The middle four LEDs are switched by two outputs each and go dark when one of them goes high. [Andrea] really delves into the CD4017 and he shares a lot of detail in the project page.

Hackaday publishes a lot of posts about obscure ICs: Project 54/74 aims to create a database of die images of 5400 and 7400 series ICs. In a remix of a classic, the Baby 10 uses a 4017 to make a music sequencer. Continue reading “Using a Decade Counter to Make LEDs Flash”

Hackaday Prize Entry: Hydroponic Garden Control

[Todd Christell] grows tomatoes in hydroponic buckets in his backyard, and recently he suffered a crop loss when a mechanical timer failed to dispense the nutrient flow as directed. He decided the solution was to add a sensor array to his home network.

[Todd]’s home automation setup runs on a Raspberry Pi loaded with Jessie OS and Node-Red, with Mosquitto as his MQTT message broker. With a sensor network in place, [Todd] would get updates on his phone alerting him if there was a problem with the pumps or if the nutrient bath was getting too low.

The proposed hydroponic setup would consist of an ESP8266-12 equipped with a DS18B20 waterproof temperature sensor, a reed sensor detecting nutrient levels, and a relay board triggering one pump to fill the grow buckets from the main sump and another to top off the sump with the solution from a reserve tank. One early problem he encountered was the electric fence (pictured above) that he employs to keep squirrels away from his tomatoes, interfered with the ESP8266’s signal.

Electric Skateboard Rocks the Giant LEGO

[James Bruton] built an electric skateboard out of oversized LEGO bricks he printed himself, and equipped the board with an excellent re-creation of a classic motor.

He began by downloading brick, gear, and pulley designs from Thingiverse and printing them up five times their normal size, taking 600 hours. The deck consists of 8M Technic bricks lengthwise and 4M bricks crosswise, with plates covering top. There’s even a monster 5×6 plate that’s clearly courtesy of a parametric brick design because you won’t find that configuration among LEGO’s official parts.

The coolest part of the project is probably [James]’ re-creation of an old school LEGO motor. He sized up a 6216M Technic motor originally rated for 4.5V swapping in a 1.5 kW, 24V motor controlled by a 120A ESC and powered pair of Turnigy 5000mAh LiPos wired in series.

[James] had to design his own casing in Blender because couldn’t find a file for the original LEGO part—pro tip for the future, LDraw has the 6216 design and it can be dropped into Blender.

Another nice touch are the wheels, with hubs based off upsized 40-tooth Technic gears with Ninjaflex tires that weigh half-a-kilo each and took 32 hours apiece to print.

We’ve published a lot of [James] ‘ work, including his BB-8 model and some of his other Star Wars models. Continue reading “Electric Skateboard Rocks the Giant LEGO”

Hackaday Prize Entry: Disaster Recovery WiFi

The Meshpoint project originated in Croatia during the 2015 Syrian refugee crisis, when [Valent Turkovic] and other volunteers noticed that first responders, including NGOs like Greenpeace and the Red Cross, often struggled to set up communications in the field. They came to the conclusion that they couldn’t rely on the normal communications infrastructure because it was either damaged or overloaded.

The solution is a net of open source, autonomous WiFi mesh routers, scalable from a single team to serving thousands of people. Responders who won’t have time for a difficult login process, should find setup as easy as signing in to a social media site.

The physical nodes would consist of a router robust for up to 150 connections, all run by an ESP8266 and protected by a weatherproof enclosure. They would feature 6-8 hour battery lives with recharging via solar/wind, AC from wall current or generators, or simply DC car batteries.

You can learn more about the project or download their code from GitHub.

Rovers to the Rescue: Robot Missions Tackles Trash

Everyone knows plastic trash is a problem with junk filling up landfills and scattering beaches. It’s worse because rather than dissolving completely, plastic breaks down into smaller chunks of plastic, small enough to be ingested by birds and fish, loading them up with indigestible gutfill. Natural disasters compound the trash problem; debris from Japan’s 2011 tsunami washed ashore on Vancouver Island in the months that followed.

Erin Kennedy was walking along Toronto Island beach and noticed the line of plastic trash that extended as far as the eye could see. As an open source robot builder, her first inclination was to use robots to clean up the mess. A large number of small robots following automated routines might be able to clear a beach faster and more efficiently than a person walking around with a stick and a trash bag.

Erin founded Robot Missions to explore this possibility, with the goal of uniting open-source “makers” — along with their knowledge of technology — with environmentalists who have a clearer understanding of what needs to be done to protect the Earth. It was a finalist in the Citizen Science category for the 2016 Hackaday Prize, and would fit very nicely in this year’s Wheels, Wings, and Walkers challenge which closes entries in a week.

Join me after the break for a look at where Robot Missions came from, and what Erin has in store for the future of the program.

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