The Crustacean Battle Bot of your Nightmares

We’ve all seen a movie or TV show that got our imagination going, and the more studious of us might get fired up over a good book (one without pictures, even). You never know were inspiration might come from, which is why it’s so hard to track down in the first place. But one place we don’t often hear about providing many hackers with project ideas is the grocery store. But of course the more we learn about [Michael Kohn], the more we realize he’s got a very unique vision.

On a recent trip to the grocery store, [Michael] saw a two pack of frozen lobsters and thought they would make fine battling robots. You know, as one does. Unfortunately the process of taking a frozen lobster and turning it into a combat droid (which incidentally does include eating the thing at some point in the timeline) ended up being so disgusting that he only finished one of them. Whether that makes this poor fellow the winner or loser though…that’s a question that will require some contemplation.

The first step was cooking and eating the beast, and after that came cleaning the shell of as much remaining meat and innards as possible. He then baked it in a toaster oven for 40 minutes and let it sit for a couple of days to make sure it didn’t have any residual smell. Once he confirmed the shell was clean, he glued it back together and got started on mounting it to his hardware.

A wooden frame under the lobster holds the dual HD-1711MG mini servos that power the karate chop action of the claws, as well as the electronics. [Michael] used a ATtiny85 and NTD4963N MOSFETs to make a basic RC platform which responds to IR from a Syma S107 toy helicopter controller. He tried to power everything with AAA and then AA batteries, but found they just didn’t give him the juice he needed once the bot got going. So the final version utilizes a 5 V regulator and a standard RC 7.2v LiPO battery pack.

If you’re not big on shellfish, never fear. He’s created similar roving contraptions based around sausages and carrots too. One could say he’s truly a man of refined…taste.

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I Ate a Robot Hamburger Before the Restaurant Went Out of Business

The future is upon us and the robots will soon take over. Automated cars will put Uber drivers and cabbies alike out of work. Low-wage workers, like the people working behind the counter at McDonalds, will be replaced by burger-flipping robots. The entire operation of Spacely Space Sprockets, Inc. is run by a single man, pressing a single button, for four hours a day. This cartoon future is so fully automated that most people are unemployed, and all productive work is done by robots.

The first jobs to be replaced will be the first jobs teenagers get. These are low skill jobs, and when you think about low skill jobs (certainly not low-effort jobs, by the way), you think of flipping burgers. That’s where Creator comes in. They’re a culinary robotics company with a restaurant in San Francisco. They’ve been profiled by NPR, by Business Insider, and by CNBC. TechCrunch got a sneak preview proclaiming this as the future of the six dollar burger. It is a marvel of engineering prowess with a business model that I don’t think checks out. This is not the robot that will take your job, and I’m proud to say I ate a robot hamburger before the restaurant went out of business.

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This Rocket Cookstove Is Hot Stuff!

If you search the web, you will learn that humans began to cook their food with fire a long time ago. Indeed, you might expect that there would be nothing new in the world of  flame-based cookery. Fortunately [Bongodrummer] didn’t get that particular memo, because he’s created a rather unusual rocket stove griddle that is capable of cooking a significant quantity of food.

A rocket stove is designed to achieve as efficient use of energy as possible by achieving the most complete burn of high surface area fuel. It features a small combustion area and a chimney with supplementary air feed to ensure that exhaust gasses also burn. This one feeds all those hot gasses directly to the griddle, before taking them away up a pair of flues. As an added bonus there is a dome attachment for a pizza oven, made when a previous project had some left-over building material. Take a look at the comprehensive build video below the break.

Perhaps alarmingly the combustion chamber and chimney are made from a gas cylinder, but the use of a central heating radiator for the griddle is an extremely good idea. A vortex air inlet at the bottom and a secondary air injector further up the chimney complete the unit, making for a worthy replacement for a traditional barbecue.

It’s worth saying, this isn’t the first rocket stove we’ve seen, there was this simple design as well as this very well engineered space heater.

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Continuous Seltzer Deployment System Solves Our Bubbly-Water Sourcing Problems

Seltzer water – that bubbly, carbonated water that disappoints sugar-craving children everywhere – has experienced a steady rise in popularity over the past few years. This is perhaps partly fueled by the availability of countertop carbonators such as the SodaStream.

Not satisfied with the tedious and pedestrian process of manually carbonating individual bottles of water, [piyoman] has instead built a tidy little tap of unlimited cold, filtered seltzer. It’s no easy gag. The build uses a commercial carbonator pump, reverse osmosis water filter, bulk tank, and a standard CO2 cylinder to create a constant source of carbonated water. Most of this setup is stuffed into a dorm-sized fridge (tetris-style) and topped with a fancy beer faucet to dispense the resulting bubblewater.

At roughly $800 for the documented system, you need to have a great reason to build your own. But [piyoman] provides detailed instructions, a parts list, and suggestions for cost savings and future improvements if you do take on a system like this for your seltzer needs.

Cheaper Carbonation Options

While looking at how DIY carbonation has been done in the past we found [Richard Kinch’s] Carbonating at Home with Improvised Equipment and Soda Fountains page which dives into many other options. His site – a wonderful, dense demonstration of the beauty of “web 1.0” – walks through the basics of carbonated water, discusses CO2 tanks and gauges, and shows how to build a simple carbonation cap for making seltzer in standard PET soda bottles.

Maker Faire NY: Cocoa Press Chocolate Printer

If you haven’t figured it out by now, the hype over desktop filament printers is pretty much over. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t new avenues worth exploring that use the basic FDM printer technology. If anything, the low cost and high availability of 3D printer parts and kits makes it easier to branch off into new territory. For example, experimenting with other materials which lend themselves to being “printed” layer by layer like a thermoplastic. Materials such as cement, clay, or even chocolate.

[Evan Weinstein] brought his Cocoa Press printer to the 2018 World Maker Faire in New York, and we have to say it’s a pretty impressive piece of engineering. Hackers have been known to throw a syringe-based paste extruder onto a regular 3D printer and try their luck with squirting out an edible object from time to time, but the Cocoa Press is truly a purpose built culinary machine.

Outwardly it features the plywood case and vaguely Makerbot-looking layout that we’ve seen plenty of times before in DIY 3D printers. It even uses the same RAMPS controller running Marlin that powers your average homebrew printer. But beyond these surface similarities, the Cocoa Press has a number of purpose-built components that make it uniquely qualified to handle the challenges of building with molten chocolate.

For one, beyond the nozzle and the walls of the syringe, nothing physically comes into contact with the chocolate to be printed; keeping the mess and chance of contamination to a minimum. The leadscrew actuated plunger used in common paste extruders is removed in favor of a purely air powered system: a compressor pumps up a small reservoir tank with filtered and dried air, and the Marlin commands which would normally rotate the extruder stepper motor are intercepted and used to trigger an air valve. These bursts of pressurized air fill the empty area above the chocolate and force it out of the 0.8 mm nozzle.

In a normal 3D printer, the “melt zone” is tiny, which allows for the heater itself to be relatively small. But that won’t work here; the entire chocolate load has to be liquefied. It’s a bit like having to keep a whole roll of PLA melted during the entire print. Accordingly, the heater on the Cocoa Press is huge, and [Evan] even has a couple spare heaters loaded up with chocolate syringes next to the printer so he can keep them warm until they’re ready to get loaded up.

Of course, getting your working material hot in a 3D printer is only half the battle, you also need to rapidly cool it back down if you want it to hold its shape as new layers are placed on top of it. A normal 3D printer can generally get away with a little fan hanging next to the nozzle, but [Evan] found the chocolate needed a bit of a chill to really solidify.

So he came up with a cooling system that makes use of water-cooled Peltier units. The cold side of the Peltier array is inside a box through which air is forced, which makes its way through an insulated hose up to the extruder, where a centrifugal fan and 3D printed manifold direct it towards the just-printed chocolate. He reports this system works well under normal circumstances, but unusually high ambient temperatures can overwhelm the cooler.

While “the man” prevented show goers from actually eating any of the machine’s creations (to give out food in New York, you must first register with the city), they certainly looked fantastic, and we’re interested in seeing where the project goes from here.

Tracking The Office Coffee Machines Using Current Draw

Coffee is the lifeblood of hackers, IT workers, and apparently, IT workers who are also hackers. [Omerfarukz] is clearly the latter. He works as part of a large team spread over multiple floors, all with coffee machines, any one of which is fair game. The problem is knowing which one has coffee that is ready to pour. He needed a non-invasive way to monitor the coffee machines.

Coffee machine sensor voltage chartAfter contemplating a few solutions, he opted for one which wouldn’t offend the coffee gods. The machines use a high current to produce their heat, so he adapted some old remote control power sockets for the machines to plug into which would now monitor the current. A high current means the coffee is brewing and he knew that brewing takes one minute per cup, so the duration of the high current tells him the number of cups.

Having had no success with a current sensing transformer, he opted for an ACS712 chip, at heart a Hall effect sensor which outputs a voltage proportional to the test current. That goes to the IO pins of an ATtiny, and from there via serial to an ESP8266 and thence to Google Firebase for processing and notifying of IT workers in need of stimulation. For those wishing to partake, he’s posted the circuit on Github.

We’ve seen a few other non-invasive ways to do this monitoring. For example, there’s weighing the machines using a bathroom scale and the more manual phone-notifying alarm button.

Digital Dining With Charged Chopsticks

You step out of the audience onto a stage, and a hypnotist hands you a potato chip. The chip is salty and crunchy and you are convinced the chip is genuine. Now, replace the ordinary potato chip with a low-sodium version and replace the hypnotist with an Arduino. [Nimesha Ranasinghe] at the University of Maine’s Multisensory Interactive Media Lab wants to trick people into eating food with less salt by telling our tongues that we taste more salt than the recipe calls for with the help of electrical pulses controlled by everyone’s (least) favorite microcontroller.

Eating Cheetos with chopsticks is a famous lifehack but eating unsalted popcorn could join the list if these chopsticks take hold and people want to reduce their blood pressure. Salt is a flavor enhancer, so in a way, this approach can supplement any savory dish.

Smelling is another popular machine hack in the kitchen, and naturally, touch is popular beyond phone screens. You have probably heard some good audio hacks here, and we are always seeing fascination stuff with video.