Arcade Inspired Halloween Candy Dispenser

The days are getting shorter and the nights are a little cooler, which can only mean one thing: it’s officially time to start devising the trials you’ll put the neighborhood children through this Halloween. For [Randall Hendricks], that means building a new candy dispensing machine to make sure the kids have to work for their sugary reward. After all, where’s the challenge in just walking up and taking some candy from a bowl? These kids need to build character.

[Randall] writes in to share his early work on this year’s candy contraption which he’s based on a popular arcade game called “Goal Line Rush”. In this skill based game a disc with various prizes spins slowly inside the machine, and the player has a button that will extend an arm from the rear of the disc. The trick is getting the timing right to push the prize off the disc and into the chute. Replace the prizes with some empty calorie balls of high fructose corn syrup, and you get the idea.

There’s still plenty of time before All Hallows’ Eve, so the machine is understandably still a bit rough. He hasn’t started the enclosure yet, and at this point is still finalizing the mechanics. But this early peek looks very promising, and in the video after the break you can see how the machine doles out the goodies.

The disc is rotated by a high torque motor, and the aluminum extrusion arm is actuated with a gear motor and custom chain drive. Some 3D printed hardware, a couple limit switches, and a pair of relays make for a fairly straightforward way of pushing the rod out when the player presses the button on the front of the cabinet.

Considering how his previous Mario-themed candy dispenser came out, we doubt this new machine will fail to impress come October. The neighborhood kids should just count themselves lucky he’s not using his creativity to terrorize them instead.

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Delicious Optics, A Chocolate Diffraction Grating

Diffraction gratings are curious things. Score a series of equally spaced tiny lines in a surface, and it will cause reflected or transmitted light to bend and separate into its component wavelengths. This ability gives them all manner of important applications in the field of optics, but they’re also fun to play with. [Tech Ingredients] has done the hard work to find out how to make them out of candy!

The video starts with a basic discussion on the principles of diffraction gratings. The basis of the work is a commonly available diffraction grating, readily available online. It’s a plastic sheet with thousands of microscopic ridges scored into the surface. The overarching method to create a candy version of this is simple — coat the ridged surface in liquid chocolate or sugar syrup, to transfer the impression on to the candy surface when it solidifies. However, the video goes further, explaining every step required to produce a successful end result. The attention to detail is on the level of an industrial process, and shows a mastery of both science and candy processing techniques. If you’ve ever wondered how to properly crystallize chocolate, this video has the knowledge you need.

It’s not often we see candy optics, but we like it — and if you fail, you can always eat your mistakes and try again. If you’re wondering what you can do with a diffraction grating, check out this DIY USB spectrometer.

Get Your Smarties or M&Ms From A Vending Machine

There are some debates that split the world down the middle. Serious stuff: M&Ms, or Smarties*? Yes, the two chocolate beans may bear a superficial resemblance to each other, but you’re either a Smartie lover, or an M&M lover. No compromises.

[Maximusvo] has sensibly dodged all questions of brand loyalty in his text if not in his images even though it’s obvious what kind of confectionery he’s working with in his candy vending machine. The hard-shell chocolates are loaded into a hopper, from which a colourful cascade is released onto a scale. When the desired weight has been accumulated, it is tipped into a drawer for the hungry recipient.

Behind it all is an Arduino with a motor to release the beans, a load cell to weigh them, and an LCD display to give a status report. A motor vibrates the chute to ensure they move down it, but as can be seen in the video demo below the break it’s not doing an entirely successful job. There is an external buzzer to indicate delivery, and aside from the wooden construction of the machine there are 3D printed parts in the scale.

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M&Ms and Skittles Sorting Machine is Both Entertainment and Utility

If you have OCD, then the worst thing someone could do is give you a bowl of multi-coloured M&M’s or Skittles — or Gems if you’re in the part of the world where this was written. The candies just won’t taste good until you’ve managed to sort them in to separate coloured heaps. And if you’re a hacker, you’ll obviously build a sorting machine to do the job for you.

Use our search box and you’ll find a long list of coverage describing all manner and kinds of sorting machines. And while all of them do their designated job, 19 year old [Willem Pennings]’s m&m and Skittle Sorting Machine is the bees knees. It’s one of the best builds we’ve seen to date, looking more like a Scandinavian Appliance than a DIY hack. He’s ratcheted up a 100k views on Youtube, 900k views on imgur and almost 2.5k comments on reddit, all within a day of posting the build details on his blog.

As quite often happens, his work is based on an earlier design, but he ends up adding lots of improvements to his version. It’s got a hopper at the top for loading either m&m’s or Skittles and six bowls at the bottom to receive the color sorted candies. The user interface is just two buttons — one to select between the two candy types and another to start the sorting. The hardware is all 3D printed and laser cut. But he’s put in extra effort to clean the laser cut pieces and paint them white to give it that neat, appliance look. The white, 3D printed parts add to the appeal.

Rotating the input funnel to prevent the candies from clogging the feed pipes is an ace idea. A WS2812 LED is placed above each bowl, lighting up the bowl where the next candy will be ejected and at the same time, a WS2812 strip around the periphery of the main body lights up with the color of the detected candy, making it a treat, literally, to watch this thing in action. His blog post has more details about the build, and the video after the break shows the awesome machine in action.

And if you’re interested in checking out how this sorter compares with some of the others, check out these builds — Skittles sorting machine sorts Skittles and keeps the band happy, Anti-Entropy Machine Satiates M&M OCD, Only Eat Red Skittles? We’ve Got You Covered, and Hate Blue M&M’s? Sort Them Using the Power of an iPhone!  As we mentioned earlier, candy sorting machines are top priority for hackers.

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Sort Your Candy With A Raspberry Pi And Google Cloud Vision

If you have been off trick-or-treating and returned home with an embarassment of candy, what on earth can you do to mange the problem and sort it by brand?

Yes, it’s an issue that so many of us have had to face at this time of year. So much a challenge, that the folks at [Dexter Industries] have made a robotic candy-sorter to automate the task.

OK, there’s something of the tongue-in-cheek about the application. But the technology they’ve used is interesting, and worth a second look. Hardware wise it’s a Lego Mindstorms conveyor and hopper controlled by a Raspberry Pi through the BrickPi interface. All very well, but it’s in the software that the interest lies. They use the Raspberry Pi’s camera to take a picture to send off to Google Cloud Vision, which they then query to return a guess at the brand of the candy in question. The value returned is then compared to a list of brands to keep or donate to another family member, and the hopper tips the bar into the respective pile.  They provide full build details and code, as well as the video we’ve put below the break. So simple a child can explain it, sort of.

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Technically A Hack. Still Questionable. Remote Control Food.

We thought we were going to read an article about, perhaps, a quadcopter that could fetch beer, or donuts. What we got was more along the lines of a donut dragging itself across the floor, rendering it pitiful and advisibly indigestible.

Sometimes people joke about not wanting to get in mind of a crazy person. We understand. While we could certainly follow [Michael Kohn]’s logic, the motivation was alien. Either way, in a rare turn of events there was not a single Arduino to be seen; just reverse engineering, unique solutions, and even a custom board. This is what some of you have been asking for… we think.

The brain of the questionable contraption is a TI MSP430G2231 and a tiny forward only motor driver circuit. The MSP waits for a signal from a hacked IR remote control from a cheap RC car. It then turns those into the appropriate motor control signals which go to some of those nice tiny metal gearboxes.

There were, naturally, a lot of technical issues in mounting the electronics to the food that, well… they didn’t need to be solved, but they were solved. For example, masking tape apparently does not stick well to green peppers, so toothpicks must be employed to pin the tape in place. Hopefully knowledge like this is scheduled for the nightly wipe while we sleep, but we’ll probably hold onto  it till we die, unlike expensive piano lessons.

In the end we had a good laugh, and the idea is so dumb it will probably be an educational Kickstarter next week. Video after the break.

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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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