Robots are cool. Everyone knows it, and [Eater NY] highlights a coffee shop with a robotic server opening in Brooklyn. While robots able to prepare and serve drinks or food is not new, it isn’t every day a brick-and-mortar café with a robot behind the counter opens up. But expensive automation isn’t the only puzzle piece needed to make a location work.
There are also many tasks involved in running even a modest establishment — loading, cleaning, and maintaining for example — that can’t be realistically taken care of by an immobile robot barista. It’s unclear to what extent the robotic coffee shop will employ human staff, but it’s clear that human involvement is something that isn’t going be eliminated any time soon.
Some of you may remember the robotic burger joint that our own Brian Benchoff managed to check out, and many of his same observations come to mind. The robot burger was perhaps ahead of its time (its single location is listed as closed on Google maps with no recent activity) but maybe the robot coffee place can make it work. Still, expensive automation is only one piece of a system, and the ability to crank out a drink per minute 24/7 might not actually be the missing link.
In the study of genealogy it’s common to find people who will go to great lengths involving tenuous cross-links to establish royalty or famous figures such as George Washington or William Shakespeare in their family tree. There’s no royal blood and little in the way of fame to be found in my family tree, but I do have someone I find extremely interesting. One of my great-great-grandfathers was a Scottish engineer called James R Napier, and though his Wikipedia entry hasn’t caught up with this contribution to 1840s technology, he was the inventor of the vacuum coffee pot.
He was born in Glasgow in 1821 and was the son of a successful shipbuilder, Robert Napier, into whose business he followed once he’d received his education. He’s probably most well known today for his work in nautical engineering and for inventing Napier’s Diagram, a method for computing magnetic deviance on compass readings, but he was also a prolific engineer and author whose name crops up in fields as diverse as air engines, weights and measures, drying timber, and even the analysis of some dodgy wine. The coffee percolator was something of a side project for him, and for us it’s one of those pieces of family lore that’s been passed down the generations. It seems he was pretty proud of it, though he never took the trouble to patent it and and thus it was left to others to profit from that particular invention.
Vacuum Coffee Pots: Impressive, But Slooow
Just what is a vacuum coffee pot, and what makes it special? The answer lies in the temperature at which it infuses the coffee. We take for granted our fancy coffee machinery here in the 21st century, but a century and a half ago the making of coffee was a much simpler and less exact process. Making coffee by simply boiling grounds in water can burn it, imparting bitter flavours, and thus at the time a machine that could make a better cup was seen as of some importance. Continue reading “My Great-Great-Grandad, The Engineer Who Invented A Coffee Pot”→
[Nicholas DiPatri] very much loves his Gaggia Pro. It’s an amazing espresso machine, but it’s also kind of fussy and requires a lot of manual attention to brew a cup. As an engineer, he set about fettling the machine to run with a little less oversight. Enter RoboGaggia.
Stock, the Gaggia Pro requires regular water refills. The coffee-thirsty user must also wait for the brew heater to reach temperature before clicking the go button. Knowing the weight of coffee in the machine is key to getting the brew right, too. Steaming must also be done by hand. Overall, it’s a lot of work.
[Nicholas]’s goal was to get the machine to a point where he could load it with fresh ground coffee, hit a button, and walk away. On his return, the machine should be ready for steam. To achieve this, he went ham on outfitting the Gaggia Pro with fancy modern equipment. It scored a scale that sits in the drip tray, PID temperature controllers, a flow rate controller to manage the extraction profile, and an auto-fill water reservoir. The entire brew process is carried out under the command of a microcontroller, with live telemetry also sent to Adafruit.io for logging.
One of the core principles of the open-source movement is that anyone who wants to build on a piece of work, in whatever way they want, is easily able to. With source code freely available, the original project can be expanded upon, modified, updated, or simply looked at and used as inspiration. Usually we think about this in the realm of software freedom, but hardware is an important component as well. And not just electronics hardware, either. [Norm] demonstrates this espresso machine which was built on these open-source foundations.
The project takes some inspiration from the open-source Gaggiuino project, which was another build that modified an entry-level espresso maker with finer control over temperature and pressure. [Norm] was not willing to sacrifice his espresso machine for this cause, though, which is how this machine with its cobbled-together hardware came to be. An older machine with some worn parts was sacrificed to the coffee gods instead, making use of its pumps, boiler, and a few other bits of hardware especially from the hydraulics system. The software control is built around the Gaggiuino project, and includes a custom control board for user interface.
Right now the coffee maker does indeed work, but [Norm] hopes to make some improvements to the device including adding an enclosure of some sort, both to prevent accidental contact with the boiler and to give it a sleek, professional look. We kind of like it the way it is, while acknowledging that it isn’t quite ready for commercial production like this. It has a similar industrial feel as this espresso machine we featured a few years ago that is made out of old engine components.
Model trains are good fun, though few of them serve any purpose beyond amusement or authentic railway simulation. [ProjectAir] decided to put his model train to practical use by having it deliver fresh espresso, and faced plenty of difficult challenges along the way.
It sounds simple, but the practicalities of the task proved difficult. After all, even a slight wobble is enough to tip a coffee cup off a small train. Automating everything from the railway itself to the kitchen coffee machine was no mean feat either. Plus, the aim was to deliver coffee from a downstairs kitchen up to an upstairs office. This meant finding a way to get the train to climb a steep staircase and to carry the coffee over a 20-meter journey without losing the caffeinated beverage in the process. That required the construction of a fancy train elevator to do the job — an impressive accomplishment on its own.
It’s getting harder and harder to think of a modern premium-level appliance that doesn’t come with some level of Internet connectivity. These days it seems all but the cheapest refrigerators, air purifiers, and microwaves include wireless capabilities — unfortunately they’re often poorly implemented or behind a proprietary system. [Matt] recently purchased a high-end coffee maker with Bluetooth functionality which turned out to be nearly useless, and set to work reverse-engineering his coffee maker and adapting it to work by sending commands from GitHub.
Since the wireless connectivity and app for this coffee maker was so buggy and unreliable, [Matt] first needed to get deep into the weeds on Bluetooth Low Energy (BTLE). After sniffing traffic and identifying the coffee maker, he set about building an interface for it in Rust. Once he is able to send commands to it, the next step was to integrate it with GitHub, so that filing issues on the GitHub interface sends the commands from a nearby computer over Bluetooth to the coffee maker, with much more reliability than the coffee maker came with originally.
Using [Matt]’s methods, anyone stuck with one of these coffee makers, a Delonghi Dinamica Plus, should be able to reactivate the use of its wireless functionality. While we’d hope that anyone selling a premium product like this would take a tiny amount of time and make sure that the extra features actually work, this low bar seems to be oddly common for companies to surmount. But it’s not required to pick up an expensive machine like this just to remotely brew a cup of coffee. You can do that pretty easily with a non-luxury coffee maker and some basic wireless hardware.
Statistics often gets a bad rap in mathematics circles for being less than concrete at best, and being downright misleading at worst. While these sentiments might ring true for things like political polling, it hides the fact that statistical methods can be put to good use in engineering systems with fantastic results. [Mark Smith], for example, has been working on an espresso machine which can make the perfect shot of coffee, and turned to one of the tools in the statistics toolbox in order to solve a problem rather than adding another sensor to his complex coffee-brewing machine.
To make espresso, steam is generated which is then forced through finely ground coffee. [Mark] found that his espresso machine was often pouring too much or too little coffee, and in order to improve his machine’s accuracy in this area he turned to the linear regression parameter R2, also known as the coefficient of determination. By using a machine learning algorithm tuned to this value, which assesses predictable variation in a data set, a computer can more easily tell when the coffee begins pouring out of the portafilter and into the espresso cup based on the pressure and water flow in the machine itself rather than using some other input such as the weight of the cup.
We have seen in the past how seriously [Mark] takes his coffee-making, and this is another step in a series of improvements he has made to his equipment. In this iteration, he has additionally produced a simulation in JupyterLab to better assist him in modeling the system and making even more accurate predictions. It’s quite a bit more effort than adding sensors, but since his espresso machine already included quite a bit of computing power it’s not too big a leap for him to make.