Amazing “Connect Fore!” Robot Challenges Your Putting Practice

We’ve just come across [Bithead]’s amazing, robotically-automated mashup of miniature golf and Connect Four, which also includes an AI opponent who pulls no punches in its drive to win. Connect Fore! celebrates Scotland — the birthplace of golf, after all — and looks absolutely fantastic.

Scotty the AI opponent uses this robotic turret to make their moves in a game of Connect Fore!

The way it works is this: players take turns putting colored balls into one of seven different holes at the far end of the table. Each hole feeds to a clear tube — visible in the middle of the table — which represent each of the columns in a game of Connect Four.

Each player attempts to stack balls in such a way that they create an unbroken line of four in their color, either horizontally, vertically, or diagonally. In a one-player game, a human player faces off against “Scotty”, the computer program that chooses its moves with intelligence and fires balls from a robotic turret.

[Bithead] started this project as a learning experience, and being such a complex project, the write-up is extensive. We really recommend reading through the whole thing if you are at all interested in what goes into making such a project work.

What’s particularly interesting is all of the ways in which things nearly worked, or needed nudging or fine adjustment. One might think that reliably getting a ball to enter a hole and roll down a PVC tube wouldn’t be a particularly finicky task, but it turns out that all kinds of things can go wrong.

Even finding the right play surface was a challenge. [Bithead]’s first purchase from Amazon was a total waste: it looked bad, smelled bad, and balls didn’t roll well on it. There are high-quality artificial turfs out there, but the good stuff gets shockingly expensive, and such a small project pretty much pigeonholes one as a nuisance customer when it comes to vendors. The challenges [Bithead] overcame serve as a reminder to keep the 80/20 rule (or Pareto principle) in mind when estimating what will get a project to the finish line.

Right under the page break below is a brief video tour of the completed table, and after that, you can watch a game in action as [Bithead] faces off against Scotty the AI. Curious about the inner workings? The last video has some build details that fill in a few blanks from the write-up.

We’ve seen an automated Chess table before, but this is an entirely other, utterly fantastic level of work.
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Electronic Connect Four Has No Pieces To Lose

Recreating classic games in software is a great way to get better at coding or learn to code in the first place. If you do it in hardware though, you’ll gain a lot more than coding skills. Just ask [Kelly] and [Jack] did, when they built this Arduino-based electronic Connect Four for a school project.

We love that their interpretation manages to simplify game play and make it more fun than the original version. All the players have to do is turn it on and start pushing the arcade buttons along the bottom to choose the column where they want to make a play. The LEDs animate from top to bottom to imitate the plastic disc dropping down through the board. If a win is detected — four in a row of the same color going any direction — the board fills up with the winning color and the game starts over.

The state machine doesn’t currently do anything about tie situations, so there’s a reset button hidden on the side. As [Kelly] and [Jack] explain in their walk-through video after the break, that is something they would like to address in the future, along with making it possible to choose whatever battle color you want. We think a reset animation that mimics the look of the discs spilling out the bottom would be cool, too.

If you’ve never implemented a game on hardware before, something like this might be a bit daunting. May we suggest a game of 4×4 Tic Tac Toe instead?

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Giant Connect Four Pits You Against The Computer

You can build a Connect Four solver in software, but it won’t be all that much fun. Now apply that same automation to a 15-foot-tall plywood version of the classic board game and you’ve just created a smile-making-machine for everyone within eyesight. Behold the Mono-Purpose Automated Robot Versed In Connnect4 (Marvin) which Ben and Jonathan dreamed up on their way home from Maker Faire last year, and made into their exhibit this year.

On the physical side of things they got really creative in lifting the discs and sorting them into the column chosen by the software brain of the game. A chain travels along one side with fingers every few feet. The fingers travel along the channel, lifting the discs. Those fingers are a couple of bolts, with some metal filler, all epoxied into one solid unit.

At the top of the disc elevator, and at the top position of each column in the gaming board, there are IR reflectance sensors which send feedback to the Arduino that drives the hardware. This proved a major issue during setup the day before the Faire. The reflectance sensors are just blasting out IR and not using a carrier signal. In direct sunlight, the detector was in a constant state of being tripped. After some trial and error, the logic for the sensors was flipped to detect the absence of sunlight by placing black plastic behind that top row of the board and putting duct tape over the IR emittors.

There’s a router and laptop rolled into the system. The Arduino makes an HTTP request to software on the laptop. In addition to determining where the next move should be made, the laptop is connected to a large screen which shows the current state of the gaming board. This is a head-to-head, human versus machine game. The human player drops their discs from the top of the board using a paint roller that hooks into a hole at the center of the disc. This way the player’s disc passes by the sensors, triggering the machine’s next move.

It’s a clever build and due to the sheer size it’s pretty awesome they were able to get it to the Faire from Philadelphia. Don’t miss the video after the break that shows off the fun and excitement of this gaming giant.

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Hackaday Links: Summer, 2015

[Elia] was experimenting with LNAs and RTL-SDR dongles. If you’re receiving very weak signals with one of these software defined radio dongles, you generally need an LNA to boost the signal. You can power an LNA though one of these dongles. You’ll need to remove a few diodes, and that means no ESD protection, and you might push the current consumption above the 500mA a USB port provides. It does, however, work.

We’ve seen people open up ICs with nitric acid, and look inside them with x-rays. How about a simpler approach? [steelcityelectronics] opened up a big power transistor with nothing but a file. The die is actually very small – just 1.8×1.8mm, and the emitter bond wire doesn’t even look like it’ll handle 10A.

Gigantic Connect Four. That’s what the Lansing Makers Network built for a Ann Arbor Maker Faire this year. It’s your standard Connect Four game, scaled up to eight feet tall and eight feet wide. The disks are foam insulation with magnets; an extension rod (with a magnet at the end) allows anyone to push the disks down the slots.

[Richard Sloan] of fame has a buddy running a Kickstarter right now. It’s a lanyard with a phone charger cable inside.

Facebook is well-known for the scientific literacy of its members. Here’s a perpetual motion machine. Comment gold here, people.

Here’s some Hackaday Prize business: We’re giving away stuff to people who use Atmel, Freescale, Microchip, and TI parts in their projects. This means we need to know you’re using these parts in your projects. Here’s how you let us know. Also, participate in the community voting rounds. Here are the video instructions on how to do that.