Popcorn! Light and fluffy, it is a fantastically flexible snack. We can have them plain, create a savory snack with some salt and butter, or cover with caramel if you have a sweet tooth. Now Cornell University showed us one more way to enjoy popcorn: use their popping action as the mechanical force in a robot actuator.
It may be unorthodox at first glance, but it makes a lot of sense. We pop corn by heating its water until it turns into steam triggering a rapid expansion of volume. It is not terribly different from our engines burning an air-fuel mixture to create a rapid expansion of volume. Or using heat energy to boil water and trigger its expansion to steam. So a kernel of popcorn can be used as a small, simple, self-contained engine for turning heat energy into mechanical power.
Obviously it would be a single-use mechanism, but that’s perfectly palatable for the right niche. Single-use is a lot easier to swallow when popcorn is so cheap, and also biodegradable resulting in minimal residue. The research paper demonstrated three recipes to harness popping corn’s mechanical energy, but that is hardly an exhaustive list. There’s an open invitation to brainstorm other creations to add to the menu.
Prolific creator [Martin Raynsford] recently created a plus-sized edible version of his laser-cut Marble Machine for a Cake International exhibit and competition; it seemed simple to do at first but had quite a few gotchas waiting, and required some clever problem-solving.
The original idea was to assemble laser-cut gingerbread parts to make the machine. Gingerbread can be laser-cut quite well, and at first all seemed to be going perfectly well for [Martin]. However, after a few days the gingerbread was sagging badly. Fiddling with the recipe and the baking was to no avail, and it was clear [Martin] needed to find something other than gingerbread to work with. After experimenting, he settled on a modified sugar paste which kept its shape and dried hard enough to work with. (While appearing to stretch most people’s definition of “cake” past the breaking point, the category [Martin] entered in the competition allows it.) The parts were cut by hand using laser-cut wood parts as a guide, then finished in a food dehydrator overnight.
The next problem was how to create the large spiral which forms the main ramp. The answer was to laser-cut a custom support structure that supported the piece while it dried out, and doubled as a way to transport the piece safely. High stress points got extra layers cemented with sugar glue, and some parts were reinforced internally with strands of uncooked spaghetti. Everything was sealed with an edible shine, which [Martin] says acts as a kind of varnish for cakes. A video demonstration is embedded below. Continue reading “Problems that Plagued an Edible Marble Machine”→
You can store arbitrary data encoded in binary as a pattern of zeros and ones. What you do to get those zeros and ones is up to you. If you’re in a particularly strange mood, you could even store them as strips of chocolate on Swedish pancakes.
Oddly enough, the possibility of the pancake as digital storage medium was what originally prompted [Michael Kohn] to undertake his similar 2013 project where he encoded his name on a paper wheel. Perhaps wisely, he prototyped on a simpler medium. With that perfected, four years later, it was time to step up to Modified Swedish Pancake Technology (MSPT).
Highlights of the build include trying to optimize the brightness difference between chocolate and pancake. Reducing the amount of sugar in the recipe helps increase contrast by reducing caramelization, naturally. And cotton balls placed under the spinning cardboard platform can help stabilize the spinning breakfast / storage product.
Even so, [Michael] reports that it took multiple tries to get the sixteen bytes (bites?) of success in the video below. The data is stenciled onto the pancake and to our eye is quite distinct. Improvement seems to be more of an issue with better edge detection for the reflectance sensor.
Certainly one of the more entertaining talks of the 33rd Chaos Communications Congress was [Kari Love]’s talk on her experiments in mixing food with function. In [Kari]’s talk at the 2016 Hackaday Supercon, she talked extensively about working on soft robotic for NASA. At the 33C3, her focus was twofold: on a fun side project to make mobile robots out of stuff that you can eat, and to examine the process of creative engineering through the lens of a project like this.
If you look up edible robotics, you get a lot of medical literature about endoscopes that you can swallow, or devices that take samples while they’re inside you. That’s not what [Kari]’s after at all. She’s after a robot that’s made of candy, a yummy machine. And while this is still a work in progress, she demonstrated a video of an all-licorice cable-based actuator.
But more than that, she demonstrated all of the materials she’s looked at so far, and the research she’s done. To some extent, the process is the substance of this project, but there’s nothing wrong with some tasty revelations along the way.
This talk was a potpourri of helpful tips and novel facts. For instance, if you’re working in candy robotics, don’t eat your mistakes. That stomach ache that your mom always said you’d get? You will. Did you know that the gummi in gummibears is re-heatable and re-moldable? In addition, of the gels that she made, it was the most delicious. And finally, Pop Rocks don’t have enough CO2 in them to drive pneumatics. Who knew? [Kari] knows. And now you do too.