Let’s Listen To A Tape — Paper Tape

These days, data is as likely as not to be “in the cloud.” Otherwise, it’s probably on a USB flash drive or SD card. But in the old days, paper tape was a widespread way to store and retrieve data. A common way to start the day at the office was to toggle in a few dozen bytes of bootloader code, thread a bigger bootloader tape into your TeleType paper tape reader, and then get your coffee while the more capable bootloader clunked its way into memory. Then you could finish your brew while loading the tape with your compiler or whatever you wanted. [Scott Baker] has a Heathkit H8 and decided using a paper tape machine with it and some of his other gear would be fun.

Instead of a TeleType, [Scott] picked up a used paper tape machine from FANUC intended for the CNC industry. They are widely available on the surplus market, although a working machine might run you $500. [Scott] paid $200, so he had some work to do to make the unit operational.

Paper tape had a few varieties. For computer work, you usually had a tape that could hold eight holes across, one for each bit in a byte. However, there are also 6-bit and 5-bit tapes for special purposes or different encodings (old TeleTypes used 5-bit characters in Baudot). The paper choice varied too. You could get plain paper, oiled paper, which maybe didn’t jam as often, and Mylar, which is less likely to shred up when it does jam.

To make things even more difficult, the machines all worked a little differently as well. Sure, punches almost all use solenoids. But the tape transport was sometimes a pinch roller and sometimes a sprocket-style drive. Reading the holes could be done with mechanical contacts or optically. Some punches left little “hanging chads” on the tape, so you didn’t have to empty a confetti box to throw away the chad.

The repair job was interesting. Inside the machine is an 8051 microcontroller. There was no clock, and the circuit used two custom modules. One was simply a crystal, and the other was an oscillator. Removing both allowed a modern can oscillator to replace both modules. The next problem was a fried serial output driver. Replacing that got things working except for random resets due to a faulty brown-out reset circuit. That was easy to fix, too.

Of course, if you are really cheap, it is easy to make a paper tape reader from 8 phototransistors, and pulling tape through by hand isn’t unheard of. It can even talk USB. We’ve even seen a conference badge that can read tapes.

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Industrial Robot Gets Open-Source Upgrade

Industrial robots are shockingly expensive when new, typically only affordable for those running factories of some sort. Once they’ve gone through their life cycle building widgets, they can be purchased for little more than scrap value, which is essentially free compared to their original sticker price. [Excessive Overkill] explains all of this in a video where he purchased one at this stage to try to revive, but it also shows us how to get some more life out of these robots if you can spend some time hunting for spare parts, installing open-source firmware, and also have the space for a robot that weighs well over a thousand kilograms.

This specific robot is a Fanuc R2000ia with six degrees of freedom and a reach of over two meters. Originally the plan was to patch together a system that could send modern gcode to the Fanuc controller, but this was eventually scrapped when [Excessive Overkill] realized the controller that shipped with this robot was for an entirely different machine and would never work. Attempts to find upgraded firmware were frustrated, and after a few other false starts a solution was found to get the robot working again using LinuxCNC and Mesa FPGA cards, which have built-in support for Fanuc devices like this.

More after the break…

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Is Robot Butter Better Butter?

Humans have been making butter for thousands of years. If you have a cooperative cow or sheep and a means to agitate her milk, butter is not far behind. So why would you employ a $15,000 industrial robot to make butter? Because – robot butter!

Actually, Robutter is a design experiment by [Stephan], [Philipp], and [Jonas] to explore where craft ends and industrial processes begin, and to see how automation adds or removes values from traditional products. It’s a fair question, given that butter can be churned with everything from animal skins to massive continuous churns. So the team programmed [DIRK], a Fanuc LR Mate 200ic which is normally more at home on an assembly line, to carefully agitate a container of cream. After a bit of fiddling they found the optimal position and movements to produce a delicate butter that looks pretty tasty. The video after the break shows the process and the results, but sadly there’s no taste test of the Robutter against grocery store butter.

It may come as a surprise that Hackaday appears never to have featured a butter making project before. Sure, we’ve got a lot of food hacks, most of which seem to involve beer or coffee. But we did run across a recent article on a buttermilk pancake-making robot that you might like to check out.

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