An Impressively Functional Tacobot

We’re big fans of useless machines here at Hackaday, there’s something undeniably entertaining about watching a gadget flail about dramatically without actually making any progress towards a defined goal. But what happens when one of these meme machines ends up working too well? We think that’s just what we might be witnessing here with the Tacobot from [Vije Miller].

On the surface, building an elaborate robotic contraption to (slowly) produce tacos is patently ridiculous. Doubly so when you tack on the need to give it voice commands like it’s some kind of one-dish version of the Star Trek food replicator. The whole thing sounds like the setup for a joke, an assumption that’s only reinforced after watching the dramatized video at the break. But in the end, we still can’t get over how well the thing appears to work.

After [Vije] gives it a list of ingredients to dispense, a robotic arm drops a tortilla on a fantastically articulated rotating platform that can not only spin and move in two dimensions, but can form the soft shell into the appropriate taco configuration. The empty shell is then brought under a rotating dispenser that doles out (or at least attempts to) the requested ingredients such as beef, onions, cheese, and lettuce. With a final flourish, it squirts out a few pumps of the selected sauce, and then presents the completed taco to the user.

The only failing appears to be the machine’s ability to dispense some of the ingredients. The ground beef seems to drop into place without issue, but it visibly struggles with the wetter foodstuffs such as the tomatoes and onions. All we know is that if a robot handed us a taco with that little lettuce on it, we’d have a problem. On the project page [Vije] acknowledges the issue, and says that a redesigned dispenser could help alleviate some of the problem.

The issue immediately brought to mind the fascinating series of posts dedicated to handling bulk material penned by our very own [Anne Ogborn]. While the application here might be a bit tongue-in-cheek, it’s still a perfect example of the interesting phenomena that you run into when trying to meter out different types of materials.

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Two shots of the dispenser in question next to each other, showing it from different sides. One is showing the front panel, and the other shot gives us a better look at the top part, with a rotating disk that has openings for treats to be placed in.

Open-Hardware Dog Treat Dispenser Is A Stepping Stone For Behavioral Research

The principles of open-source hardware are starting to make great strides in scientific research fields. [Walker Arce] tells us about his paper co-authored with [Jeffrey R. Stevens], about a dog treat dispenser designed with scientific researchers in mind – indispensable for behavior research purposes, and easily reproducible so that our science can be, too. Use of Raspberry Pi, NEMA steppers and a whole lot of 3D printed parts make this build cheap (< $200 USD) and easy to repeat for any experiments involving dogs or other treat-loving animals.

Even if you’re not a scientist, you could always build one for your own pet training purposes – this design is that simple and easy to reproduce! The majority of the parts are hobbyist-grade, and chances are, you can find most of the parts for this around your workshop. Wondering how this dispenser works, and most importantly, if the dogs are satisfied with it? Check out a short demonstration video after the break.

Despite such dispensers being commercially available, having a new kind of dispenser designed and verified is more valuable than you’d expect – authors report that, in their experience, off-the-shelf dispensers have 20-30% error rate while theirs can boast just 4%, and they have test results to back that up. We can’t help but be happy that the better-performing one is available for any of us to build. The GitHub repository has everything you could want – from STLs and PCB files, to a Raspberry Pi SD card image and a 14-page assembly and setup guide PDF.

Open hardware and science are a match made in heaven, even if the relationship is still developing. The Hackaday community has come together to discuss open hardware in science before, and every now and then, open-source scientific equipment graces our pages, just like this recent assortment of biosensing hacks using repurposed consumer-grade equipment.

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Getting Your Morning Mix Exactly Right, Every Time

In historical times, before the pandemic, most people had to commute to work in the mornings, and breakfast often ended up being a bit rushed. [Elite Worm] is very serious about getting his breakfast mix exactly right, and o shave a bit of time off the prep, he built a 3D printed automatic ingredient dispenser for his breakfast bowl.

[Elite Worm] breakfast consists of four ingredients, that have either a powder or granular consistency. They are held in 3D printed hoppers, with a screw top for refilling and a servo-operated door with a funnel at the bottom. The hoppers need to be shaken to properly dispense the ingredients, so all four are mounted on a bracket that can slide up and down on linear bearings. The shaking is done by a brushed DC motor with a slider-crank mechanism, which moves bracket and hoppers up and down very vigorously. [Elite Worm] notes that the shaking is probably a bit too violent and can make the entire table shake if it isn’t sturdy enough, and reducing the motor RPM might be a good idea. Below the hopper system sits a movable weighing station with a load cell, a custom ATmega328P based control board and a Nextion touch screen display, which allows for various ingredient combinations to be saved. The load cell is used to keep track of the ingredient quantities by weight, as they are dispensed one at a time.

We really like the ingenuity of the build, but personally, we would have swapped out the hopper for something that’s moulded, since all the crevices in 3D printed parts is a perfect place for bacteria to grow and can be tricky to clean properly Continue reading “Getting Your Morning Mix Exactly Right, Every Time”

Donut vending machine without microcontroller

No Microcontroller In This Vending Machine, D’oh!

You might think that a microcontroller would be needed to handle a vending machine’s logic. For one thing, only the correct change should activate them and the wrong change should be returned.  If the correct change was detected then a button press should deliver the right food to the dispenser. But if you like puzzles then you might try to think of a way to do with without a microcontroller. After all, the whole circuit can be thought of as a few motors, a power source, and a collection of switches, including the right sized coin.

That’s the way [Little Puffin] approached this donut dispensing vending machine. What’s really fun is to watch the video below and wonder how the logic will all come together as you see each part being put in place. For example, it’s not until near the end that you see how the coin which is a part of the circuit is removed from the circuit for the next purchase (we won’t spoil it for you). Coins which are too small are promptly returned to the customer. To handle coins which are the right size but are too heavy, one enhancement could be to make them fall through a spring-moderated trap door and be returned as well. We’re not sure how to handle coins which are the right size but too light though.

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Cat-Operated Cat Food Dispenser

Tired of being harassed by your cat? [MomWillBeProud] made a cheap, effective — and more importantly cat-operated — cat food dispenser.

The feeder is of an efficient construction — a double cat food dish, one container to store the electronics, and a Pringles can to act as the hopper. A simple servo rotates the hopper thirty degrees and back on each button press; using gravity to drop food through an opening that appears due to this motion. The button itself is an old IKEA timer and a piece of plastic large enough for a hungry cat to swat.

An Arduino controls the servo, and while [MomWillBeProud] skips over going into detail on his code, you can check it out here.

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Dual Pet Food Dispenser Is Doubly Convenient

Does your dog or cat wake you up every morning, demanding to be fed? Maybe you feed Sparky in the evenings instead. But doesn’t that limit your spontaneity? It sure limited [Jorge]’s after-work plans. He has two dogs that eat the same type of food, but in different quantities. This was a big factor in the design and execution of his dual pet food dispenser.

[Jorge] started by modeling his requirements in 3D. Dispensing takes place in two stages as food moves from the storage hopper to the bowls. A 12V printer motor turns the 3D-printed auger, which transports the nuggets to the staging area. Here, a servo controls a ramp in a see-saw motion, sending the food sliding sideways into one bowl or the other.

The dispenser is designed around a PIC18F2420. Although this micro was [Jorge] ‘s second choice, it ticks all the boxes in the design. His acrylic enclosure features four push buttons for navigation and selection through the 16×2 LCD. [Jorge] has an issue with the food getting stuck in the first stage. A friend suggested that he use vibration to agitate the food, but that didn’t work. [Jorge] ultimately added a stirring shaft with spokes that helps keep the morsels moving. Take the tour after the break.

If you want to dispense single doses of food on a timer, check out this automatic cat feeder made from scavenged parts.

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