Making Ice Cream With Heavy Metal

After his last project left him with an eleven-pound block of aluminum, [Jason] got to thinking of what most of us would in that situation: fresh made ice cream. His mind was on the frozen concoctions of the aptly named Cold Stone Creamery, a mall food court staple where a chilled stone is used to turn fresh ingredients into made to order sundaes.

[Jason] did the math and found that an eleven-pound chunk of aluminum can absorb a little over 67,000 joules, which is over twice the energy required to freeze 100 g of water. In place of water he would be using cream, condensed milk, and strawberries, but believed there was a large enough safety factor to account for the differences between his ingredients and pure water.

His first attempt didn’t go exactly as planned, but with his Flir One he was able to back up his theoretical numbers with some real-world data. He found that he needed to start the aluminum block at a lower temperature before adding his ingredients, and through experimentation determined the block only had enough energy to freeze 30 g of liquid.

In the end [Jason] was satisfied with the frozen treat he managed to make from the leftovers of his radial mill project, but theorizes that an ever better solution would be to use a brine solution and drop the aluminum block all together.

Of course, if putting food on a slab of metal from your workshop doesn’t sound too appealing, you could always go the NASA route and freeze dry it. Either method will probably make less of a mess than trying to print objects with it.

Push Button, Receive Beverage!

Here’s a rec-room ready hack: an automatic drink dispenser.

[truebassB]’s dispenser operates around a 555 timer, adjusted by a potentiometer. Push a button and a cup pours in a few seconds, or hold the other button to dispense as much as you want.

The dispenser is made from MDF and particle board glued together, with some LEDs and paper prints to spruce it up. Just don’t forget a small spill sink for any miscalculated pours. You needn’t fret over the internals either, as the parts are easily acquired: a pair of momentary switches, a 12V micro air pump, a brass nozzle, food-safe pvc tube,  a custom 555 timing circuit — otherwise readily available online — a toggle switch, a power supply plug plus adapter and a 12V battery.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Detecting Adulterated Food Using AI

Adulterated food is food that has a substance added to it to save on manufacturing costs. It can have a negative effect, it can reduce the food’s potency or it can have no effect at all. In many cases it’s done illegally. It’s also a widespread problem, one which [G. Vignesh] has decided to take on as his entry for the 2017 Hackaday Prize, an AI Based Adulteration Detector.

On his hackaday.io Project Details page he outlines some existing methods for testing food, some which you can do at home: adulterated sugar may have chalk added to it, so put it in water and the sugar will dissolve while the chalk will not. His approach is to instead take high-definition photos of the food and, on a Raspberry Pi, apply filters to them to reveal various properties such as density, size, color, texture and so on. He also mentions doing image analysis using a deep learning neural network. This project touches us all and we’ll be watching it with interest.

If all this talk of adulterated food makes you nervous about your food supply then consider growing our own, hacker style. One such project we’ve seen here on Hackaday is Farmbot, an open-source CNC farming robot. Another such is MIT’s OpenAg Food Computer, a robotic control and monitoring growing chamber.

3D Printing Gets Cheesy

Has it ever crossed your mind that everything you see for sale–no matter how mundane–is someone’s life passion? Or, at least, their work passion. Somewhere as we speak two or three people are in a room trying to figure out how to make a whoopie cushion for two cents less than before. Someone is touting the virtues of the newest design in egg cartons. The guys that make the tube that carries your money to the bank teller at the drive through window? They exist, too.

It is natural for us to think about improving 3D printers but most of us print plastic. We might wish we could print metal. But researchers in a few places are printing cheese. We didn’t say hackers with the muchies, we said researchers. There’s a colorful slide show from the University College Cork in Ireland, for example. They printed cheese at two different speeds and used a laser scanning microscope and a rheometer to analyze the results. We’ve seen rheometers in plastic factories, but never in the kitchen. Meanwhile on the hacker front, apparently spray cheese cans work as an easy cold extruder (see video below).

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Growing Plants on Mars… on Earth

One of the biggest challenges of traveling to Mars is that it’s far away. That might seem obvious, but that comes with its own set of problems when compared to traveling to something relatively close like the Moon. The core issue is weight, and this becomes a big deal when you have to feed several astronauts for months or years. If food could be grown on Mars, however, this would make the trip easier to make. This is exactly the problem that [Clinton] is working on with his Martian terrarium, or “marsarium”.

The first task was to obtain some soil that would be a good analog of Martian soil. Obtaining the real thing was out of the question, as was getting similar dirt from Hawaii. [Clinton] decided to make his own by mixing various compounds from the hardware store in the appropriate amounts. From there he turned to creating the enclosure and filling it with the appropriate atmosphere. Various gas canisters controlled by gas solenoid valves mixed up the analog to Martian atmosphere: 96% dioxide, 2% argon, and 2% nitrogen. The entire experiment was controlled by an Intel Edison with custom circuits for all of the sensors and regulating equipment. Check out the appropriately dramatic video of the process after the break.

While the fern that [Clinton] planted did survive the 30-day experiment in the marsarium, it wasn’t doing too well. There’s an apparent lack of nitrogen in Martian soil which is crucial for plants to survive. Normally this is accomplished when another life form “fixes” nitrogen to the soil, but Mars probably doesn’t have any of that. Future experiments would need something that could do this for the other plants, but [Clinton] notes that he’ll need a larger marsarium for that. And, if you’re not interested in plants or Mars, there are some other interesting ramifications of nitrogen-fixing as well.

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Laser-Cut Gingerbread Trailer Home

Ah, the holiday gingerbread house. A traditional — if tedious — treat; tasking to create, delicious to dismantle, so why not try applying some maker skills to making the job of building it easier? [William Osman] decided to try two unorthodox approaches to the gingerbread construct; first, he opted to build a gingerbread mobile home. Secondly, he cut the pieces out with a laser cutter.

After the tumultuous task of baking the gingerbread sheets, [Osman] modeled the trailer in SolidWorks and set to work cutting it out on his home-built, 80W laser cutter. Twice. Be sure to double check the home position on any laser cutting you do, lest you ruin your materials. Also — though this might be especially difficult when modelling food in any CAD programs — be sure to account for the thickness of your materials, otherwise you’ll end up with a lot of trimming on your hands. At least gingerbread cuts easily.

Hot glue and royal frosting secured the pieces together — as well as some improvisation of the final details — making for a picture perfect holiday scene — from a certain point of view.

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OpenAg Is A Personal Food Computer

When a device that calls itself a personal food computer lands in your timeline, what image springs to mind? A cloud-connected diet aid perhaps, advertised on TV infomercials by improbably fit-looking Californian ladies crediting all their health to a palm-sized unit that can be yours for only 199 dollars. Fortunately that proved not to be the case, and on further reading our timeline story was revealed to be about a computerized farming device.

The OpenAg Food Computer  from the MIT Media Lab Open Agriculture Initiative bills itself as:

“a controlled-environment agriculture technology platform that uses robotic systems to control and monitor climate, energy, and plant growth inside of a specialized growing chamber”

It takes the form of a tabletop enclosure in which so-called climate recipes to replicate different conditions for plant growth can be tested. It’s probably fair to say that in this most basic form it is more of an educational device than one for full-scale food production, though they are applying the same technologies at a much greater scale. Their so-called “Food servers” are banks of OpenAg environments in freight containers, which definitely could be used to provide viable quantities of produce.

The good news is that the project is open source, and their latest story is that they have released version 2.0(alpha) of the device. If you are interested, you can read the documentation, and find all the resources you need to build one on their GitHub repository. They page linked above has a video that’s very much of the slick PR variety rather than the nuts-and-bolts, so we’ve sought out their build video for you below the break instead. Continue reading “OpenAg Is A Personal Food Computer”