Robot Vs. Superbug

Working in a university or research laboratory on interesting, complicated problems in the sciences has a romanticized, glorified position in our culture. While the end results are certainly worth celebrating, often the process of new scientific discovery is underwhelming, if not outright tedious. That’s especially true in biology and chemistry, where scaling up sample sizes isn’t easy without a lot of human labor. A research group from Reading University was able to modify a 3D printer to take some of that labor out of the equation, though.

This 3D printer was used essentially as a base, with the printing head removed and replaced with a Raspberry Pi camera. The printer X/Y axes move the camera around to all of the different sample stored in the print bed, which allows the computer attached to the printer to do most of the work that a normal human would have had to do. This allows them to scale up massively and cheaply, presumably with less tedious inputs from a large number of graduate students.

While the group hopes that this method will have wide applicability for any research group handling large samples, their specific area of interest involves researching “superbugs” or microbes which have developed antibiotic resistance. Their recently-published paper states that any field which involves bacterial motility, colony growth, microtitre plates or microfluidic devices could benefit from this 3D printer modification.

Prusa Unveils New Mini 3D Printer, Shakes Up The Competition

For the last couple of years, consumer desktop 3D printer choices in the under $1,000 USD range have fallen into two broad categories: everything bellow $500 USD, and the latest Prusa i3. There are plenty of respectable printers made by companies such as Monoprice and Creality to choose from on that lower end of the scale. It wasn’t a luxury everyone could justify, but if you had the budget to swing the $749 for Prusa’s i3 kit, the choice became obvious.

Of course, that was before the Prusa Mini. Available as a kit for just $349, it’s far and away the cheapest printer that Prusa Research has ever offered. But this isn’t just some rebranded hardware, and it doesn’t compromise on the ideals that have made the company’s flagship machine the de facto open source FDM printer. For less than half the cost of the i3 MK3S, you’re not only getting most of the larger printer’s best features and Prusa’s renowned customer support, but even capabilities that presumably won’t make it to the i3 line until the MK4 is released.

Josef Průša was on hand to officially unveil his latest printer at the 2019 East Coast Reprap Festival, where I got the chance to get up close and personal with the diminutive machine. While it might be awhile before we can do a full review on the Mini, it’s safe to say that this small printer is going to have a big impact on the entry-level market.

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Old Nixie Display Rides Again As 3D-Printer Filament Meter

We’re not sure about the name of this Nixie tube filament meter that [Scott M. Baker] built. He calls it a “filadometer”, perhaps a portmanteau of “filament” and “odometer”, in which case it makes sense. It may not flow trippingly from the tongue and we can’t come up with anything better, but whatever moniker you use it’s actually a pretty cool build.

The filadometer started life as something completely different and utterly typical for Nixie tube projects – a temperature and humidity gauge. [Scott] decided to recycle the eight-tube display to keep track of his Prusa, and in doing so he reveals a pretty remarkable degree of forethought in his design process. The original Nixie display has all the usual trappings – the driver chips, the shift registers, and the high voltage power supply. What stands out is the modularity of his design: the tube sockets and drivers live on a backplane PCB, with a Raspberry Pi and a separate HV supply board plugging into it. The original display had a Model B Pi, so there was plenty of room for a new Zero W. A new printed case and a little programming to capture the filament use from Octoprint is all it took to put this nifty little build back in action. The video below shows the details.

We’re always excited to see new videos from [Scott] because we learn so much from looking over his virtual shoulder. If you haven’t checked out his stuff, take a look at his homage to the 8″ floppy or his dual-port memory hack for retro gaming.

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Finding Plastic Spaghetti With Machine Learning

Among 3D printer owners, “spaghetti” is the common term for the tangled mess of stringy plastic that’s often the result of a failed print. Fear of their print bed turning into a hot plate of PLA spaghetti is enough to keep many users from leaving their machines operating overnight or while they’re out of the house. Accordingly, we’ve seen a number of methods that allow the human operator to watch their print remotely to make sure everything is progressing smoothly.

But unless you plan on keeping your eyes on your phone the entire time you’re out of the house, there’s still a chance some PETG pasta might sneak its way out. Enter the Spaghetti Detective, an open source project that lets machine learning take over when you can’t sit watching the printer all day. Their system plugs into Octoprint to monitor your print in real-time and pause it if it starts looking particularly stringy. The concept is still under development, but judging by the gallery of results submitted by users, the system seems to have a knack for identifying non-edible noodles.

Once the software comes out of beta it looks like the team is going to try to monetize it by providing hosting and monitoring services for a monthly fee, but as it’s an open source project, you’re also able to run the software on your own machine. Though the documentation notes that the lowly Raspberry Pi doesn’t have quite what it takes to handle the image recognition routines, so you’ll need a proper computer if you want to self-host the service. Could be a good use for that old laptop you’ve got kicking around the lab.

As demonstrated in the video after the break, the system’s “spaghetti confidence” is shown with a simple to understand gauge: green is a good-looking print, and red means the detective is getting a sniff of the stringy stuff. If your print dips into the red too much, Octoprint is commanded to pause the print. The user can then look at the last image from the printer and decide to either cancel the print entirely, or resume if the Spaghetti Detective got a little overzealous.

Frankly, it’s a brilliant idea and we’re very interested to see where it goes from here. Assuming you’ve got Octoprint controlling your 3D printer there are some very clever monitoring systems out there currently, but since spaghetti isn’t the only thing a rogue 3D printer can cook up, having an extra line of defense sounds like a good idea to us.

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Monitor Your 3D Printer With Node-RED And Tasker

Anyone with a desktop 3D printer knows that it can be a bit nerve-wracking to leave the machine alone for any extended period of time. Unfortunately, it’s often unavoidable given how long more complicated prints can take. With big prints easily stretching beyond the 20 hour mark, at some point you’re going to need to leave the house or go to sleep. We hope, anyway.

In an effort to make his time away from his printer a bit less stressful, [Mat] from NotEnoughTECH has put together a comprehensive framework for monitoring his machine on the go. After looking at existing remote monitoring solutions, he found none gave him the level of information he was after. His system collects up an incredible number of data points about the printer’s current status and pushes it all to his Android phone as a rich notification. Best of all, he’s documented the entire system in exquisite detail for anyone else who might want to follow in his footsteps.

There’s a considerable amount of hardware and software involved in this system, and getting it up and running won’t be quite as straightforward as using some of the turn-key solutions out there. Octoprint is responsible for controlling and monitoring the printer, and [Mat] is pulling data from its API using Node-RED. That data is formatted and ultimately delivered to his Android device as a notification with Tasker. On the hardware side he’s got a Sonoff POW R2 to not only turn the printer on and off but measure its energy consumption, a USB camera to provide a live view of the printer, and a couple of Raspberry Pis to run it all.

Even if you don’t have a 3D printer, or maybe just don’t leave the house to begin with, the video [Mat] has put together after the break that shows how all the elements of this system are pulled together in Node-RED is a fascinating look at the flow-based visual programming tool. Similarly, it’s a great demonstration on how Tasker can be used to add some very slick Android notifications for your project without having to commit to developing a native application for the platform.

If you like the idea of remotely monitoring your printer but aren’t ready to dive into the deep end like [Mat], there are easier options. With a Raspberry Pi running Octoprint added to your 3D printer and one of the existing mobile monitoring and control front-ends installed, you’ll be well on the way to tackling those big prints without having to pitch a tent in the lab.

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MakerBot Moves Away From Makers With New Printer

If you’ve been following the desktop 3D printing market for the last couple years, you’re probably aware of the major players right now. Chinese companies like Creality are dominating the entry level market with machines that are priced low enough to border on impulse buys, Prusa Research is iterating on their i3 design and bringing many exciting new features to the mid-range price point, and Ultimaker remains a solid choice for a high-end workhorse if you’ve got the cash. But one name that is conspicuously absent from a “Who’s Who” of 3D printing manufacturers is MakerBot; despite effectively creating the desktop 3D printing market, today they’ve largely slipped into obscurity.

So when a banner popped up on Thingiverse (MakerBot’s 3D print repository) advertising the imminent announcement of a new printer, there was a general feeling of surprise in the community. It had been assumed for some time that MakerBot was being maintained as a zombie company after being bought by industrial 3D printer manufacturer Stratasys in 2013; essentially using the name as a cheap way to maintain a foothold in the consumer 3D printer market. The idea that they would actually release a new consumer 3D printer in a market that’s already saturated with well-known, agile companies seemed difficult to believe.

But now that MakerBot has officially taken the wraps off a printer model they call Method, it all makes sense. Put simply, this isn’t a printer for us. With Method, MakerBot has officially stepped away from the maker community from which it got its name. While it could be argued that their later model Replicator printers were already edging out of the consumer market based on price alone, the Method makes the transition clear not only from its eye watering $6,500 USD price tag, but with its feature set and design.

That said, it’s still an interesting piece of equipment worth taking a closer look at. It borrows concepts from a number of other companies and printers while introducing a few legitimately compelling features of its own. While the Method might not be on any Hackaday reader’s holiday wish list, we can’t help but be intrigued about the machine’s future.

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ESP8266 Monitor Keeps An Eye On OctoPrint

At this point, you’ve almost certainly heard of OctoPrint. The web-based control interface for 3D printers is especially popular for those who’s primary computers run on an operating system that has a penchant for occasionally imploding. Even if you aren’t laboring under that common software handicap, OctoPrint offers a wide away of compelling features. Perhaps chief among them the ability to monitor your printer over the network, and if you insist, over the Internet. But while OctoPrint provides the server side for getting your printer on the net, you’re on your own for the client.

Rather than using a web browser like some kind of peon, [David Payne] has come up with a very slick desktop OctoPrint monitor using the WeMos D1 Mini ESP8266 board. With an exceptionally low part count and housed in a (what else) 3D printed enclosure, this is a cheap and easy OctoPrint accessory that we suspect will be decorating many a hacker’s desk before too long.

The electronics are simple to the extreme, just hook the 4 wires of an 128×64 OLED I2C display to the appropriate pins of the ESP8266 board, and you’re ready to upload the Arduino code [David] has come up with.

His code is very polished, from using WiFiManager for initial network setup to providing its own web-based configuration menus to get the device linked up to your OctoPrint instance, [David] clearly wanted this to be as smooth an experience as possible for the end user. When the 3D printer isn’t working on a job, the monitor will even switch over to showing you the time and weather. We’ve seen commercial products that weren’t this user-friendly.

We also love the case design on this little gadget. While the aesthetics are perhaps debatable (sort of reminds us of the little fellows from Darwinia), we appreciate any functional print that doesn’t require supports. You’ll need to provide a couple of little screws to keep the back panel on, but other than that everything snaps into place.

Of course, you could always just use your smartphone to keep an eye on OctoPrint, and even if the remote management capabilities don’t grab your interest, there’s plenty of interesting plugins to keep you occupied.

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