Robot Sorts Beads by Color

If you know anyone who does crafts, they probably have a drawer with a  few million beads loose and mixed together. You’ll sort them out one day, right? Probably not. Unless, of course, you build a robot to do the dirty work for you. That’s what [Kalfalfa] did, using some Phidgets boards, a camera and Open CV. You can see a video of the cardboard machine doing its thing below.

Maybe it is because we are more electronics-minded, but we were impressed with the mechanism to grab just one bead at a time from the hopper. If you watch the video, you’ll see what we mean. However, sometimes a bead jams and a magnetic sensor figures that out so the controller can reverse a bit and try again.

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Robo Car Via 3G

[Emil Kalstø] has a pretty solid remote control car. We don’t mean a little car with a handheld remote you can drive around the neighborhood. [Emil’s] car has a camera and a cell phone so that it can go anywhere there’s 3G or 4G networking available.

The video (see below) shows the results (along with [Emil’s] little brother acting as a safety officer). The video offers tantalizing detail you might find useful if you want to reproduce a similar vehicle. However, it stops short of providing complete details.

The two batteries onboard will power the vehicle for over 20 hours of continuous use. The 30W motor is reduced with a chain drive to go about “walking speed.” There’s a Raspberry Pi with a Huawei 3G USB dongle onboard and [Emil] uses an XBox controller to do the steering from the warmth of his living room. Of course, a Pi can’t handle a big motor like that directly, so a Phidgets USB motor controller does the hard work. The software is written using Node.js.

The camera mount can swivel 230 degrees on a servo so that the operator can scan the road ahead. The video mentions that steering the car required a heavy-duty servo with metal gears (an earlier attempt with nylon gears didn’t work out).

Overall, it looks like a solid build. We hope [Emil] will share code and more details soon. If you can’t wait (and your insurance is paid up), you might have a go at an even bigger car. Surprisingly, there’s more than one example of that.

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Arduino vs. Phidgets vs. Gadgeteer

A few days ago, we saw a dev time trial between the Arduino and Phidgets, a somewhat proprietary dev board that is many times more expensive than an Arduino. The time trial was a simple experiment to see which platform was faster to prototype simple circuits. As always in Hackaday comments, there was a ton of comments questioning the validity and bias of the test. Not wanting to let a good controversy go to waste, [Ian Lee] tossed his hat into the ring with the same dev trial with the Gadgeteer.

The Gadgeteer has the same design philosophy as Phidgets: modular components and a unique software system -the Gadgeteer is based on .NET Micro Framework – that allows you to get up and running quickly. Unlike Phidgets, the Gadgeteer is priced competitively with the Arduino, and the mainboard is priced within an order of magnitude of a single ATMega chip.

[Ian] pulled off three projects with the three development platforms: blinking a LED, moving a servo, and building a pedometer with an accelerometer. For each trial, the time taken and the price of all components were added up. Here’s the relevant graph:

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Arduino vs. Phidgets – Dev Time Trials

Is developing on an Arduino too slow? Are Phidgets too expensive? When might you use one or the other? Hackaday regular [Ken] breaks down what he learned from three experimental time trials.

The main development differences between Arduino and Phidgets are a mix of flavor preferences and some hard facts. The Arduino is open source, Phidgets are proprietary. Arduino requires a mix of hard- and software where Phidgets only needs (and only allows) a connection to a full computer but enables high level languages – it is expected to get the job done sooner and easier. And finally, Arduinos are cheap, Phidgets are 3-5x the cost.

The three time trials were common tasks: 1. Blink an LED. 2. Use a pot to turn a servo. 3. Build a pedometer. For [Ken], the Phidgets won in each of the three experiments, but not significantly: 37%, 45%, and 25% respectively. The difference is only minutes. Even considering time value, for most hackers it is not worth the cost.

HAD - Phidgets3In context, the advantages of a mildly more rapid development on the simplest projects are wasted away by needing to rebuild a permanent solution. Chained to a PC, Phidgets are only useful for temporary or fixed projects. For many of our readers that puts them dead in the water. Arduinos may technically be dev kits but are cheap enough to be disposed of in the project as the permanent solution – probably the norm for most of us.

[Ken] points out that for the software crowd that abhor electronics, Phidgets plays to their preferences. Phidgets clips together their pricey peripherals and the rest is all done in code using familiar modern languages and libraries. We wonder just how large this group could still be; Phidgets might have been an interesting kit years ago when the gulf between disciplines was broader but the trend these days is towards everyone knowing a little about everything. Hackaday readers probably represent that trend more than most, but let us know if that seems off.

[Ken]’s article has much more and much better detailed explanations of the experiments and the tradeoffs between the platforms.

If you enjoy watching parallel engineering, see the time-lapse video below for a split screen of the time trials.

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The Phidgets Solar Powered Weather Station


Yes, it’s a weather station, one of those things that records data from a suite of sensors for a compact and robust way of logging atmospheric conditions. We’ve seen a few of these built around Raspberry Pis and Arduinos, but not one built with a Phidget SBC, and rarely one that has this much thought put in to a weather logging station.

This weather station is designed to be autonomous, logging data for a week or so until the USB thumb drive containing all the data is taken back to the lab and replaced with a new one. It’s designed to operate in the middle of nowhere, and that means no power. Solar it is, but how big of a solar panel do you need?

That question must be answered by carefully calculating the power budget of the entire station and the battery, the size of the battery, and the worst case scenario for clouds and low light conditions. An amorphous solar cell was chosen for its ability to generate power from low and indirect light sources. This is connected to a 12 Volt, 110 amp hour battery. Heavy and expensive, but overkill is better than being unable to do the job.

Sensors, including temperature, humidity, and an IR temperature sensor were wired up to a Phidgets SBC3 and the coding began. The data are recorded onto a USB thumb drive plugged into the Phidgets board, and the station was visited once a week to retrieve data. This is a far, far simpler solution than figuring out a wireless networking solution, and much better on the power budget.

Via embedded lab

Careful! That gas pedal is a Nexus One

Indeed, the gizmo above is meant to be used as a gas pedal. [Grant Skinner] came up with the idea to control slot cars using an Android phone as a gas pedal. He coded the software for the handset and a computer using Adobe AIR. Once connected, the computer is sent the accelerometer data from the phone, relaying the speed control to the slot car track with the aid of a Phidgets motor controller. See it ‘go’ after the break.

We’ve seen the Phidgets board used in several projects like the augmented vending machine and the plotter white board. What we haven’t seen is hacks that make use of AIR, a framework we looked at two years ago. If you’ve got hacks that make use of AIR we want to hear about them.

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Old school vending machine learns new tricks

Thanks to craigslist [Chris] got his hands on a soda vending machine circa 1977. It still worked just fine (because things were still built to last back then) but he wanted to add some super-secret upgrades to the beverage dispensary. Two capacitive touch sensors were added to override the need for coins for those who know where to caress the beast, and iPhone support means that frothy beer is just a touch away.

The capacitive switches are using the same QT100 chip we saw in the game of life from last year. The whole thing runs off of a Phidgets board which we’ve seen in the past using iPhone control to launch rockets. See a demonstration of the features in the clip after the break. We’d love to do a hack like this but the problem is once you’re done, you’ve got a vending machine sitting in your house.

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