Robotic Melodica Student Is Enthusiastic But Terrible

Anyone who has through the process of learning to play a musical instrument for the first time, or listening to someone attempting to do so will know that it can be a rather painful and frustrating experience. [Alessandro Perini] apparently couldn’t get enough of the sound of a first-time musician, so he created a robot to play the melodica badly for hours on end, as demonstrated in the video after the break.

The project is appropriately named “AI’ve just started to learn to play”, and attempts to copy every melody it hears in real-time. The robot consists of the cartridge carriage from an old printer, mounted on a wooden frame to hold the melodica. The original carriage used a DC motor with an encoder for accurate movement, but since position accuracy was not desirable, [Alessandro] ditched the encoder. Two small trolley wheels are mounted on the cartridge holder to push down on the melodica’s key. A bistable solenoid valve controls airflow to the melodica from an air compressor. The DC motor and solenoid valve is controlled by an Arduino via a pair of LM298 motor drivers.

A host computer running software written in Cycling ’74 MAX listens to the melody it’s trying to imitate, and send serial commands to the Arduino to move the carriage and open the solenoid to try and match the notes. Of course, it keeps hitting a series of wrong notes in the process. The Arduino code and build instructions have been published, but the main Max software is only described briefly. [Alessandro] demonstrated the robot at a local festival, where it played YouTube tutorial snippets and jammed with a local band for a full 24 hours. You have to respect that level of endurance.

If listening to less error-prone electronically controlled instruments is more to your taste, listen to this building-sized pipe organ play MIDI files.

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Modern Network Adapter For Retro Computers

Universal Serial Bus, or USB, is so ingrained in modern computing that it’s hard to imagine a time without it. That time did exist, though, and it was a wild west of connector types, standards, and interfacing methods. One of the more interesting interfaces of the time was the SIO system found in 8-bit Atari computers which ended up sharing a lot of the features of modern USB, and its adaptability is displayed in this modern project which brings WiFi, Bluetooth, USB, and SD card slots to any old Atari with an SIO port.

The project is called FujiNet and it uses the lightweight protocol of SIO to add a number of modern features to the 8-bit machine. It’s based on an ESP32, and the chip performs the functions of a network adapter by bridging WiFi and Bluetooth to the Atari. It does this by simulating drives that would have potentially been used on the Atari in its time, such as a floppy disk drive, an RS232 interface, or a modem, and translating them to the modern wireless communication protocols. It even has the ability to emulate a printer by taking the output of the print job from the Atari and converting it to PDF within the device itself.

Not only does this bring a lot of functionality to the Atari, which you may be able to use to view sites like retro.hackaday.com, but the FujiNet is housed in a period-appropriate 3D-printed case that matches the look and feel of the original Atari. If you need a more generic solution for your retrocomputing networking adventures that isn’t limited to SIO, we recommend grabbing a Raspberry Pi to handle that.

Thanks to [Gavin] for the tip!

Print With Plasma!

Over the years there have been a variety of methods for a computer to commit its thoughts to paper. Be it a daisy wheel, a dot matrix, a laser, or an inkjet, we’ve all cursed at a recalcitrant printer. There’s another type of printer that maybe we don’t think of quite as often but is workhorse in a million cash registers and parking ticket machines: the thermal printer. These mechanisms can be readily found as surplus items and have made their way into more than one project here over the years. [HomoFaciens] has taken thermal printing a step further by building a plasma printer from scratch that makes use of the thermal paper.

A thermal printer does its job as its name suggests, by burning the image into the paper. It may not deliver the best quality print, but scores on not needing ink ribbons, cartridges, or toner. This DIY version uses an off-the-shelf battery-powered plasma lighter to do the job, mounted on a 3D printed XY printer mechanism driven by two stepper motors. Behind the scenes is an Arduino Uno, which receives its instructions via USB from a command-line program on a Linux box. It’s admitted that this is hardly the pinnacle of printing technology, but it does at least make for a fascinating project. You can see it in action in the video below the break.

This isn’t [HomoFaciens]’ first printer, we’re instantly reminded of this ink drop printer from a few years ago.

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Art Piece Builds Up Images With Dots On Thread

Hackers being as a rule practical people, we sometimes get a little guff when we run a story on an art installation, on the grounds of not being sufficiently hacky. We understand that, but sometimes the way an artist weaves technology into their pieces is just too cool to pass us, as with this thread-printing art piece entitled On Framing Textile Ambiguities.

We’ll leave criticism of the artistic statement that [Nathalie Gebert]’s installation makes to others more qualified, and instead concentrate on its technical aspects. The piece has four frames made mainly from brass rods. Three of the frames have vertical rods that are connected to stepper motors and around which is wrapped a single thread. The thread weaves back and forth over the rods on one frame, forming a flat surface that constantly changes as the rods rotate, before heading off to do the same on the others. The fourth frame has a platen that the thread passes over with a pen positioned right above it. As the thread pauses in its endless loop, the pen clicks down onto it, making a dot of color. The dots then wend their way through the frame, occasionally making patterns that are just shy of recognizable before morphing into something new. The video below shows it better than it can be easily described.

Love it or hate it, you’ve got to admit that it has some interesting potential as a display. And it sort of reminds us of this thread-art polar robot, although this one has the advantage of being far simpler.

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This Four-Axis Stencil Printer Is The Ultimate In SMD Alignment Tools

Here at Hackaday we love all kinds of builds, and we celebrate anytime anyone puts parts together into something else. And while we love the quick and dirty builds, there’s just something about the fit and finish of this four-axis SMD stencil printer that really pushes our buttons.

This build comes to us from [Phillip], who like many surface-mount users was sick of the various tape-and-PCB methods that are commonly used to align the solder stencil with the PCB traces. His solution is this fully adjustable stencil holder made from aluminum extrusions joined by 3D-printed parts. The flip-up frame of the device has a pair of clamps for securely holding the stainless steel stencil. Springs on the clamp guide rods provide some preload to keep the stencil taut as well as protection from overtensioning.

The stencil can move in the X-, Y-, and Z-axes to line up with a PCB held with 3D-printed standoffs on a bed below the top frame. The bed itself rotates slightly to overcome any skew in alignment of the PCB. [Phillip] was aghast at the price of an off-the-shelf slew-ring bearing for that axis, but luckily was able to print up some parts and just use simple roller bearing to do the same thing for a fraction of the cost. The frame is shown in use below; the moment when the pads line up perfectly through the stencil holds is oddly satisfying.

This puts us in mind of a recent, similar stencil printer we covered. That one was far simpler, but either one of these beats the expedient alignment methods hands down.

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Can You Print With Highlighter Ink?

With huge swathes of people either out of work or working from home, many are now attempting all manner of exciting or silly projects in their downtime. [Emily Velasco] is no exception. She decided to explore the feasability of printing with highlighter ink.

It’s a messy business. Wear gloves.

The hack starts with a rather ancient inkjet printer, so old that it works with tractor feed paper. [Emily] set about gutting several highlighter pens and squeezed out the ink reservoirs into a ladle. The printer’s ink cartridge was then filled with the fluid, and a test print was fired off. Upon initial extraction, it appears blank. However, with the aid of a UV light, the printed pattern is revealed. It appears that the inkjet is printing a very faint image, such that the system almost works as an “invisible ink”.

It’s a fun little hack with an old printer, made easier as it lacks the DRM of newer models. It’d probably be quite achievable with a dot-matrix, too. If you’re similarly tinkering in the innards of your peripherals, be sure to let us know. Video after the break.

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Inkjet Printing On The Cheap With A Continuous Ink System

Inkjet printers are cheap to buy, but expensive to run. Replacement cartridges can easily cost double the price of the hardware itself, leading many to decry the technology entirely. However, the hackers of the world have the problem licked – enter the continuous ink system.

[cprossu] wanted an affordable color printing solution for the hackerspace. A cheap printer was sourced from a thrift store. The model chosen was selected for its lack of cartridge DRM and the availability of kits on eBay for conversion to a continuous ink system. This involves running large refillable tanks of ink instead of small individual cartridges which must be thrown away when empty.

[cprossu] discusses both the challenges you’ll likely face in a general build, as well as the specific work required to handle the conversion on an Epson Artisan 725. There’s also excessive label-maker abuse, which always brings a smile to our face. It’s a conversion well worth considering if you find yourself regularly purchasing expensive cartridges. We’ve even seen similar builds as far back as 2009, right from the ground up!