Cat Feeder Has Steampunk Flair and a GMail Account

While it is often said that “necessity is the mother of invention”, we can’t say that’s always been our experience here at Hackaday. You won’t need to search too long before you find a project or hack on this site that definitely falls out of the realm of strict necessity. But that’s part of the fun, there’s a reason this site isn’t called AppropriateUseOfTime.com

But when [Sam Storino] couldn’t seem to stop his cats from howling for their supper at 3:00 AM, he had the perfect opportunity to fulfill that age-old wisdom. Not only did he manage to turn a trip to the plumbing isle of his local home improvement store into a very Steampunk-looking automatic cat feeder, but he also found the time to write up an exceptionally detailed series of blog posts on what he learned during the process.

The heart of the machine is everyone’s favorite Linux board, the Raspberry Pi. You might be thinking the Pi is overkill for a simple timer, and you’d be right. Rather than just dump the food out on a set schedule, [Sam] decided to get a little fancy and come up with some Python scripts that will monitor a GMail inbox and activate the feeder hardware when it receives an email with the title “feed cats”. He then uses IFTTT to send the appropriately named email to the GMail account of his cat feeder on a specific schedule. Hey, nobody said necessity was the mother of straightforward invention.

In the final post of the series, [Sam] goes over the hardware side of the device. Copper pipe makes up the frame, which holds a commercial off-the-shelf dry food dispenser. The feeder was designed for manual operation, but by attaching a continuous rotation servo [Sam] can spin it up and dump a pre-measured amount of food via the Pi’s GPIO pins. The addition of some PVC pipe and fittings takes the food and (at least in theory) divides it equally between the two cat bowls below.

If you think [Sam] may have put a bit more thought than was necessary into something as simple as feeding his pets, keep in mind that he’s in exceptionally good company. Paging through the archives, it seems the intersection of felines and hackers is littered with gloriously complex contraptions.

How To Bend PVC The Nice Way

PVC pipe is a valuable material to the backyard hacker. It’s cheap, readily available, and comes in a range of different sizes. However, what do you do if you need to bend it? The typical approach would be to grab a heat gun or blowtorch, warm it up, and go from there. These methods can get messy however, with kinks and melted surfaces spoiling the final result. Now [Linn] has released a video with a method that delivers impressively neat results.

A bending jig can help create repeatable results.

The method is simple, using that classic hacker staple — duct tape. The end of the pipe is taped off, and the pipe filled with sand. With the correct amount measured out, the sand is heated on a cooktop, then poured back into the pipe. After giving the heat some time to soften the plastic, the pipe can then be manipulated into the desired shape.

[Linn] does a great job of explaining the process in a clear and concise manner, and shares tips on how to use a bending jig to guide the final shape. Results are best with smaller pipes that are easier to heat through, but larger sections can be manipulated with patience.

We can’t wait to see what [Linn] builds with this new technique. The possibilities could be further expanded by combining with these PVC fittings designed just for building stuff.

[Thanks to George for the tip!]

Propane-Powered Plasma Rifle

It may not be a “phased plasma rifle in the 40-watt range,” and it doesn’t even use plasma in the strict definition, but it’s pretty cool nonetheless. It’s a propane-powered bottle-launching rifle, and it looks like a lot of fun.

[NighthawkInLight] sure likes things that go pop, like his watermelon-wasting air-powered cannon and cheesy-poof pop gun. This one has a little more oomph to it, powered as it is by a propane torch. The principle is simple: fill a soda bottle with propane, ignite the gas, fun ensues. The details are a little more subtle, though, and allowances need to be made to keep back pressure from preventing the projectile from filling with fuel. [NighthawkInLight] overcomes this with some clever machining of the barrel. The final production version in the video below is needlessly but delightfully complex, with a wooden stock and a coil of clear vinyl tubing helical plasma accumulator before the barrel; the last bit is just for show, and we have to admit that it looks pretty good.

Unless you count the pro tip on using CPVC pipe to make custom fittings, this one is nothing but fun. But we don’t have a problem with that.

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Quick and Dirty Blimp Mount for a Shotgun Mike

Sometimes you don’t have the hardware you need, and you can either do without or let the project’s needs inspire you to create an alternative. That’s pretty sweet, and it’s even sweeter when you find a solution that’s dirt cheap.

[Chu_st] created a sub-$10 blimp mount for his shotgun mike. It consists of a PVC pipe which attaches to the microphone’s shock mount. Plastic gardening grid is used for the shell, shaped by hand into the desired blimp shape and secured with zip ties and gaffer tape. [Chu_st] suggests using nylon stocking as a wind screen. The microphone itself attaches to a length of bicycle seat tube using a standard mic clamp.

For DIY microphone projects, we got you covered, with everything from a low noise floor microphone to one built out of a hard drive published previously.

Make Your Own Compound Bow from PVC Pipe

Have you ever wanted to make your own compound bow for fun or even fishing? [New creative DIY] shows us how in their YouTube video. Compound bows are very powerful in comparison to their longbow grandparents, relying on the lever principle or pulleys. meaning less power exertion for the same output.

Compound bows can be really sophisticated in design using pulleys and some exotic materials, but you can make your own with a few nuts and bolts, PVC pipe, string and a tyre inner tube. The PVC pipe can be melted into shape using a heat source such as a portable stove or even a blow torch, and once you have shaped your bow you will want to put a small piece of pipe at both ends with a nut and bolt. Then you can use rubber to give the flexibility your bow needs to shoot arrows, using the tyre inner tube cut to the right size. A piece of string for the ends of your arrows to rest on is then all you need, attach this to either end of your pipe and you should have a DIY PVC compound bow ready for shooting arrows. Alternatively you could always make a recurve bow out of skis.

–Update [Leithoa] in the comments has pointed out this is neither a bow nor a compound and that they are often confused. This is actually a slingshot, of sorts.–
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Hackaday Prize Entry: Archelon ROV Explores the Ocean

Acendtech Robotics is a 4H robotics club located in Freehold, NJ, and their centerpiece project is the Archelon, an underwater drone they built out of PVC pipes. It’s also a Hackaday Prize entry designed to monitor marine traffic, the seabed, piers, jetties, and other underwater constructions.

The Archelon uses eight thrusters constructed out of bilge pumps that have been hacked to add a propeller, leaving the motor sealed safely inside.

The ROV’s motors are controlled by an Arduino Mega along with two motor driver boards, each board driving two pairs of DC motors. There’s also a robot claw rotated by another modified bilge pump, opened and closed by a waterproof servo. The on-board electronics including a Teensy 3.2 are sealed inside a 1/2″ acrylic tube sealed with rubber o-rings and custom-milled stainless steel endcaps. Connected to the Teensy are the ROV’s cameras as well as an ATTiny88, which in turn control the motors.

Students working with the Archelon learn not only the technical aspects of building a ROV like assembly and programming, but also its mission, learning how to take test samples of agar to study pollutants in the maritime environment.

Holman is Your Phone’s Best Friend

Let’s get something straight right up front: this isn’t much of an electronics project. But it is a very artistic 3D printing project that contains some electronics. [Sjowett] used an off-the-shelf class D amplifier with BlueTooth input to create a simple BlueTooth speaker with a subwoofer. As you can see from the pictures, woofer is exactly the term to use, too.

The clever mechanical design uses 3D printing and common metric PVC pipe. That’s a great technique and resulted in a very clean and professional-looking build. If you don’t have easy access to metric pipe, you could print the pipes, but it will take longer and might not look quite as good.

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