This Arduino Feeds The Dog

Part of the joy of owning a dog is feeding it. How often do you get to make another living being that happy? However, sometimes you can’t be there when your best friend is hungry. [El Taller De TD] built an auto dog feeder using an Arduino and stepper motor. The video and links are in Spanish, but if your Spanish is rusty, YouTube’s caption autotranslation isn’t bad and Google Translate can help you with the web site.

The electronics are reasonably simple: an Arduino, a Bluetooth module, and a stepper motor driver. Mechanically, the motor and some PVC pipe are all you need. There’s a small phone application to drive the Bluetooth using App Inventor.

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K40 Gets A Leg Up With Open Source Z Table

If you’ve done even the most cursory research into buying a laser cutter, you’ve certainly heard of the K40. Usually selling for around $400 USD online, the K40 is not so much a single machine as a class of very similar 40 watt CO2 lasers from various Chinese manufacturers. As you might expect, it takes considerable corner cutting to drive the cost down that low, but the K40 is still arguably the most cost-effective way to get a “real” laser cutter into your shop. If you’re willing to do some modifications on the thing, even better.

One of the shortcomings of the K40 is that it lacks a Z axis, and with thick material that needs multiple cuts at increasingly deeper depths, this can be a hassle. [Aaron Peterson] decided to take it upon himself to design and build an adjustable Z table for the K40 at his local makerspace (River City Labs), and being the swell guy that he is, has made it available under an open source license so the rest of the K40-owning world can benefit from his work.

[Aaron] started the design with a number of goals which really helped elevate the project from a one-off hack to a sustainable community project. For one, he only wanted to use easily available commodity hardware to keep the cost down. The most complex components should all be 3D printable so the design would be easy to replicate by others, and finally, he wanted the user to have the ability to scale it in all dimensions. The end result is a electronically controlled lifting platform that anyone can build, for any laser cutter. It doesn’t even have to be limited to laser cutters; if you have a need for precisely raising or lowering something, this design might be exactly what you’re looking for.

The table is primarily constructed out of 15×15 aluminum extrusion, and uses standard hardware store expanded wire mesh as a top surface. Height is adjusted by rotating the four 95 mm T8 leadscrews with a GT2 belt and pulleys, which prevents any corner from getting out of sync with the others. Connected to a standard NEMA 17 stepper motor, this arrangement should easily be capable of sub-millimeter accuracy. It looks as though [Aaron] has left controlling the stepper motor as an exercise for the reader, but an Arduino with a CNC shield would likely be the easiest route.

We’ve seen a lot of hacking around the K40 over the last couple of years, from spring loaded beds to complete rebuilds which are hardly recognizable. If you’re looking for a cheap laser with a huge catalog of possible hacks and modifications, you could do a lot worse than starting with this inexpensive Chinese machine.

Sorter Uses Cardboard to Organize Card Hoard

If you collect trading cards of any kind, you know that storage quickly becomes an issue. Just ask [theguymasamato]. He used to be really into trading cards, and got back into it when his kids caught the bug. Now he’s sitting on 10,000+ cards that are largely unorganized except for a few that made it into sleeve pages.  They tried to go through them by hand, but only ended up frustrated and overwhelmed. Then he found out about [Michael Portera]’s Pi-powered LEGO card sorter and got all fired up to build a three-part system that feeds cards in one by one, scans them, and sorts them into one of 22 meticulously-constructed cardboard boxes.

[theguymasamato]’s card sorter is the last stop for a card after the feeder has fed it in from the pile and the scanner has scanned it. The sorter lazy Susans around on a thrust bearing, which is driven by a 3D printed drive wheel attached to a stepper. The stepper is controlled with an Arduino.

Here’s where it gets crazy: the drive wheel and timing belt are made from the flutes of corrugated cardboard. As in, he used that wavy bit in the middle as gear teeth. Every one of those cardboard teeth is fortified with wood glue, a time-consuming process he vows to never repeat. Instead, [theguymasamato] recommends using shims to shore them up as he did in the card feeder. The whole thing was originally going to be made from cardboard. It proved to be too mushy to support the thrust bearing, so [theguymasamato] switched to MDF.

Right now, the sorter is homed via button press, but future plans for the device include an IR break beam switch. We’re excited for the scanner and can’t wait to see the whole system put together. While [theguymasamato] works on that, position yourself past the break to watch the build video.

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Silent Stepper Drive Makes A Nicer Watch Winder

Mechanical watches are great in that they never need batteries, but they are simultaneously less than great in that they will lose time if not worn or otherwise regularly agitated. The ridiculous solution to this is the watch winder, which automatically rotates your mechanical watches for you, while you’re not wearing them. This is probably the item you’ll miss the least once the apocalypse hits. [Kristopher] wanted a nice quiet watch winder for his bedside table, but existing solutions were either too loud or too expensive. As is often the case, hacking ensued.

[Kristopher] had decided that starting from scratch was too much hassle. The cheaper watch winders on the market had acceptable quality enclosures, but were simply too loud. [Kristopher] sourced a $40 unit from Amazon, and proceeded to gut the drivetrain. This was replaced with a Sparkfun stepper motor and a Trinamic SilentStepStick – an advanced stepper motor driver that uses several techniques to reduce noise during operation.

An Arduino Nano was substituted as the brains of the operation, communicating with the stepper driver and allowing the winder to be configured for different wind rates. [Kristopher] reports that the device operates near-silently, and the total cost came in well below that of a high-end luxury winder.

Mechanical watches don’t always get a lot of attention these days, but we’ve seen one built from the ground up before. As always, with tips – send ’em if you got ’em.

An Arduino Carbon Fiber Wrapping Machine

Many of the projects we feature on Hackaday are motivated by pure greed. Not on the part of the hacker, mind you; but rather the company that’s charging such an outrageous price for a mass produced item that somebody decides they can do the same thing cheaper as a one-off project. Which is precisely how [Bryan Kevan] ended up building his own carbon fiber tube wrapping machine. Not only do the finished tubes look fantastic, but they cost him a fraction of what even the “cheap” commercial ones cost.

The principle behind producing the tubes is really pretty simple: carbon fiber ribbon (or “tow”, in the official parlance) gets wrapped around a rotating mandrel, ideally in interesting patterns, and epoxy is added to bind it all together. When it’s hardened up, you slide the new carbon fiber tube off the mandrel and away you go building a bike frame or whatever it is you needed light and strong tubes for. You could even do it by hand, if you had enough patience.

[Bryan] had done it by hand before, but was looking for a way to not only automate the process but make the final product a bit more uniform-looking. His idea was to rotate a horizontal PVC pipe as his mandrel, and move a “car” carrying the carbon fiber ribbon back and forth along its length. The PVC pipe just needs to rotate along its axis so he figured that would be easy enough; and using a GT2 belt and some pulleys, getting the carbon-laying car moving back and forth didn’t seem like much of a challenge either.

The frame of the winder is built from the hacker’s favorite: 20/20 aluminum extrusion. Add to that an Arduino Uno, two stepper motors with their appropriate drivers, and the usual assortment of 3D printed odds and ends. [Bryan] says getting the math figured out for generating interesting wrap patterns was a bit tricky and took a fair amount of trial and error, but wasn’t a showstopper. Though we’d suggest following his example and using party ribbon during testing rather than the carbon stuff, as producing a few bird nests at the onset seems almost a guarantee.

One of the trickiest parts of the project ended up being removing the carbon fiber tubes from the PVC mandrel once they were done. [Bryan] eventually settled on a process which involved spraying the PVC with WD-40, wrapping it in parchment paper, and then using a strip of 3M blue painter’s tape to keep the parchment paper from moving. If you can toss the whole mandrel in the freezer after wrapping to shrink it down a bit, even better.

So was all this work worth it in the end? [Bryan] says he was originally looking at spending up to $70 USD per foot for the carbon fiber tubes he needed for his bike frame, but by buying the raw materials and winding them himself, he ended up producing his tubes for closer to $3 per foot. Some might question the strength and consistency of these DIY tubes, but for a ~95% price reduction, we’d be willing to give it a shot.

Years ago we covered a Kickstarter campaign for a very similar carbon winder. Probably due to the relatively limited uses of such a gadget, the winder didn’t hit the funding goal. But just like the current wave of very impressive homebrew laser cutters, the best results might come from just building the thing yourself.

‘Bit’ Installation Combines Art, Markov Chains

A Markov chain is a mathematical concept of a sequence of events, in which each future event depends only on the state of the previous events. Like most mathematical concepts, it has wide-ranging applications from gambling to the stock market, but in this case, [Jonghong Park] has applied it to art.

The installation, known simply as ‘bit’, consists of four machines. Each machine has two microswitches, which are moved around two wooden discs by a stepper motor. The microswitches read bumps on the surface of the disc as either a 0 or 1, and the two bits from the microswitches represent the machine’s “state”.

When a machine is called, the stepper motor rotates 1/240th of a revolution, and then the microswitches read the machine’s current state. Based on this state and the Markov Chain algorithm coded into the machines, a machine with the corresponding state is then called, which in turn moves, continuing the chain.

The piece is intended to reflect the idea of a deterministic universe, one in which the current state can be used to predict all future states. As an art piece, it combines its message with a visually attractive presentation of understated black metal and neatly finished wood.

We love a good art installation here at Hackaday – like this amazing snowflake install from a couple years back. Video after the break.

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Vintage Plotter Turned Fruit Spectrometer

Fruit can be a tricky thing: if you buy it ripe you’ll be racing against time to eat the pieces before they turn into a mushy mess, but if you buy the ones which are a bit before their prime it’s not always easy to tell when they’re ready to eat. Do you smell it? Squeeze it? Toss it on the counter to see if it bounces? In the end you forget about them and they go bad anyway. That’s why here at Hackaday we sustain ourselves with only collected rainwater and thermo-stabilized military rations.

But thankfully Cornell students [Christina Chang], [Michelle Feng], and [Russell Silva] have come up with a delightfully high-tech solution to this decidedly low-tech problem. Rather than rely on human senses to determine when a counter full of fruit has ripened, they propose an automated system which uses a motorized spectrometer to scan an arrangement of fruit. The device measures the fruit’s reflectance at 678 nm, which can be used to determine the surface concentration of chlorophyll-a; a prime indicator of ripeness.

If that sounds a bit above your pay grade, don’t worry. The students were able to build a functional prototype using a 1980’s era plotter, a Raspberry Pi, and a low-cost AS7263 NIR spectral sensor from SparkFun which just so happens to have a peak responsivity of 680 nm. The scanning is performed by a PIC32MX250F128B development board with an attached TFT LCD display so the results can be easily viewed. The Raspberry Pi is used in conjunction with a Adafruit PCA9685 I2C PWM driver to control the plotter’s stepper motors. The scanning and motor control could be done with the PIC32 alone, but to save time the students decided to use the Raspberry Pi to command the PCA9685 as that was what the documentation and software was readily available for.

To perform a scan, the stepper motors home the AS7263 sensor module, and then passes it under the fruit which is laying on a clear acrylic sheet. Moving the length of the acrylic sheet, the sensor is able to scan not only multiple pieces of fruit but the entirety of each piece; allowing it to determine for example if a section of a banana has already turned. The relative ripeness of the fruit is displayed to the user on the LCD display as a heatmap: the brighter the color the more ripe it is.

At the end of their paper, [Christina], [Michelle], and [Russell] note that while the scanner worked well there’s still room for improvement. A more scientific approach to calculating how ripe each fruit is would make the device more accurate and take out the guess work on the part of the end user, and issues with darker colored fruit could potentially be resolved with additional calibration.

While a spectrometer might sound like the kind of equipment that only exists in multi-million dollar research laboratories, we occasionally see projects like this which make the technology much more accessible. This year we saw a compact spectrometer in the Hackaday Prize, and going a bit farther back in time we even featured a roundup of some of the most impressive spectrometer builds on Hackaday.io.

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