Automated Cat Feeder Leaves Little To Chance

We often like to say that if something is worth doing, then it’s worth overdoing. This automatic cat feeder built by [krizzli] is a perfect example of the principle. It packs in far more sensors and functions than its simple and sleek outward appearance might suggest, to the point that we think this build might just set the standard for future projects.

The defining feature of the project is a load cell located under the bowl, which allows the device to accurately measure out how much feed is being dispensed by weight. This allows the feeder to do things such as detect jams or send an alert once it runs out of food, as well as easily adjust how much is dispensed according to the animal’s dietary needs. To prevent any curious paws from getting into the machine while it’s doling out the food, the lid will automatically open and close during the filling process, complete with optical sensors to confirm that it moved as expected.

All of the major components of the feeder were printed out on a Prusa i3 MK3S, and [krizzli] says that the feed hopper can be scaled vertically if necessary. Though at the current size, it’s already packing around a week’s worth of food. Of course, this does depend on the particular feline you’re dealing with.

In terms of electronics, the feeder’s primary control comes from an ESP8266 (specifically, the Wemos D1 Mini), though [krizzli] also has a Arduino Pro Mini onboard so there’s a few more GPIO pins to play with. The food is dispensed with a NEMA 17, and a 28-BYJ48 stepper is in charge of moving the lid. A small OLED on the side of the feeder gives some basic information like the time until the next feeding and the dispensed weight, but there’s also a simple API that lets you talk to the device over the network. Being online also means the feeder can pull the time from NTP, so kitty’s mealtime will always be on the dot.

Over the years we’ve seen an incredible array of automatic cat feeders, some of which featuring the sort of in-depth metrics possible when you’ve got on onboard scale. But we can’t help but be impressed with how normal this build looks. If nothing else, of all the feeders we’ve seen, this one is probably the most likely to get cloned and sold commercially. They say it’s the most sincere form of flattery.

Music Box Paper-Punching Machine Settles The Score

As soon as [pashiran] laid eyes on his first hand-cranked music box, he knew he was in love. Then, he started punching the holes for his first ditty. As the repetitive stress of punching heated up his arm, his love cooled a bit. Annealed by the ups and downs of this experience, he decided to design a machine that can punch the holes automatically.

Soon, [pashiran] found his people — a community of music boxers that transform MIDI files to DXF format, which creates coordinates for CAD software. In [pashiran]’s music puncher, an Arduino MEGA takes a DXF file and bubble-sorts the jumble of x-coordinates. The MEGA conducts a trio of two stepper motors and DC motor. One stepper pushes the paper through on the x-axis, and the other moves the puncher head back and forth across the paper scroll as the y-axis. The DC motor moves the punch up and down.

Now, paired with [Martin] of [Wintergatan]’s method for chaining music box paper together, [pashiran] can write a prog-rock-length opus without fear of repetitive stress injury. And since he’s published the STL and INO files, now you can, too. Watch it punch and play 250 notes worth of “See My Vest” “Be Our Guest” after the break.

There’s more than one way to avoid manually punching all those holes. When [Wintergatan] was wrestling this problem, he inspired the hacker community to create a MIDI-to-laser-cut-stencil solution.

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A Miniature Radio Telescope In Every Backyard

You probably wouldn’t expect to see somebody making astronomical observations during a cloudy day in the center of a dense urban area, but that’s exactly what was happening at the recent 2019 Philadelphia Mini Maker Faire. Professor James Aguirre of the University of Pennsylvania was there demonstrating the particularly compact Mini Radio Telescope (MRT) project built around an old DirecTV satellite dish and a smattering of low-cost components, giving visitors a view of the sky in a way most had never seen before.

Thanks to the project’s extensive online documentation, anyone with a spare satellite dish and a couple hundred dollars in support hardware can build their very own personal radio telescope that’s capable of observing objects in the sky no matter what the time of day or weather conditions are. Even if you’re not interested in peering into deep space from the comfort of your own home, the MRT offers a framework for building an automatic pan-and-tilt directional antenna platform that could be used for picking up signals from orbiting satellites.

With the slow collapse of satellite television in the United States these dishes are often free for the taking, and a fairly common sight on the sidewalk come garbage day. Perhaps there’s even one (or three) sitting on your own roof as you read this, waiting for a new lease on life in the Netflix Era.

Whether it’s to satisfy your own curiosity or because you want to follow in Professor Aguirre’s footsteps and use it as a tool for STEM outreach, projects like MRT make it easier than ever to build a functional DIY radio telescope.

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No Need To Watch Your Tea, This Robot Does It For You

For anyone who’s ever had to make their own tea, steeping it for the right amount of time can be a pain. That’s precisely the problem that the automatic tea brewing robot solves with its painless approach to brewing tea, built by Slovenian electrical engineering student [Kristjan Berce].

You can use the robot by setting a timer on the knob, at which point the robot raises it arm for the tea bag then dips in the water every 30 seconds until the time has passed. At the end of the timer, the bag is raised clear of the cup to end the brewing. It’s a remarkably simple design that almost evokes chindogu (the Japanese art of useless inventions) if not for the fact that the robot actually serves a useful purpose.

The components for 3D printing the robot are available online, consisting of a case, a container for the Arduino-powered electronics, the lever for holding the tea, and the gear that raises the lever up and down. The device also uses an integrated Li-Ion battery with an accessible charging port and integrated BMS. A 35BYJ46 stepper motor and ULN2003 driver are used to move the 3D printed mechanism. The device uses a potentiometer for setting the steeping time between 1 and 9 minutes, and there’s even a buzzer for indicating once the tea is done brewing.

The Gerber and Arduino code files are open-source for any hackers looking to make their own tea brewers; just take care they operate with “deadly punctuality”.

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Bearing-reinforced Stepper Tackles Hefty Axial Loads

These days, it’s common among us hackers to load a stepper motor with forces in-line with their shaft–especially when we couple them to leadscrews or worm gears. Unfortunately, steppers aren’t really intended for this sort of loading, and doing so with high forces can destroy the motor. Fear not, though. If you find yourself in this situation, [Voind Robot] has the solution for you with a dead-simple-yet-dead-effective upgrade to get your steppers tackling axial loads without issue.

In [Voind Robot’s] case, they started with a worm-gear-drive on a robot arm. In their circumstances, moving the arm could put tremendous axial loads onto the stepper shaft through the worm–as much as 30 Newtons. Such loads could easily destroy the internal stepper motor bearings in a short time, so they opted for some double-sided reinforcement. To alleviate the problem, the introduced two thrust bearings, one on either side of the shaft. These thrust bearings do the work of redirecting the force off the shaft and directly onto the motor casing, a much more rigid place to apply such loads.

This trick is dead simple, and it’s actually over five years old. Nevertheless, it’s still incredibly relevant today for any 3D printer builder who’s considering coupling a leadscrew to a stepper motor for their Z-axis. There, a single thrust bearing could take out any axial play and lead to an overall rigid build. We love simple machine-design nuggets of wisdom like these. If you’re looking for more printer-design tricks, look no further than [Moritz’s] Workhorse Printer article.

Deducing Stepper Motor Wiring

There are a lot of fun projects you can do with stepper motors salvaged from old printers or disk drives. However, it isn’t always clear how to connect to some strange motor with no markings or schematics. [Corvetteguy50] has a video showing his trick for working out the connections easily, and you can see it below.

The basic idea is simple. Using a special jig, he connects an LED across two random pins and spins the motor. If the LED lights, you’ve found a coil. You just don’t know which coil, yet. You can also short two wires and note when you feel resistance when you spin the shaft.

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Getting Hackers Excited About Cable Robots

Ever since he looked into them as a way to water and care for his plants, [Tom] has been fascinated with cable robots. These high-flying gadgets can move in three dimensions over huge areas, provided you’ve got the ability to string up the aforementioned cables. But despite their flexibility, there hasn’t been a whole lot of hobbyist level development with these unique systems.

With his entry into the 2019 Hackaday Prize, [Tom] is hoping to change that. He’s learned a lot by building his own cable robots, and now wants to take it to the next level. Ideally with collaboration from the community, if he can find other hackers looking to outfit their homes or workshops with their own miniature sky cranes.

So what can you do with a cable robot? In the video after the break, [Tom] shows one of his creations dutifully transporting beer cans across the room and stacking them into a pyramid. Admittedly this isn’t a particularly useful capability (unless you run a bar, perhaps), but it does show the speed and dexterity of the system even when crossing large distances. If you’ve ever wanted to play the home edition of “Automate the Freight”, this one’s for you.

The system uses a trio of 36 volt stepper motors powered by a homebrew SLA7078 driver that [Tom] designed himself. Each stepper turns a geared-down spindle to which a strong cable is attached. With some clever routing around the workspace, careful orchestration of these small winches can be used to move the point where all the cables meet in 3D space. All that’s left is mounting your gadget of choice to this central point, and away you go.

We’ve seen the concept used commercially, but as far as hobbyist projects go, the most activity we’ve seen in this space would have to be the various room sized 3D printers that have popped up over the years. It would be interesting to see what kind of interesting projects the community could come up with if they had something with a little more muscle.

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