RoboTray Is A Secret Tea Butler

How far would you go for your cup of tea? [samsungite]’s missus doesn’t like clutter on her countertops, so away the one-cup kettle would go back into the cupboard for next time while the tea steeped. As long as there’s room for it in there, why not install it there permanently? That’s the idea behind RoboTray, which would only be cooler if it could be plumbed somehow.

RoboTray went through a few iterations, most importantly the switch from 6mm MDF to 4 mm aluminum plate. A transformer acts as a current sensor, and when the kettle is powered on, the tray first advances forward 7 cm using a 12 VDC motor and an Arduino. Then it pivots 90° on a lazy Susan driven by another 12 VDC motor. The kettle is smart enough to turn itself off when finished, and the Arduino senses this and reverses all the steps after a ten-second warning period. Check it out in action after the break.

If [samsungite] has any more Arduinos lying around, he might appreciate this tea inventory tracker.

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Homebrew Doorknob Caps For High-Voltage Fun

Mouser and Digi-Key are great for servicing most needs, and the range of parts they offer is frankly bewildering. But given the breadth of the hardware hacking community’s interests, few companies could afford to be the answer to everyone’s needs.

That’s especially true for the esoteric parts needed when one’s hobby involves high voltages and homemade lasers, like [Les Wright]. He recently came up with a DIY doorknob capacitor design that makes the hard-to-source high-voltage caps much easier to obtain. We’ve seen [Les] use these caps in his transversely excited atmospheric (TEA) lasers, a simple design that uses high-voltage discharge across a long, narrow channel filled with either room air or nitrogen. The big ceramic caps are needed for the HV supply, and while [Les] has a bunch, they’re hard to come by online. He tried a follow-up using plain radial-lead ceramic capacitors, and while the laser worked, he did get some flashover between the capacitor leads.

[Les]’s solution was to dunk the chunky caps in acetone for a week or so to remove their epoxy covering. Once denuded, the leads were bent into a more axial configuration and soldered to brass machine screws. The dielectric slug is then put in a small section of plastic tubing and potted in epoxy resin with the bolts protruding from each end. The result is hard to distinguish from a genuine doorknob cap; the video below shows the build process as well as some testing.

Hats off to [Les] for taking pity on those of us who want to replicate his work but find ourselves without these essentials. It’s nice to know there’s a way to make unobtanium parts when you need them.

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No Doorknobs Needed For This Nitrogen Laser Build

Sometimes the decision to tackle a project or not can boil down to sourcing parts. Not everything is as close as a Digi-Key or Mouser order, and relying on the availability of surplus parts from eBay or other such markets can be difficult. Knowing if and when a substitute will work for an exotic part can sometimes be a project all on its own.

Building lasers is a great example of this, and [Les Wright] recently looked at substitutes for hard-to-find “doorknob” capacitors for his transversely excited atmospheric lasers. We took at his homebrew TEA lasers recently, which rely on a high voltage supply and very rapid switching to get nitrogen gas to lase. His design uses surplus doorknob caps, big chunky parts rated for very high voltages but also with very low parasitic inductance, which makes them perfect for the triggering circuit.

[Les] tried to substitute cheaper and easier-to-find ceramic power caps with radial wire leads rather than threaded lugs. With a nominal 40-kV rating, one would expect these chunky blue caps to tolerate the 17-kV power supply, but as he suspected, the distance between the leads was short enough to result in flashover arcing. Turning down the pressure in the spark gap chamber helped reduce the flashover and prove that these caps won’t spoil the carefully engineered inductive properties of the trigger. Check out the video below for more details.

Thanks to [Les] for following up on this and making sure everyone can replicate his designs. That’s one of the things we love about this community — true hackers always try to find a way around problems, even when it’s just finding alternates for unobtanium parts.

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How About A Nice Cuppa TEA Laser?

If lasers are your hobby, you face a conundrum. There are so many off-the-shelf lasers that use so many different ways of amplifying and stimulating light that the whole thing can be downright — unstimulating. Keeping things fresh therefore requires rolling your own lasers, and these DIY nitrogen TEA and dye lasers seem like a fun way to go.

These devices are the work of [Les Wright], who takes us on a somewhat lengthy but really informative tour of transversely excited atmospheric (TEA) lasers. The idea with TEA lasers is that a gas, often carbon dioxide in commercial lasers but either air or pure nitrogen in this case, is excited by a high-voltage discharge across long parallel electrodes. TEA lasers are dead easy to make — we’ve covered them a few times — but as [Les] points out, that ease of construction leads to designs that are more ad hoc than engineered.

In the video below, [Les] presents three designs that are far more robust than the typical TEA laser. His lasers use capacitors made from aluminum foil with polyethylene sheets for dielectric, sometimes with the addition of beautiful “doorknob” ceramic caps too. A spark gap serves as a very fast switch to discharge high voltage across the laser channel, formed by two closely spaced aluminum hex bars. Both the spark gap and the laser channel can be filled with low-pressure nitrogen. [Les] demonstrates the power and the speed of his lasers, which can even excite laser emissions in a plain cuvette of rhodamine dye — no mirrors needed! Although eye protection is, of course.

These TEA lasers honestly look like a ton of fun to build and play with. You might not be laser welding or levitating stuff with them, but that’s hardly the point.

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Minimalist Mate Maker Keeps You Caffeinated

Americans love their coffee. The Brits adore their tea. In South America, the number one way to get through the day is with yerba mate, a tea made from the yerba plant. It is typically shared in a social setting, with one person preparing the beverage for everyone to enjoy. Although caffeine certainly deserves a ceremony, it never needs one. Hit the streets and you’ll see people everywhere with a thermos under one arm, keeping water hot and ready to refill the cup of mate in their hand.

The Stanley vacuum thermos is quite a popular choice for drinkers on the go, but the Argentinian government recently placed new restrictions foreign imports. [Roni Bandini] decided to build a minimum viable mate machine so he always has perfectly hot water on tap.

An Arduino Nano heats the water and displays the rising temperature on an LCD screen. When the temperature is just right, the display asks for your cup. An ultrasonic sensor detects the cup and dispenses a certain amount of water determined in the sketch. Yerba leaves can be used a few times before losing their flavor, so the machine keeps track and lets him know when it’s time to replace them. You can sip on a brief demo after the break.

Let’s say you don’t have perfectly-prepared mate, and it always comes out too hot. That’s better than too cold, but still not ideal. Why not make a temperature-sensing coaster that alerts you when it has cooled to perfection?

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Tea Bot Solves Another First World Problem

In the movie Wall-E, future humans live in floating chairs and have everything done for them. Today, we grumble if we have to go to physically find a light switch or a remote control. How far away can floating chairs with screens be? T2, the Tea Bot, gets us one step closer to that. Using a laser-cut frame, an ESP8266, and a servo motor, the T2 brews your tea for exactly the right amount of time.

We were kind of hoping the robot would at least dunk the tea bag in and out, but it does provide a web interface that lets you select the brew. Of course, the code is available, so you could make modifications — maybe turn on a hotplate underneath the cup.

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A Modern Solution To Tea Bag Inventory Management

Britain is famously known as a land of manners and hospitality. Few situations could make an Englishman’s stiff upper lip quiver, short of running out of tea bags while entertaining house guests. Thankfully, [The Gentleman Maker] is here and living up to his name – with a helpful tea monitor to ensure you’re never caught out again.

The Intelli-T, as it has been dubbed, monitors tea inventory by weight. An Arduino Uno combined with a HX711 IC monitors a load cell mounted under a canister, with a reed switch on the lid. Upon the canister being open and closed, the Arduino takes a measurement, determining whether tea stocks have dipped below critical levels. If the situation is dire, a Raspberry Pi connected over the serial port will sound an urgent warning to the occupants of the home. If there is adequate tea, the Raspberry Pi will instead provide a helpful tea fact to further educate the users about the hallowed beverage.

It’s a fun project, and one that has scope for further features, given the power of the Raspberry Pi. A little more work could arrange automatic ordering of more tea online, or send alerts through a service like IFTTT. We’ve seen [The Gentleman Maker]’s uniquely British hacks before, such as the umbrella that tells you the weather. Video after the break.

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