It’s Pi All The Way Down With This Pi-Powered Pi-Picking Robot

While most of us live in a world where the once ubiquitous Raspberry Pi is now as rare as hens’ teeth, there’s a magical place where they’ve got so many Pis that they needed to build a robotic dispenser to pick Pi orders. And to add insult to injury, they even built this magical machine using a Raspberry Pi. The horror.

This magical place? Australia, of course. There’s no date posted on the Pi Australia article linked above, but it does mention that there’s a Pi 4 Model B running the show, so that makes it at least recent-ish. Stock is stored in an array of tilted bins that a shuttle mechanism accesses via an X-Y gantry. The shuttle docks in front of a bin and uses a stepper-controlled finger to flip a box over the lip holding them in its bin. Once in the shuttle, the order is transported to an array of output bins, where a servo operates a flap to unceremoniously dump the product out for packing and shipping. There’s a video of a full cycle below, but a word of warning — the stepper motors on the X-Y gantry really scream, so you might want to lower the volume.

The article goes into more detail on not only the construction of “Bishop” — named after the heroic synthetic organism from Aliens — but also the challenges faced during construction. It turns out that even when you try to use gravity to simplify a system like this, things can go awry very easily. There’s also a fair bit of detail on the software, which surprisingly centers around LinuxCNC. And there are plans to take this further, with another bot to do the packing, sealing, and labeling of the order. If they need all that automation down there, we guess we found all the missing Pis.

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The First Vending Machine Hacked Liquor Laws: The Puss And Mew

It is fair to say that many technologies have been influenced by human vices. What you may not realize is that vending machines saw their dawn in this way, the first vending machine was created to serve booze. Specifically, it was created to serve gin, the tipple of choice of the early 18th century. it was created as a hack to get around a law that made it harder to sell alcoholic drinks. It was the first ever vending machine: the Puss and Mew.

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Donut vending machine without microcontroller

No Microcontroller In This Vending Machine, D’oh!

You might think that a microcontroller would be needed to handle a vending machine’s logic. For one thing, only the correct change should activate them and the wrong change should be returned.  If the correct change was detected then a button press should deliver the right food to the dispenser. But if you like puzzles then you might try to think of a way to do with without a microcontroller. After all, the whole circuit can be thought of as a few motors, a power source, and a collection of switches, including the right sized coin.

That’s the way [Little Puffin] approached this donut dispensing vending machine. What’s really fun is to watch the video below and wonder how the logic will all come together as you see each part being put in place. For example, it’s not until near the end that you see how the coin which is a part of the circuit is removed from the circuit for the next purchase (we won’t spoil it for you). Coins which are too small are promptly returned to the customer. To handle coins which are the right size but are too heavy, one enhancement could be to make them fall through a spring-moderated trap door and be returned as well. We’re not sure how to handle coins which are the right size but too light though.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Vendotron

A recurring idea in hackspaces worldwide seems to be that of the vending machine for parts. Need An Arduino, an ESP8266, or a motor controller? No problem, just buy one from the machine!

Most such machines are surplus from the food and drink vending industry, so it’s not unusual to be able to buy an Arduino from a machine emblazoned with the logo of a popular chocolate bar. These machines can, however, be expensive to buy second-hand, and will normally require some work to bring into operation.

A vending machine is not inherently a complex machine nor is it difficult to build when you have the resources of a hackspace behind you. [Mike Machado] is doing just that, building the Vendotron, a carousel vending machine constructed from laser cut plywood and MDF. The whole thing is controlled by an Arduino, with the carousel belt-driven from a stepper motor.

It’s not doing anything commercial vending machines haven’t been doing for years, except maybe having a software interface that allows phone and Bitcoin payments. Where this project scores though is in showing that a vending machine need not be expensive or difficult to build, and broadening access to them for any hackspace that wants one.

We’ve had a few vending machines here before, like this feature on the prototyping process for commercial machines, or even this one that Tweets. Sadly few have a secret button to deliver a free soda though.

Vending Coins For Your Vending Machine

Anyone who has worked in an office with a vending machine knows this problem well: someone wants a snack or a drink from the vending machine, but doesn’t have any small change. So, they proceed to walk around the office trying to find someone to make some change for them. It’s a hassle, and a surprisingly common one. Sure, a lot of vending machines now accept credit cards, but they’re still in the minority.

This was the problem facing Belgium-based automation company November Five. As automation and IoT specialists, their first thought was to hack the vending machine itself. But, unfortunately, they didn’t own it; as many of you know, vending machines are generally owned by the distributor. So, they needed a solution that allowed their employees access to the vending machine, without actually modifying the vending machine itself.

The solution they came up with was to attach an RFID-activated coin dispenser to the vending machine. Everyone at the company already has an RFID badge for opening doors and such, so the system wouldn’t add any burden to the employees. And keeping track of how many coins each employee used was a simple task of logging requests.

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Venduino Serves Snacks, Shows Vending Is Tricky Business

Seems like just about every hackerspace eventually ends up with an old vending machine that gets hacked and modded to serve up parts, tools, and consumables. But why don’t more hackerspaces build their own vending machines from scratch? Because as [Ryan Bates] found out, building a DIY vending machine isn’t as easy as it looks.

[Ryan]’s “Venduino” has a lot of hackerspace standard components – laser-cut birch plywood case, Parallax continuous rotation servos, an LCD screen from an old Nokia phone, and of course an Arduino. The design is simple, but the devil is in the details. The machine makes no attempt to validate the coins going into it, the product augurs are not quite optimized to dispense reliably, and the whole machine can be cleaned out of product with a few quick shakes. Granted, [Ryan] isn’t trying to build a reliable money-making machine, but his travails only underscore the quality engineering behind modern vending machines. It might not seem like it when your Cheetos are dangling from the end of an auger, but think about how many successful transactions the real things process in an environment with a lot of variables.

Of course, every failure mode is just something to improve in the next version, but as it is this is still a neat project with some great ideas. If you’re more interested in the workings of commercial machines, check out our posts on listening in on vending machine comms or a Tweeting vending machine.

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A Tweeting Vending Machine

[Sigurd] manage to obtain an old vending machine from his dorm. The only problem was that the micocontroller on the main board was broken. He and his friend decided they could most likely get the machine back into working order, but they also knew they could probably give it a few upgrades.

This system uses two Arduino Pro Minis and an Electric Imp to cram in all of the new features. One Arduino is connected to the machine’s original main board. The Arduino interfaces with some of the shift registers, relays, and voltage regulators. This microcontroller also lights up the buttons on the machine as long as that particular beverage is not empty. It controls the seven segment LED display, as well as reading the coin validator.

The team had to reverse engineer the original coin validator in order to figure out how the machine detected and counted the coins. Once they figured out how to read the state of the coins, they also built a custom driver board to drive the solenoids.

A second Arduino is used to read NFC and RFID cards using a Mifare RC522 reader. The system uses its own credit system, so a user can be issued a card with a certain amount of pre-paid credit. It will then deduct credit appropriately once a beverage is vended. The two Arduinos communicate via Serial.

The team also wanted this machine to have the ability to communicate with the outside world. In this case, that meant sending cheeky tweets. They originally used a Raspberry Pi for this, but found that the SD card kept getting corrupted. They eventually switched to an Electric Imp, which worked well. The Arduino sends a status update to the Imp every minute. If the status changes, for example if a beverage was dispensed, then the Imp will send a tweet to let the world know. It will also send a tweet to the maintenance person if there is a jam or if a particular slot becomes empty. Continue reading “A Tweeting Vending Machine”