An Impressively Functional Tacobot

We’re big fans of useless machines here at Hackaday, there’s something undeniably entertaining about watching a gadget flail about dramatically without actually making any progress towards a defined goal. But what happens when one of these meme machines ends up working too well? We think that’s just what we might be witnessing here with the Tacobot from [Vije Miller].

On the surface, building an elaborate robotic contraption to (slowly) produce tacos is patently ridiculous. Doubly so when you tack on the need to give it voice commands like it’s some kind of one-dish version of the Star Trek food replicator. The whole thing sounds like the setup for a joke, an assumption that’s only reinforced after watching the dramatized video at the break. But in the end, we still can’t get over how well the thing appears to work.

After [Vije] gives it a list of ingredients to dispense, a robotic arm drops a tortilla on a fantastically articulated rotating platform that can not only spin and move in two dimensions, but can form the soft shell into the appropriate taco configuration. The empty shell is then brought under a rotating dispenser that doles out (or at least attempts to) the requested ingredients such as beef, onions, cheese, and lettuce. With a final flourish, it squirts out a few pumps of the selected sauce, and then presents the completed taco to the user.

The only failing appears to be the machine’s ability to dispense some of the ingredients. The ground beef seems to drop into place without issue, but it visibly struggles with the wetter foodstuffs such as the tomatoes and onions. All we know is that if a robot handed us a taco with that little lettuce on it, we’d have a problem. On the project page [Vije] acknowledges the issue, and says that a redesigned dispenser could help alleviate some of the problem.

The issue immediately brought to mind the fascinating series of posts dedicated to handling bulk material penned by our very own [Anne Ogborn]. While the application here might be a bit tongue-in-cheek, it’s still a perfect example of the interesting phenomena that you run into when trying to meter out different types of materials.

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The octagonal wooden box described in the project. On the left, outer surface of the box is shown, with "Say Friend And Come In" inscription, as well as a few draings (presumably from Lord of The Rings) and two metallic color stars that happen to serve as capacitative sensor electrodes. On the right, underside of the lid is shown, with all the electronics involved glued into CNC-machined channels.

Say Friend And Have This Box Open For You

Handcrafted gifts are special, and this one’s no exception. [John Pender] made a Tolkien-inspired box for his son and shared the details with us on Hackaday.io. This one-of-a-kind handcrafted box fulfills one role and does it perfectly – just like with the Doors of Durin, you have to say ‘friend’ in Elvish, and the box shall unlock for you.

This box, carefully engraved and with attention paid to its surface finish, stands on its own as a gift. However, with the voice recognition function, it’s a project complicated enough to cover quite a few fields at once – woodworking, electronics, and software. The electronics are laid out in CNC-machined channels, and LED strips illuminate the “Say Friend And Come In” inscriptions once the box is ready to listen. If you’re wondering how the unlocking process works, the video embedded below shows it all.

Two solenoids keep the lid locked, and in its center is a Pi Zero, the brains of the operation. With small batteries and a power-hungry board, power management is a bit intricate. Two capacitive sensors and a small power management device are always powered up. When both of the sensors are touched, a power switch module from Pololu wakes the Pi up. It, in turn, takes its sweet time, as fully-fledged Linux boards do, and lights up the LED strip once it’s listening.

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Voice Command Made Mostly Easy

Speech commands are all the rage on everything from digital assistants to cars. Adding it to your own projects is a lot of work, right? Maybe not. [Electronoobs] shows a speech board that lets you easily integrate 255 voice commands via serial communications with a host computer. You can see the review in the video below.

He had actually used a similar board before, but that version was a few years ago, and the new module has, of course, many new features. As of version 3.1, the board can handle 255 commands in a more flexible way than the older versions.

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Code Talkers: Programming With Voice

IEEE Spectrum had an interesting post covering several companies trying to sell voice programming interfaces. Not programming APIs for speech recognition, but the replacement of the traditional text editor to produce programs.

The companies, Serenade and Talon, have very different styles. Serenade has fairly normal-sounding language, whereas Talon has you use very specific phrases and can even use eye tracking to figure out what you are looking at when you issue a command. There’s also mention of two open-source products (Aenae and Caster) that require you to use a third-party speech engine.

For an example of Talon’s input, imagine you want this line of code in your program:

name=extract_word(m)

You’d say this out loud: “Phrase name op equals snake extract word paren mad.” Not exactly how Star Trek envisioned voice programming.

For accessibility, this might be workable. It is hard for us to imagine a room full of developers all talking to make their computers enter C or Python code. Until we can say, “Computer, build a graphic using the data in file hackaday-27,” we think this is not going to go mainstream.

The actual speech recognition part is pretty much a commodity now. Making a reasonable set of guesses about what people will say and what they mean by it is something else. It seems like this works best when you have a very specific and limited vocabulary, like operating a 3D printer.

This Cardboard Box Can Tell You What It Sees

It wasn’t that long ago that talking to computers was the preserve of movies and science fiction. Slowly, voice recognition improved, and these days it’s getting to be pretty usable. The technology has moved beyond basic keywords, and can now parse sentences in natural language. [Liz Meyers] has been working with the technology, creating WhatIsThat – an AI that can tell you what it’s looking at.

Adding a camera to Google’s AIY Voice Kit makes for a versatile object identification system.

The device is built around Google’s AIY Voice Kit, which consists of a Raspberry Pi with some additional hardware and software to enable it to process voice queries. [Liz] combined this with a Raspberry Pi camera and the Google Cloud Vision API. This allows WhatIsThat to respond to users asking questions by taking a photo, and then identifying what it sees in the frame.

It may seem like a frivolous project to those with working vision, but there is serious potential for this technology in the accessibility space. The device can not only describe things like animals or other objects, it can also read text aloud and even identify logos. The ability of the software to go beyond is impressive – a video demonstration shows the AI correctly identifying a Boston Terrier, and attributing a quote to Albert Einstein.

Artificial intelligence has made a huge difference to the viability of voice recognition – because it’s one thing to understand the words, and another to understand what they mean when strung together. Video after the break.

[Thanks to Baldpower for the tip!]

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Control Anything With A Chat Bot

In the world of Internet of Things, it’s easy enough to get something connected to the Internet. But what should you use to communicate with and control it? There are many standards and tools available, but the best choice is always to use the tools you have on hand. [Victor] found himself in this situation, and found that the best way to control an Internet-connected car was to use the Flask server he already had.

The remote controlled car was originally supposed to come with an Arduino, but the microcontroller was missing upon arrival. He had a Raspberry Pi around, and was able to set that up to replace the Arduino. He also took the opportunity to use the expanded functionality of the Pi compared to the Arduino and wrote a Flask server to control it, which is accessed as if you are communicating with a chat bot. Sending the words “go left/forward” to the Flask server will control the car accordingly, for example.

The chat bot itself contains some gems as well, and would be useful for any project that makes use of regular expressions. It also seems to be easily expandable. The project also uses voice commands, and does so by making extensive use of Mozilla’s voice recognition suite. If you want to get deep in the weeds of voice recognition on your own though, you can also explore TensorFlow at your leisure.

Robot: Do My Bidding!

Remote control robots are nothing new. Using Bluetooth isn’t all that unusual, either. What [SayantanM4] did was make a Bluetooth robot that accepts voice commands via his phone. The robot itself isn’t very remarkable. An Arduino and an HC05 module make up most of the electronics. A standard motor driver runs the two wheels.

The Arduino doesn’t usually do much voice processing, and the trick is–of course–in the phone application. BT Voice Control for Arduino is a free download that simply sends strings to a host computer via Bluetooth. If you say “Hello” into your phone, the robot receives *Hello# and that string could be processed by any computer that can receive Bluetooth data.

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