Tag Archives: automation

The Raspberry Pi-powered loom

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We’re a small organisation full of makers, and I think at least two of us own a hand loom for weaving textiles. (One of the reasons I enjoy the TV show Vikings so much is the casual looming that’s going on as backdrop in many of the indoor scenes – the textile sort, not the impending-doom sort, although there’s plenty of that too.)

siggy laergatha loom

Siggy and Laergatha (personal role model) get down to a spot of light weaving before commencing to crush skulls and pillage.

Here in the 21st century, Lorna and I use hand looms because powered looms are very expensive. They’re also usually pretty enormous, being meant for enterprise rather than home use. This is pesky, because there’s a lot of repetitive action involved, which can be hell on the carpal tunnels; weaving can be slow, tough work.

loom

Suspicious automation

Enter the Raspberry Pi.

Fred Hoefler has taken a desktop loom and added a Raspberry Pi to automate it. (Your computer’s fine: this video has no sound.)

Loom Operation

The general sequence of events for running my Raspberry Pi controlled loom. The project was really a proof of concept idea rather than an actual production model. This video is intended to supplement my blog at www.photographic-perspectives.com Sorry, there is not audio with this.

Fred wrote about the project on his website, explaining that he came up with the idea for very personal reasons. His wife Gina has been a weaver for 30 years, but she began to experience difficulties with the physical aspects of using her loom as she grew older. Conversations with other unwillingly retired weavers told Fred that Gina’s situation was not uncommon, and led him to design something to help. His device is intended to help older weavers who have trouble with the hard work of throwing the shuttle and holding down the pedals. Assistive looms cost upwards of $10,000: Fred’s solution comes in at a tidy $150, factoring in loom, Pi, and some motors from Amazon. So this isn’t for hobbyists like me: this loom can be a way for people whose livelihoods depend on being able to weave to continue working long after they might have had to retire.

One of the most satisfying things about the Raspberry Pi for me is its power to drive cost out of devices like this, and to change the way we work. This is a simple build, but it has so much potential to keep someone’s income flowing: we hope to see more as Fred develops the project.

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Hands-free with the Alexa Voice Service

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The recent update to the Alexa Voice Service (AVS) API allows makers to incorporate hands-free functionality into their builds, a feature previously missing from all but the official Amazon Echo and Dot models. 

Diagram of the Amazon Alexa Voice Service

While adverts for the Echo represent owners calling out to Alexa with a request or question — “Alexa, what is the time?”, “Alexa, order me a pizza”, “Alexa, how do you get red wine out of the carpet?” — any digital maker using the free API from the Amazon Developer team had to include a button within their build, putting a slight dampener on the futuristic vibe of the disembodied Alexa. (We know about this dampening effect, because a bunch of you complained vocally about it.)

With the update removing the press-a-button limitation, anyone using the AVS can now ‘wake’ Alexa with a ‘wake word’, calling out to Alexa, Echo, or Amazon. Thankfully, at least in my household, this choice of wake word means the device won’t be listening whenever anyone calls my name.

We’ve seen no end of builds over the last year as makers begin to incorporate the AVS into their home automation projects and robots. There’s been everything from boats to kids builds, retro radios and more, and we even co-hosted the Internet of Voice Challenge with Amazon and Hackster.io this summer.

Winners of the challenge received various awards including Amazon vouchers, Echos, and trophies. A full list of winners can be seen here, but we thought you’d like to see some of the most noteworthy builds, like Roxie the Voice-Activated Pitching Robot by Terren Peterson:

Using a Voice Activated Pitching Machine to Teach

Using the Robot Roxie Alexa Skill to have a voice activated pitching machine. Full details on Hackster.io

Or this Voice Controller K’nex Car by Auston Mathuw:

Voice Controlled Raspberry Pi K’nex Car

Uploaded by Austin Mathuw on 2016-08-31.

And the favourite of sleep-deprived social media editors everywhere, The Coffee Machine by Bastiaan Slee:

Alexa Raspberry Coffee Machine – Introduction

Coffee Machine: Amazon Alexa & Raspberry Pi, my Internet of Voice project. If you want to develop a project like this, read the following site for instructions: https://www.hackster.io/bastiaan-slee/coffee-machine-amazon-alexa-raspberry-pi-cbc613

Other winners include the Mystic Mirror by Darian Johnson and Ping Pong Showdown by Dana Young

One thing I’m looking forward to is integrating the AVS into situations where hands-free truly is the only option. Not only will we begin to see an increase of Alexa-pimped cars, bikes, and drones, but I also see great advances in the use of the service for those with accessibility issues, such as those with mobility concerns or visual impairments. The Smart Cap, winner of the Intermediate Alexa Skill Set category, is a great example – get in touch if you create something yourself!

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Doorjam – play your own theme music

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Have you ever dreamed about having your own theme music? That perfect song that reflects your mood as you enter a room, drawing the attention of others towards you?

I know I have. Though that might be due to my desire to live in a Disney movie, or maybe just because I spent three years studying drama and live in a constant state of theatrical bliss.

Whatever the reason, it’s fair to say that Doorjam is an awesome build.

Doorjam

Walk into your theme song. Powered by Spotify. http://doorjam.in

Using a WiFi dongle, repurposed as an iBeacon, the Doorjam mobile phone app allows you to select your theme song from Spotify and play it via a boombox when you are in range.

Stick-figure diagram showing the way Doorjam lets you choose your theme music and plays it when you're within range

The team at redpepper have made the build code available publicly, taking makers through a step-by-step tutorial on their website.

So while we work on our own Doorjam build, why don’t you tell us what your ultimate theme music would be?

And for inspiration, I’ll hand over to Joseph…

(500) Days of Summer – “You Make My Dreams Come True” by Hall & Oates [HD VIDEO CLIP]

I know this feeling very well.

 

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FarmBot, the open-source CNC farming robot

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What do you imagine the future of farming to look like? The FarmBot team, located along the California coast in San Luis Obispo, is exploring just that. The team has set out to create humanity’s first open-source CNC farming machine to put the power of polycrop farming into the smallest of spaces.

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The FarmBot structure fixes directly on top of any standard raised planter box. You can think of it like a 3D printer, but instead of extruding plastic, the tool head deposits seeds, delivers water and rids the box of weeds, all by moving across a gantry. Powered by a Raspberry Pi 3, an Arduino Mega and a motor control shield, the FarmBot brings agricultural automation within the reach of the committed hobbyist.

FarmBot Electronics

FarmBot’s interchangeable tooling set is impressive and has been carefully designed so that you may print tools with any hobbyist-level 3D printer.

The universal tool mount features 12 electrical connections, three liquid/gas lines and magnetic coupling. Ready-to-print attachment tools include the seed injection mount, the water nozzle specially designed for efficient watering, and the weed suppression tool which detects and destroys weeds at the root. FarmBot has documented detailed technical specifications of the universal tool mount, to encourage community members to design additional custom mounts that are specific to their particular farming needs.

Check out the tech specs of the tooling attachments for further nerding out!

FarmBot’s drag-and-drop web-based platform allows you to design and build your planter box farm easily. No coding is required; in fact, it has an almost game-like interface. Once your design is complete, the sequence builder and scheduler will help to allocate appropriate care to each plant.

Web-App-on-Different-Devices

It’s evident from looking at the design structure, documentation, CAD files, and detailed BOM that the creators of the FarmBot took to heart the idea of open source. By selecting off-the-shelf products and tools, they ensured this system is as accessible as possible. I’m really happy to see the Raspberry Pi 3 at the heart of FarmBot and I can’t wait to see how this community grows.

If you’re someone who’s serious about getting a good crop return from your small space, and you’re as mesmerized by FarmBot as I am, there’s still time to place a pre-order to receive one of the first batches ready to ship in February!

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Build your own Raspberry Pi terrarium controller

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Tom Bennet grows Nepenthes, tropical carnivorous plants that I know by the name of pitcher plants. To stay healthy they need a temperature- and humidity-controlled environment, and Tom ensures this by housing them in a terrarium controlled by a Raspberry Pi 3 and Energenie’s Pi-mote starter kit, which provides an easy way to control mains electrical sockets from a Pi. He has written step-by-step instructions to help you build your own terrarium controller, the first such guide we’ve seen for this particular application.

A terrarium in a cuboid glass tank with fluorescent lighting, containing six Nepenthes plants of various species

Nepenthes plants of various species in Tom Bennet’s Pi-controlled terrarium. Photo by Tom Bennet

Tom’s terrarium controller doesn’t only monitor and regulate temperature, humidity and light, three of the four main variables in a terrarium (the fourth, he explains, is water, and because terrariums tend to be nearly or completely sealed, this requires only infrequent intervention). It also logs data from its sensors to Internet-of-Things data platform ThingSpeak, which offers real-time data visualisation and alerts.

Line chart plotting terrarium temperature and humidity over a 24-hour period

24 hours’ worth of temperature and humidity data for Tom’s terrarium

One of the appealing aspects of this project, as Tom observes, is its capacity for extension. You could quite easily add a soil moisture sensor or, particularly for a terrarium that houses reptiles rather than plants, a camera module, as well as using the online data logs in all kinds of ways.

The very clear instructions include a full and costed bill of materials consisting of off-the-shelf parts that come to less than £90/$125 including the Pi. There are helpful photographs and wiring diagrams, straightforward explanations, practical advice, and Python scripts that can easily be adapted to meet the demands of different habitats and ambient conditions. Thank you for writing such a useful guide, Tom; we’re certain it will help plenty of other people set up their own Pi-controlled terrariums!

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Chickens redux

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Regular readers with an interest in poultry will be all agog to find out what we’re posting about today; yesterday’s post covered a chicken coop with automated doors, and we promised more chickens today. (AND TOMORROW! It’s all chickens all the way down at Pi Towers this week.)

Darren Steele, a Pi owner from Lancashire, was faced with the same chickens/predators problem that Eric Escobar dealt with in yesterday’s post by mechanising the coop door, and programming it to shut after dark.

It turns out that a couple of years ago, Darren also automated his chicken coop to solve the same problem.

The way he automated it is perhaps not the first solution that might have sprung to your mind or to mine; but that’s why Darren got a spot on the BBC news and you and I didn’t.

Speechless.

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