Sunday, February 26, 2012

Light Your Bot!

In most of our projects, it seems like we always relegate LEDs to the backburner while we focus on everything else. Fortunately, we had the forethought on Bartendro to squeeze the hardware in at the design phase, even though we didn't get to work on the software side for a long while. Good LED effects are undeniable. With good placement and intelligent programming, they can make a product sing. Bartendro is case in point. The LEDs in the back are dual purpose, they light the bot with a silky purple haze for people to enjoy the view of the innards, but the color can be changed to pure white for brighter easier debugging in a perfectly dark room. The ring of RGB LEDs which hover directly over a user's cup serve many purposes. They let us know when the bot has booted and is ready for communication, and they let users know what's going on in the process of their drink creation. A pattern while it pours, and flashing green when the drink is done being poured. When all is said and done, a soft blue lets the user know that the machine is in an idle state and ready to take on more drink orders. There are even more LEDs that aren't powered up yet, which are supposed to emit focused light from the faucet. The intent is that they cue users as to where their cups should be placed. So when working on your projects, make sure to let your LEDs shine!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Setup

Designing a cocktail dispensing machine may not sound very difficult, but when one considers that most of the components are not readily available for purchase off the shelf, one must design their own. There are a lot of tools that go into creating a complex electro-mechanical machine like a drink bot. There are solid modeling tools, like SolidWorks and Alibre, CAM tools like SprutCam and the software that runs a the CNC machine, like Mach 3. The CNC machine is a PCNC 1100 made by Tormach, and it is a joy to use. All of the tools need to work in unison to achieve the desired results. These tools cover the basics required for machining parts. When it comes to the electronics, schematic and layout tools are required. In my case, I used EagleCAD because of the existing community and pre-made parts that allowed for fast development time. Boards can be cheaply fabricated in China by Golden Phoenix and modules from Sparkfun and Pololu make development even easier and more modular.

All software tools have their quirks, and when it comes down to it, it is just a matter of patience to learn how to use things in an efficient matter. Having these hardware and software tools in place allows us to iterate over and over tuning and refining until we are happy with the quality and performance of our creations. The tool set allows us to also make a wide array of parts, mechanisms and machines that make people's lives easier and more enjoyable. So, get some tools and start creating!