Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Hacking our Teabot at Make_BU Hackathon

Last Friday into Saturday, I participated in a 24-hr hackathon, hosted by Make_BU. This was BU's first hackathon, more on that later, and my second hackathon -- I participated in the MakeMIT hardware hackathon last month.

My teammate, Anjana, and I are seniors, and we have busy schedules. Doing this hackathon was a way for us to have fun, to take a break from senior design, and to throw design tolerances and the "significance" of a project out the window! We decided to build a tea robot based on the traditional Tea Serving Doll, Karakuri Ningyo, but with a modern twist: instead of the all mechanical design, we were going to go with a electronic-mechanical design. This was an idea Anjana and I had for a couple years now, we just never got around to it. But I thought, hey, it's a hackathon, there's a 24 hour limit, we can use this idea: things get done when there's a deadline.

So what exactly does the teabot do? Okay, here's the situation, you are entertaining a guest for tea and you and your guest are seated across from each other. The teabot is designed to wait for tea in a cup to be placed on a tray on the bot. Once, the cup is placed on the tray, the bot will move forward and present your guest with tea. Your guest will enjoy and drink the tea. And once your guest is done, he/she will place the cup back on the tray and the bot will bring the cup back to you. Here's a video demonstrating the simple functionality:


So like I said, this was BU's first hackathon, and while there were cool things provided, 3D printers (which are kind of slow. I don't really think they are ideal for hackathons. Prototyping? They're great! But a time-limited hackathon? Not so much) and food and stuff, there wasn't a lot of materials/supplies to hack with. This is not BU's fault or anything, hardware hackathons in general are a challenge because of this: you need more than a computer.

But this is where we embodied the maker's/hacker's spirit and decided to scale down our project -- we had plans for more fancy mechanisms and functionality -- and use a bunch of recyclables to create our project. Let me run you through some of the more hack-y things we did.

1) Our cardboard prototype board:


We were hoping that they were going to have prototype boards at the hackathon for us to put our circuit on. But nevertheless, there wasn't any. And given our circuit's simplicity, we did not want to spend money on buying an over-priced one at Radio Shack. So we built one with a recycled popcorn box. On it is the circuitry for the H-Bridge, a circuit that allows our bot to move forwards and backwards, as well as places to attach the outputs from the Arduino, homemade pressure switch, and motor.

2) Our gearbox made mostly from a jewelry box:



Here is our motor mounted onto a piece of cardboard with brass fasteners. It was actually very sturdy! It was a good piece of cardboard from a sticky pad that we found.



Here is the gearbox in it's entirety. The black box is jewelry box. The green spacers are Starbucks straws. The axel, we bought at Blick's, an art supply store. The motor and gears I had. And the wheels and washers were from the Tinkering Lab.

3) Our water bottle pressure switch:


So the tray to the bot is again a jewelry box. Our switch is constructed out of a section of a Poland Spring water bottle. Plastic has a naturally elasticity, that bounces back when pressed. We used string tied to the four corners of the box to keep the tray from flinging off. The switch used two copper plates as metal contacts. The bottle idea was actually pitched by my roommate, Angela. We initially were going to rely on either copper's elasticity or straws or springs from pens. You can see another wheel mounted on the gear box, this was used to make sure the tray/switch rested leveled.

4) Goodwill decorations:


We decorated with cloth from Goodwill. Haha, we are going for fun, remember?! We had a grand time savaging parts. And that's what a hackathon should be: a grand time.

I'm pleased to say that our hack won for Best Hardware! =]

I am under the impression that we won because our project embodied the spirit of a hackathon; we were being recognized for being resourceful, for being creative, for having fun, for making something cool -- the guys next to us built an impressive 3D scanner using a Kinect and fancy hardware, which was awesome. This is a very important message. You don't need expensive equipment and hardware to build cool things. We didn't use the 3D printers at all actually. This is a message that I especially want to broadcast to young students who are intimated by making and building. Just have fun with it. Sure, I have experience building things with recyclables and you may not have a motor and Arduino, but experience comes with practice and those items cost less than a video game! So if you want to make something, don't be intimidated: just do it. Hackathons are great places to start. However, if you are discouraged by the 24-hour "GO-GO-GO" attitude, don't be, it's part of the fun! (But if you need sleep, that's fine too. We went to sleep. Haha, as seniors, you take sleep whenever you can.) Another thing great about hackathons are that they encourage learning and doing and meeting other people. It's great if you have skills. But if you don't, that's just as great! There are usually categories devoted to people with no skills. At Make_BU, we had a category called Best nOOb which is dedicated to those who've had limited making skills.

I'm glad and thankful to the folks at BUILDS, Global App Initiative, CE++, DMCBU, Open Web BU, and Terrapin Computing for organizing BU's first hackathon. It's great thing they did and this is a great community to nourish at an university. Plus, an especial thank you to the BU ECE Department for sponsoring!! =]

Thursday, March 20, 2014

What The Hell Part II

Just some jams for the week. Things to keep me going.

Justin Timberlake's Not A Bad Thing. I think this throwback 90s vibe is working for JT. Mirrors had it and I liked that song too.

Karmin's Pulses. It's just been stuck in my head. The music video is cool; it's got some science. They have a new album. Though, I'm currently favoring their EP more than this album. But it seems poised to be the kind of album that "grows on you."

From Hayao Miyazaki's The Wind Rises: Hi-Koki-Gumo by Yumi Gumo. Like the movie, beautiful and sober.

I'm still listening to the Frozen score/soundtrack. I'm pretty fond of Vuelie and it's reprise The Great Thaw as well as Heimr Àrnadalr. Whiteout is also good when in the zone.

And I guess a cover: Clara C's cover of Lorde's Royals. It's casually good.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Agglomeration of Thoughts

Warning/Heads Up: This post is all over the place. Not my best collection of words.

The last week of February and first week of March were very busy for me. I found myself not able to think past the current day. It seemed like it was a never-ending parade of tasks. But I learned that you are more capable than you thought and that you rise to the occasion. And throughout it all, I wrote down a bunch of underdeveloped thoughts that were on my mind. I will hopefully try to elaborate on each of the thoughts at a later date, but for now, putting them down on the Internet is enough -- our minds are so fickle, things need to be written down in a more permanent manner.

Monday, February 24, 2014

SNAP Challenge | Last Day

--> SNAP Challenge <--

Well, it's over now: my two weeks on a $60 budget. And I feel really great. I wished you could have seen me earlier. There was definitely a healthy bounce and happiness in me: a very lighthearted and carefree gait. I've joked with people that immediately after the challenge, I was going to buy a bag of chips. But I didn't. I just didn't feel the urge to buy junk food. I guess it's true when they say junk food slows you down. I just never really put too much thought into how true it was. This challenge has definitely reinstilled in me good habits of cooking. I'm glad I did it.

Additionally, I still have food leftover. I have a couple of carrots, some of my pepper, an entire onion, a piece of pork, some tofu, two eggs, half a lime, and a bit of almond milk left. It's really embarrassing that I wasn't able to finish the milk. Sigh. But this challenge is still an overall success. I am healthier. I can also put off grocery shopping for a couple of days. =] Though maybe not, since I think I want fish tomorrow.

I did celebrate the end of the challenge by going out for dinner. I spent ~$17 on a single meal including tax and tip. Eating out is starting to make less and less sense to me when I can spend ~$17 on groceries for about three days. Sure, eating out is time-saving. But I managed to cook on one of my busiest weeks yet. So I really don't have any excuses. However, I do admit it was extremely difficult to make time and cook when I was so busy. That and turning down free food were the difficult parts of these past two weeks.

I wish I had more to say, but all my thoughts are currently tangled up in my tired and incoherent mind. Maybe I'll elaborate a different day; but most likely not.

Just know that it's been good. Two weeks is a good amount of time to build good habits. I'm definitely going to continue these habits. I just won't be strictly on $30/week, plus I will accept free food and buy more fruits. On that note, I think I will be starting a new challenge, which is Facebook mornings. The thing to this challenge is simple: cut down on the time I spend on Facebook. So basically, I will only be Facebook during the AM hours. All my other social media and email will still be active and all access. I guess you could say I have a personal vendetta against Facebook. Haha. It seems like I like to take up challenges that have a more adverse effect on the people around me than me.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

SNAP Challenge | Day 13

--> SNAP Challenge <--

Last full day! Tomorrow, I have a a meal to complete that half day I had. So, yeah. Breakfast/Lunch was an omelet with milk. Can you believe it? I still have not managed to finish my half gallon of milk. Ugh, I'm so bad.

Dinner I went all out. I cooked a whole crown of broccoli and whatever beef I had left. Go big or go home! Something like that, right? Leftovers will most likely be tomorrow's lunch. But yeah, it's been a good run. I feel good. I still have food. Can't wait to binge eat junk food tomorrow though. Hahaha.

This is not all the broccoli I cooked; there is more in a bow somewhere not pictured. Hehe.

Check back tomorrow for the final recap!!! WOO! (Today was another day of attending an event where I couldn't eat the food. Yeah . . . it was Nudpob today! =[)