Huddersfield's interactive product developer Running in the Halls was recently tasked with building a unique tea-making machine sporting basic AI for a UK television show. After a bit of to and fro text messaging between the tea maker and the TV presenter via his old school Nokia phone, the machine would brew up a cuppa based on the question and answer exchange.
The design brief called for a tea maker that could communicate with the show's host, Guy Martin, use components that could be easily sourced by computer enthusiasts, and be a kind of modern take on the crazy over-the-top contraptions from the mind of Heath Robinson.
The R2-Tea2 automatic tea maker asks Martin how he's feeling and works out what kind of brew he wants via a series of sent and received SMS text messages – the machine has its own phone number. If the show's host is feeling tired, for example, the machine brews a strong tea, and if he's working in his garage, a cup able to withstand a few knocks would be selected.
Running in the Halls scripted a Python application running on a Raspberry Pi mini-computer to control the operation of R2-Tea2, and another app caters for interfacing with custom-built chatbot scripts.
R2-Tea2 can select from different cups via a gravity-driven system, with the chosen cup then moved along a conveyor belt constructed using a stepper motor, shelving brackets, nuts, bolts and plastic pipes. A robotic arm picks up a tea bag and holds it in the cup while a physical switch controlled by a servo powers on a kettle. Once boiled, the water is pumped out of the kettle and into the cup and, if selected during the SMS Q&A, milk added.
Guy Martin vs the Robot Car, featuring the tea-making segment, was aired on the UK's Channel 4 on November 26.
Source: Running in the Halls
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