Pre-Orders and Other Updates June 09 2013, 2 Comments

The last few weeks have given me a new appreciation for the everyday products we purchase. When you buy something you never think about all the small details that went into making it ready to ship to consumers. Someone had to design the logo stickers, decide on what material to print them on, where they should be placed, and how big they should be. Someone designed the packaging that the product comes in. Should the box have tabs, should it include foam, packing peanuts, or air cushions? What about the user manual? Another person had to sit down and design that, ensuring that customers could pull their new product out of the box and get started right away. This is just a small sampling of all the things that go into a product launch. We have all been learning a ton about this process and are getting very close to shipping out our first orders!

We have received our first box of assembled dispenser boards and miniRouter boards and everything is working as intended. ShotBot and B3 faces have been powder coated. The shop has been redesigned for larger scale manufacturing and we have begun cutting the tubing. Almost all the components for our small kits, ShotBot, and B3 are in our hands.

[caption id="attachment_890" align="aligncenter" width="520"]B1 and B3 Powder Coating B1 and B3 back from powder coating.[/caption]

B7 and B15 fabrication is in the queue. Labels have been designed and ordered. We have designed packaging for our dispensers, ShotBot, and B3. We are also working on the user manuals, video guides, and website improvements.

While we tried very hard to get out the first orders in May, we have had some unexpected delays. Our power supplies have not arrived yet, but we are expecting them soon. We are also working on hammering out all the bugs in our code. We have enlisted the help of a few dispenser backers with extensive programming knowledge who have agreed to be our beta testers. With their feedback we can get your orders out to you sooner than working on it alone. It’s important to us to send out pumps, bots, and kits to you all with solid software. That means pushing delivery back a couple of weeks.

Last, we are excited to announce that pre-orders have begun! The first item that will be available for order will be our dispenser. You can pre-order a standard dispenser for $129 or a dispenser with liquid level sensor for $149. The dispenser is a peristaltic pump with encoder, machined to accept our open source electronics and comes with several feet of beverage tubing. You'll have to provide your own power supply, serial communication device, and a way to mount the pump. We will continue to keep you updated as more products become available for pre-order.

A New Addition to the Team May 07 2013, 0 Comments

Hello everyone! My name is Garran, and I recently joined the Party Robotics team as the mechanical engineer. I first met Pierre at the Cal Poly Robotics Club approximately 7 years ago. After school we worked together at iRobot for four years. I have lots of experience with complex mobile robots and am excited to get Bartendro up and ready to serve. Currently, I’m working on bringing the bots from prototype to production state. This entails a lot of modeling, creating drawings, and bookkeeping. I am also helping to build fixtures which will allow us to make precision parts quickly and easily.


We are done designing Bartendro 1 and 3, and all of the parts are on order. We adjusted the dimensions to accommodate larger bottles and Bartendro 3 has a new spout assembly. We also added new features so that the frame can easily be upgraded with a back cover and a cup holder.


B3_model                   Now that the smaller bots have been finalized we will be putting the finishing touches on Bartendro 7 and 15. Most recently we have added a more accessible power socket and switch. While Pierre and I have been focusing on Bartendro hardware, Rob has been working on software upgrades. He’s creating software packages from the Bartendro source code so that we can use the regular debian package system to update the software in the field. This will make it simple to install all of the software for Batendro. Part of this is working out a security model for Bartendro. Given that we have a Linux box with its own network, there are a number of security implications that we need to consider. Afterall, we don't want random people to hack into your Bartendro and abuse it, or worse, waste your booze. While these features may not sound all that interesting to everyone who can't wait to get their hands on Bartendro, they are critical for making it possible to upgrade the software on the bots after we ship to our backers. Once these updates have been finished he will be building a system that lets us easily create the SD cards which acts as Bartendro’s brains.

Then, he’ll be working on creating a settings system. This will allow the owner of the bot to access the admin screen and change the behavior of the bot. Currently, all the configuration changes are settings in the code, which isn’t great for end-users. Around this time he will also create an option to let the owner choose if a bot is a ShotBot or a cocktail mixing machine. With this feature, any Bartendro 3 and up can be used in ShotBot mode, which simply dispenses a shot of whatever booze is in the bot, rather than making a mixed cocktail.

These are all of the most critical functions needed in order to begin shipping out the bots. After they’ve been finished Rob will begin looking at the new features people have requested and start working on the things that will make the most people happy. We are still somewhat on schedule with our delivery estimates. We anticipate being able to ship kits by the end of May, but Shotbot and Bartendro 3 will likely be going out by early June, and bigger bots will follow later that month. Want to check out Bartendro in person? We'll be at the San Luis Obispo Mini Maker Faire on May 11 and at the Maker Faire in San Mateo on May 18th and 19th. Bay Area Maker Faire Web Badge

Spout Design Updates and General Progress April 18 2013, 6 Comments

We have lots of updates for you this week! We’re finalizing designs, working on improvements, ordering supplies, organizing workspaces, and beginning our first backer reward mailings. Stickers are set to go out tomorrow and shirts and shot glasses have been ordered. Our backers voted on their favorite t-shirt design and “Robot Made Cocktails” is the winner. [caption id="attachment_695" align="aligncenter" width="355"]Winning Shirt Design Winning Shirt Design[/caption] Since getting so much exposure via Kickstarter, we’ve been invited to attend events and conferences across the country. Last week we went to the Cool Product Expo at Stanford University. There were 30 relatively new companies there, most of whom had also gotten their start on Kickstarter or Indiegogo. Our booth was outside which wasn’t the best setup, making the lights and tablets nearly impossible to see. However, we met lots of interesting people and made some great connections. Several of our backers even came out and got a sneak peak at Bartendro! Next week, Pierre will be speaking on the Open Source Hardware Panel at DesignWest with Jason Kridner from Texas Instruments, Gert Van Loo from Broadcom, Chris Taylor from SparkFun, and Alex Wolfe from EE Times. He’ll also be giving a short presentation at the Gadget Freak DIY Lab Session. If you’re going to be at the conference make sure to stop by and say hi. One of the design modifications we’ve been working on is the spout assembly. While not a problem with the smaller bots, inserting the tubing for Bartendro 15 has been quite a pain. Working with a mechanical engineer, we have redesigned the spout assembly to pop on and off without any tools, making it easier to clean. The tubing separator has been opened up so that all the tubes can now enter from the side. [caption id="attachment_704" align="aligncenter" width="400"]Original Tubing Separator Original tubing separator[/caption] [caption id="attachment_707" align="aligncenter" width="400"]The original spout design made it difficult to insert tubing for cleaning and maintenance. The original spout design made it difficult to re-insert tubing if one popped out.[/caption]   [caption id="attachment_694" align="aligncenter" width="400"]IMG_2039 New Tubing Separator[/caption] ShotBot and Bartendro 3 have also gotten a bit of a makeover, getting updated faceplates. These are nearly finished and ready to order. The dispenser electronics have been improved and we’ll be ordering the boards this week. Power supplies have already been ordered and are expected towards the middle to end of May. The miniRouter and Router boards are next up for production prep. We’re also looking at some cross bracing to add rigidity to the larger frames. Everything is still on track and our hopes are to have the first kit shipments out at the end of May and our first bot shipments in early June! Will continue to keep you all updated in the coming weeks.

Peristaltic Pumps - Selecting the Right One February 11 2013, 3 Comments

  pumpsWhen making a cocktail dispensing robot, peristaltic pumps are clear winners. You can read more about why in our previous post. We've designed and manufactured several of our own peristaltic pumps, and now understand the design nuances and trade-offs. We've spent hundreds of hours researching, dissecting and testing both home-made and off-the-shelf varieties. Why are some pumps $300 and others $100? What does that extra money get you? Which ones are good enough? Like most engineering problems, this one is multi-variable and application specific. But generally, from what we've found, there are at least 8 things to understand when looking for a great pump. 1. Flow Rate / Number of Rollers 2. Occlusion (fixed vs variable) 3. Ease of Maintenance / Tube Replacement 4. Tubing Catch Mechanism 5. Motor Selection 6. Encoder Capability 7. Material of tubing, rollers, pump housing etc. 8. Cost While I could practically write a book on the subject now, I'll distill these ideas into a few sentences each: 1. To maintain a seal, the minimum number of rollers is 2, although there are exceptions to this. The more rollers there are, the slower the flow rate, but the less "spurty" the flow. We used to think that an odd or even number mattered, but they don't, flow rate and flow smoothness are the factors. 2. Occlusion. This one is tricky and really the heart of the whole design. As a positive displacement pump, we rely on every revolution of the motor being a known volume. Occlusion refers to how much squeezing is happening to the tubes. So, if a tube's wall thickness is 0.125", sandwiched together it's 0.25." The space between the roller and the internal wall of the pump needs to be smaller than this, say 0.242." That means there is an occlusion of 0.008." There is a rather large range for this number and that is determined by a host of things, namely tubing material, pump housing material, pump roller material and type of motor. Friction is playing a large role here and cannot be discounted. Some pumps have a spring loading down the "shoe" or surface that the tube is pressed against. This insures that over time, as the tube wears, or as lower tolerance tubing is used, there will be enough occlusion for proper operation and no leaks. 3. Some pumps make tube replacement a breeze by not requiring extra tools. Those pumps typically require more moving parts making them considerably more expensive. A nice option, but not mandatory. 4. That sneaky friction guy that we just mentioned is a real pain when you discover that the tube tries to walk out of the pump by inching with every revolution. There needs to be something in place to prevent the tubing from moving during operation. 5. There are DC, AC and stepper motor options with variable controlling complexity. DC motors are typically the easiest to use. 6. With the exception of one, none of the pumps we've seen support encoders. Encoders count the number of motor revolutions, for accurate monitoring and control. Optical and magnetic are the most common. 7. Tubing Material will likely be its own post one day, for now, just know that options are vast and usually liquid dependent. We've done our homework to make sure you get the best results. For rollers and pump body the concerns are coefficient of friction, wear life, cleanability and cost of manufacturing. Metals like stainless steel are easy to autoclave and will last a very long time. Plastics are lightweight, usually give more visibility and are more economical. 8. Which brings us to cost, an important item to consider especially if you intend on multiplying by 15 to build a big cocktail robot. Medical pumps have several things going for them like decades of testing, FDA approvals, numerous adjustments and guaranteed life-critical operation. We're just having fun here, so if there are a couple of extra drops of vodka in our drink, we'll live! Cost is also, as always, volume dependent. For example, one Watson Marlow pump (on the left) is $239 and that's not including a motor or control electronics...just the pumphead. In volumes of 100 they cost much less at $135, but still way more than is reasonable. There are a couple of low quality peristaltic pumps out there in the $25 dollar region, but you are loud, slow and don't have encoders, so your dispensing won't be repeatable. More great reading about Peristaltic Pumps at the Wikipedia page. The pumps we've evaluated are made by (from left to right) Watson Marlow, Masterflex, Anko Products and Welco. Care to share any of your peristaltic pump experiences? What other methods have you used to dispense liquids of varying viscosity and chemistry?    

The Open Hardware Proposition December 16 2012, 1 Comment

The Maker movement has truly been amazing to watch unfold over the last decade. Democratized information and tools have enabled widespread innovation and collaboration, creating dozens of hackerspaces and businesses in the wake. We love this and we want to be a part of it.
The issue of intellectual property is a tricky one. The patent was originally intended to protect inventors from large companies. After an individual would spend large amounts of capital for the required initial research and manufacturing, a large company with more capital could came along and create the same thing cheaper or faster, bringing the original inventor to ruins. The patent gave the original inventor a buffer period to create their products and provided a sufficient incentive for the populous to continue to innovate. At least that was the humble goal. Today, patent struggles between giant corporations have crippling effects with injunctions and overall costs reaching into the billions. Patents now rarely belong to individuals, but to companies with ever increasing portfolios that they arm to wage war with. Is this really how we want to proceed? I've heard rumors of patent reform always being just around the bend, but that will be a slow and laborious process most likely. So what do we do until then? Well, it turns out that the ingredients of ubiquitous information on the internet, thriving online social networks and a slumping job market provide the right mix of time and resources to allow people to collaborate and contribute to projects they like, like never before. Open source software has been around for decades and is the foundation of a lot of everyday objects...i.e. anything running Linux. It's only recently that we've started seeing open source hardware companies too like Sparkfun and Adafruit. Making software open source is a no-brainer, the costs of creating and shuffling bits is negligible, and the potential for people to add meaningful contributions or the code to provide educational benefit is a net positive for everyone. Hardware on the other hand still requires the moving of atoms: welding, machining, pcb fabrication, assembly, inventory all consume considerable energy and capital. By putting the files "out there" a company risks having their products knocked-off and made cheaper and to lower quality standards. How does a company protect their investment in their IP then? The models are becoming more clear. A transparent business, with a growing community are fundamental to operating successfully. Also, trademarks and copyrights become much more important. The notion of someone making the same thing but better, or cheaper should be encouraged; this is why we do open source in the first place. Others must just follow the guidelines set forth by the copyright owner. Attribution and share-alike are common ones, meaning the person building on your work needs to also share it and give you credit. The person copying can't use the same trademarked name, and therefore can't steal the brand you've worked to build up too. The brand and community go hand in hand, and this is what people come back for. The support of the community, and to support the original creators. Is an open source company, more or less lucrative as a business decision? Hard to say for sure, and it depends on the products and industry, but they can definitely both be run successfully. An open source company is likely more fun to run, and engages others to be a part of the process. Customer feedback flows quickly and more directly and qualified contributors don't need to be co-located but could live on the other side of the planet. The pros certainly seem to outweigh the risks, but there are examples of it not always working out like with MakerBot Industries and their recent pulling out of open-source. Is it the right decision for you? Is it the right decision for Party Robotics? Leave your thoughts in the comments. Some more reading: A good book on the topic, covering crowdfunding as well: Makers: The New Industrial Revolution

Presenting Bartendro 2.5 : A Shiny New Case September 30 2012, 1 Comment

Bartendro's previous shell was made out of stainless steel. Its aesthetic resembled a commercial appliance of yesteryear with its art deco design; shiny, brazen and robust. Many things had been taken into consideration, like the ease of setup, use and maintenance; modularity was incorporated from the outset. However, as we stood back and watched our humble machine get shoved, spilled on and endured all sorts of operational hiccups, our inner engineers knew we'd have to make some improvements.

The first thing you'll notice is that the bottles no longer sit on-top in an inverted fashion. That design concept was with us from the beginning because we thought it was the most intuitive. The approach seemed the simplest; just let gravity do all of the work. While cool looking, it was fraught with technical challenges. 1) Flow needs to be measured since gravity will cause pours to be inaccurate due to varying liquid levels. 2) With standard bottles being inverted, air flow back into the bottle is very important to not cause vacuum. 3) The inverted bottles, even with quick disconnects, are not fast to change and are always messy when removed, and are not stable when inebriated people are hovering around and poking at the machine. Secondly, the front is all clear so you can see the guts of the machine. When the bot was enclosed, people would need to walk behind the machine to see what was going on. This just meant that the machine had to sit on an island, which wasn't the end of the world, but it's nice to be able to access everything from the front so that the machine can easily be placed against a wall, taking less space. The new enclosure also reduces noise since the volume with the pumps is encapsulated. Other improvements include, clean tablet mounting so that it's not in the way and won't get splashed on. Adjustable drip tray which allows the glass to be as close to the spout as possible to reduce splashing. Thinner aluminum and acrylic housing to drastically reduce weight. And, the machine can be disassembled into two major parts for ease of transport. At our inaugural party of the new design, we beat our record by dispensing 287 drinks, or 25.8 liters of cocktails in an approximately 5 hour period. Total Drinks Served by Bartendro so far: OVER 1000!!!

A Couple of Great Events - Barbot and Drinco de Mayo May 13 2012, 0 Comments

It's amazing sometimes how much can happen in a couple months. In March, we went to Barbot 2012 in San Francisco to mingle with like minded cocktail making technologists. It was great to see familiar faces and meet new ones. Bartendro's aesthetic was spot on. It was a bold, shiny, well-lit piece of art. The bot performed admirably on Friday night dispensing 172 drinks, but we ran into some hardware/software issues that almost made the bot inoperable at the start of the Saturday run. We muscled through several issues and brought half of the pumps back to life for a usable 6 drinks. People were still impressed it could make that many, since most other bots were only doing 1 or 2 drinks. We were dismayed though because we had a selection of 30 drinks the night before. People were overall thrilled and welcoming of our robotic future, where drinks come with a button press. We got mentioned in a Make Blog about how we are "veering dangerously close to commercial viability."Flickr Set of Barbot 2012 At the end of the event we stayed up late into the night rehashing all the things that could have gone better; a post-mortem analysis if you will. We agreed that upside down bottles were not the way to go. The upside down bottle concept carried over from our original desires to have a gravity-fed machine. The aesthetic is really cool. It seems like it would be a simple, no-fuss no-brainer; you can see the bottles and just swap them out when they run out. The problem arises when catering to larger crowds, not being able to refill the bottles as people are using the machine can cause quite a bit of downtime and this is a pretty big issue if this machine is to live in a commercial application. Also, the vent holes on the bottle caps (needed to not cause a vacuum) were prone to being leaky and messy. From looking around at the other bots this year, it seemed apparent that the winning combo is upright bottles and peristaltic pumps. We made a long list of things to fundamentally change about our design. We would ditch the stainless steel skin and go with a simpler design. The pumps would also need a form of adjustability to reduce leakage and contamination of drinks. Over a couple of months I iterated over modification designs that would allow for adjustment with one knob. Finally, we had something worthwhile. I retrofitted the pump with new tubing to and re-routed it. Meanwhile, in software land, the UI received a face lift. Elements could now be added or removed at will depending on the type of party, things like drink size and taster buttons were made optional. Drinks could also be modified on the scales of alcohol strength and sweetness/tartness. We prepared and showed up at an event called Taco de Mayo, where our friend rents a taco truck that serves endless tacos. Naturally, our bot was transmorphed into a margarita bot. There was 6 different kinds of tequila that could be selected to go into your drink and even a game to check for sobriety if you selected the top-shelf stuff. Several other drinks could be made too including a Dirty Sanchez and White Oaxacan. 201 drink dispensed in all. Our best performance yet. We received great tips and ideas from our friends to pursue. We're going to take our technical hats off for a month and put our business ones on to try to go make this available at your favorite restaurants. Cheers!

Light Your Bot! February 26 2012, 0 Comments

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!

The Setup February 12 2012, 0 Comments

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!

Peristaltic Pumps January 29 2012, 4 Comments

Peristaltic Pumps are not new, they are pumps that mimic peristalsis, a biological mechanism most commonly depicted as the muscle contractions of a swallowing esophagus. The vast majority of these pumps serve the medical and pharmaceutical industries. This does not bode well for hobbyists because the pumps are priced at an average of $300 each. When attempting to build a cocktail machine that dispenses over a dozen liquids, the cost becomes prohibitive. "Why use a peristaltic pump in the first place?", you might be thinking. Well, for many reasons. The first and most obvious reason is maintenance. Since liquid does not pass through any moving parts, it becomes easy to swap out or clean hoses when necessary. In the same vein, reliability. Syrupy liquids like grenadine and Bailey's tend to gum up mechanical pumps and valves pretty quickly. Sanitation then becomes another issue when liquids become trapped in the crevices of a mechanical assembly and become impossible to clean. Finally, accuracy and simplicity are the final components that put the nail in the coffin on other approaches. While gravity valves and simple diaphragm pumps are a possibility, there is still a big issue with dealing with different densities and viscosity of liquids. Since peristaltic pumps are positive displacement, meaning they dispense the exact same amount of volume with every revolution of the motor and gearhead, it simply becomes a software problem to account for the number of motor rotations for accuracy. This is much easier and cheaper than fashioning some sort of flow rate meter. When designing the pump, several factors need to be taken into account such as the occlusion of the tubing, the ease of assembly/dis-assembly of the tubing, maintainability and modularity. The picture shows the parts for the first batch of peristaltic pumps I made. There is a plate that the motor mounts to, a hub with sleeve bearing rollers, a shoe which is replaceable and provides the right amount of occlusion, and a support for the hub that prevents lateral motions from causing it to run to eccentrically. All in all they can be built for under $100 given the right amount of tools and resources.