My friend Dave Britt & I built a Twitter-powered popcorn machine for Fireworks Popcorn's Creative Pop 2010! Video Challenge contest. Dave built the hardware using a bunch of random bits from around his shop, and I provided the software design and the control program & hardware integration. We didn't have a lot of time to pull this together, given that we each have real jobs, so it was important that both the hardware and software be built from readily available parts (e.g. software & hardware we both had lying around). That meant doing the simplest thing that could possibly work.
Here's our video entry:
There are four primary pieces of hardware in the system:
After I had prototyped the motor control, I gave Dave my NXT set to play with. I was then able to write the Twitter side of the software while he built the hardware.
The software consists of a LabVIEW program that monitors Twitter for the #popcorn hashtag and controls the NXT. When new #popcorn tweets are found, the program initiates a motor move to dispense an amount of corn relative to the number of tweets retrieved (i.e. more #popcorn tweets means more popcorn delivered to the popper). There's some minor magic in there related to extending an in-progress move if more tweets come in while a dispense is already in progress, but that's the basic gist of it.
In keeping with the "simplest possible thing" criteria, the software stitches together a few pre-existing (or nearly-pre-existing) technologies:
We assembled everything in one evening at my house, and took the video. Our video setup is pretty embarrasingly ghetto. Dave had a digital camera with some sort of video features, and so we used that. The lighting was just whatever was available in my dining room, and the audio was via the built-in mic on the camera. Having worked a lot with Michael Aivaliotis of VIShots.com (he's also my JKI colleague!) I know the value of having good video and audio gear, but we were able to get some great footage with just what we had lying around.
Dave edited everything together with whatever video editing stuff is shipped with Windows Vista / Windows 7. We probably should've used iMovie, but we were under a time crunch and the footage was on Dave's camera, so the simplest thing was to hack it up with whatever Windows gave him.
The results surpassed all expectations. We did, in fact, win the contest, which was the original goal.
But not only that! A couple days after posting the video it was picked up by some major online news sites, went viral, and subsequently spread around the world. You can read more details on The JKI Software Blog.