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For SXSW in Austin earlier this year, members of the Virginia-based hackerspace North Street Labs were tasked with creating the world’s largest vending machine for Doritos. Towering six stories high and holding 800 full-sized bags of the popular snack food, the machine dropped Doritos on-demand when activated from Twitter or an iPad interface. What’s even more impressive is that the team at North Street Labs built the machine in only three weeks.

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The release mechanisms were constructed from metal strips and solenoids which retracted when energized. The team needed so many solenoids that they completely cleared out the inventory from Sparkfun Electronics and had to purchase the rest of what they needed from Adafruit. These mechanisms were arranged in a matrix, connected to relays, which connected to an array of Arduino Megas. Those Arduino Megas were centrally controlled by a Raspberry Pi, which took commands wirelessly from the iPad and interfaced with the Twitter API.

“We knew the build would be difficult,” said Justin Seemueller, one of the team members. “Count to 800 in your head. Not only is that annoying, it’s tremendously time-consuming. We had to do every single minor task this many times, and when we forgot something like missing a zip-tie, it was 800 mistakes.”

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For the final assembly, the team collaborated with a large scale production company that built stages for major entertainment venues. The “chip panels” were mounted via U-bolts to their aluminum truss, and they lifted it into place. After that, it was the responsibility of North Street Labs to ensure that the wiring—all three miles of it—worked as required.

“The scale of this project was massive, but we had a blast,” said Justin. “It was incredibly rewarding to see it come to life.”

Matt Richardson

Matt Richardson

Matt Richardson is a Brooklyn-based creative technologist, Contributing Editor at MAKE, and Resident Research Fellow at New York University’s Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP). He’s the co-author of Getting Started with Raspberry Pi and the author of Getting Started with BeagleBone.


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