Murphy's Law: How About an Open-Source Beer Machine... and More!


Open-source beer. Were it only as easy as walking to the store and picking up a free case of alcoholic something that's been built and licensed by a team of geeks. At the very least, we can all can build our own booze-making machines following a handy set of open-source software and hardware instructions. But the fun doesn't stop there.

What is open-source hardware? I've chatted about this before . In short, open-source hardware is be a combination of software code and hardware instructions (or, really, just the latter) that's given to you for a set price (not necessarily "free as in beer") and license for use. You're free to use the instructions to develop carbon copies of that which you wish to build, or create derivative works of said hardware, provided you offer up your diagrams/code/instructions under the same licensing as you received it.

Now that's out of the way, here are a few of the latest OSH projects to get your mind--or hops--churning!

The Halfluck Automated Brewing System (HABS)

Provided you have no fear of blowing up your house or apartment due to a fatal misstep in the beer generation process, the HABS is an ingenious homebrew (tee-hee) combination of physical hardware and microcontroller. The former holds your wort as it boils and ferments its way into delicious, over-21 goodness. The latter is the brains of your automatic brewing system, reducing your need to check up on your savory concoction as much as your normally would during the brewing process. You still have to perform a number of tasks during the beer's actual creation--this doesn't churn and bottle your adult Kool-Aid for you--but it's nevertheless a neat way to integrate a geek's three favorite hobbies: open-source, hacking, and drinking.

Parts List:

1 x Arduino Based Microcontroller (ATmega328P Chip)

1 x HD44780-based LCD & Serial Board

2 x Temperature Sensors (DS18B20)

4 x Push Buttons (Normally Open)

4 x Solid State Relays (SSR)

1 x 2400w Heater Element

1 x Float Switch

2 x Perastaltic Pumps

1 x Spit Motor

Cupcake CNC

Once you've mastered the ability to get yourself drunk via a self-built machine, you're ready to take on the next big task: a 3D printer. It's not quite like what might first come to mind when you hear that phrase--you're probably envisioning a little World of Warcraft figurine or something, right? Similar concept, different materials. The Figureprint Warcraft miniatures are built using successive stacks of super-thin layers of plaster. Cupcake CNC builds its models with thin strings of extruded plastic, almost like a crazy-precise hot glue gun. The model detail ends up being less than what you'd find in commercial 3D printing environments; so is the price. At $750 for a basic parts kit (or whatever price you pay to acquire the various parts yourself), that's a low, low cost for 3D printing technology in your own home.

Parts List:

...lots . Just trust me on this one.

The WTF Counter

I wish I had one of these growing up. Moving from the realm of the super-difficult to the super-fun, this open-source project is exactly what the title describes. Mash the button of the WTF counter and a processing application will add your utterance to a daily counter, which can then be displayed via a common HTTP interface. All you need is a big ol', imposing button, an Arduino controller, and a little bit of know-how to understand how to make this all come together in one glorious, awe-inspiring moment. Push the button, Frank.

Potential Upgrades:

Working horn. Scrolling LED display. Giant panel of buttons for other expressions.

Parts List:

Arduino controller



Semitone Diamond

For the domestic geek, the Semitone Diamond is an open-source digital light dimmer. Although your exact configuration can vary, the functionality built into the dimmer's firmware is quite extensive for the miniature controller in which it rests. You can watch and edit the real-time values of up to 20 individual channels of lighting via a DMX interface. From there, you can mix-and-match the values of any number of your lights to create and save specific scenes. An included timer will raise or lower any of your scenes depending on the requirements you specify, and you can create up to 10 of these little light patterns. The Semitone Diamond even comes with support for an IR remote, provided you build in the hardware to receive the commands.

Parts List (includes):

20x2 industry standard character LCD (Hitachi HD44780 or compatible controller)

infrared remote control receiver


rotary encoder



For the long-range geek, Ronja is a device that transmits and receives data using beams of light across distances of up to 1.2 miles. Why is that awesome? Because the signals you send are the equivalent of a 10 Mbps Ethernet connection. That's not super-speedy, but given the sheer distance you're powering your little network, one can't complain--it sure beats stringing over a mile of Ethernet cable, eh? The only bummer comes in the building of said Ronja network, as you're not only creating the optical transceivers from scratch, but you also have to create the base station that converts the signal into an Ethernet-ready connection. Expect to spend a bit of time (70+ hours) with this project. But, hey, bragging to your friends about your mile-long network should certainly win you a free open-source beer or two.

Parts List:

∞, but it sure looks cool, doesn't it?

David Murphy (@ Acererak) is a technology journalist and former Maximum PC editor. He writes weekly columns about the wide world of open-source and roundups of awesome, freebie software. Shoot him a message via Twitter, especially if you have an awesome app or game you're dying to recommend!

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