Futurama's Jack dispenser

"Grab a Jack !"

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We attend to build a replica of the Jack dispenser of Futurama as seen on episode 109 "Hell is Other Robots". It will include an amplifier with 4 output channels (2 right, 2 left) and one input channel for audio auxiliary.

It will also include a Raspberry Pi as the main audio source. The Raspberry Pi will be used as a DLNA server and will act as a "media hotspot".

Most important, the Sci-fi style : the plasma ball !

THERE'S VIDEOS HERE! CHECK IT OUT! We think it's better to show details with videos so click on "Read more" to see videos of our project running fine.

Here we show you the structure and the opening system:

Here is a quick demonstration of minidlna and its possibilities:

This is a really quick showing of the auxiliary input:

  • 1 × USB Plasma ball 80mm Ø
  • 1 × Amplifier 4-channel output (4x20W), 1 auxiliary, SD card, USB, FM
  • 1 × Raspberry Pi Model B rev 2.0
  • 1 × Wifi Dongle for Raspberry Pi Brand: DL-LINK, Driver : RTL8192cu
  • 1 × SD Card 8Go Sandisk Class 10

View all 27 components

  • You don't wanna get hooked on this stuff!

    pierrep04/28/2014 at 21:18 0 comments

    Hey we finally finished the Jack Dispenser! 

    We first had to finish the painting and add the final paint layer to give it the perfect touch. Next was to glue the plama ball circuit into the water sprayer, we wanted it to be the closer from the plasma ball to ensure the cable's contact in it. We then had to solder all of the speakers cables (4 one-end jack connector) the auxiliary input (one 3.5mm to 6.35mm jack). We used a jack to RCA adapter to plug the Raspberry Pi straight into the amplifier.

    After assembling the 3-floor structure, well... We had to disassemble it because the leadscrews were too tall. So, after re-cutting the leadscrews and re-assembling the inner structure we were ready for the big final : put the plasma ball on the top the the Jack Dispenser and turn it on with some kickass guitar sounds. The results can be seen on the videos in the details of our project. Check it out!

    It is complete ! Well...

    ...Not exactly. We still have to improve some of the features to enhance the user's experience a bit more as it is quite essential. So even if it is tagged complete as the Jack Dispenser is now fully funtionnal, things like the WebUI still need to be improved, for example we're actually thinking of a replacement for lighttpd in order not to go through the whole server configuration and its use with PHP. We'd like to find a server that could be directly implemented in the package, so if you think of one that could fit our need, tell us in the commentary section!

    What about your amplifier ?

    Nothing yet. The plane must have gone lost somewhere in the bermuda triangle as we still have no news or even the ability to track the package. We somehow hope to receive it in the week or even the next one but we can't know. We'll update the pictures and cabling of the amplifier as soon as we receive it so stay tuned for some more cool stuff! For the moment, all we have is an amplifier we borrowed to a friend.

    What your project could be used for ?

    We tried to make generic scripts that would be reusable in others projects. We already have some ideas on how to re-use our whc-switch in others projects like the "HackerBoy" which would basically be a Hacked GameBoy containing a rasberry Pi. It would of course be powered by a little battery. The HackerBoy would actually use the screen and buttons to control the Rasberry Pi and use command line softwares and utility. As it would be a connected GameBoy, it should be able to make a lots of cool things like our Jack Dispenser.

    minidlna-autoconfig is now on the AUR and accessible by everyone. We think that some people are fighting to get a simple but working configuration for minidlna and we are distributing these scripts just for them. We will add an entry to the ArchLinux Wiki to make it more popular and see if it can help people.

    We also created the "Share Your Profits License" you should take a look on, it is a just-borned license, but it'll be finalized soon and everything we coded for the Jack Dispenser is now distributed under it!

    The Jack Dispenser, version 2 ?

    After seeing the announcement of the new form-factor for the Raspberry Pi, we had some thoughts about making a new version of the Jack-dispenser, with custom PCB and fully integrated 4 channel audio amplifier (maybe a custom amplifier with some STA540 or alike amplifier). We will probably try to do a better structure, perhaps using fiberglass.

    Briefly, we will try to keep this project alive ! Stay tuned for others updates and demonstrations !

  • 001100010010011110100001101101110011

    pierrep04/24/2014 at 22:23 0 comments

    Here we are for our third update since the begining of this project and we are actually about to tag it complete.

    The end is near!

    This week and the last one's work was a lot about coding and building the structure.

    Like we planned, we bought some hinges at the local store and we used our Dremel to drill some place for one hinge that is discretly located on the upper outside border of the basins. One hinge seems enough for us but we had to find a way to keep it opened properly and so we chose the good old-fashion chains to keep it open at certain angle without falling.

    Discrete hinge

    Still with the Dremel, we drilled some holes in the water sprayer for the female jacks and cut the bottom of it so we could pass cables from the water sprayer to the basins. We also drilled a slot into the water sprayer in order to install the circuit from the plasma ball into it and have an access to the on/off switch. We will install it definitly when the Jack Dispenser will be painted.

    As stated above, we also had to start painting the Jack Dispenser so it would be the same color as the device in the Futurama's episode, unfortunatly we weren't able to find the same colour and so went for the Bordeau painting spray. The entire painting spray was actually enough to correctly paint the entire structure (note that the basins received three successive layers of paint minimum as much as most of the other parts that needed to be painted).

    GPIO & WebUI

    We spent a lot of time on the software side, trying to figure out a simple way to enhance user experience without having to add a display and/or a keyboard. As described in our second Project Log, we made a script that reads the input from a physical switch and switches between hotspot and client mode depending on the switch state. The script, nammed whc-switch, is also able to start/stop/restart systemd services depending on the switch state. You are able to customize this by using the configuration file which is shipped with whc-switch. Actually, we needed it for gmrender-resurrect which doesn't react really well when changing network configuration.

    More than that we have started working on a WebUI you can use to configure/add/remove netctl profiles as you wish and display the profiles specs. The WebUI is designed to receive only one connection at a time so you wouldn't actually be able to edit profiles from two computers causing troubles to happen when saving the files from two locations. It is more secure even if passwords from the netctl profiles are displayed in clear text (we will be working on encryption after the contest is finished). 

    We felt that we also needed a way to communicate the wifi state to the user. We chose the simplest way: leds. One blue for the wifi state and one red that will light up if a problem occurs. The blue led will blink when the wifi is in hotspot mode (host mode) and will stay on if the wifi is in client mode.

    How to connect the switch and the leds on the Raspberry Pi (B Rev2)

    As we showed you on the last update, we thought of a little structure for the power supply, the Rasberry Pi and the motorcycle amplifier. We chose to use the rodolpheh's CNC to cut and drill the plates in MDF and now have our internal structure almost ready (we just need the amplifier to make the last floor).

    A rip in the space-time continuum lost our amplifier

    We're still waiting for the motorcycle amplifier. We bought it one month ago from DealExtreme and have no news since the fourth of April. We don't think we will get it before the end of the contest but we still want to tag it as complete because nothing have to be made on the amplifier except plugging cables, which is not a hard task. We rely on the understanding of the Hackaday's team for accepting our project as complete.

    We're sorry we can't present you the final version of the Jack Dispenser but we have another amplifier we'll use for the demo just to show you it's fully functionnal but it doesn't fit our specs. We will also show you how the whc-switch...

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  • "I'm gonna drink til I reboot!"

    pierrep04/07/2014 at 20:04 0 comments

    "We're back baby !" for our second update after two weeks since the last project log.

    Things are real fine, we actually received most of the components we needed and were able to get to work on both hardware and software sides and so we were able to code the things we needed to configure minidlna quite easily and post a build instruction about it.

    "1.21 gigawatts of electricity !" [Dr. Emmett L. Brown]

    Last week, we took a day to go to the local store in order to prepare a good power cable for the power supply. We used a flat plug with a little hook to unplug it and a foot-triggered switch. This won't looks really futuristic but hey! if you have seen "THX1138", you know that white IS futuristic! Quickly, we got into testing and adjust the power supply.

    Adjusting the power supply

    THX1138 style cable

    The Cable guys

    As the jack dispenser needs jack connectors we also started the soldering part. So now our 5 female jacks are ready to be plugged on the little amp we are about to receive. We soldered one of our ø6,5mm female jack to ø3,5mm male jack for auxiliary sound input using an old audio cable for stereo. The last four of them are soldered on mono audio cable. Since the female jacks are stereo, we needed to solder it in a way it would act as a mono. We came up with this cabling:

    Mono cabling

    Stereo cabling

    The cables we made

    The cables were tested with an adapter and plugged to a laptop. It worked perfectly as we planned.

    Thinking gave us a headache

    The plasma ball has also been disassembled to see how it could fit in the whole structure. We also tried, with success, to add a longer wire to the plasma ball for when we will fit it in the Jack Dispenser. There is some kind of metal scrap inside the plasma ball and the wire should touch it in order to make a good electrode.

    For the same concerns we made a 3D model of a tiny 3 floor wooden structure that will be placed in the lower part of the jack dispenser. The advantage of this little structure is that it will ballast the object so we can easily open it without worrying it would fall. Opening the jack dispenser will probably be done with hinges, by leaning the upper part like you would do with a treasure chest. The floors will be held with leadscrews and nuts. It is as simple as it could be and we should be able to get it in or out easily for maintenance.

    Here is a quick model of our structure. We will probably update it as soon as it evolves.

    Getting the sound 

    Besides all the functions we can find in the amplifier (SD card, USB, aux input, FM/AM etc...), we felt like we needed a more modern way to play our music. We found a USB dongle that was lost on a previous project and decided to search a way to stream music from any devices without dragging kilometers of cables or having to install complex software.

    After a few experiments with different media streaming systems, we choose to get our hand on the DLNA protocol which is widely used by a lot of (not so) smart TV and media devices. The DLNA protocol (in a media streaming context, forget about DLNA printers), allows a device to be one of the three kinds of these devices:

    • DLNA Server: this device can stream media over the network
    • DLNA Renderer: this device render the media (plays sound on headphones or video on screen)
    • DLNA Controller: this device act as a controller, it can tell from which server the renderer should get its stream and is able to pause/play it or make playlists

    We came up with minidlna which is a common software you can find in any good Operating System. Minidlna acts as a DLNA Server. With it, you should be able to read media contained in an external hard disk or in the SD card of the Raspberry Pi, on a DLNA Renderer such as your TV or your cellphone.

    In order to add DLNA rendering to our Jack Dispenser, we used gmrender-resurrect which is a not so easy to find software. Luckily, it was available in the Arch Linux AUR (user repository full of scripts to build packages). It works natively with Alsa and enables the user...

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  • "If jacking on'll make strangers think I'm cool, I'll do it!"

    pierrep03/24/2014 at 17:35 0 comments

    Hello World, here's our first update, it's not a big and important one but it will allow us to present you the components we get and the thoughs we had on the design.

    NOTE: all dimensions are in mm.

    Buy online... And what ?

    On a sunny sunday, between two naps, we bought the main components on Internet. We opted for a motorcycle amplifier with 4x20W output channels that will be the heart of our Jack Dispenser. We also bought two plasma balls (in case we would break one) that can be powered with USB. It's 80mm wide and won't be too power-hungry. After getting these components on the web, we have to wait for them to deliver so we will see how we will use them later. Stay tune !

    The motorcycle amplifier. 80W under the (tiny) hood.

    The cute USB plasma ball

    As we though of our project a little more, we encountered the first problem and one of the most important thing in our project : the design!
    If it wasn't for the design the Jack Dispenser wouldn't look Sci-Fi enough to satisfy the Hack-A-Day team.

    The first step for designing our project was to determine how it would be build. As seen later, our choice was to get common everyday-used objects that could be bought for a cheap price. But we had to choose what kind of objects could be used and their possible dimensions. At that point, it was obvious that we should get our hands on drawing it with the model we got on the Futurama's episode.

    Drawing and scaling

    First, we used Inkscape to draw a half-cutted view of the object on a semi-transparent screenshot we placed on the background. The drawing was made roughly, to get a basic idea of the shape.

    Using Inkscape to draw basic shapes

    Next, using Qcad, we corrected the previous drawing and after struggling with Qcad, we finally were able to scale it using the only known dimension : the plasma ball which is 80mm wide. With some measures, we were able to make a list of everyday objects with a shape that would fit in our design with their dimensions.

      Correcting and scaling with Qcad

    ShapeHeightWidth (diameter)
    Plasma ball
    Big bowl (x2)
    Little bowl
    Smaller bowl5075
    Champagne flute ?
    7020 (bottom) ; 45 (end)

    These shapes were what we planned to find. Thankfully, the motorcycle amplifier is so tiny that it could fit in a big bowl 200mm wide. But we found others objects and shapes in the store :

    ObjectHeightWidth (diameter)
    Basin (x2)
    Water sprayer
    Champagne flute
    11020 (bottom) ; 50 (end)

    Crap hunters !

    Since it's an Hack-A-Day contest we thought common objects once assembled would perfectly do the trick with a bit of work and decided to go where some of these can be found a really resonable price as we intended it to be quite a low cost object to replicate. Fortunatly we were lucky and hit the strike as all of the objects for the design could be found at a crap-junk yard called Babou. For 12,90€ we had it all! 2 simple basins of 300mmØ, a water sprayer (or whatever you use that for), and plastic champagne flutes (pack of 8).

    On top, from left to right: water sprayer, champagne flute ; on bottom : two basins

    Back home we were able to assemble the very first crappy prototype in less than one minute.

    The crappy design prototype. Really close, isn't it ?

    And next ?

    Next ? We have to wait for the components to deliver and buy a few more components to build it perfectly. We will make updates as long as we build it, with pictures and details.

    NOTE: We're aware that the device seen on Futurama does not fit the exact same dimensions. It's Matt Groening's fault, who's not aware of how a Jack Dispenser looks like in Y3K !

View all 4 project logs

  • 1
    Step 1

    What you should consider when choosing an amplifier:

    • First you should consider the number of inputs and outputs you want;
    • Then after you should consider the output power;
    • Power supply get quickly expensive when you want more than 100W output and you might want to buy a power supply that is a little bit more powerful than your amplifier.

    What you should consider when choosing a power supply:

    • The power supply should output enough power to power up the amplifier, the raspberry pi and some of the accessories you will add.
    • Having only one power supply is easier. Try to use converters if you need other voltages. Most of the amplifiers are 12V and the Raspberry Pi uses 5V, you don't need to be a genius to know that you will need a converter or another power supply, so you better make a choice. "This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back."

    Calculating the needed power can be done quickly. For our example:

    • Amplifier: 80W
    • Rapsberry Pi: it will get as much as the converter can give: 10W (but that won't happen since we're not using power-sucking components)
    • Accessories (as the plasma ball): about 2W maximum

    This gave us 92W maximum so we took a 100W power supply.

    The choice of the structure is up to you. Avoid metal as much as you can if you don't want to mess with electricity. Choose wood if you can. It's well insulated, is easy to use and it have some good looking.

    When buying the cables, keep in mind how much you need and what kind of cables (for example, the outputs have two phases and the input have three phases). For outputs, you need as much cables as the number of outputs you got. For inputs: you probably need one cable for auxiliary input and one cable to connect the Raspberry Pi to the main input of the amplifier.

    These are all the advices we could give you. In a more general way, you should refer to our component list to see what you need if you use the same amplifier. Audio connectors can be the size and the kind you want except for the auxiliary input on the amplifier and the main input on the Raspberry Pi. These should absolutely be 3.5mm stereo jack connectors.

  • 2
    Step 2

    Go to the Raspberry Download Page and download N.O.O.B.S. Follow the documentation to install N.O.O.B.S on your SD Card. When it's done plug it into your Raspberry Pi, power it up and choose your Operating System to install.

    For the rest of the instructions, we will use Arch Linux as it's our favorite Linux distribution. If you are using Arch Linux, you will probably use yaourt in order to install packages from the AUR. If this is the case, you should fix your clock to the right date and time (the Raspberry doesn't have an RTC so it won't keep the right date and time) manually or using NTP. We advise you to install and start NTP right after having setup the network (see next step).

  • 3
    Step 3

    After installing Arch Linux using N.O.O.B.S, you can start and login with the account root and the password root.

    The first thing you should do is set up the network and update your system. You could plug it on a wired connection or launch wifi-menu if you already want to use the wifi dongle.


    For your first wireless connection, we will use the command wifi-menu. Wifi-menu is part of the netctl package, so you can use it right after installation, this will be required for package installation and for connecting the device when not in access point mode. Using wifi-menu to connect to a wireless network will create a netctl profile into /etc/netctl. This profile will be named this way: <interface>-<SSID>. It will allow you to start/stop the connection using netctl start <profile> and netctl stop <profile>. You can get the list of saved profiles by doing netctl list.

    When it seems that you are connected, you should check if an IP is assigned to your network device in ifconfig and try to ping some DNS server as (Google DNS server). If you are connected, you can update your system and add the necessary for building packages later: 

    # pacman -Syu
    # pacman -S base-devel

    Now it's up to you to configure the rest of your system (like adding NTP) before going to the next step. Remember that you can use netctl start <profile> in case you need to reconnect after rebooting.

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Enjoy this project?



pierrep wrote 05/09/2014 at 07:09 point
We actually thought of a few ways to handle the lower chamber opening, but the problem was essentially to find one that would work fixed on a circular shape. We came up with the idea of the hinge as we knew we could find little ones that would allow us to open it easily, we actually had the same concerns about the hinge and thought of the chains to hold it opened not to make the hinge take all the weigh so guess it will take the use for quite a while!

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Mike Szczys wrote 05/07/2014 at 21:17 point
I worry about the hinge on the lower chamber holding up. If it can take the use, this is a useful art-piece that deserves a place of honor!

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RodolpheH wrote 05/10/2014 at 16:48 point
The hinge is not the optimal solution but it works and we did took some time to test its strength by pushing it forward and back and on the sides. It doesn't seems to break easily nor the basins we used (cheap plastic is really deformable).
If we have one problem, it's for the paint that don't want to stick to the cheap plastic. We hope we will have some time between two projects to make a V2 that could be made of fiberglass. By making our own structure, we would be able to rethink the opening system and have a good paint.
For the moment, we have a lots of ideas for a better version with more features. This first jack dispenser was really a prototype but we're happy that we were able to comply with the first specifications that we have given ourselves.
Thank you for your comment!

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