Guy Martin vs The Robot Car

  • Year: 2017
  • Category: Artificial intelligence / Physical computing / TV
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We were approached by North One Television to create a unique machine with a basic level of artificial intelligence for a new Channel 4 season all about AI.

Our brief was to create a teasmade-style tea brewing machine that the presenter, Guy Martin, could interface with using his old Nokia [non-smart]phone. We were asked if the machine could be made from components readily available to physical computing enthusiasts and also draw influences from Heath Robinson’s style of inventions. The machine would need to be controlled by an SMS chatbot with a degree of artificial intelligence determining what kind of tea to brew for Guy.

Initially we all thought of Doc Brown’s contraption at the beginning of Back to the Future that was intended to open a can of dog food and place it in a bowl for his dog, Einie.

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We split our approach into two parts; creating a robotic tea making machine that could brew a cup of tea in a number of different ways and secondly developing an SMS text message chatbot that could communicate with Guy and ask him a series of questions to determine what kind of tea he would like. Guy’s answers should dictate which kind of cup is selected, whether or not to add milk (and how much if any), what kind of tea to use and how long the tea should brew for before serving.

The tea making machine

We created the machine by building the following components:

  • a gravity driven cup selection system
  • a servo controlled physical switch to turn on a kettle
  • a motor controlled conveyor belt to move the selected cup
  • a proximity sensor to control when the conveyor belt stopped moving
  • a vessel with a motorised ball valve to release milk
  • a multiple-servo controlled robotic arm to pick a tea bag and move it into the cup
  • a temperature gauge to determine when the water in the kettle was boiled
  • a pump to add water to the cup
  • a lot of wires, capacitors and solder
  • a Raspberry Pi
  • a Python application running on the above Raspberry Pi to control all of the components
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The SMS text message chatbot

We developed the SMS text message chatbot by using the following components:

  • Twilio programmable SMS API
  • Google DialogFlow (formerly API.AI) conversational interface
  • a Python application running on the above Raspberry Pi to interface with Twilio and DialogFlow and the tea making machine Python application

The end result was Guy Martin being able to have a text message conversation with the tea making machine which then brewed him the perfect cup of tea!

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If you would like to watch Alison give Guy Martin a lesson in how the tea machine was coded you can watch the full episode of Guy Martin vs the Robot car on the All4 website until December 26th 2017.

To find out more about how R2-Tea2 was made and learn how he works you can read an in-depth article about our tea maker robot that covers it all.