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Can You Make the Popinator Work?
10/11/2012

Popcorn, Indiana calls its Popinator a 'fully automated, voice activated popcorn shooter.' (Source: Popcorn, Indiana)
Popcorn, Indiana calls its Popinator a "fully automated, voice activated popcorn shooter."
(Source: Popcorn, Indiana)

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Beth Stackpole
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Parody or innovative project?
Beth Stackpole   10/11/2012 7:15:10 AM
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At first after seeing the video, I thought you might have stumbled across something that could be a Saturday Night Live skit. Then I thought, those offices. Pretty cushy for a bunch of young folk that should essentially be operating out of someone's garage if that was their sole offering. Then I realized this is a project orchestrated by a popcorn manufacturing company. (Love their products, BTW--the kettle corn flavor is awesome!). Any way, I guess the Popinator is cool in concept and maybe even innovative if it does indeed incorporate some of that more novel sensing and voice activation technology. But changing the way people eat popcorn and getting them to shell out bucks for a machine like that. Maybe in a dorm room, but I prefer the bag just fine, thank you very much.

naperlou
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Re: Parody or innovative project?
naperlou   10/11/2012 10:12:06 AM
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How about a parodyof an innovative product? 

Actually, the system to detect the sound and figure out where to put it should not be too difficult.  On the other hand, variability in the popcorn itself could pose a problem, I would think.

Jennifer Campbell
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Re: Parody or innovative project?
Jennifer Campbell   10/11/2012 10:37:33 AM
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Randy Frank may be onto something when he says that a barking dog could potentially trigger this machine (if it actually existed in real ife). It's safe to say that it wouldn't take long for the dog to figure out that it gets a tasy treat everytime it barks.

Beth, I agree, this would definitely be in a hit in the dorms. Throw in the beer-throwing fridge (over 21 only, please), and you'd be the most popular kid on campus!

Larry M
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Re: Parody or innovative project?
Larry M   10/12/2012 10:31:47 AM
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Naperlou wrote: "Actually, the system to detect the sound and figure out where to put it should not be too difficult.  On the other hand, variability in the popcorn itself could pose a problem, I would think."

Probably not, but you couldn't do it with "binaural microphones." A binary set (two) of microphones would be sufficient to get the speaker's azimuth but you would need another one (at least) to get elevation.

Then a classic set of artillery tables (such as were computed by the very first digital computers during the waning days of World War II) would define the aiming algorithm. As noted, compensation for popcorn variability would be necessary. Perhaps a MEMS scale to measure projectile mass would reduce this error. Correcting for air resistance variability would be more difficult of course.

Ralphy Boy
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Re: Parody or innovative project?
Ralphy Boy   10/12/2012 1:42:04 PM
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So if I give one of these to my daughter will it have a melt-down when I go for a visit? She has 5 kids...  An average scenario has me entering the living room to a barrage of 'Hi Pop-Pop', 'Pop-Pop's here', and just plain ole 'Pop-Pop! Pop-Pop! (from the 2 & 4 yr olds)'.

And on that thought about the dog barking... just watch how fast dogs evolve the ability to say whatever words deliver food from our robots. Special algorithms will need to be developed to do 'hacker doggy' detection.

I am also wondering if sound reflection inside a room will be much of a problem for a word based tech such as this one. Echoes could muddy the sound such that attempting to detect multiple instances of a word and then using those detections to do location, aim, fire...

Plus as is the case with many words, Pop can be pronounced with nuance by different people... Pop (muted second 'p') and also PoP (lip bounce on the second 'P').

The Clapper merely listens for sharp spikes I guess... which is why it is not always recommended for 'loud' households or with dogs, but is also why it works in general. 2 loud claps (or 3)... ta da.

And you are right Larry... Much of the hard work on aiming has been done already on much tougher targets.

Charles Murray
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Re: Parody or innovative project?
Charles Murray   10/11/2012 11:40:45 AM
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Beth, I think Saturday Night Live already mentioned the Popinator. I didn't see it, but if you Google "popinator" and "SNL," it comes up.

Charles Murray
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Re: Parody or innovative project?
Charles Murray   10/11/2012 12:13:35 PM
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Couldn't find video from Saturday Night Live, but did find this mention of the Popinator on SNL Weekend Update in September:

SETH MEYERS – "A new device is being sold called the "Popinator," which is a voice-activated popcorn machine that launches a single piece of popcorn into the user's mouth. The device is activated by the phrase "I'm so lonely.""

http://www.nbcumv.com/mediavillage/networks/nbcentertainment/saturdaynightliveweekendupdatethursday/pressreleases?pr=contents/press-releases/2012/09/21/highlightsfroms1348244344394.xml

Beth Stackpole
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Re: Parody or innovative project?
Beth Stackpole   10/12/2012 8:17:06 AM
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Thanks for that clip. It really looked in keeping with the SNL style. Maybe they purposely filmed it that way. Even if the machine was ready for prime time in terms of design and manufacturing ability, I really don't see any kind of market for this behind the goof factor of fraternity's and maybe tech startups where they can put the Popinator to work and down the popcorn with a side of Jolt.

mtripoli3
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Re: Parody or innovative project?
mtripoli3   10/12/2012 10:01:01 AM
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In a previous life I designed toys and developed more than one prototype of a toy that responded to voice control. Some used algorithms running on nothing more than a PIC, others used more sophisticated devices. There was no mention of the budget for the thing. Nontheless, check out Sensory, Inc. for voice control IC's. We've used these for many (many) toys: http://www.sensoryinc.com/.

Though no one has asked I'll answer it anyway; I'm not interested in working on the thing.

Jon Titus
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One kernel at a time?
Jon Titus   10/11/2012 10:46:09 AM
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Good grief, it would take all night to eat popcorn one popped kernel at a time.  I go for a big tub and eat it by the handful.  Maybe the Popinator could "shoot" a burst of popcorn at a time.

Jennifer Campbell
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Re: One kernel at a time?
Jennifer Campbell   10/11/2012 10:51:33 AM
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Make it happen, Jon. Now that I would like to see!

naperlou
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Re: One kernel at a time?
naperlou   10/11/2012 10:53:26 AM
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So, Jon, would it respond to the gurgling sound you make when your mouth is full?  This could get complicated, although I think there is a chip for that.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: One kernel at a time?
Rob Spiegel   10/11/2012 11:46:01 AM
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Cool video, but I can understand why this gadget is not ready for prime time. For one, the algorithm would have to measure individual voices at various distances to determine the trajectory. Even so, it looks like the only configuration is the velocity of the kernel. And that would vary depending on each kernel. Popcorn kernels are certainly not uniform.

TommyH
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Re: One kernel at a time?
TommyH   10/12/2012 9:37:18 AM
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It may work in an acousticly dead room, but the problem of echos and background noise are real world problems that would be hard to address.  cool idea though.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: One kernel at a time?
Rob Spiegel   10/12/2012 3:42:17 PM
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TommyH, I would guess part of the difficulty would involve the variances in voices. Some of our voices are loud, some are quiet. So, detecting distance would require an evaluation of an individual's voice to determine whether the person is close or far when that person says, "Pop."

DanSchwartz
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Meh. We do it every day
DanSchwartz   10/12/2012 9:38:50 AM
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Meh. We do it every day with hearing aids that have inter-ear coordination (via ear-to-ear RF communication), which among other things allows the directional microphones to "steer" towards the voice and away from the noise.

http://www.widex.pro/en/innovations/technologicalexcellence/interear/

http://www.gnresound.com/hearing-aids/hearing-aid-products/verso.aspx

Rob Spiegel
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Re: Meh. We do it every day
Rob Spiegel   10/12/2012 4:18:15 PM
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Thanks for the links, Dan. I particularly liked the video in the second link. Interesting stuff. I wonder how this technology would work in some of the loud rock concerts I've attened.

DanSchwartz
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It will fix your broken hearing
DanSchwartz   10/12/2012 4:31:06 PM
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Rob, these hearing aids will fix your broken hearing nicely.

agriego
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Limited usefullness
agriego   10/12/2012 9:42:13 AM
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It's an interesting idea, but it's a solution looking for a problem. I suppose a popcorn company could use it in commercials and for trade shows, but I don't see it as a commercial product.

j-allen
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Popinator
j-allen   10/12/2012 10:17:17 AM
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Two comments:  First I notice that the film shows every kernel hitting the "bull's eye."  I wonder how many hours of video they had to edit to catch that many perfect hits.  The speaker raises a very important point that because popcorn has a low density, random aerodynamic effects can dominate over Newtonian mechanics.

My second comment is to second those who point out that this is a silly idea to begin with.  Don't we engineers have enough real problems to solve? 

Redding
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Face Detector
Redding   10/12/2012 10:26:43 AM
I would make this thing use a digital camera face detect function for aiming the shooter and audio for the trigger. Perhaps you could combine the two to figure out which face if more than one. Even better, fire one at each face!

This would have really come in handy at last night's VP debate!

 

mrdon
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Re: Face Detector
mrdon   10/12/2012 3:44:13 PM
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Redding, I agree. A digital camera would be the best approach in locating one's mouth instead of sound. There's a lot of sophisticated face recognition and gesturing software on the market that can initially fine tune the Popinator's location detection function instead of using a microphone or binaural sensors.

Charles Murray
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Re: Face Detector
Charles Murray   10/12/2012 6:38:28 PM
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I believe you're right when you suggest that the audio method wont be easy, MrDon. When I asked sensors expert Randy Frank, he said this: "It's not just a matter of the sound transducer. There's a lot that has to be done in the sound horn to make the sound come out accurately. It's a matter of mechanical shaping -- you need something that reflects the sound consistently." I would add that the understanding of that sound needs to be incorporated into the software algorithms, as well.

ChasChas
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Pop
ChasChas   10/12/2012 11:04:22 AM
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New picture, Charles? That's the first thing that "popped" out at me. Not bad.

Could you make a game of chance out of the popinator - like spin the bottle?

Charles Murray
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Re: Pop
Charles Murray   10/12/2012 11:09:24 AM
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Yup, new picture, ChasChas. I figured it was time to stop using my driver's license photo.

Jeff_A
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Make the Popinator popinate
Jeff_A   10/12/2012 1:19:53 PM
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With time, money, and manpower there is no question engineers can make this novelty work.  This is engineer fun.  This puts a smile on peoples faces.  Its not directly solving any world problems, but my Mom always tells me how important it is to have a little fun every day, and she is 96.  As a business decision, is it worth the investment?  I'm estimating that it isn't worth a big corporate effort, but more like one or more people exploring it on their own, more for the interest and science than getting rich. 

As an engineering project, I would view the three primary functions as the "pop" command, the detection of desire to launch, definition of the specific location of the the target mouth,  and finally the targeting function to send the popped kernel to a specific location.  I would develop these threee functions somewhat  independently, and then integrate the three working functions.  The interfaces between the functions must be defined carefully as early as possible in the development process so that successful system integration will not require miracles to occur.  In this application, I would focus on high volume sensors from other fields for design simplicity, high reliability, and low cost.  I would not presuppose ultrasonic, vision, MEMS, or any other technology would be superior to any other without testing in this application.  I would look forward to systems testing and am willing to bring my own diet root beer to wash down some popcorn.

 

flared0ne
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Incredibly intriguing...
flared0ne   10/12/2012 3:20:50 PM
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I've been paying very close attention recently to a sensor technology which as far as anyone can tell does NOT use a binocular "triangulation" method to yield EXTREMELY precise distance measurements -- instead it uses an infrared illuminator, reflecting back thru a pseudo-random hole pattern in a shadow mask over a CCD imager chip, where the breakthru intellectual properties are the algorithms which allow deconvolving "empty field of view" speckle patterns with "object in field of view" speckle patterns -- and where the ratios of average hole separation, flying height of the mask over the CCD imager surface, and pixel separation ON the imager surface all play into yielding that incredible precision.

And what I find myself WONDERING is if there is any crossover "play" possible, with some type of capacitive-membrane (or piezoelectric??) acoustic-sensor "surface", with an "aural mask" perhaps formed of acoustic foam with randomly spaced holes in it, with some comparable/approximately-optimum ratio for hole- and sensor-spacing, and flying-height for the foam. Leaving the question of whether a verbalization would qualify in place of using some type of bat-like acoustic radar "chirp" to yield the same type of highly-informative acoustically-sourced position data -- the "chirp" may be absolutely required, in which case I would pursue THIS approach for sonar systems and skip the popcorn...

But if an ACOUSTIC "shadow mask" works then binaural microphones might be unnecessary and redundant -- and I would expect precision/resolution on the order of one or two wavelengths of the dominant/median audio frequency involved. Definitively worth investigating. Although gaining access to the algorithms required for analysis is going to be ...tricky... you might be able to at least do a "please attempt to analyze this data" handoff, to determine if there MAY be a possible signal embedded in the, what, "acousticospatial" sensor data?

*** BUT I would suggest a hugely simpler (less research involved, almost COTS) solution: use a visual sensor with sufficient range to bridge the typical "launch" distance (Kinect comes to mind, others exist), and simply search for a "gaping mouth" on hearing a distinguishable single-burst sound. Voice-detect circuits for "call-progress-monitoring" on voice response systems (I have a LOT of experience there) are trivial -- simply detect a characteristic signature "silence-burst-silence" and look for the immediately-following "open mouth" target on an in-view "face"; if you don't find it, pass on the suspected event. If you DO find it, leverage the "frame of reference" and known windage, calculated projectile mass (MEMS sounded good, although you could probably do an "air jet suspension" mass-calc with calibrated flapper, or a solenoid-bounced spring-constant deflection test, etc; you may need to do "compressed popcorn pellets"; and I'd be torn between a compressed-air vs spring-deflection (solenoid) vs "elastic" slingshot "shooter"), etc and "Fire at Will!" (or Grace, or George, or whomever)... You WILL want to "advise caution" for anyone tempted to "load the hopper" with peanuts, gummy bears or (gods forbid) jaw breakers ("you could put an EYE out with one of those, sonny!")...

Feedback would be appreciated. PARTICULARLY if you take a look into the acoustico-spatial sensor approach (I'll split the royalties if it turns out to be as feasible as "gut feel" says it should be), but if you consider attempting the "search for a gaping mouth" visual sensor approach, too. Note: there are optimizations lurking -- things like "constantly look for a NEW open mouth, while you WAIT for an 'impulse' audio trigger" since precalculated targeting yields an IMMEDIATE "launch" response, no calc-gap. If there is any visible projector "swivel" it would probably be pretty cool to watch it targeting yawns. Even if the audible trigger IS a dog barking, or a hand-clap or a finger-snap, it would STILL qualify as a 'Score!!' as far as most people would be concerned...

Ann R. Thryft
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Occam's Razor
Ann R. Thryft   10/12/2012 4:21:15 PM
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I agree with mrdon and Redding: visual identification for locating the mouth is much simpler, and therefore makes a lot more sense then directional sound detection, which is pretty complicated.

Fastm3driver
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Made for the Kinect
Fastm3driver   10/13/2012 6:54:24 AM
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One word: kinect And then some more words(I am an engineer after all) I think the kinetic sensor has what you need. It has a windows sdk now too. It will locate separate targets, judge distance, and even identify the mouth location. The trick will be figuring out how far above or below the shooter is by a calibration that would probably need screen and a interface.

warren@fourward.com
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Popinator
warren@fourward.com   10/14/2012 8:53:08 AM
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OK, I'll bite (pun intended). So, you want to launch a projectile, that has a bad habit of sticking in one's throat under normal conditions, at high velocity, into one's mouth, not an eye where the cornea could get scratched, while breathing in after issuing a command that opens the trachea exposing one's lungs to this projectile, and make it available to the youth of the household and your pets?

Cool!

Maybe the better way is a video processing system with acoustic distance-determining subroutines?

Next, how about one that launches pins for those who sew a lot? Or nails for a carpenter who is putting up framing? Or syringes for nurses giving injections. The possiblities are endless!

 

warren@fourward.com
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Popinator
warren@fourward.com   10/14/2012 8:53:34 AM
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OK, I'll bite (pun intended). So, you want to launch a projectile, that has a bad habit of sticking in one's throat under normal conditions, at high velocity, into one's mouth, not an eye where the cornea could get scratched, while breathing in after issuing a command that opens the trachea exposing one's lungs to this projectile, and make it available to the youth of the household and your pets?

Cool!

Maybe the better way is a video processing system with acoustic distance-determining subroutines?

Next, how about one that launches pins for those who sew a lot? Or nails for a carpenter who is putting up framing? Or syringes for nurses giving injections. The possiblities are endless!

 

Rob Spiegel
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Re: Popinator
Rob Spiegel   10/14/2012 10:03:32 PM
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That's funny, Warren. And all of that risk just so you can get a piece of popcorn into your month -- because it's so hard to get a piece of popcorn to your mouth.

William K.
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Making the "Popinator" work?
William K.   10/14/2012 10:20:37 PM
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First, Warren sounds like a fear-burdened worry-wart that I would never invite to my party!

Now as for making the thing work, ultrasonic ranging and locating is a fairly mature art form, and laser tracking systems are available off the shelf. But none of those laser systems are in the required price range, at least not the high accuracy ones. So a good start would be a sonar system for ranging and a camera system for face and moth recognition. The speech recognition system would need to discriminate against all other sounds than the word "pop", so it could probably be fairly simple. And the whole search could wait until the trigger word was heard so that it would know the target was available.

Of course there are a lot of add-on things that would add to the fun, like a laser pointer and a butter squirt option. And what about a system to make all manner of remarks as it shoots the popcorn? 

The challenge would be to make it all for a low enough price that Walmart would not offer a cheaper knock-off after a few weeks.

warren@fourward.com
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Re: Making the "Popinator" work?
warren@fourward.com   10/15/2012 7:04:27 AM
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So that's why I never get invited to parties?  Who knew!

Now the "Double-oscillating, Superregenerative, Three-stage Butter Squirter" I could really get in to.  That's a slippery problem that could have real blue-bonnet consequences!

William K.
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Making the "Popinator" work?
William K.   10/15/2012 2:56:30 PM
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As a matter of fact, I believe that I have been blasted by popcorn on at least one occasion, without sustaining any injury except for having popcorn embedded in my hair.

Clearly, if one enters a popcorn free-fire zone, one is obligated to blink in the event of an incoming. So the liability for imbedded kernels would lie with the recipient, not with the sender. LIkewise, one is obligated to catch the kernel in flight and not attempt to swallow it whole.

 I would anticipate that a modified version of my "Ratapalt" invention could deliver large amounts of popcorn at quite high velocities, which would be an interesting way to overdo the whole concept.

bob from maine
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Re: Making the "Popinator" work?
bob from maine   11/26/2012 12:11:28 PM
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It would seem the most accurate method of launching and hitting a target is to launch unpopped corn kernels; determine direction and range, launch the kernel, focus either laser or microwave energy onto the airborne kernel causing it to pop mid-flight and slowing it to sublethal velocity. A short subroutine to track the kernel until it either disappears or falls below a threshold would suffice to verify the accuracy of the throw and make appropriate adjustments. Using a simple game-camera to discern movement would solve the aiming issue. Disabling the laser/microwave could disuade even the most vociferous pet from repeatedly setting-off the thrower. Launching popped corn using compressed air has proven to be most inaccurate, however lauching unpopped kernels using the same method has shown to be most entertaining (if not painful). I do believe this may have contributed to the mouse population in my garage but I'm not sure.

William K.
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Re: Making the "Popinator" work?
William K.   11/26/2012 7:55:43 PM
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Popping kernels with a laser beam is probably an excellent way to raise the casualty count quite rapidly. The watt-seconds needed to pop in 2 seconds would be quite dangerous.

And for the compressed air launching? I have driven small green apples through a magazine using compressed air, and likewise driven a broken ski pole through a 2x6 piece of lumber. Compressed air is capable of imparting dangerous amounts of kinetic energy and it is not a force to be played with. 

As for the accuracy of using popped kernels, just put them in a thin plastic bag and lubricate the barrel with vegetable oil, (the cheap stuff is OK), and they will hit with a fairly small spread. Or use a smaller diameter barrel, less than an inch, and send out a steady stream. That would be lots of fun. The logistics of creating the steady stream are a bit complex, though. The effect is like tracer rounds. Very impressive.

bob from maine
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Re: Making the "Popinator" work?
bob from maine   11/27/2012 9:41:56 AM
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So we talking about safety or innovation? I agree the laser power may be excessive for 'cold' kernels, but it should be possible to pre-heat them using microwaves in the barrel, then finish them off en-route with the laser. I have color-coded the squirrels around my house using a paint-ball gun, which is about the same caliber as a popped kernel, so perhaps popping the kernels inside a round tube to control finish diameter, then some rifling inside the "barrel" to impart spin to help the ballistics. Caramel-corn, being more dense might be a better ammunition.

Charles Murray
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Re: Making the "Popinator" work?
Charles Murray   11/27/2012 7:05:25 PM
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Yes, caramel corn might make better ammunition, Bob from Maine. It might also cause the prolific mouse population in your garage to eat your squirrels.

William K.
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Re: Making the "Popinator" work?
William K.   11/27/2012 7:14:13 PM
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Think carefully now! Most of the carmel that I am familiar with is a bit sticky when it is warm. That sounds like a good way to plug tha barrel quite completely. It might have to be rebored to clean it out. Of course another option could be tio use teflon carmel, but that may not be good to eat. Heavily buttered garlic popcorn would be a bit heavier than plain, so it might be another choice. Of course it would also work to open the barrel diameter and then depend on the air0bearing effect to keep the carmel corn from sticking. But the efficiency would be much lower.

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