When I finish a keg of beer, most of the time I stop and wonder “When did I drink all this beer? And who helped me do it?” So out of a desire to get some interesting data – and to track all of my brewing process (drinking is part of the process, right?) – I began thinking about how I could track this information. It turns out someone has already done all of the work for me, using what is called an Arduino.
So what is an Arduino? An Arduino is an open-source electronics prototyping platform. Basically, it’s a device that is very easy to write software for, and which takes a variety of inputs through various sensors attached to the unit. It either outputs this data to separate software on an attached computer, or uses a variety of outputs to manipulate attached devices such as motors, lights and all kinds of other machines. You can use this to do all sorts of crazy things, from building a robot, to building an automatic pet feeding machine, or maybe a you want a sunrise alarm clock. You can even make wearable electronics using the Arduino platform (brake light backpack). With the rest of this post, I will explain the basic steps it takes to get started playing around with Arduino and begin the journey of building your Kegbot.
So, what is Kegbot? Very early in my search for a solution using Arduino, I found that someone has already done it. Software, hardware, all of it. Kegbot is an open source solution to the problem at hand, developed by a software engineer in his spare time. You can pretty much learn everything you need to know about building and implementing your own kegbot system here.
For the purposes of Kegbot, we will be outputting information (flow meter and temperature sensors, and optionally some other stuff like RFID data) to software running on a computer. This software will interpret the data, and output it in an easy to use website format, allowing for easy tracking of who is drinking and how much.
What Will I Need?
On a basic level you will need:
- A computer, ideally with Linux.
- An Arduino. I recommend the Arduino UNO. You can buy one from many places, I recommend Sparkfun or Adafruit
- An Android tablet, compatible with Kegbot. Known compatibility list
- Kegbot Shield and Coasters – These are blank PCBs (printed circuit boards) that make it easier to make all the connections that need to be made, and without soldering anything to your Arduino, permanently altering it.
- All of the various resistors, capacitors, LEDs, and other parts that will be soldered to the Shield and Coaster. List of parts needed – this is a list that will show you what is required for various builds.
The tablet is not totally necessary, but the software required to run Kegbot without an Android tablet isn’t being actively developed anymore and, as a result, it is a little more difficult to get working. I don’t recommend it unless you already know or are willing to learn Python.
Kegbot, as far as I know, can be run on a Mac as well, but I haven’t tried myself. If you don’t have any experience with Linux, I highly recommend Linux Mint as a distribution to try out. It is very user friendly, and incredibly easy to install. It’s also a good litmus test because if you can’t get Linux Mint burned to a disc, and installed on your computer, I would hesitate to recommendKegbot as a project for you. Neither is all that difficult to accomplish, and if you feel intimidated, don’t be, just be prepared to do some learning along the way! I personally use Linux Mint 14 Cinnamon Edition. Choosing between the different desktop environments isn’t that big of a decision and I’ve found Cinnamon to have a lot of nice bells and whistles, making it a familiar transition for someone who knows Windows.
When it comes to purchasing your Arduino, be wary when buying from many sellers, who aren’t selling the authentic Arduino micro-controllers. Amazon in particular has a few resellers who claim to be selling genuine Arduinos, but are not.
The Kegbot Shield and Coaster are purchased directly from the Kegbot website. The site also sells the SwissFlow flow sensor, which is very accurate. Sixty-five dollars is a very good price for this sensor and quickfit connectors. Previously, this brand of flow meter was not distributed in the US and it would cost you around $95 with shipping. As for the rest of the parts, you will need to order them from a few different places, like Sparkfun and Radioshack. Refer back to the parts list linked earlier to see lists based on whether you want RFID, solenoid valve relays, and other optional features.
I’m not scared off, where should I start?
The first thing you should do is install Linux and familiarize yourself with it. Learn how to use the terminal to make folders, delete folders, copy folders – all of the basics. This is a good place to start. You won’t need to be able to do anything complicated to install Kegbot, but it helps to familiarize yourself with this before starting.
Once you are reasonably comfortable using Linux and the terminal, you should install the Kegbot server. This software is what will communicate with your Arduino/tablet and display it in a user-friendly, familiar website interface. I won’t be doing a step-by-step breakdown of how to do this, as the installation instructions on the Kegbot site are very clear and easy to follow. You can find them here.
After installing Linux and Kegbot, you are ready to order your Arduino, so you can tinker around with it a little bit while also accumulating all the other parts you will need to solder the shield and coaster together. Adafruit, in particular, has some nice Arduino kits to get you started, which come with a solderless breadboard and lots of jumper wires, sensors, LEDs, resistors, and all kinds of stuff so you can play around with building some very simple circuits and programs on your own. The budget pack and the more expensive (but more full of goodies) experimentation kit are both good places to start for anyone who is interested in doing anything with the device. Adafruit also has a great Arduino Tutorial (and many other good tutorials).
Hopefully after reading this you have a basic understanding of the multiple parts involved in a Kegbot build – and a starting point for navigating the path of building your own. If this sounds intimidating, it isn’t entirely by accident. Over the course of building and implementing my Kegbot, I have had a few stumbling blocks and I am a relatively tech savvy person. HOWEVER, if you are interested in broadening your technological know-how and applying that to your love of brewing, this isn’t a very tough project (especially if you start with an Anroid tablet from the beginning. I spent a lot of time trying to get the Python core running). Linux is very user friendly these days, and Kegbot only requires some basic knowledge of a command line, all of which can be learned in an afternoon. The soldering and physical construction of Kegbot is much more intimidating, but if I can solder it, so can you. (I am not known for my meticulousness and attention to detail. So if I can successfully solder it all together, you shouldn’t have any problems.) Sometime in the near future, I will write a follow up post, detailing my construction of Kegbot, with pictures from the build (and usage) of my Kegbot!
(Also posted at http://blog.preyerbrewing.com)
By Calder Preyer