Building a robot without using a machine shop

We usually avoid the prospect of buying new tools just for one project. In the long run we’re sure we’d use them again, but sometimes even with that outlook you can’t afford it. Case in point is our life-long-lust for a laser cutter; we just can’t justify the upfront cost but we sure would use it constantly if we had one.

If you do find that you’re interested in taking on a project that calls for laser cut parts, [I Heart Robotics] shows you how to do it with a few simple hand tools. The bot seen above is their TurtleBot. You can cut your own parts using a laser cutter, you can buy a kit from them, or you can bust out a ruler, compass, drill, coping saw, printer, and tape to make the pieces by hand.

It’s a simple enough concept. Print out the templates, tape them to your hard board, then start drilling and sawing. You won’t get the precision a machine tool can, but in some cases you don’t need to be all that perfect.

[via Adafruit]

A pick and place machine for under $1k

Pick and place machines are marvels of modern technology. They the can lift, orient, align and drop tiny electronic components onto a circuit board that is headed for the reflow oven. On an industrial scale they move so fast it’s a blur in front of your eyes, and they use imaging to ensure proper placement. But that kind of specialized equipment is going to cost a real bundle of money. [Bootstrap] is working on a design that will still be feature-rich, but will allow you to purchase your own pick-and-place machine for under $1000.

The design calls for a two-headed beast. One head is a vacuum tweezers which is capable of moving the parts. The other is a digital microscope that is used for precise positioning. The two heads pivot in and out of place, but it’s the table which holds the PCB that is responsible for positioning the parts. Although there’s nothing built yet, the depth of information that [Bootstrap] published in his post is impressive. He’d like your help making sure there’s no errors in the design before he builds the first three prototypes. If you’re a Solidworks guru he’ll even send you the files upon request.

We’ve seen a couple of different pick and place machines lately so take another look if you missed them the first time.

[via Adafruit]

Keeping tabs on your pets’ busy lives

mouse_wheel_tracking

[Stephen’s] daughter has a pair of mice she keeps as pets, who happen to be quite active at night. After they kept her awake for an entire evening by running like mad in their treadmill, they were moved from her bedroom. Since they were so active in the treadmill, [Stephen] thought it would be cool to try measuring how much the mice actually ran each night.

To keep track of their activity, he built a simple circuit that records how many rotations the treadmill makes. He fitted it with a rare earth magnet, installing a reed switch on the outside of case that ticks off each spin of the wheel. Any time the wheel starts moving, his PIC begins counting the rotations, displaying them on a 7-segment LED display. To mitigate data loss in the event of a power outage, the PIC stores the current number of rotations in its EEPROM every 10 seconds or so.

The counter keeps track of the total number of rounds the mice have completed, which his daughter uses to manually calculate their running sessions. Since they started tracking the mice, they have run over 700,000 rounds, sometimes completing as many as 20,000 in an evening.

We think it’s a pretty cool project, especially since it makes it fun for his daughter to stay involved in her pets’ lives.

“Zero overhead” Z80 computer focuses on performance

z80_wirewrap_computer_zero_overhead

There’s something quite satisfying about building your own computer. Nowadays, constructing your own desktop PC is relatively easy, so if you really want to get your hands dirty, you have to take a step back in time and give some vintage hardware a spin.

[YT2095] has spent a good portion of the last two months building a computer based on the classic Z80 CPU. His machine, called “Z Eighty Development” or “ZED” for short is an amazing build, and most definitely a labor of love. He has put an estimated 700+ hours into this machine and it’s a beaut! When closed, the machine is pretty unassuming, but once he folds down the keypad, you can see that all of his time has been put to good use.

Most of the board’s components are connected together via wire wrap, including the large 48k memory card he built, as you can see from the link above. The wide array of add on cards all work together to accomplish his goal of “zero overhead” – freeing up the Z80 from having to do any unnecessary processing, such as I/O, etc.

It’s quite an impressive build, and ranks up there with some of the best Z80 based computers we have seen through the years.

Automatic Micro-Copter Cameraman

For those of you that are extreme sports participants, this “MikroKopter” may be the solution you’ve been waiting for.  When combined with a helmet mounted camera, this additional view should do a great job of capturing your every trick.

This setup attaches a camera to a six-rotor mini helicopter to follow and video the action. In true drone form, the camera is controlled automatically via a “point of interest” tracking transmitter.  The helicopter, however, appears to be controlled by a human operator.

There is really a lot going on with this setup from the micro helicopter itself to the tracking system (really neat how it calculates the camera angle), so be sure to check out their website. Also, be sure to check out the video of everything in action after the break. [Read more...]

Enhancing simple circuit kits with microcontrollers

picaxe_powered_circuit_learning_kits

[manuka], aka [Stan Swan] is a teacher in New Zealand who enjoys enlightening his students on the wonders of electrical circuits. He primarily uses “snap connector” circuit kits, sold under the BrainBox name in NZ, for his interactive labs as they can be easily manipulated by pupils of all ages.

While the kits are great, he says that the range of experiments they provide can be a bit limited, so he decided to swap out the kit’s sound module for something far more useful – a PICAXE-08M. The space left by removing the sound module was pretty small, but [Stan] got everything to fit without too much hassle. His modification allows his students to program the PICAXE, as well as utilize four of the uC’s output pins.

Needless to say, the addition of the PICAXE module was a huge hit with his students, allowing them to create far more exciting circuits. [Stan] has been revising his system over the years, adding extra output pins, enabling lamp and motor control, as well as tweaking his setup to respond to IR commands.

We think [Stan’s] work is pretty awesome, and we’re still wondering how this flew under our radar for so long. He says that his students vary from preschool kids to centenarians, so if you’ve got someone that you would like to introduce to the fun world of electronics, we suggest picking up one of these kits and getting to work.

[Thanks Haku]

Launching model rockets wirelessly

We love ballistic trajectories and the smell of black powder in the morning, so we’re really interested in the wireless rocket launch pad sent in by [Brent Strysko].

[Brent] used an ATmega with an enc28j60 ethernet shield and wireless router to launch the rocket without a physical connection with ‘the button.’ Everything on the launchpad is powered by a 12 Volt motorcycle battery, and there’s also a flashing LED for the countdown. All that’s needed to launch a rocket is to send a command from the laptop. We think this would be an awesome project when combined with the radio telemetry build we covered earlier – the computer is already there with the range safety officer.

Although amateur rocketry is extremely safe, with no high-power flight ever hitting a person (PDF warning), there’s still some risk of from black powder engines CATOing. We think [Brent] came up with a great way to make a safe hobby even safer, and managed an interesting project in the process. Check out the walkthrough of the launchpad after the break, or check out this video of the launchpad in action.

[Read more...]