Drawing with Legos


There are a number of elaborate Lego creations out there, but you probably haven’t seen something quite like [Andrew Carol’s] Lego drawing machine. He drew inspiration from the film Hugo and from automata of the 1800’s, specifically [Jaquet-Droz]’s Draughtsman, which we featured in a Retrotechtacular article not too long ago.

[Andrew’s] hand-cranked creation is divided into three components: a plotter, an “encoded pen stroke program”—which stores messages in links of pieces—and a reader that translates the links into pen strokes. The plotter moves the pen in the Y axis and moves the paper in the X to mark on the page, and also has a simple lift mechanism that temporarily raises the pen on the Z axis to interrupt pen strokes between letters (or drawings).

[Andrew] describes the chain reader by comparing it to a film projector, feeding the message through the mechanism. Although you won’t find a detailed how-to guide explaining the devices’ inner-workings on his site, there are some clues describing basic components and a couple of videos, both of which are embedded below.

[via Adafruit and FastCo]

82 thoughts on “Drawing with Legos

  1. Hate to be that guy but to quote Lego themselves:

    “Please always refer to our products as “LEGO bricks or toys” and not “LEGOS.” By doing so, you will be helping to protect and preserve a brand of which we are very proud, and that stands for quality the world over”

    I think I think just getting rid of the “S” in the title is also acceptable.

    ANYWAY, really nice build!

      1. So not only are you stupid, you’re indignantly stupid? Good for you, you can call a dog a squirrel all you want, everyone else who isn’t a prideful jackass and who wants to spend less energy by just using the correct term rather than being self-righteously incorrect will be over here laughing at you.

    1. I called them “Legos” for a long time and that doesn’t mean it’s right. It didn’t take me too long to understand the correct/suggested usage and start calling them Lego and Lego bricks ever since. It’s an easy to follow convention. Now every time I read “Legos”, I think of it as a writer’s lack of attention to detail, and I agree with Ollie to point it out especially to a respectable writer. Let’s not make such a big deal out of this shall we?

  2. That’s completely awesome. Without reading the full blog, did he explain why he didn’t use a Lego motor to drive it, then he can sit back and watch it run.
    Lego always amazes me. I build a cute compact automatic gearbox a while back with the kids Lego and it it still impresses the hell out of me.

    Oh, and by the by, putting the S on the end of Lego REALlY bugs me. It seems to be an American thing, us Brits don’t seem to do that (but we all talk posh anyhow).

      1. American here. To me, “lego” is the singular and refers to one brick (or other lego-compatible component), and “legos” refers to multiple lego bricks. To use your example, it’s like saying “I bought two Cokes and three KitKats at the shop” which is perfectly acceptable to me.

        1. No, Lego is both singular and plural. When you were young you didn’t play in your sands pit with your waters pistol, did you?

          The other one you always get wrong is when you talk about playing a game on a games console. You might say “let’s play Nintendo”, which would imply you want to pretend to be Nintendo Corporation rather than play a game on your Nintendo console.

          1. No, but we did play in our sand pits with our water pistols. Sand and water are modifiers here, so you know we weren’t playing in shark pits with laser pistols. That was years later.

        1. But you would never say you need some compressed airs, that you have 2GB of datas to copy, you want to buy four square metres of grasses, your car has two spots with damages, your kid was given two homeworks, books contain a lot of knowledges, give me 2kg of meats, I need to buy two soaps, there are lots of traffics today, lots of waters came through the broken roof etc.

        2. The point you are missing is a single component is not called a Lego it is called a brick. Lego is the name of the company that make them just like Atmel is the name of the company that makes the ATMega.

          You don’t say I have 5 Atmels you would say I have 5 Atmel ATMegas. So in the same way you would say I have 5 Logo bricks.

          1. Agreed, but you wouldn’t say you have 5 Atmels only because Atmel is more generic. If it was inferred I was talking about ATMega328P’s if I said i had an Atmel similarly to the way having a LEGO infers having a LEGO brick, then I would have nothing against you saying you have 5 Atmels.

          2. – To continue on that, once brand recognition replaces a product name, I feel it is perfectly fine to use the brand in plural form. Like we used to use tissues to blow our noses. Now we use a Kleenex. Sure Kleenex is the brand, and technically it is a Kleenex tissue (aka LEGO block), but the brand implies the product, so my garbage can be full of Kleenexes. (Withholding urge to use an apostrophe in there…) Saying a Kleenex tissue or a LEGO block is considered redundant.

          3. People say they own 2 Dells all the time, or 2 Hondas. When a manufacturer is known for producing a particular sort of device, it isn’t unusual to conflate the manufacturer’s name with the name of the device itself.

            While it may be unusual for Atmel, is isn’t for so many other brands. Lego is an example of one of those brands.

        3. Maybe, but i would be 100% correct saying “I took a picture of two moose my the cabin while another moose was lowering it’s head to charge me.”

          If they want the word to be LEGO in single and plural, then that is their decision. as fans we can choose to agree or not, but it is their name and their call.

          1. Actually, you would not, because the moose would have been lowering “its” head, not lowering “it’s” head. The way you wrote it, it reads “…while another moose was lowering it is head to charge me.”

          2. A Møøse once bit my sister… No realli! She was Karving her initials on the møøse with the sharpened end of an interspace tøøthbrush given her by Svenge – her brother-in-law – an Oslo dentist and star of many Norwegian møvies: “The Høt Hands of an Oslo Dentist”, “Fillings of Passion”, “The Huge Mølars of Horst Nordfink”…

        1. Not it isn’t. Apart from that abbreviations are not required to have the last letter from the full word on the end, maths isn’t plural. You don’t have 5 maths and do you think mathematics are fun or is fun?

    1. In English, the plural of Lego would be Legos, or whatever the native Danish pluralization is. (Legoer or Legoerne or something like that).

      The reason you shouldn’t call two Lego pieces Legos, is because they don’t want you calling a single Lego piece Lego. It’s muddying up the brand that’s the issue, not the pluralization.

      1. No, but thanks for playing. “Lego” actually comes from the Danish expression “play well” or (literally) “play good”. So pluralising it make no sense in Danish either. It’s an uncountable noun, like water, sugar, air, etc.

  3. Must be the Mexican version of Lego or something as I have never heard of Logos.

    But seriously just because in America (Only America!) it has become common to incorrectly call Lego Legos doesn’t make it right. Instead of getting upset about people pointing out your mistake perhaps you should be a little more gracious and start using the correct term instead of looking like an idiot.

  4. I seem to remember a very similar drawing machine that used the toothed rack pieces on flat Lego plates as ‘program cards’ to control pens taped onto arms in one of the Technical Lego (yes, before it was called ‘Technic’) ideas magazines published by Lego themselves back in the late 1980s. Might see if I can find it in my loft.

    1. It’s been called Technic for a long old while. I remember a book with about 10 Lego robots in it, was called something like “Lego robots for computers”. Meant to interface to the User ports of BBC Micros, C64s etc. Spectrums needed an external interface, and Ataris can use their 8 joystick bits for output as well as input (think it’s just a 6522 VIA). All supported by BASIC program listings.

      Anyway one of the projects was a punch-card reader, for pretend security passes. Used 2 rows of holes, one for clock, one data. The computer would display “ACCESS DENIED” or whatever. Another was a drum plotter. The rest varied in complexity but had some really cool clever stuff in it. I had ideas of word-processing my homework and printing it out with the plotter.

  5. For those objecting to the “misspelling” of the product name—and particularly to those who seem actually bothered by “Legos”—you should know that I spent over an hour debating the final spelling for this article. My day job is as a PhD student, so it’s common that I plunge into research (sometimes as a distraction). In this case, I encountered the following:

    1. A brief but succinct paper (PDF) documenting some of the uses of LEGO vs Legos, etc. Most disturbing is former an excerpt from the domain address “www.legos.com” which sent a politely annoying notice informing the visitor that they had misspelled their product name. I agree with the paper’s author that

    …it is ridiculous for the LEGO Group to assume that a consumer’s mention of ‘Legos’ instead of ‘LEGO bricks and toys’ is detrimental to the brand, and even more ridiculous to impose rules like this on consumers.(Faden, 10)

    If anyone wants to get into a debate on whether the consumer should obey the wishes of the producer, I invite you to read Henry Jenkins’s Convergence Culture. If it’s a topic of particular interest, we can turn it into a Hacking and Philosophy column. I may do that anyway.

    2. I consider myself well-traveled in not only spelling and grammar, but also style. I am, in fact, an American, and I grew up both calling them “Legos” and hearing them referred to as such by all my friends, their parents, and others. At no point did someone say “Wow, thanks for the LEGO bricks and toys!” or “Thanks for the LEGO bricks!” or “There are at least six LEGO bricks stuck to the bottom of my foot and it hurts like hell!” Oh no. You stomped on some Legos and screamed, and you thanked your parents for getting you not one, but two sets of Legos!

    3. The source article (not the project page) uses “Lego” as does the Wikipedia page and numerous other sites. I personally feel the all capital “LEGO” is visually distracting and unappealing, and that saying “LEGO bricks” disrupts the flow of communicating information. In fact, most of these parts aren’t bricks at all, so what do I call them? LEGO toys? LEGO pieces? For as specific as the company intends to be, they leave much to be desired. That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if they’ve redefined “bricks” for their own purposes and listed what qualifies on their website somewhere…

    4. If I or anyone was genuinely confused by the use of “Legos” over “LEGO bricks,” then I think we would have a problem. I agree with John and vox’s above posts; that’s not the issue here. I’m curious which country those of you who say it’s annoying/bothers you are from. I suspect few Americans would even notice something was “incorrect.”

    5. As a parting shot, I’m from Atlanta, the birthplace of Coke, and you do find the word pluralized as “Cokes” in many situations. “How many Cokes did you have?” is perfectly acceptable (one would not ask “How many Coke did you have?”) though you would say “How much Coke did you have?” Usage of the word “Coke” is similar to “Drink.” How many drinks? How many Cokes? Bring me those drinks, bring me those Cokes. I drank way too much, I coked way too much.

    1. As a Brit, everyone I ever knew or met called them “Lego”, “A box of lego”, “Ah, shit! I just stood on a piece of Lego”, etc.

      “Cokes” has become a word similar to how “beers” has. It means “a glass of, a pint of, a serving of”. It’s grammatically wrong, but I think people know that and use it anyway.

      But yes, 300 million people can easily be wrong!

      1. Thing is, even asking for “Cokes” I still expect Coke Cola, not Pepsi. (as Apposed to Cola, which to me is either).
        At least, I would expect asking for “A Coke” or “Cokes” would result in the exact same chance of getting one brand vs another. Pluralization not making a difference.

    2. The usage of Coke in point 5 is exactly the thing Lego is trying to avoid.

      They don’t care how you pluralize it. They don’t want you using their name as a general term for plastic bricks.

      1. But given this is actual official Lego being used, why would calling “Drawing with Legos” in any way weaken the association.
        I just don’t get how one leads to the other.

    3. I also live in Atlanta, and the pattern of comments here are disturbing. I mean, does everyone REALLY take this that seriously? I was an avid Lego fanatic as a kid, and never thought twice about the way it was pronounced. Just by reading the comments shows that the way these things are referred to differs greatly according to the geographic location, can everyone just chill the hell out and enjoy the quality hack? @DDevine then do it and quit crying about it on here

    4. That’s all terribly interesting, and you have several high-powered expressions that might trick people into thinking you know what you are talking about, but you are still wrong. No matter how many times you repeat it, or how indignant you sound, you will continue to be wrong.

      Oh, and it has nothing to do with the wishes of the Lego company. It’s just a fact.

        1. Firstly, referring to yourself as a PhD student is supposed to reinforce the impression that you are smart. Secondly, quoting from ‘a paper’ is supposed to make us think that smarter people have considered the issue and written about it conclusively and at length, thus making further argument moot. Finally, the sheer volume of your argument is intended to show you must be right because if you weren’t, there wouldn’t be so much to say.

          The fact remains, you are wrong. Please correct the article title.

          1. I don’t care if you are convinced or not, you are still wrong. And we’re not arguing over “Legos” and “LEGO bricks”. It’s “Legos” and “Lego”.

            Let me summarise for you:
            “Drawing with Legos” – simply wrong
            “Drawing with Lego bricks” – wrong, because we are using more than just bricks
            “Drawing with Lego” – correct. Here we are using “Lego” as a mass noun (or uncountable noun) referring to a collection of various Lego pieces.

            As an editor of a highly visible technical website you should be concerned with details and getting them factually correct. Your opinion is of no consequence.

            You know, if you had written “Drawing with Lego” for your title, *no-one* would have mentioned it. (Undoubtedly the issue would have been raised after the first guy used the term “Legos”).

            And really, who writes a paper to claim that using “Legos” is okay?

          2. Before I respond, I feel I should address the overall tone of your criticisms. Your arguments focus on disparities in intelligence. I’ll summarize them (not to marginalize you, but to be sure I’m understanding your position and perhaps simultaneously demonstrate my point):

            1. I’m bragging about how smart I am / I’m supposed to be
            2. Citing sources misleadingly implies the issue has been resolved by ?scholars
            3. Arguments such as mine are a “kitchen sink” tactic that overwhelms the reader, whereas brief arguments are much more likely to be “right” or truthful.
            4. I’m wrong; correct the title.

            I gather from these comments that you feel like I’m talking down to you—which I promise is not the case. I’m interested in a healthy conversation, and you’d be hard pressed to find someone more willing to consider the arguments of others on this site. I am, however, at a loss as to how best to respond to your criticisms. I don’t see how a comparative assessment of intelligence has any relevance on this discussion, whether it be between myself, other readers, and/or others whose work I cite. I readily take suggestions and criticisms from those who can provide it, but no one in this thread has responded to my points:

            1. There is/was no confusion by typing “Legos” instead of “LEGO bricks”
            2. Most of the pieces used aren’t bricks, so how best refer to the pieces when the company’s official suggestion would then be confusing? (“LEGO bricks and toys”)
            3. Producers who attempt to control how their products are embarking on an uphill battle.

            As for your arguments:
            1. If anything, identifying myself as a PhD student serves only to indicate that research lies at the heart of my professional training. It’s no different from someone saying “nuclear physicist here, I can provide a potentially unique perspective on this issue.” I do not presume to be any more intelligent than others.

            2. I’m confused how you’ve concluded that citing external sources somehow weakens if not defeats my argument. I’m interested in perspectives other than my own, hence I sought outside information. I think the paper provides an important criticism that was worth mentioning, but that doesn’t mean it’s a definitive conclusion. Yours is a perspective on citations I’ve never before encountered, and I’m sorry you feel this way.

            3. That brevity somehow better guarantees accuracy/truthfulness or that my argument’s length detracts from its content is particularly head-scratching for me. See my answer to #1; I’m a research enthusiast, finding multiple reasons behind my decision isn’t some kind of rationalization on my part, it’s an opportunity to consider more evidence and to consider those things in relation to each other. I certainly see the other side of the argument—the corporation would prefer if their brand was called LEGO; it’s only an American colloquialism to call the them “Legos”—but the same could be said of other products that no one raises an eyebrow over (using Xerox as a verb when you’re not using that company’s copy machine, using a specific name such as “Plexiglas” when it’s a different brand of acrylic, etc.)

            4. I’m simply not convinced.

          3. What baloney. Several people have responded to your so called points, you’ve just chosen to ignore them.

            1. Legos sounds like a city in Nigeria.

            2. It doesn’t matter what pieces you’re referring to, or how many – they are all called Lego. It’s quite simple really, Lego is a mass noun, like snow or rain. You can use snow flake, rain drop, Lego brick, Lego man, or Lego set to refer to them specifically; or just Lego.

            3. PhD students (is that considered a job over there?) who attempt to apply academic constructs to the real world are embarking on an uphill battle.

            Pray tell, what do you call Duplo (the junior version of Lego)? Duplos?

  6. Here’s the thought process of the average Hackaday commentor:

    “Movie studios don’t want me to download movies. I’ll download a car. lol. The governments of the world are actively conspiring to limit my freedom of expression and personal liberties. The fact that corporations report so much profit every quarter is evidence of an inefficient capitalistic system where success in business is determined by how much lobbying and manipulation of regulations and tax codes are done in the corporate world. I’m a unique individual, an anti-establishment freethinker that won’t bend to the whims of the elite.”

    “Oh, shit, this guy on Hackaday didn’t use the LEGO Group-approved spelling of LEGO. Better complain about it!”

    1. Ok, I suppose an automated way to change the message to be plotted into code a 3d printer can use to generate the message programming chains would be a nice additional project

  7. I’ve got a sheep on my farm.

    I’ve got some sheep on my farm.

    I’ve got a piece of Lego.

    I’ve got some Lego.

    See, it’s not that difficult. I doubt many people (American or otherwise) would butcher the English language to pluralise sheeps, so why do it for Lego?

    1. Same reason it took me a long time to stop insisting that my year 8 science teacher was correct in insisting that we pronounce “Lichen” to rhyme with “Bitchin'”. When you’ve been doing something for years and are then shown to be wrong it’s embarrassing. Far easier to insist you were never wrong in the first place.

  8. I’m not American nor British, but I found interesting how I’ve always used “Lego” or “Lego bricks” and never considered “Legos” and never paid any attention to that.
    But what really boggles my mind is how some people just treat conventions with a total disregard – “oh, if it the other party understands, I’ll just say whatever I want”, so… I’m not sure if it’s laziness or stupidity. Then again, I’m one of those that like to correct and being correct when I’m wrong – I’ve been trying to learn 3 different languages during my whole life, and it hasn’t been an easy task, so any help is welcome.

    And that’s quite an awesome project. Wish I had access to LEGO, but since where I live it’s considered a toy, the taxes make it cost around 5 times the price in US. That’s completely not affordable to me.

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