RetroFab: Machine Designed Control of All the Things

On the Starship Enterprise, an engineer can simply tell the computer what he’d like it to do, and it will do the design work. Moments later, the replicator pops out the needed part (we assume to atomic precision). The work [Raf Ramakers] is doing seems like the Model T ford of that technology. Funded by Autodesk, and as part of his work as a PhD Researcher of Human Computer Interaction at Hasselt University it is the way of the future.

The technology is really cool. Let’s say we wanted to control a toaster from our phone. The first step is to take a 3D scan of the object. After that the user tells the computer which areas of the toaster are inputs and what kind of input they are. The user does this by painting a color on the area of the rendering, we think this technique is intuitive and has lots of applications.

The computer then looks in its library of pre-engineered modules for ones that will fit the applications. It automagically generates a casing for the modules, and fits it to the scanned surface of the toaster. It is then up to the user to follow the generated assembly instructions.

Once the case and modules are installed, the work is done! The toaster can now be controlled from an app. It’s as easy as that. It’s this kind of technology that will really bring technologies like 3D printing to mass use. It’s one thing to have a machine that can produce most geometries for practically no cost. It’s another thing to have the skills to generate those geometries. Video of it in action after the break.  Continue reading “RetroFab: Machine Designed Control of All the Things”

Robot Cheerleader Just Needs A Hand To Learn Basic Tricks

This robot may have the fastest hand we’ve ever seen. It’s only a hand at the moment, but it’s certainly good with it.

The hand comes from a research project out of the University of Washington. The researchers didn’t just want to program the robot to do tricks, they wanted it to learn. Some tasks are just by nature too complex and tedious to program all the details for. Look at all those tendon activators. You want to program that?

The current focus of the robot is twirling a stick. While they’re probably a ways away from a robot cheerleading squad or robot drum major, the task itself is extremely difficult. This can be proven by just how many YouTube videos there are on the art of pencil twirling.

While the video didn’t show the robot dramatically twirling the stick at high speed, it did show the robot rotating it a little bit without dropping it. And this is a behavior that it has learned. For anyone who has ever had a run-in with robotics, or the art of convincing a robot not to discard all the data it collects in order to not run directly into a wall, this is a pretty big achievement. Video after the break.

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Boost Around Town with This 3D Printed Bicycle Assist

[MechEngineerMike]’s bike boost is just a pleasure to look at, and, we’re certain, a relief to use. While it’s not going to rocket you down the street, it will certainly take some of the pain away. (Just like the professionals!)

It’s one thing to design a device that can fit one bicycle. It’s quite another feat if it can support multiple frames. On top of that, it’s even simple. It attaches at one point and transfers the power to the wheel easily. There’s even just one wire to connect, an RCA cable, to engage the boost.

We really like the clever way [Mike] used the rotating shell of an outrunner motor as the surface that presses against the wheel. We wonder if a cast polyurethane rubber tire for the motor would help, or just help overheat the motor?

The parts for the device are 3D printed and pretty chunky. They should hold up. Check out the video of it boosting [Mike] to the grocery store, where he can, presumably, buy less with all the calories he saved after the break.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: ForEx Display is A Well Executed Hack

[Stefan] works in a place where knowing the exact state of the foreign-exchange market is important to the money making schemes of the operation. Checking an app or a website was too slow and broke him out of his workflow. OS desktop widgets have more or less departed this earth for the moment. The only solution then, was to build a widget for his actual desk.

The brains of the device is a ESP8266 board, some peripherals and a small backlit TFT display. The device can run off battery or from a wall wart. [Stefan] even added some nice features not typically found in hacks like this, such as a photocell that detects the light level and dims the screen accordingly.

The software uses an interesting approach to get the latest times and timezones. Rather than use a chart or service made for the task, he uses an open weather API to do the task. Pretty clever.

The case is 3D printed and sanded. To get the nice finish shown in the picture [Stefan] spray-painted the case afterwards. All put together the device looks great and gives him the desktop widget he desired.

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Path to Craftsmanship: Safety, Cleanliness, and Documentation as Habits

When I started boxing classes I was told, at my level, I could do just as much good for my form by doing core exercises such as crunches, running, push-ups, and pull-ups for a month as I could by doing the class. I consder habits like safety, cleanliness, and documentation to be habits that influence the quality of hacks much the same way. They’re not really related, and the work can get done without them, but their implementation alone improves the quality of everything you do at the workbench.

The best mechanic I’ve ever met had a well-organized shop. All of his employees wore nitrile gloves when they worked on engines to protect their hands from the chemicals inside. They used ear protection and safety glasses. His rates were low, and the car was always repaired fast. I never had to go back for the same repair twice. He knew exactly what repairs were done, and even kept the parts removed from my vehicle to show me if I desired. I got some of the most fantastic explanations of why parts failed from him. Two blocks down the street was a shop which was unorganized and had double rates. The employees were always sitting on the waiting chairs in the lounge. It took one trip there to never return.

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Concrete Table Just the Way You Like It

You need a coffee table, you need a dinner table. Do you really need two tables? [Shua] thinks the answer is “no”. That’s why he built this swinging countersink table out of concrete and a aluminum.

He started by making a simple half-scale prototype. Then a larger one. Through these explorations he learned how the table would be made, what kind of weight it needed, and how the mechanics needed to be constructed for the most stable table top.

Next he designed the final table in Autodesk Revit. This is software traditionally used for architecture. Since the table was to be made from concrete Revit’s useful set of concrete tools were useful for this project.

Most of the construction process was pretty standard. However, the use of CNC’d pink insulation as a mold for the concrete was interesting. The foam is closed cell, so it worked fine and gave a nice finish. The assembly was finished with a glass top and a carpeted base that contained a surge suppressor and two outlets. The table can be seen swinging between two positions in a video after the break.

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Eddie The Balance Bot

Eddie is a surprisingly capable tiny balancing robot based around the Intel Edison from which it takes its name.

Eddie’s frame is 3D printed and comes in camera and top hat editions. The camera edition provides space for a webcam to be mounted, since the Edison has enough go power to do basic vision. The top hat edition just lets you 3D print a tiny top hat for the robot.

The electronics are based around the Edison board and Sparkfun’s set of, “Blocks” designed for it. This project needs the battery block, the H-Bridge block, the GPIO block, and the USB block along with a 9DOF block for balancing. It’s, somewhat unfortunately, not a cheap robot. The motors are Pololu all-metal gearmotors with hall-effect sensors acting as encoders.

We’re really impressed with [diabetemonster]’s design and documentation on the robot. Full source code is provided along with a very nice build guide to get the platform going fast.

There are a few videos of it in action, available after the break. They show it handling situation such as a load being placed on the robot and slopes as well as bonus features like dancing and remote control.

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