We hear a lot about patent portfolios when we scan our morning dose of tech news stories. Rarely a day passes without news of yet another legal clash between shady lawyers or Silicon Valley behemoths, either settling spats between multinationals or the questionable activities of patent trolls.
These huge and well-heeled organisations hold many patents, which they gather either through their staff putting in the hard work to make the inventions, or by acquisition of patents from other inventors. It is not often that a large quantity of patents are amassed by any other means, for example by an individual.
There is one prolific individual inventor and holder of many patents though. He achieved notoriety not through his inventions being successful, but through their seeming impracticability while conforming to the rules of the patent system. His name was [Arthur Paul Pedrick], and he was a retired British patent examiner who filed a vast number of eccentric patents from the early 1960s until his death in the mid 1970s, all of which stretched the boundaries of practicality.
His subject matter was varied, but included a significant number of transport inventions as well as innovations in the field of energy and nuclear physics. We wish there was room to feature them all on these pages, but sadly they are so numerous that it is difficult even to pick the selection we can show you. So sit down, and enjoy the weird and wonderful world of [Pedrick] innovations.
We’re just over a month into the new year, and some people’s resolve on those exercise plans are already dwindling. There’s some good news though. That treadmill can be hacked into a nice belt grinder for your shop.
[Bob]’s treadmill belt grinder is based on a 2.5 horsepower motor he salvaged from a broken, donated treadmill. This motor needs 130 VDC to run, which is a bit of a challenge to generate. Fortunately, lots of treadmills seem to use the same MC-60 motor controller, which is compatible with this motor. Due to the widespread use of this controller, they can be found on eBay for about $30.
With the motor spinning, [Bob] built up a frame for the grinder, added rollers to hold the belt, and a spring based belt tensioner. The motor’s speed set point is controlled by a potentiometer, and the controller varies the power to keep a constant speed. Since the motor is capable of some serious RPM, a tachometer was added for feedback to prevent high-speed belt shredding.
The final result is a very professional looking tool for under $200. What would a grinder like this be used for? Knives of course! 2″ belt grinders are perfect for shaping and grinding knives and swords. In fact, you can see one in use in this sword hack.
It’s funny, how obsessed we are with qualifications these days. Kids go to school and are immediately thrust into a relentless machine of tests, league tables, and exams. They are ruthlessly judged on grades, yet both the knowledge and qualifications those grades represent so often boil down to relatively useless pieces of paper. It doesn’t even end for the poor youngsters when they leave school, for we are now in an age in which when on moving on from school a greater number of them than ever before are expected to go to university. They emerge three years later carrying a student debt and a freshly-printed degree certificate, only to find that all this education hasn’t really taught them the stuff they really need to do whatever job they land.
A gold standard of education is revealed as an expensive piece of paper with a networking opportunity if you are lucky. You need it to get the job, but in most cases the job overestimates the requirement for it. When a prospective employer ignores twenty years of industry experience to ask you what class of degree you got twenty years ago you begin to see the farcical nature of the situation.
In our hackspaces, we see plenty of people engaged in this educational treadmill. From high schoolers desperately seeking to learn something other than simply how to regurgitate the textbook, through university students seeking an environment closer to an industrial lab or workshop, to perhaps most interestingly those young people who have eschewed university and gone straight from school into their own startups.
When you mention Shenzhen, many people think about electronic gadgets, cheap components, manufacturing, and technology. I’m there quite often and find that all of the technology and manufacturing related stress can be overwhelming at times. Sometimes I feel the need to escape it all so I go to markets and places that aren’t traditionally associated with technology so I can clear my head as well as expose myself to something different. It provides me with a constant source of new design ideas and also allows me to escape the persistent tech treadmill that Shenzhen runs on. There are a lot of places in Shenzhen that I consider hidden gems that don’t get a lot of press since mainstream media associates Shenzhen with either factories or technology. Here are my favorite places to window shop and de-stress in Shenzhen.
Last week we wrote about the guys over at TwoBitCircus and their upcoming STEAM Carnival. This Thursday we managed to make it down to the Hacker Preview day where they showed us all the toys and games that will be exhibited over the weekend.
The preview day went pretty well until the evening, when unexpected power problems occurred and the site lost power for a little while. But this is why you have a preview day right? Organizer [Brent Bushnell] even commented that he should have put a BETA badge on the ticket. Thankfully the outage coincided with the food truck arriving so everyone stopped for a burger.
Sadly all the fire based pieces were not active on the preview day since they didn’t have the appropriate safety measures in place yet, but they did get to show us most of their games. My personal favorites were the Hobby Horse Racing, and the Laser Foosball.
Here’s a quick run down of some of the stand out pieces.
Members of the [Omaha Maker Group] in Omaha, Nebraska affectionately call their space The Makery. This hearkens back to their humble beginnings in a 900 square foot space that formerly housed a bakery. There was one measly electrical outlet and they had to travel to the nearest restroom, often on vehicles they made. It was in this small space where they built the workbenches and forged the friendships that created the inviting hangout they have today.
[OMG] has been in their current, more centrally located space for the last two years. It was there that I met [Eric] and [Ben] for a few hours in the evening before Maker Faire, for which they are largely responsible. [Eric] had spent the day setting up at the Omaha Children’s Museum and he and [Ben] were kind enough to give me a detailed tour.
The new space is a progression of rooms that begins with a combination lounge and meeting space. Here you’ll find the beer and snacks, the brag wall full of framed articles, and one of the remote controllable web cams. A few of the founding members have since flung themselves around the world, but are able to participate through these links. The best part of this room is either the PVC-framed Raspi MAME cabinet or the sign on the bathroom door which doesn’t discriminate against androids.
Next up is a smallish room with their 3D printer, a modified Mendel with a spool holder made by one of the members. There’s a large pile of glue sticks next to it to help prints adhere to the bed. That was a new one to me. [Ben] says they work almost too well. Next to that is their K40 C02 laser cutter that they modified to operate only when closed (!). They’ve also added LEDs and an exhaust fan. The cutter was internally crowdfunded in about three days. This method works well for them according to [Eric]; no one spends money on equipment they won’t use. They are currently in the process of building a second, bigger one using a donated frame.
Researchers over at MIT are hard at work upgrading their Robotic Cheetah. They are developing an algorithm for bounding movement, after researching how real cheetahs run in the wild.
Mach 2 is fully electric and battery-powered, can currently run at speeds of 10MPH (however they’re predicting it will be able to reach 30MPH in the future), and can even jump over obstacles 33cm tall.
We originally saw the first robotic Cheetah from Boston Dynamics in cooperation with DARPA two years ago — it could run faster than any human alive (28.3MPH) but in its tests it was tethered to its hydraulic power pack and running on a treadmill. It’s unclear if MIT’s Cheetah is a direct descendant from that one, but they are both supported by DARPA.
The technology in this project is nothing short of amazing — its electric motors are actually a custom part designed by one of the professors of Electrical Engineering at MIT, [Jeffrey Lang]. In order for the robot to run smoothly, its bounding algorithm is sending commands to each leg to exert a very precise amount of force during each footstep, just to ensure it maintains the set speed.