A Folding Laser Cutter

Want a laser cutter, but don’t have the space for one? How about a portable machine to engrave and cut wood and plastics? A folding laser cutter solves these problems, and that’s exactly what Red Ant Lasers was showing off last weekend at Maker Faire.

Inside the team’s Origami laser cutter is a 40 Watt CO2 tube, shooting its beam along an entirely enclosed beam path. The beam travels through the body of the machine, out into the folding arm of the machine, and down to whatever material you’ve placed the Origami on. It’s a 40 Watt laser so it will cut plywood and plastics, and as shown in the video above, does a fine job at engraving plywood.

This is a Class 4 laser device operating without any safety glass, but from the short time I spent with the Red Ant team, this is a reasonably safe device. You will need safety glasses if you’re within five feet, but after that, everything (according to OSHA, I think) is safe and not dangerous. Either way, it’s a tool just like a table saw. You don’t see commentors on the Internet complaining about how a spinning metal blade is dangerous all the time, do you?

The Red Ant guys are currently running a Kickstarter for their project, with a complete unit going for $4200. It’s pricier than a lot of other lasers, but not being constrained by the size of a laser cutters enclosure does open up a few interesting possibilities. You could conceivably cut a 4×8 sheet of plywood with this thing, and exceptionally large engravings start looking easy when you have a portable laser cutter.

Vector Laser Projector is a Lesson in Design Processes

After two years of EE coursework, [Joshua Bateman] and [Adam Catley] were looking for a fun summer project. Instead of limping along with the resources they could put together themselves, they managed to get their school — Bristol University — to foot the bill!

Now Uni’s aren’t in the habit of just forking over funding for no reason, and we thing that’s why the two did such a great job of documenting their work. We’re used to seeing blogs devoted to one project, but this one has a vast portfolio of every piece of work that went into the build. Before any assembly started they drew out design diagrams to form the specification, laid out the circuit and the board artwork, and even worked out how the software would function in order to make sure the hardware met all their needs.

When the parts arrived the work of hand-populating the surface mount boards began. This is reflected in the fast-motion video they recorded including this clip which features a 176 pin LQFP. The driver board is a shield for a Raspberry Pi which drives the Galvanometers responsible for the X and Y movements of the mirror.

The video below shows off their success and the blog makes a great resource to point to when applying for work once a freshly minted diploma is in hand.

What do you think the next step should be? We’d advocate for a trip to crazy-town like this RGB laser projector we saw several years ago. Of course the same classic vector games we saw on Thursday would be equally awesome without alerting this hardware at all.

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Laser Engraved Business Cards with LEDs

Plexiglass-LED-Lit-Business-Card-1

Regular paper business cards are boring. They are flimsy and easily forgettable for the most part, and when stacked together or thrown in a pile, it’s hard to locate a specific one; like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Plastic cards aren’t much better either because they still fall into that ‘who cares’ category. But plexiglas business cards with laser cut etchings beautifully lit up by an LED?! Yes please.

The design was developed by Romanian engraving company called Gravez Dotro who fixed the problem of simply glancing at a business card, putting it in a wallet, and causally forgetting about it later, never to contact the person that gave it out. If someone hands away one of these though, the receiver is definitely going to remember it. The solution isn’t that high-tech and just about anyone with access to a laser cutter can make their own. It will be interesting to see what people come up with. If you feel like creating one, be sure to send us pictures. We would love to see them. Video of the design comes up after the break.

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Upgrade That Cheap-o Laser Cutter!

Upgrading a Laser Cutter with RAMPS

Laser cutters are perhaps one of the most useful tools in a hackerspace’s arsenal of tools, rivaled only by 3D printers and CNC mills. The problem is they’re quite expensive — unless you get one of the cheap little ones from China that is! Unfortunately, you get what you pay for. Lucky for us though they aren’t that hard to upgrade!

[Dan Beaven] just finished upgrading his 40W CO2 laser to use an Arduino Mega 2560 and RAMPS 1.4 — wanting to share his knowledge he’s posted a guide to help others do the same. The upgrade itself isn’t that difficult, although can be a bit messy for wiring. In the future [Dan] hopes to design a PCB with all the connectors so it’s as simple as plugging it into the RAMPS board.

To control the laser he’s using firmware from the Lansing Makers Network (GitHub) designed for use with marlin electronics. He’s modified it a bit for his own purposes (Google Drive) including a low output LASAR activation signal.The cool thing with setting up your laser with this hardware is that you can use a laser output plugin right in Inkscape!

A DIY Geomagnetic Observatory

Magnetometer observatory

[Dr. Fortin] teaches physics at a French High School, and to get his students interested in the natural world around them, he built a geomagnetic observatory, able to tell his students if they have a chance at seeing an aurora, or if a large truck just drove by.

We’ve seen this sort of device before, and the basic construction is extremely similar – a laser shines on a mirror attached to magnets. When a change occurs in the local magnetic field, the mirror rotates slightly and the laser beam is deflected. Older versions have used photoresistors, but [the doctor] is shining his laser on a piece of paper and logging everything with a webcam and a bit of OpenCV.

The design is a huge improvement over earlier DIY attempts at measuring the local magnetic field, if only because the baseline between the webcam and mirror are so long. When set up in his house, the magnetometer can detect cars parked in front of his building, but the data he’s collecting (French, but it’s just a bunch of graphs) is comparable to the official Russian magnetic field data.

Pew Pew! An Arduino Based Laser Rangefinder

Arduino Laser Rangefinder
Lasers are some of the coolest devices around. We can use them to cut things, create laser light shows, and also as a rangefinder.[Ignas] wrote in to tell us about [Berryjam’s] AMAZING write-up on creating an Arduino based laser rangefinder. This post is definitely worth reading.

Inspired by a Arduino based LIDAR system, [Berryjam] decided that he wanted to successfully use an affordable Open Source Laser RangeFinder (OSLRF-01) from LightWare. The article starts off by going over the basics of how to measure distance with a laser based system. You measure the time between an outgoing laser pulse and the reflected return pulse; this time directly relates to the distance of the object. Sounds simple? In practice, it is not as simple as it may seem. [Berryjam] has done a great job doing some real world testing of this device, with nice plots to top it all off. After fiddling with the threshold and some other aspects of the code, the resulting accuracy is quite good.

Recently, we have seen more projects utilizing lasers for range-finding, including LIDAR projects. It is very exciting to see such high-end sensors making their way into the maker/hacker realm. If you have a related laser project, be sure to let us know!

Fold-out Laser Cutter Prototype Promises Portability (But Maybe Not Safety)

 

fold out laser cutter

Often times it’s tricky to make space for a full size laser cutter… so a group of friends over at Pittsburgh TechShop have been working on designing a fold-out version for easy storage. It’s still a prototype/proof of concept, so we’ll overlook the obvious safety concerns for now.

It’s built predominately out of aluminum extrusion and a few custom machined parts. A 40W CO2 laser tube sits in the back with optics reflecting it out to the laser head. The X-axis pivots on a heavy duty hinge mechanism and then locks in place for use. Unfortunately there are no videos of it in action, but the whole arm-linkage is apparently quite rigid and robust.

Like we said, this is one of their first prototypes or proofs of concept — as they continue to enhance the design they are considering taking it to Kickstarter down the road. They plan on enclosing the beam path in order to make it safe, and we’ll certainly be interested to see how that works out!

For more info on the project, there’s a thread on Reddit going strong.

[Thanks Ollie!]