An Open Source Pinewood Derby Track

There are a lot of reasons to consider reproducing. Tax breaks are near the top of the list, and a bizarre obligation to ensure the survival of the species following closely behind. The pinewood derby, though… Where else are you going to get a chance to spend hours polishing axles and weighing down bits of wood so they can roll faster?

The Lansing Makers Network has cub scouts around the shop, most likely goofing off while their fathers spend hours building their son’s pinewood derby racers. Where there’s a pinewood derby manufactory, there’s a need for a track to test these racers out.

blurry-scoreboard-gutsThe four-lane, 38-foot run was made out of five sections of cabinet plywood attached with 4″ lap joints. That’s the way to do it if you want a smooth running surface. The lanes are 1/4″ strips of maple plywood, and the last four feet of the track – after the finish line, of course – are a ramp that raises the lanes another 1/2″ above the ground. There’s very little need for a bunch of pillows or foam at the end of the track.

This is the 21st century, and no pinewood derby track would be complete without a few bits of electronics. The starting gate is activated with a push button. A solenoid keeps a quartet of pins in place until the race is started. When the start button is pressed, the solenoid releases, sending the cars on their way.

On their way down the ramp, the cars pass over an IR object sensor which records their starting time. Thanks to some more sensors at the finish line, the track records each car’s position in the race on a few seven-segment displays.

Reverse Engineering An RC Spy Tank

[Michael] sells a remote control spy tank through his company, and although it’s a toy, there’s an impressive amount of electronics in this R/C tank. It’s controlled from an Android or iDevice over a WiFi connection, something that simply won’t do if you’re trying to sell this to the hacker and maker crowd. The solution to this problem is Wireshark, and with a little bit of work this spy tank can be controlled from just about anything, from a microcontroller via WiFi to a Python app.

Wireshark, everyone’s favorite network packet analysis and capture tool, was used to listen in on the communications between an iPad and the tank. This immediately showed the video stream coming from the camera in the tank, and pointing VLC to the correct port displayed the video.

The motors in the tank were a little trickier, but looking at the data stream, a few packets stood out as being responsible for controlling the motors. After a little experimentation the simple command set was decoded and a Python app whipped up.

These spy tanks are cheap – about $70 from [Michael]’s company and the other usual vendors. It’s not a particularly useful piece of hardware, but someone out there is sure to do something cool with this bit of reverse engineering.

WiFi Sucks for RC Vehicles, Upgrade to 3G

This is the Kyosho Blizzard, a tracked remote control vehicle that’s a blast to take out in the rapidly retreating snowpack. [Antibore] was interested in performance testing the range of the thing. It includes a camera that streams video back to a tablet or smartphone. Both the video and the controls use WiFi for communications. As he expected, the rover loses control signal at about fifty meters, with the video has a disappointing twenty meter limit. His workaround is to saddle the crawler with a 3G bridge. Not a bad idea that may be feasibly completed with hardware you have on hand.

In this case he grabbed a Beagleboard-XM. It runs embedded Linux and has USB ports which is perfect for the other two parts of the added hardware: a Huawei E230 3G dongle and a WiFi dongle. This means no alterations to the rover were necessary. He set up OpenVPN and performed a few other tweaks. The WiFi signal is constant, as the transmitter and receiver are both attached to the rover. We just wonder about the latency of the 3G traffic. Let’s hear your thoughts on that in the comments below.

We would be remiss if we didn’t tie-in the potential of this hack. Previously this winter we saw a Kyosho with a 3D printed snow thrower attached to the front. More snow removal power, arguably unlimited range… you can do your entire block from the comfort of the couch. To the Future!

Your Marble Machine Doesn’t Need to Change the World

It’s easy to get sucked into the increasing the complexity when sometimes the craftsmanship can be what makes the project. [Alex Weber] proves the point with his minimalist marble machine. There are no death-defying twists and turns, no convoluted path forks or overly-complex lifting mechanisms. This is about a clean and simple design that looks amazing whether running or stationary.

For the uninitiated, marble machines route marbles (or quite often steel ball bearings) through a set of paths usually guided by gravity for the delight of onlookers. Traditionally, making them complicated is the point. Take this offering which highlights years worth of marble machine builds all exercising different concepts. Sometimes they occupy entire rooms. We’ve seen them make a clock tick. And who can forget marble-based flip-flops that combine to form things like binary adders?

Have we scared you off from building these yourself yet? No, that’s the entire point of this one… it can be excruciatingly simple, while elegantly crafted. Check out the video demo below to see how one oval, one battery, and one motor have no problem bringing a smile to your face.

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Active “Dart-Sensing” Makes Your Nerf Gun Smarter

When choosing weapons to defend yourself in the next zombie apocalypse, dart jamming whilst firing your Nerf Gun can be a deal-breaker. This clogging is an issue with many “semi-automatic” Nerf Guns. When our trigger-happy fingertips attempt to shoot a dart that hasn’t finished loading into the firing chamber, the halfway-loaded dart folds onto itself and jams the chamber from firing any more darts. The solution, as intended by Nerf, would be to open the chamber lid and manually clear the pathway. The solution, according to [Technician Gimmick], however, is active sensing, and the resulting “smart” dart gun is the TR-27 GRYPHON.

To prevent jamming from occurring altogether, [Technician Gimmick] added a trigger-disable until the dart has fully loaded into the firing chamber. An IR LED, harvested from a mouse scroll wheel, returns an analog value to the microcontroller’s analog-to-digital converter, allowing it to determine whether or not a dart is ready for firing. The implementation is simple, but the results are fantastic. No longer will any gun fire a dart until it has completely entered the chamber.

The TR-27 GRYPHON isn’t just a Nerf Gun that enables “smart” dart sensing. [Technician Gimmick] folded a number of other features into the Nerf Gun that makes it a charmer on the shelf. First, a hall-sensor array identifies the current cartridge loaded into the Nerf Gun and it’s carrying capacity. To display this value and decrement appropriately, [Technician Gimmick] added a dual-seven segment display, a trick we’ve seen before. Finally, a whopping 3S LiPo battery replaces the original alkaline batteries, and the voltage-reducing diodes have been cropped, enabling a full 12.6 Volt delivery to the motors at full charge.

We’re glad to see such a simple trick go such a long way as to almost entirely eliminate Nerf dart jams. For all those braving the Humans-Versus-Zombies frontier this season, may this clever trick keep you alive for just a bit longer.

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Uber-Cheap FPV Snow Sled

Has the winter blues got you RC vehicle guys down? Well, cheer up! Spring is just around the corner. In the meantime though, you can take a page out of [BenNBuilds’] book and build an FPV Snow Sled.

So how is using this Snow Sled in the winter different from any other RC vehicle? [BenNBuilds] controls it from inside his house where he stays warm and toasty. The on-board FPV camera sends video back to a receiver in the house where it can be either displayed on an LCD screen or on FPV goggles. Plus, being able to see the sled from the window doesn’t hurt either when getting in a sticky situation!

The craft it self was made on the cheap from spare parts that were kicking around. The frame is made from foam board and is powered by a ducted electric fan. A rudder similar to that of a hovercraft or swamp boat provides the steering. Since [BenNBuilds’] transmitter had a couple extra channels, he hooked up a pan and tilt system for his FPV camera. Check out the video of this puppy in action after the break….

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Machining A Yo-Yo With Speed Holes

A while ago, [Gord] received a notice from his daughter’s school looking for silent auction donations for a fundraiser. It’s pretty much a bake sale, only [Gord] gets to build something. He has a pretty nice machine shop, and eventually settled on building a pair of beautiful vacillating vertical pendulums. They’re yo-yos, in case you were wondering what that meant.

Each half is cut out of a 2.5″, with both sides of each half faced off and tapped. From there, eighteen speed holes shave off 22 grams of weight. The sides of the yo-yo are shaved down to a thickness of half an inch, a 14° bevel is put on each face, the edges are chamfered at 30°, and everything is polished up.

Sending a bare metal yo-yo to a raffle is apparently a little uncouth, so [Gord] anodized each half of the yo-yos in a bath of sulfuric acid, then applied dye to the surface. With everything assembled, a fancy glass and metal case was constructed and a certificate of authenticity printed out. It’s a brilliant final touch to a great project, we just wish we knew how the yo-yo performed.

Thanks [Chris] for sending this in.