Sphero Wasn’t Actually Behind the BB-8

Despite quite a few articles stating Sphero was behind the technology that made the real movie BB-8 droid, like this Tech Crunch article:

Sphero, makers of the eponymous spherical robots that you control with your smartphone — as well as the new BB-8 droid in Star Wars: The Force Awakens

and this excerpt from Fortune Magazine:

The same underlying technology (made by Sphero), which was licensed to create the version of BB-8 that graced the stage at the Star Wars Celebration…

Heck, even we drank the jungle juice with our original coverage! But now it seems the truth is finally coming out. As it turns out, it was actually built in Pinewood by the Creature Animatronics (CFX) team which includes [Matt Denton] — He’s the guy who built the Mantis Robot. A hacker / engineer — not a big toy company.

Two articles released this week on StarWars.com and EmpireOnline.com name various people from the CFX team at Pinewood as having built the movie puppets and the real BB-8. No mention of Sphero at all of course. They also state that they had to come up with the technology from scratch and that nothing like it already existed.

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Wooden Escalator Fit for a Slinky

Our favorite mechanical master of woodworking, [Matthias Wandel], is at it again, this time making an endless staircase for a Slinky. Making an escalator out of 2×4’s and other lumber bits looks fairly easy when condensed down to a two and a half minute video. In reality a job like this requires lots of cuts, holes, and a ton of planning.

The hard part of this build seemed to be the motor arrangement. There is a sweet spot when it comes to Slinky escalator speeds. Too fast, and you’ll outpace the Slinky. Too slow, and the Slinky flies off the end of the escalator. Keeping the speed in check turned out to be a difficult task with the coarse speed control of a drill trigger. The solution was to ditch the drill and build a simple hand crank mechanism. The Slinky now can cascade down stairs as long as your arm holds out.

Join us after the break for 3 videos, the making of the escalator, a 140 step demonstration video, and a followup video (for geeks like us) explaining where the idea came from, whats wrong with the machine and possible improvements.

Thanks to [Jim Lynch] for the tip

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Optics Laboratory Made From LEGO

16A lot of engineers, scientists, builders, makers, and hackers got their start as children with LEGO. Putting those bricks together, whether following the instructions or not, really brings out the imagination. It’s not surprising that some people grow up and still use LEGO in their projects, like [Steve] who has used LEGO to build an optics lab with a laser beam splitter.

[Steve] started this project by salvaging parts from a broken computer projector. Some of the parts were scorched beyond repair, but he did find some lenses and mirrors and a mystery glass cube. It turns out that this cube is a dichroic prism which is used for combining images from the different LCD screens in the projector, but with the right LEGO bricks it can also be used for splitting a laser beam.

The cube was set on a LEGO rotating piece to demonstrate how it can split the laser at certain angles. LEGO purists might be upset at the Erector set that was snuck into this project, but this was necessary to hold up the laser pointer. This is a great use of these building blocks though, and [Steve] finally has his optics lab that he’s wanted to build for a while. If that doesn’t scratch your LEGO itch, we’ve also featured this LEGO lab which was built to measure the Planck constant.

Beest of an RC Toy

Sometimes hackers and makers hack and make stuff just because they can. Why spend hours in a CAD program designing a gazillion gears, brackets and struts? Why cut them all out on a homemade CNC? Why use a PIC and perf board to control everything? Because we can. Well, because [Est] can, rather. He put together this RC controlled beast of a toy with multiple legs and crushing claws.

It’s made out of 6 mm acrylic and threaded rod. The legs are controlled by two DC motors, while the mouth uses two geared steppers. The beast talks to the controller via a pair of 433 MHz transceivers using a protocol similar to how an IR remote talks to a television. A handful of LEDs lights up the clear acrylic, making it look extra scary.

This design is, of course, based on the Strandbeest concept from [Theo Jansen]. It’s a great robotics project because your project doesn’t suffer under its own weight. It’s more like a tracked machine. In fact, we saw a huge rideable version made of metal at BAMF this year. That’s one you just can’t miss!

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Codename Colossus: The HMC Boudicca

[Michael Sng], founder of [Machination Studio], wanted to create a toy line unlike anything the world has seen.  He has recently completed the first production prototype in the Codename Colossus toy line: the HMC Boudicca. The egg-shaped HMC Boudicca is tank-like with a definite Metal Slug vibe, but it’s almost a disservice calling it a toy.

The HMC Boudicca is over 20″ tall. It is composed of over 400 parts, a majority of which are 3D-printed or laser-cut. Internal parts are FDM while the external pieces are SLS printed. It is a kinetic piece that walks in a hexapodal fashion, so there are lots of servos, motors, sensors, and LEDs, that are controlled by an Arduino. A lot of work and attention to detail was put into this prototype. The HMC Boudicca was designed to be easily disassembled with a Phillips screwdriver. The electronic components are all plug-in devices, so no soldering is required when it comes time to replace a sensor or servo.

Codename Colossus is a toy line that is made to order and intended to be artisanal in nature. Each piece will be individually hand-painted and assembled like the HMC Boudicca. While no official prices are posted yet on the site, we assume these are not going to be cheap. In fact, the site states that each piece will have a 2% markup from the previously sold price to help maintain the value of the pieces and control cost inflation. This could be a source of contention for potential buyers. It underscores [Michael’s] philosophy that Codename Colossus is meant to be a collectible work of art, an antithesis to mass production.

Regardless of the business strategy, we are interested in seeing any additional designs for this series. It would be fun to see a whole bunch of these marching as one robot army!

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Galactic Dimension – a supersized DIY pinball machine

If you are from the 1960’s or 1970’s we know you would have enjoyed furiously punching the buttons of a pin ball machine back in the day. Installation artist [Niklas Roy] recently revisited this old classic game and built Galactic Dimension – a supersized pinball machine for Phæno – an amazing science center in the German city of Wolfsburg. The science centre was planning a big exhibition featuring thirty beautiful, classic pinball machines loaned from the Pacific Pinball Museum in Alameda, California.

The game machine was built on a steep ramp and has a gigantic play field measuring 3m x 6m (10’x20′). It features Sci-Fi game elements in the play field which blend perfectly with the futuristic building where it is housed. The game elements are built from repurposed everyday items like hair dryers and fans, giving visitors the motivation to build some of their own such contraptions.

The players operate the machine via a control desk, and a giant calculator is used to display the game score. The steep ramp had an incline of almost 30° which meant that he had to use a light ball to be able to propel it around the play field. The main user controls are the two flippers, and building giant ones was a big challenge. Solenoids or coils would not cut the ice, and he settled for pneumatic cylinders – easy to control, powerful, not too loud, and the museum already had a compressed air supply readily available. But it still took him three iterations before he could get it right. The plunger, which initially propels the ball, was built from PVC pipes and a hair dryer. Each play field element was built as a separate module to make assembly and maintenance easier. All featured a 220V AC supply, a sensor (either an IR distance sensor or a light barrier) to detect the ball, and an Arduino. Actuators were built from hair dryers and portable fans. Each of them have their own sound effects too – either a hacked toy or a speaker controlled by the Arduino. After everything was built, taken apart, transported, and reassembled at the site, the Galactic Dimension worked without a glitch, and without releasing any magic smoke. To top it off, Andreas Harre, who’s been the German pinball champion for several years in a row, also played the machine when he visited Phæno – and was totally excited about it!

So if you are in that part of Germany anytime until September, do drop in and try to ring up a big score. For photos of his build log, check out the photo album. There’s also a fairly big block diagram (German) and the Arduino sketches (.zip file), if you’d like to take a stab at building an even bigger pinball machine. Check the video to see the machine in action. And if the name [Niklas] sounds familiar, it is because he loves building installations such as the Forbidden Fruit Machine, the Ball Sucking Machine, and another Ball Sucking Machine.

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Tweet-Powered Bat Removes Effort Required To Obtain Pinata Contents

A child filled game-launch event was happening in London and [Roo] was asked to use his serious making skills to construct a machine that would hit a pinata with a baseball bat. This is a great idea, well, because giving bats to a bunch of kids at a populated event probably wouldn’t end well. One of the characters from the game Skylanders is named ‘Painyatta‘ and that is whom the pinata is modeled after. Tweeting #HitPainyatta initiates a bat swing. The swing tweeter gets to keep any treats that happen to fall out.

The physical machine is pretty simple. Most of it is made of MDF and wood. A large base supports a tall, skinny box. Mounted on top is a large stepper motor with a long wooden arm holding an aluminum bat. Once a tweet came in, a moderator would check for offensive content (hey, there are kids around) using a custom Twitter API app, and if acceptable, the tweet would be displayed on an LED matrix while an Arduino controlled a stepper driver to spin the motor and swing the bat.

…no children were harmed in the making of this project…

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