Hackaday Prize Entry: Customizable Linear Actuators

The current state of robotics, 3D printers, and CNC machines means any shade tree roboticist has the means to make anything move. Do you want a robotic arm? There are a dozen designs already available. Need an inverted powered pendulum? There are a hundred senior projects on that every semester. There is, however, one type of actuator that is vastly underutilized. Linear actuators aren’t ‘maker’ friendly, and building a customized linear actuator is an exercise in pain.

A die for aluminum extrusion

For their Hackaday Prize entry, the folks at Deezmaker are changing the state of linear actuators. They’ve created ‘Maker Muscle’, a linear actuator that’s fully customizable to nearly any length, power, speed, motor, or any other spec you could think of.

There were a few design goals for Maker Muscle. It must be modular, customizable, low-cost, and must allow for a lot of mounting options for use with t-slot aluminum extrusion. The answer to this is a completely custom aluminum extrusion. Basically, the motor mounts at one end, the actuator itself pokes out the other, and you can mount this device via the t-slot tracks around the edge of the extrusion. Think of it as the linear actuator version of MakerSlide, except instead of using this extrusion in CNC machines, it’s designed for moving shafts back and forth.

Already, Deezmaker has a working prototype and they’ve already moved onto a Kickstarter campaign for Maker Muscle. It’s a great idea, and we can’t wait to see what this neat product will be used for. You can check out a short demo video of Maker Muscle in action below.

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Add Robotic Farming to Your Backyard with Farmbot Genesis

Growing your own food is a fun hobby and generally as rewarding as people say it is. However, it does have its quirks and it definitely equires quite the time input. That’s why it was so satisfying to watch Farmbot push a weed underground. Take that!

Farmbot is a project that has been going on for a few years now, it was a semifinalist in the Hackaday Prize 2014, and that development time shows in the project documented on their website. The robot can plant, water, analyze, and weed a garden filled with arbitrarily chosen plant life. It’s low power and low maintenance. On top of that, every single bit is documented on their website. It’s really well done and thorough. They are gearing up to sell kits, but if you want it now; just do it yourself.

The bot itself is exactly what you’d expect if you were to pick out the cheapest most accessible way to build a robot: aluminum extrusions, plate metal, and 3D printer parts make up the frame. The brain is a Raspberry Pi hooked to its regular companion, an Arduino. On top of all this is a fairly comprehensive software stack.

The user can lay out the garden graphically. They can get as macro or micro as they’d like about the routines the robot uses. The robot will happily come to life in intervals and manage a garden. They hope that by selling kits they’ll interest a whole slew of hackers who can contribute back to the problem of small scale robotic farming.

Print Your Own Vertices for Quick Structural Skeletons

3D printing is great for a lot of things: prototyping complex designs, replacing broken parts, and creating unique pencil holders to show your coworkers how zany you are. Unfortunately, 3D printing is pretty awful for creating large objects – it’s simply too inefficient. Not to mention, the small size of most consumer 3D printers is very limiting (even if you were willing to run a single print for days). The standard solution to this problem is to use off-the-shelf material, with only specialized parts being printed. But, for simple structures, designing those specialized parts is an unnecessary time sink. [Nurgak] has created a solution for this with a clever “Universal Vertex Module,” designed to mate off-the-shelf rods at the 90-degree angles that most people use.


The ingenuity of the design is in its simplicity: one side fits over the structural material (dowels, aluminum extrusions, etc.), and the other side is a four-sided pyramid. The pyramid shape allows two vertices to mate at 90-degree angles, and holes allow them to be held together with the zip ties that already litter the bottom of your toolbox.

[Nurgak’s] design is parametric, so it can be easily configured for your needs. The size of the vertices can be scaled for your particular project, and the opening can be adjusted to fit whatever material you’re using. It should work just as well for drinking straws as it does for aluminum extrusions.

THP Semifinalist: Farmbot

The FarmBot team has been pretty busy with their CNC Farming and Gathering machine. The idea is to automate the farming process with precise deployment of tools: plows, seed injection, watering, sensors, etc. An Arduino with an added RAMPS handles the movement, and a Raspi provides internet connectivity. Their prototype has already experienced four major iterations: the first revision addressed bigger issues such as frame/track stability and simplification of parts. Now they’re locking down the specifics on internet-of-things integration and coding for advanced movement functions.

The most recent upgrade provides a significant improvement by overhauling the implementation of the tools. Originally, the team envisioned a single, multi-function tool head design that carried everything around all the time. Problem is, the tool that’s in-use probably works best if it’s lower than the others, and piling them all onto one piece spells trouble. The solution? a universal tool mounting system, of course. You can see them testing their design in a video after the break.

If the FarmBot progress isn’t impressive enough—and admittedly we’d have called project lead [Rory Aronson] crazy for attempting to pull this off…but he did it—the FarmBot crew started and successfully funded an entire sub-project through Kickstarter. OpenFarm is an open-source database set to become the go-to wiki for all things farming and gardening. It’s the result of [Rory] encountering an overwhelming amount of generic, poorly written advice on plant growing, so he just crowdsourced a solution. You know, no sweat.

SpaceWrencherThe project featured in this post is a semifinalist in The Hackaday Prize.

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Open Rail, or, why didn’t we think of this?

Hackaday readers familiar with the with the CNC and automated machinery scene will be familiar with MakerSlide, the open-source linear bearing system. This linear movement system composed of special aluminum extrusions and mounting plates riding on v-wheels has been used in a lot of awesome builds including the Quantum ORD Bot 3D printer and the Shapeoko CNC router. If there’s one downside to the MakerSlide, it’s the hard-to-source aluminum extrusion with the requisite v-wheel guides. [Mark] and [Trish] of Phlatboyz have an ingenious solution to this problem: just have bolt-on v-wheel guides. It’s an idea so simple we’re kicking ourselves for not thinking of it first.

Open Rail is completely compatible with the MakerSlide linear bearing system. Instead of requiring a special aluminum extrusion, the Open rail system uses regular, plain-jane aluminum extrusions available at any reputable hardware store. Just pop a few t-nut into the Open Rail and attach it to your extrusion. Couldn’t be easier.

Considering how easy it is to find surplus aluminum extrusion, we’ll expect a few gigantic MakerSlide and Open Rail derived CNC projects in the very near future.