Navigation Thing: Four Days, Three Problems, and Fake Piezos

The Navigation Thing was designed and built by [Jan Mrázek] as part of a night game activity for high school students during week-long seminar. A night-time path through a forest had stations with simple tasks, and the Navigation Thing used GPS, digital compass, a beeper, and a ring of RGB LEDs to provide a bit of “Wow factor” while guiding a group of students from one station to the next. The devices had a clear design direction:

“I wanted to build a device which a participant would find, insert batteries, and follow the beeping to find the next stop. Imagine the strong feeling of straying in the middle of the night in an unknown terrain far away from civilization trusting only a beeping thing you found. That was the feeling I wanted to achieve.”

The Navigation Things (there are six in total) guide users to fixed waypoints with GPS, a digital compass, and a ring of WS2812 LEDs — but the primary means of feedback to the user is a beeping that gets faster as you approach the destination. [Jan] had only four days to make all six units, which was doable. But as most of us know, delivering on a tight deadline is often less about doing the work you know about, and more about effectively handling the unexpected obstacles that inevitably pop up in the process.

Continue reading “Navigation Thing: Four Days, Three Problems, and Fake Piezos”

Air-Powered Top Only Possible on a 3D Printer

One of the major reasons anyone would turn to a 3D printer, even if they have access to a machine shop, is that there are some shapes that are not possible to make with conventional “subtractive manufacturing” techniques. There are a few more obvious reasons a lot of us use 3D printers over conventional machining such as size and cost, but there’s another major reason that 3D printers are becoming more and more ubiquitous. [Crumbnumber1] at Make Anything’s 3D Printing Channel shows us how powerful 3D printers are at iterative design with his air-powered tops. They incorporate fan blades that allow you to spin the top up to very high speeds by blowing air down onto it.

Iterative design is the ability to rapidly make prototypes that build and improve upon the previous prototype, until you’re left with something that does the job you need. Even with a machine shop at your disposal, it can be expensive to set up all of the tooling for a part, only to find out that the part needs a change and the tooling you have won’t work anymore. This is where 3D printers can step in. Besides all of their other advantages, they’re great for rapid prototyping. [Crumbnumber1] made a box full of tops and was able to test many different designs before settling on one that performed above and beyond everything that came before it.

The video below is definitely worth checking out. The design process is well documented and serves as a great model for anyone looking to up their rapid prototyping game.

Continue reading “Air-Powered Top Only Possible on a 3D Printer”

Getting Ugly, Dead Bugs, and Going to Manhattan

Back in the 1980s I was a budding electronics geek working in a TV repair shop. I spent most of my time lugging TVs to and from customers, but I did get a little bench time in. By then new TVs were entirely solid-state and built on single PC boards, but every once in a while we’d get an old-timer in with a classic hand-wired tube chassis. I recall turning them over, seeing all the caps and resistors soldered between terminal strips bolted to the aluminum chassis and wondering how it could all possibly work. It all looked so chaotic and unkempt compared to the sleek traces and neat machine-inserted components on a spanking new 19″ Zenith with the System 3 chassis. In a word, the old chassis was just – ugly.

Looking back, I probably shouldn’t have been so judgmental. Despite the decades of progress in PCB design and the democratization of board production thanks to KiCad, OSH Park, and the like, it turns out there’s a lot to be said for ugly methods of circuit construction.

Continue reading “Getting Ugly, Dead Bugs, and Going to Manhattan”

Review: Voltera V-One PCB Printer

Back in Feburary, I was one of the first people to throw some cash at the Voltera V-One circuit board printer on Kickstarter. With an anticipated delivery date of Q4 2015, I sat back and waited. This week, my V-One arrived!

I’ll preface this article by pointing out that I do know the folks at Voltera as we went to university together. That being said, I did put down my own cash for the device, so I’ve bought the right to be critical. I also have no relationship with their company. In this article, we’ll go through unboxing and printing, then get into a review of the V-One based on what we’ve seen so far.

Continue reading “Review: Voltera V-One PCB Printer”

Laser Origami!

One of our tipsters just sent us a link to some fascinating videos on a new style of rapid prototyping — Laser Origami!

The concept is fairly simple, but beautifully executed in the included videos. A regular laser cutter is used to cut outlines of objects in clear lexan, then, by unfocusing the laser it slowly melts the bend lines, causing the lexan to fold and then solidify into a solid joint. It becomes even more interesting when they add in a servo motor to rotate the workpiece, allowing for bends of angles other than 90 degrees!

Depending on the part you are designing, this method of rapid prototyping far exceeds the speeds of a traditional 3D printer. The part shown in the included image could be printed in about 4 hours, or using the laser, cut and folded in 4 minutes flat!

Stick around after the break to see this awesome demonstration of the technology!

Continue reading “Laser Origami!”

From RepStrap to RepRap; a 3D printer is born

[Gavilan Steinman] just printed and assembled his own RepRap machine and filmed the process. This isn’t news but we found it very interesting to watch. He started with a RepStrap, a rapid-prototyping 3D printer that as built by hand instead of printed by a similar machine. This is the seminal step in the self-replicating process.

From there he prints an extruder head which improves the quality of the parts the RepStrap can produce. We then see time-lapse footage of the printing process for a Mendel unit, the second generation of RepRap machines. We’ve embedded the video after the break. It’s a great way to spend ten minutes on a Sunday afternoon.

Continue reading “From RepStrap to RepRap; a 3D printer is born”

Pick-and-place Lego prototyping

[Ned] tipped us off about his project for a class at Carnegie Mellon. Utilizing a Denso 6-AOF robotic arm they have built a rapid prototyping machine that uses Lego as the building material. LDraw, the open standard Lego CAD program, is used to build a model which is then translated into MATLAB files that the robotic arm can use for placement commands. Right now pieces need to be placed on a template for the robot to find and pick up.

It’s great that Lego pieces are used because they are readily available and inexpensive, but this type of precision robot makes the project unattainable for most tinkerers. Still, the concept is interesting and we could see an end goal being a more widely available machine. It’s not too much of a leap to image a RepRap type machine that takes internal measurements of a circuit board and the components, calculates inside case dimensions, then builds a prototype enclosure from common Lego pieces.