Cutting styrofoam with a CNC machine and turning it into aluminum

One of the most popular ways of turning an object trapped inside the world of a computer into a real, metal object is the art of lost wax, or lost foam casting. In this process, a full-scale model of the object to be made in metal is crafted in either foam or wax, placed in a pile of sand, and burned away by molten metal.

[ptflea] over at the Bamberg, Germany hackerspace Backspace came up with a very clever build that automatically cuts foam into the desired shape, ready to be taken out to the backyard foundry. The build is based around an old flatbed scanner and a hot wire cutter. The old scanner conveniently had  an equal number of steps per axis, so attaching an Adafruit motor shield and replacing the old control electronics was just an issue of finding the correct resistors.

Software control is provided by a Processing app [ptflea] whipped up and is able to carefully cut very delicate shapes that even the steadiest hand would have trouble with.

Making stuff out of styrofoam is cool and all, but the real goal for this project was setting things on fire and melting old heatsinks. The styrofoam molds were placed in a bucket full of sand, and the furnace – a few ytong bricks, a crucible, and a propane burner – started to melt some aluminum. The molten aluminum was poured onto the mold and after cooling, the makers of Backspace had a few very cool aluminum trinkets.

A nice build that is able to produce some very nice metal objects. We suspect, though, that a higher-density foam (something along the lines of blue or green insulation sheets, if they have those in Germany) could produce an even higher level of detail if you’d like to build your own.

Videos after the break.

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A Mannequin Head + Arduino + Webcam = Lots of Creepy Fun!

styrofoam head robot

This mannequin head was purchased years ago on sale for less than $3. As with many things one sees while shopping, it didn’t have a purpose at the time, but seemed like it would be useful later. Add in an Arduino, some servos, and electronics parts that were acquire in a similar manner, and you have all the ingredients needed for a cool hack.

The build is well documented in the video after the break, and we especially like at 2:24 when who we suppose is the mom says “Look at this mess!” Apparently the next iteration will be a robot to clean everything up!

This iteration is quite impressive though, as it uses a webcam to track objects using a servomotor and lists the code used. For a view of it tracking stuff along with a view of the PC, fast forward to around 8:45. In addition to tracking the parts using the servo, the non-webcam eye changes color from green to yellow depending on if it’s tracking or not. It also featured a blinking necklace, which is also a plus in our eyes.

For more random head-like creepiness, be sure to check out [Boxie the Creepster]!

Kitchen Hacks: Sous Vide builds don’t need to cost an arm and a leg

It’s not that we haven’t seen inexpensive Sous Vide builds. It’s just that we enjoy the fact that [Kelvin's] Sous Vide machine gives new life to unused things. The cooking vessel is a crock pot which he acquired for just $3. He housed it in a large Styrofoam box which he got for free through his local freecycle program. The circulation pump is a $0.99 fish tank part that pushes about ten gallons per hour.

He even hunted around to find the best prices on the control circuitry. The PID controller is obviously the most important part, as it will regulate the cooking temperature. He found a greatly discounted module that set him back just over $30. It even has a self-learning feature that sounds like it’s handy (not sure if all of these have that though).

Check out the video after the break. We like the use of his old RAM heat sinks to help dissipate heat from the solid state relay that drives the heating element. Since that SSR is inside of the foam box we could see heat becoming an issue. This way it’s dissipated, but not wasted.

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Portal puppet probably won’t kill us

This incredibly detailed puppet of the Wheatley from Portal was sent into us, and we a so very happy that we’re not writing about a GLaDOS build right now.

Hewn from florist foam and covered Wonderflex and Apoxie Sculpt, Wheatley pretty much tows the line as far as cosplay and prop builds go. What makes Wheatley interesting is his movement mechanism – he’s actually a hand-controlled puppet. Portal quotes come a small sound module that plays 10 Wheatley quotes. The control system has ten buttons and allows for the display of a lot more emotion than we would expect from a talking sphere. We really like the completely manual solution to an articulated robot eyeball – a really great, simple solution to a complex problem.

Like the portal turret and the adorable and friendly companion cube, we’re really impressed with the build quality of Wheatley. Yet again we’re left wondering why Valve doesn’t license some awesome toys like their office sentry.

Check out the intelligence dampening sphere in action after the break.

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RC pontoon from a toy car

[Kevin Sandom] built this boat using a radio controlled toy car. The two pontoons are recycled from Styrofoam packaging material using some thick wire to connect them and provide a framework for the propulsion and control circuitry. The motor itself is a hobby outboard, which really only required [Kevin] to develop a method for steering. He walks us through the build process in the video after the break, where we find out that the original toy has a pretty bad design flaw. It seems the car used four AA batteries to drive the motor, but one of the four batteries was also used separately from the other three to power the control circuitry. Running that battery down faster than the others shortens the life of the whole.

This is considerably easier than the underwater ROV hacks we’ve seen before. We do think that it would make for a fun weekend project, and we’d bet you’ll get some weird looks for piloting what appears to be garbage around a pond.

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Fake Christmas tree makes it fake snow

Let it snow inside your house this Christmas by building your own snow making tree. [Trey] was inspired by a snowing lamp-post he came across in a story. He looked around the house and came up with all the stuff necessary to make this happen with a Christmas tree. The snow is loose Styrofoam like you’d find in a bean bag chair. At the bottom of the tree there’s an inverted umbrella to collect the snowfall and funnel it into a blower salvaged from an inflatable Halloween yard ornament. The blower shoots the Styrofoam up through a PVC pipe, which also serves as the trunk of the fake tree, and it erupts from the top bringing Christmas cheer to an otherwise quiet room. See for yourself.

Portable air conditioner


The dog days of Summer are looming just over the horizon like a hot sticky wave of impending doom, but you don’t have to take it lying down. Building a portable air conditioner is cheap easy, and we daresay refreshing.

You’ll need the following materials: a condenser, heater core, or radiator, a styrofoam cooler, a submersible water pump, a few case fans, some adapters to power the works, and a few other materials. The pump circulates cold water through the condenser as the fan pushes air through it and the rest of the box.

We’ve never been huge fans of swamp coolers like this one since they offer no true refrigeration cycle. What’s more, they pump a good deal of humidity into the air, which makes the heat worse in the long run, or creates a vicious cycle of cooling and humidifying. Still, when the heat is scrambling our brains, it’s hard to say no to any relief, however ephemeral.