Power from Paper

Comedian Steven Wright used to say (in his monotone way):

“We lived in a house that ran on static electricity. If we wanted to cook something, we had to take a sweater off real quick. If we wanted to run a blender, we had to rub balloons on our head.”

Turns out, all you need to generate a little electricity is some paper, Teflon tape and a pencil. A team from EPFL, working with researchers at the University of Tokyo, presented just such a device at a MEMS conference. (And check out their video, below the break.)

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A Vase of Ice and Fire

When we first saw [Ginko Balboa]’s vase of ice and fire, we weren’t that impressed. Until we realized that the whole vase was a glass, copper, and solder circuit with LEDs sandwiched in between. The tutorial starts with [Ginko]’s technique for etching a custom board for the base circuit. It gets interesting with the construction of the LED circuit.

First a glass bottle was scored in a pattern and shattered, leaving a jigsaw puzzle. Two differently colored LED light strips were desoldered. Then, from the bottom up, the glass was taped around with an adhesive backed copper tape, and soldered together. Every now and then an LED was soldered between the carefully separated areas of the circuit. Some LEDs were soldered in one way, and some the other. This way the vase could be rotated on its base to select a different color. Once the outside of the vase with the LED circuit inside it was finished, another cut bottle was put in the center and soldered in a final position, making the assembly waterproof.

The final product is really interesting, and we’re scratching our head to figure out if there’s anything else this technique of circuit building could be used for. Ideas?

Joysix, Six Degree of Freedom Mouse Made From Retractable Key Rings

[Nicolas Berger] submits his six degree of freedom mouse project. He hopes to do things like control a robot arm or fly an alien mothership.

We thought the construction was really neat; suspending a wooden ball in the middle of three retractable key rings. By moving the ball around you can control the motion of a cube displayed on the computer. We first thought this was done by encoders or potentiometers measuring the amount of string coming out of the key fobs. However, what’s actually happening is a little bit cleverer.

[Nicolas] has joined each string with its own 2 axis joystick from Adafruit. He had some issues with these at first because the potentiometers in the joysticks weren’t linear, but he replaced them with a different module and got the expected output. He takes the angle values from each string, and a Python program numerically translates the output from the mouse into something the computer likes. The code is available on his GitHub. A video of the completed mouse is after the break.

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Fully Printed CNC On an IKEA Table

It seems that many 3D printer owners just aren’t getting the same buzz they used to off their 3D printers, and are taking steps to procure heavier machines. And making them in their home laboratories with, you guessed it, their 3D printers.

Following the pattern, [Michael Reitter], designed a 3D printable CNC around a IKEA MALM table. In order to span the length of the table for his X axis, he came up with a very cool looking truss assembly. The linear rails rest on top of the truss, and a carriage with the Z axis rides on the assembly. The truss has enough space in the center of it to neatly house some of the wiring. The Y-xis mounts on the side of the table.

Overall the mechanical design looks pretty solid for what it is, with all the rails taking their moments in the right orientation. We also like the work-piece hold downs that slide along the edge of the table. It even has a vacuum attachment that comes in right at the milling bit.

We’re not certain how much plastic this build takes, but it looks to be a lot. Monetarily, it will probably weigh in at a bit more than some other options. As many in the 3D printing world are discovering, sometimes there’s no reason not to leverage more mature industrial processes for lower cost large gains in accuracy and strength. Though, it’s pretty clear that one of the design goals of this project was to see how much one can get away with just a 3D printer, and we certainly can’t deny the appealing aesthetic of this CNC.

Video of it in action after the break.

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Making Parametric Models in Fusion 360

We all know and love OpenSCAD for its sweet sweet parametrical goodness. However, it’s possible to get some of that same goodness out of Fusion 360. To do this we will be making a mathematical model of our object and then we’ll change variables to get different geometry. It’s simpler than it sounds.

Even if you don’t use Fusion 360 it’s good to have an idea of how different design tools work. This is web-based 3D Modeling software produced by Autodesk. One of the nice features is that it lets me share my models with others. I’ll do that in just a minute as I walk you through modeling a simple object. Another way to describe what we’re going to learn is: How to think when modeling in Fusion 360.

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Super Thin ICs are Coming

An ordinary integrated circuit is made of layers of material. Typically a layer is made from some material (like silicon dioxide, polysilicon, copper, or aluminum). Sometimes a process will modify parts of a layer (for example, using ion implantation to dope regions of silicon). Other times, some part of the layer will be cut away using a photolithography process.

Researchers at MIT have a new technique that allows super thin layers (1-3 atoms thick) and–even more importantly–enables you to use two materials in the same layer. They report that they have built all the basic components required to create a computer using the technique.

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Experimental Gases, Danger, and The Rock-afire Explosion

DowntownExlosion12_1On the morning of September 26th, 2013 the city of Orlando was rocked by an explosion. Buildings shook, windows rattled, and Amtrak service on a nearby track was halted. TV stations broke in with special reports. The dispatched helicopters didn’t find fire and brimstone, but they did find a building with one wall blown out. The building was located at 47 West Jefferson Street. For most this was just another news day, but a few die-hard fans recognized the building as Creative Engineering, home to a different kind of explosion: The Rock-afire Explosion.

The Inventor and His Band of Robots

rockafireMany of us have heard of the Rock-afire Explosion, the animatronic band which graced the stage of ShowBiz pizza from 1980 through 1990. For those not in the know, the band was created by the inventor of Whac-A-Mole, [Aaron Fechter], engineer, entrepreneur and owner of Creative Engineering. When ShowBiz pizza sold to Chuck E. Cheese, the Rock-afire Explosion characters were replaced with Chuck E. and friends. Creative Engineering lost its biggest customer. Once over 300 employees, the company was again reduced to just [Aaron]. He owned the building which housed the company, a 38,000 square foot shop and warehouse. Rather than sell the shop and remaining hardware, [Aaron] kept working there alone. Most of the building remained as it had in the 1980’s. Tools placed down by artisans on their last day of work remained, slowly gathering dust.

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