Tie-Dyed Filament Sings With Color

Manufacturers dye all sorts of 3D printer filaments on their factory lines; why can’t we? [Richard] takes this idea one step further by creating his own custom multicolored reels of nylon. Printing with these reels produces a vibrant pattern that simply demands our attention and  begs us to ask: how on earth..?

[Richard’s] tie-dye adventure is cleanly documented on the blog.  He simply spools a reel of nylon together and dyes subsections of the spool with a different color. With the filament “paletted” to taste, parts pop of the printer with an eye-catching rib pattern of color.

It’s worth mentioning that nylon is extremely hygroscopic, and dyeing filament in a bath full of colored liquid is sure to get it full of moisture. Then again, nylon’s capacity to absorb water might be why it dyes so well. Nevertheless, filament must be oven-dried (or equivalent) for a successful print. Post-drying, [Richard] doesn’t seem to be having any printing problems, and the results speak for themselves.

3D printers might be frequent fliers on these pages, but we still love seeing small modifications that enhance the visual appeal. What’s more, this trick delivers spectacular results with no modifications to the printer itself. Then again, if this job sounds like just too much work for you, we’d suggest using a sharpie.

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An E-Bike Battery Pack Without Spot Welding

In somewhat of a departure from their normal fare of heavy metal mods, [Make It Extreme] is working on a battery pack for an e-bike that has some interesting design features.

The guts of the pack are pretty much what you’d expect – recovered 18650 lithium-ion cells. They don’t go into details, but we assume the 52 cells were tested and any duds rejected. The arrangement is 13S4P, and the cells are held in place with laser-cut acrylic frames. Rather than spot weld the terminals, [Make It Extreme] used a series of strategically positioned slots to make contacts from folded bits of nickel strip. Solid contact is maintained by cap screws passing between the upper and lower contact frames. A forest of wires connects each cell to one of four BMS boards, and the whole thing is wrapped in a snappy acrylic frame. The build and a simple test are in the video below.

While we like the simplicity of a weld-less design, we wonder how the pack will stand up to vibration with just friction holding the cells in contact. Given their previous electric transportation builds, like this off-road hoverbike, we expect the pack will be put to the test soon, and in extreme fashion.

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Launching Fireworks with Raspberry Pi this Fourth of July

It’s that time of year again in the United States, and the skies will soon be alight with pyrotechnic displays, both professional and amateur. Amazing fireworks are freely available, sometimes legally, sometimes not. For the enthusiasts that put on homebrew displays, though, the choice between watching your handiwork or paying attention to what you’re doing while running the show is a tough one. This Raspberry Pi fireworks show controller aims to fix that problem.

[netmagi] claims his yearly display is a modest affair, but this controller can address 24 channels, which would be a pretty big show in any neighborhood. Living inside an old wine box is a Raspberry Pi 3B+ and three 8-channel relay boards. Half of the relays are connected directly to breakouts on the end of a long wire that connect to the electric matches used to trigger the fireworks, while the rest of the contacts are connected to a wireless controller. The front panel sports a key switch for safety and a retro analog meter for keeping tabs on the sealed lead-acid battery that powers everything. [netmagi] even set the Pi up with WiFi so he can trigger the show from his phone, letting him watch the wonder unfold overhead. A few test shots are shown in the video below.

As much as we appreciate the DIY spirit, it goes without saying that some things are best left to the pros, and pyrotechnics is probably one of those things. Ever wonder how said pros pull it off? Here’s a behind-the-scenes look.

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Disney’s New Robot Limbs Trained Using Neural Networks

Disney is working on modular, intelligent robot limbs that snap into place with magnets. The intelligence comes from a reasonable sized neural network that also incorporates some modularity. The robot is their Snapbot whose base unit can fit up to eight of limbs, and so far they’ve trained with up to three together.

The modularity further extends to a choice of three types of limb. One with roll and pitch, another with yaw and pitch, and a third with roll, yaw, and pitch. Interestingly, of the three types, the yaw-pitch one seems most effective.

Learning environment for Disney's modular robot legsIn this age of massive, deep neural networks requiring GPUs or even online services for training in a reasonable amount of time, it’s refreshing to see that this one’s only two layers deep and can be trained in three hours on a single-core, 3.4 GHz Intel i7 processor. Three hours may still seem long, but remember, this isn’t a simulation in a silicon virtual world. This is real-life where the servo motors have to actually move. Of course, they didn’t want to sit around and reset it after each attempt to move across the table so they built in an automatic mechanism to pull the robot back to the starting position before trying to cross the table again. To further speed training, they found that once they’d trained for one limb, they could then copy the last of the network’s layers to get a head starting on the training for two limbs.

Why do training? Afterall, we’ve seen pretty awesome multi-limbed robots working with manual coding, an example being this hexapod tank based on one from the movie Ghost in the Shell. They did that too and then compared the results of the manual approach with those of the trained one and the trained one moved further in the same amount of time. At a minimum, we can learn a trick or two from this modular crawler.

Check out their article for the details and watch it in action in its learning environment below.

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Roboshield Helps Your Robot Walk and Talk

The joy of building robots comes from being able to imbue them with as much or as little personality and functionality as you wish during the design and build process. While creative flair and originality is always a good thing, there’s a lot of basic needs many robots have in common with each other, so where possible it’s good to avoid reinventing the wheel so more time can be spent on more advanced features. Roboshield aims to help make the basics easy so you can let your robot freak flag fly!

At its core, it’s an Arduino shield that packs in a host of hardware to get your robot up and running. As far as motion is concerned, a PCA9685 module is used to allow the control of 8 servos, plus there’s a TB6621FNG dual motor speed controller that offers both speed control and forward/reverse. That’s enough to get your electronic buddy scooting about the floor and waving its arms in the air.

The party piece, however, is the Vstamp text-to-speech module. This device produces a beautiful cliche electronic voice, which your robot is legally required to use to recite Asimov’s Laws of Robotics. Overall, it’s a tidy project that can take the hassle out of getting your robot design up and running, leaving you to focus on the fun bits like death rays and tractor beams. We can’t wait to see it powering the next wave of sassy DIY robots.

Philo Farnsworth, RCA, and the Battle for Television

The parenthood of any invention of consequence is almost never cut and dried. The natural tendency to want a simple story that’s easy to tell — Edison invented the light bulb, Bell invented the telephone — often belies the more complex tale: that most inventions have uncertain origins, and their back stories are often far more interesting as a result.

Inventing is a rough business. It is said that a patent is just a license to get sued, and it’s true that the determination of priority of invention often falls to the courts. Such battles often pit the little guy against a corporate behemoth, the latter with buckets of money to spend in making the former’s life miserable for months or years. The odds are rarely in the favor of the little guy, but in few cases was the deck so stacked against someone as it was for a young man barely out of high school, Philo Farnsworth, when he went up against one of the largest companies in the United States to settle a simple but critical question: who invented television?

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A Cartoon-ifying Camera for Instant Absurdism

We take photographs as a way to freeze moments in time and to capture the details that get blurred by our unreliable memories. There is little room for interpretation, and this is kind of the whole point.

[Dan Macnish]’s latest project, Draw This, turns reality into absurdity. It’s a Raspberry Pi-based instant camera that trades whatever passed in front of the lens for a cartoon version of same. Draw This uses neural networks to ID the objects in the frame, and then draws upon thousands of images from Google’s Quick, Draw! dataset to provide a loose interpretation via thermal printer. Seems to us like the perfect camera to take to DEFCON (or any other part of Las Vegas).

If you have a Raspi3, a v2 camera, and a thermal printer, you can make your own crowd-sourced, cartoonified memories using the code in [Dan]’s repo. Still into recording reality? You can use Pi cameras to see in the dark or even explore a body of water.