Ever since he was a young boy, [Tyler] has played the silver ball. And like us, he’s had a lifelong fascination with the intricate electromechanical beasts that surround them. In his recently-completed senior year of college, [Tyler] assembled a mechatronics dream team of [Kevin, Cody, and Omar] to help turn those visions into self-playing pinball reality.
You can indeed play the machine manually, and the Arduino Mega will keep track of your score just like a regular cabinet. If you need to scratch an itch, ignore a phone call, or just plain want to watch a pinball machine play itself, it can switch back and forth on the fly. The USB camera mounted over the playfield tracks the ball as it speeds around. Whenever it enters the flipper vectors, the appropriate flipper will engage automatically to bat the ball away.
Our favorite part of this build (aside from the fact that it can play itself) is the pachinko multi-ball feature that manages to squeeze in a second game and a second level. This project is wide open, and even if you’re not interested in replicating it, [Tyler] sprinkled a ton of good info and links to more throughout the build logs. Take a tour after the break while we have it set on free play.
One of the problems about learning too much control system theory is that you start to realize almost everything is some sort of control system. That’s the case with [Fernando Zigunov]. After observing a Rayleigh-Plateau instability in his kitchen sink, he decided to build a little display piece that shows water apparently defying gravity that he calls The Piddler.
We’ve seen things like this before, of course. A coffee pump, a check valve, and a strobe lamp with a controller is all that it takes. What makes this project interesting is the over hour-long video lecture on the theory behind why this works and how it relates to aliasing and the z-transform. You can check out the video, below.
[td0g]’s AutoWhiteboardBot is not just any 3D printed whiteboard plotter, because it also sports a triple-marker carrier and on-board eraser! The device itself hangs from stepper motors, which take care of moving the plotter across the whiteboard, and the trick to making the three colors work was to incorporate retractable dry-erase markers. A spherical Geneva drive-based assembly on the plotter rotates the pen cartridge, and a plunger activates the chosen color. Erasing, arguably the easiest thing to do on a whiteboard, is done by a piece of felt. 3D printed parts are on Thingiverse and [td0g] says software is coming soon. It’s a clever device, especially the method of accommodating multiple colors with retractable markers.
Despite all the incredible advancements made in video game technology over the last few decades, the 8-bit classics never seem to go out of style. Even if you weren’t old enough to experience these games when they were new, it’s impossible not to be impressed by what the early video game pioneers were able to do with such meager hardware. They’re a reminder of what can be accomplished with dedication and technical mastery.
If you’d like to put a little retro inspiration on your desk, take a look at this fantastic 16 x 16 LED matrix put together by [Josh Gerdes]. While it’s obviously not the only thing you could use it for, the display certainly seems particularly adept at showing old school video game sprites in all their pixelated glory. There’s something about the internal 3D printed grid that gives the sprites a three dimensional look, while the diffused glow reminds us of nights spent hunched over a flickering CRT.
The best part might be how easy it is to put one of these together for yourself. You’ve probably got most of what you need in the parts bin; essentially it’s just a WS2812B strip long enough to liberate 256 LEDs from and a microcontroller to drive them. [Josh] used an Arduino Nano, but anything compatible with the FastLED library would be a drop-in replacement. You’ll also need a 3D printer to run off the grid, and something to put the whole thing into. The 12×12 shadowbox used here looks great, but we imagine clever folks such as yourselves could make do with whatever might be laying around if you can’t nip off to the arts and crafts store right now.
For some of us, our workbench is where organization goes to die. Getting ready to tackle a new project means sweeping away a pile of old projects, exposing exactly as much bench space needed to plop down the new parts. On the other end of the spectrum lie those for whom organization isn’t a means to an end, but an end itself. Their benches are spotless, ready to take on a new project at a moment’s notice.
[Eric Gunnerson]’s new French-cleat electronics bench is somewhere in between those two extremes, although nowhere near as over-organized as the woodworking organizer that inspired it. If you’ve never heard of a French cleat, Google around a bit and you’ll see some amazing shops where the system of wall-mounted, mitered cleats with mating parts on everything from shelves to cabinets are put to great use. A properly built French cleat can support tremendous loads; [Eric]’s system is scaled down a bit in deference to the lighter loads typically found in the electronics shop. His cleats are 2″ x 3″ pieces of pine, attached to a sheet of plywood that was then screwed to the wall. His first pass at fixtures for the cleats used a Shaper Origin CNC router, but when that proved to be slow he turned to laser-cut plywood. The summary video below shows a few of the fixtures he’s come up with so far; we particularly like the oscilloscope caddy, and the cable hangers are a neat trick too.
What we like about this is the flexibility it offers, since you can change things around as workflows develop or new instruments get added. Chalk one up for [Eric] for organization without overcomplication.
Albert Dremel developed the now famous rotary tool and started the company in 1932 to make blade sharpeners. It would be 1935 before the company produced the Moto-Tool which is mostly recognizable as an ancestor of the modern Dremel.
Dremel achieved such dominance that today the name is synonymous with rotary tools in the same way Xerox means photocopy and Crock-Pot is any slow cooker. Sure, there are knock offs you can get from the usual cheap tool outlets, but generally, people reach for a Dremel even when it isn’t really one. Today that tool might really be a Black and Decker or a Dewalt or even a cheap brand like Wen or Chicago Electric. But in the first half of the 20th century, you might have reached for a Handee.
A Whole Shop Full of Tools
The Handee was a product of the Chicago Wheel and Manufacturing Company who, in 1937, billed it as “a whole shop full of tools in one,” as you can see in this ad. While $10.75 might sound like a price for a Harbor Freight cheapie tool, adjusted for inflation that’s around $200 in 2020 money. At least for that price you got three free accessories out of the over 200 available.
I didn’t remember the Handee and I wanted to see if I could figure out what happened to it and the company who made it. After all, with the Internet at your disposal, how hard could it be? Turns out, I did learn a lot, but in the end, tracing down a company like this from the old days isn’t always as easy as you might think.
While robots have only a made a comparatively recent appearance on the technology timeline, people have been building mechanical simulations of living organisms for a long time indeed. For proof, one needs only to look back at the automatons built by clever craftsmen to amuse and delight their kings and queens. The clockwork mechanisms that powered fanciful birds and animals gave way to the sophisticated dolls and mannequins that could perform complex tasks like writing and performing music, all with the goal of creating something that looked and acted like it was alive.
Once the age of electronics came around, the springs that drove the early automatons and the cams that programmed their actions were replaced by motors and control circuits. New materials made once-clunky mechanisms finer and more precise, sensors and servos made movements more lifelike, and the age of animatronics was born.
Animatronics have since become a huge business, mostly in the entertainment industry. From robotic presidents to anachronistic dinosaurs to singing rodents designed to sell pizza, animatronics have been alternately entertaining and terrifying us for decades. The fact that they’re not “real” robots doesn’t make the melding of mechanical, electrical, and computer systems into a convincing representation of a real being any less challenging. Will Cogley has more than a few amazing animatronic designs under his belt, some of which we’ve featured on Hackaday. From hearts to hands to slightly terrifying mouths, Will puts a ton of work into his mechanisms, and he’ll stop by the Hack Chat to tell us all about designing and building animatronics.
Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io. You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.