A Microwave Erector Set

RF design isn’t always easy, especially at higher frequencies. Despite improvements in simulation tools, there’s still no substitute for prototyping and trying out different things. That wasn’t so bad when that meant nailing some nails in a piece of wood and wiring up discrete components. But at today’s microwave frequencies and with today’s IC packaging that simply doesn’t work. Solving this problem is what drives a company called X-Microwave. They have a standard grid pattern PCB for a wide range of RF circuits and accessories to tie them all together. Probably the best way to get a feel for the system is to watch the simple video below. There’s also a free simulator tool worth taking note of that you’ll see in a bit.

Before you get too excited, we’ll warn you that while this stuff is cheap if you need it, it isn’t an impulse buy. The baseboards and probes (the connectors) run from $150 to $300. You can get kits, too, but a bare-bones two-port system is going to start at about $550, which is about $100 off the component parts and includes some extras. Then you need less expensive parts to make the boxes around things if you need them. Oh. Then you also need the PCBs which are not cheap, either. Their prices vary widely as you’d expect, but — for example — we saw amplifiers as low as $80 and as high as nearly $1000. So a complete system could get pretty pricey.

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Lego-Like Chemistry and Biology Erector Set

A team of researchers and students at the University of California, Riverside has created a Lego-like system of blocks that enables users to custom build chemical and biological research instruments. The system of 3D-printed blocks can create a variety of scientific tools.

The blocks, which are called Multifluidic Evolutionary Components (MECs) appeared in the journal PLOS ONE. Each block in the system performs a basic lab instrument task (pumping fluids, making measurements or interfacing with a user, for example). Since the blocks are designed to work together, users can build apparatus — like bioreactors for making alternative fuels or acid-base titration tools for high school chemistry classes — rapidly and efficiently. The blocks are especially well suited for resource-limited settings, where a library of blocks can create a variety of different research and diagnostic tools.

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Precision Erector Set connects multiple cameras

Check out the exoskeleton that [Curt von Badinski] built for filming driving scenes. This extremely configurable wrap-around frame resembles a children’s toy from the past but allows an almost unlimited set of configurations. Five cameras simultaneous capture the driving scene. The current setup is used to shoot the television show 24.

[Thanks Robert]

Folding Robots With Special Materials

When it comes to robots, we usually see some aluminum extrusion, laser-cut parts, maybe some 3D printed parts, and possibly a few Erector sets confabulated into a robot arm. This entry for the Hackaday Prize is anything but. It’s a robot chassis, a 3D printer, and the structural frame for any sort of moving project that’s made out of a special composite material.

[Marc]’s project for the Hackaday Prize is all about articulated mechanisms. Instead of the usual structural components, he’s using Hylite, a special material that’s basically a polypropylene core clad in a sheet of aluminum on both sides. By carefully milling away the aluminum on both sides, [Marc] is creating a living hinge that can be used to build a 3D printer, robot, or really anything else.

This really isn’t a finished project; it’s more of a technology demonstrator. That said, [Marc] has a lot of examples where he can bend these Hylite aluminum plates over on themselves, can create boxes and space frames, and has the ability to create just about any shape he wants. It’s really a highly precise means of bending aluminum with a mill, and has the added benefit of looking really, really good.

Already, [Marc] has a few interesting robots that are built around this construction technology. The first is a remote control focus for a telescope that simply connects an eyepiece to the scope. Actuation is provided pneumatically, and all reports say this example works well. The other example is a flat-pack phone stand. It’s a bit simpler than a focus mechanism, but it is a small and inexpensive way to show off the technology. Great work, and an excellent project in The Hackaday Prize.

Review: LinkSprite Mini CNC

It’s a great time to be a hobbyist. No matter how you feel about the Arduino/Raspberry Pi effect, the influx of general enthusiasm and demand it has created translates to better availability of components, a broader community, and loads of freely available knowledge. When people have access to knowledge and ideas, great things can happen. Tools that were once restricted to industrial use become open source, and the price of entry-level versions goes into a nosedive.

As we’ve seen over the last several years, the price of cheap 3D printers keeps falling while the bar of quality keeps rising. It’s happening with laser cutters and carving tools, too. Strolling through Microcenter a few weeks ago, I spotted a new toy on the back wall next to the 3D printers. It was LinkSprite’s desktop mini CNC. They didn’t have one out on display, but there were two of them in boxes on the shelf. And boy, those boxes were small. Laughably small. I wondered, could this adorable machine really be any good? To some, the $200 price tag suggests otherwise. To me, the price tag made it justifiable, especially considering that the next price point for a hobby CNC mill is at least twice as much. I took my phone out and stood there frantically looking for reviews, documentation, anything that was available. It seemed that the general, if sparse consensus is that this thing isn’t a total waste of money. Oh, and there’s a wiki.

According to LinkSprite’s wiki, this little machine will engrave wood, plastic, acrylic, PVC, and PCBs. It will specifically not engrave metal (PCB copper notwithstanding). I’m a bit leery of the chemicals used in the PCB etching process, so the idea of engraving them instead was especially tempting. I pulled the trigger.

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Enlarged Miniature Forklift

How do you classify something that is gigantic and miniature at the same time? LEGO kit 850, from 1977 when it was known as an Expert Builder set, was 210 modular blocks meant to be transformed into a forklift nearly 140mm tall. [Matt Denton] scaled up the miniature pieces but it still produced a smaller-than-life forklift. This is somewhere in the creamy middle because his eight-year-old nephew can sit on it but most adults would demolish their self-esteem if they attempted the same feat.

[Matt] has been seen before building these modular sets from enlarged LEGO blocks, like his Quintuple-Sized Go-Kart. He seems to have chosen the same scale for the pieces and who wouldn’t? If you’re printing yourself a ton of LEGO blocks, it just makes sense to keep them all compatible. Isn’t combing all your sets into one mishmash the point after all? We’ll see what his nephew/co-host constructs after his uncle [Matt] leaves.

In the time-lapse video after the break, you can see how the kit goes together as easily as you would hope from home-made bricks. With that kind of repeatability and a second successful project, it’s safe to say his technique is solid and this opens the door to over-sized projects to which LEGO hasn’t published instructions.

Hackaday is bursting with LEGO projects, K’Nex projects, and even Erector set projects.

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BeamCNC: Computer-Controlled Construction System Mill

Need to make something quick and dirty out of wooden beams, and want to use elements you know will work together? BeamCNC is a mobile assembly of stepper-controlled rollers and a router that sucks a 2×2 through it and drills the holes in pre-programmed intervals. Currently being developed as part of an Indiegogo campaign currently in preview, its creator [Vladislav Lunachev] has declared it open source hardware. It’s essentially a CNC mill that makes Grid Beam, a classic DIY building set that resembles Meccano, Erector, and other classic sets, only made full-scale for larger projects. While BeamCNC is not affiliated with Grid Beam, it takes the same general idea and automates it.

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