Friction Differential Drive is a Laser-Cut Triumph

Here on Hackaday, too often do we turn our heads and gaze at the novelty of 3D printing functional devices. It’s easy to forget that other techniques for assembling functional prototypes exist. Here, [Reuben] nails the aspect of functional prototyping with the laser cutter with a real-world application: a roll-pitch friction differential drive built from just off-the shelf and laser-cut parts!

The centerpiece is held together with friction, where both the order of assembly and the slight wedged edge made from the laser cutter kerf keeps the components from falling apart. Pulleys transfer motion from the would-be motor mounts, where the belts are actually tensioned with a roller bearing mechanism that’s pushed into position. Finally, the friction drive itself is made from roller-blade wheels, where the torque transferred to the plate is driven by just how tightly the top screw is tightened onto the wheels. We’d say that [Reuben] is pushing boundaries with this build–but that’s not true. Rather, he’s using a series of repeatable motifs together to assemble a both beautiful and complex working mechanism.

This design is an old-school wonder from 2012 uncovered from a former Stanford course. The legendary CS235 aimed to teach “unmechanically-minded” roboticists how to build a host of mechanisms in the same spirit as MIT’s How-to-make-almost-Anything class. While CS235 doesn’t exist anymore, don’t fret. [Reuben] kindly posted his best lectures online for the world to enjoy.

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Researchers Squeeze Out a New Breed of Robot Locomotion

Researchers have been playing around with various oddball forms of robot locomotion; surely, we’ve seen it all, haven’t we? Not so! Lucky for us, [researchers at Stanford] are now showing us a new way for robots to literally extrude themselves from point A to point B.

This robot’s particular motion for mechanism involves unwinding itself inside out. From a stationary base, a reel caches meters of the robot’s uninflated polyethylene body, which it deploys by pressurizing. Researchers can make full 3D turns by varying the amount of inflated air in outer control chambers. What’s more, they can place end effectors or even payloads at the tip of the growing end with their position held in place by a cable.

As we can imagine, any robot that can squeeze its way up to 72 meters long can have dozens of applications, and the folks at Stanford have explored a host of nooks and crannies of this space. Along the way, they deploy complex antenna shapes into the air, deliver small payloads, extinguish fires, and squeeze through all sorts of uninviting places such as flytraps and even a bed of nails. We’ve placed a video below the break, but have a look at Ars Technica’s full video suite to get a sense of the sheer variety of applications that they imparted upon their new creation.

Biomimetics tends to get us to cry “gecko feet” or “snake robots” without thinking too hard. But these forms of locomotion that come to mind all seem to derive from the animal kingdom. One key element of this soft robot is that its stationary base and vine-like locomotion both have its roots in the plant kingdom. It’s a testament to just how unexplored this realm may be, and that researchers and robots will continue to develop new ways of artificially “getting around” for years to come.

Thanks for the tip, [Jacob!]

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A Noob’s Guide to McMaster-Carr

For the penny-pinching basement hacker, McMaster-Carr seems like a weird go-to resource for hardware. For one, they’re primarily a B2B company; and, for two, their prices aren’t cheap. Yet their name is ubiquitous among the hacker community. Why? Despite the price, something makes them too useful to ignore by everyday DIY enthusiasts. Those of us who’ve already been enlightened by the McMaster-Carr can design wonders with a vocabulary of parts just one day away at the click of a button.

Today, this article is for those of us who have yet to receive that enlightenment. When used wisely, this source of mechanical everything brings us a world of fast parts at our fingertips. When used poorly, we find nothing but overpriced stock components in oversized shipping boxes.

Since we, the McMaster-Carr sages, are forever doomed to stuff our desk drawers with those characteristic yellow baggies till the end of time, we thought we’d give an intro to the noobs that are just beginning to flex their muscles with this almighty resource. Grab another cup of coffee as we take you on a tour of the good and good-grievances of McMaster-Carr.

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2017’s VCF West is Another Beloved Trip Down Memory Lane

This past weekend, another smashing round of the Vintage Computer Festival was held at the Computer History Museum in Mountainview. As always, VCF West gathers the sages and lords of vintage computers onto a common ground to talk old-school hardware. It also draws in a collection of unique artifacts, many of which either still work, have been brought back to life, or have otherwise been reincarnated through a modern means. [Bil Herd] and I dropped in to join the crowd, and I snagged a few pics of some new faces and pieces that have been added to the experience since last year.

[Foone’s] Digital Media Archiving

Up first on our bucket list was [Foone], a librarian of digital media archiving. Outside of VCF, he runs a digital media backup gig to help folks backup their niche, often-failing, disk formats into something more modern. His drive for doing this backup features a special “reread” capability, where the file is actually reread dozens of time to validate that the right information was pulled from it.

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A Case for the Desktop Vinyl Cutter

As far as desktop workbench fab tools go, it’s too easy to let 3D printers keep stealing the spotlight. I mean, who doesn’t appreciate that mechatronic “buzz” as our printer squirts a 3D CAD model into plastic life? While the 3D printer can take up a corner of my workbench, there’s still plenty of room for other desktop rapid-prototyping gadgets.

Today, I’d like to shed some light on vinyl cutters. Sure, we can start with stickers and perhaps even jumpstart an after-hours Etsy-mart, but there’s a host of other benefits besides just vinyl cutting. In fact, vinyl cutters might just be the unsung heroes of research in folding and papercraft.

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Amazing Motion-Capture of Bendy Things

Have you, dear reader, ever needed to plot the position of a swimming pool noodle in 3D  and in real time? Of course you have, and today, you’re in luck! I’ve compiled together a solution that’s sure to give you the jumpstart on solving this “problem-you-never-knew-you-had.”

Ok, there’s a bit of a story behind this one. Back in my good-ol’ undergrad days, I got the chance to play with tethered underwater robots. I remember fumbling about thinking: “Hmm, with this robot tether, wouldn’t it be sweet to string up a set of IMUs down the length of the tether to estimate the robot’s location in 3-space?” A few years later, I cooked together this IMU Noodle project to play with some real hardware in the spirit of solving that problem. With a little quaternion math, a nifty IMU, and some custom PCBAs, this idea has gone from some idle brain-ramble into a real device. It’s an incredibly interesting example of using available hardware and a little ingenuity to build a system that is unique and dependable.

As for why? I first saw an IMU noodle pop up on these pages back in 2012 and I was baffled. I just had to build one! Now complete, I figured that there’s enough math and fun-loving electronics nuggets to merit a full article for this month’s after-hour adventures. Dear reader, let me tell you a wonderful story where math meets electronics and works up the courage to ask it out for brunch.

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Designing for Fab: a Heads-Up before Designing PCBs for Professional Assembly

Designing pcbs for assembly is easy, right? We just squirt all the footprints onto a board layout, connect all the traces, send out the gerbers and position files, and we’re done–right?

Whoa, hold the phone, there, young rogue! Just like we can hack together some working source code with variables named after our best friends, we can also design our PCBs in ways that make it fairly difficult to assemble.

However, by following the agreed-upon design specs, we’ll put ourselves on track for success with automated assembly. If we want another party to put components on our boards, we need to clearly communicate the needed steps to get there. The best way to do so is by following the standards.

Proper Footprint Orientation

Now, for a momImage Credit:, let’s imagine ourselves as the tip of a vacuum pickup tool on a pick-and-place machine. These tools are designed to pick up components on the reel from their centroid and plunk them on their corresponding land pattern. Seems pretty straightforward, right? It is, provided that we design our footprints knowing that they’ll one day come face-to-face with the pick-and-place machine.

To get from the reel to the board, we, the designers, need two bits of information from out part’s datasheet: the part centroid and the reel orientation.

The part centroid is an X-Y location that calls out the center-of-mass of the part. It basically tells the machine: “pick me up from here!” As designers, it’s our responsibility to design all of our footprints such that the footprint origin is set at the part’s centroid. If we forget to do so, the pick-and-place will try to suck up our parts from a location that may not stick very well to the package, such as: the corner.

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