Flexible PCBs Make The Fins Of This Robotic Fish

We love a little outside-the-box thinking around here, and anytime we see robots that don’t use wheels and motors to do the moving, we take notice. So when a project touting robotic fish using soft-actuator fins crossed the tip line, we had to take a look.

It turns out that this robofish comes from the fertile mind of [Carl Bugeja], whose PCB motors and flexible actuators have been covered here before. The basic concept of these fish fins is derived from the latter project, which uses coils printed onto both sides of a flexible Kapton substrate. Positioned near a magnet, the actuators bend when a current runs through them. The video below shows two prototype robofish, each with four fins. The first is a scrap of foam with a magnet embedded; the fins did flap but the whole thing just weighed too much. Version two was much lighter and almost worked, but the tether to the driver is just too stiff to allow it to really flex its fins.

It looks like it has promise though, and we’re excited to see where [Carl] take this. Perhaps schools of tiny robofish patrolling for pollution?

Continue reading “Flexible PCBs Make The Fins Of This Robotic Fish”

Let No Eyebrow Go Unsinged With A Wrist-Mounted Flamethrower

We’ll say it just once, and right up front: wrist-mounted flamethrowers are a bad idea. An itchy nose and a brief moment of forgetfulness while sporting one of these would make for a Really Bad Day. That said, this flaming gauntlet of doom looks like a lot of fun.

We’ve got to hand it to [Steve Hernandez] – he put a lot of work into the Flame-O-Tron 9000. Building on his prior art in the field, [Steve] went a bit further with this design. The principle is the same – butane plus spark equals fun – but the guts of this flamethrower are entirely new. A pipe bomb custom fuel tank is used rather than the stock butane can, and a solenoid valve controls fuel flow. Everything lives in a snazzy acrylic case that rides on a handmade leather bracer, and controls in the hand grip plus an Arduino allow the user to fire short bursts of flame or charge up for a real fireball. See what you think of the final product in the short video after the break; it sounds as though even if the fuel runs out, the high-voltage would make a dandy stun gun.

Maybe we should lay off the safety nagging on these wrist rockets. After all, we’ve seen many, many, many of them, with nary a report of injury.

Continue reading “Let No Eyebrow Go Unsinged With A Wrist-Mounted Flamethrower”

Damaged Power Cord Repaired With Shop-Made Mold

We’ve likely all seen a power tool with a less-than-functional strain relief at one end of the power cord or the other. Fixing the plug end is easy, but at the tool end things are a little harder and often not worth the effort compared to the price of just replacing the tool. There’s no obsolescence like built-in obsolescence.

But in the land of Festo, that high-quality but exorbitantly priced brand of premium tools, the normal cost-benefit relationship of repairs is skewed. That’s what led [Mark Presling] to custom mold a new strain relief for a broken Festool cord. The dodgy tool is an orbital sander with Festool’s interchangeable “Plug It” type power cord, which could have been replaced for the princely sum of $65. Rather than suffer that disgrace, [Mark] built a mold for a new strain relief from two pieces of aluminum. The mold fits around the cord once it has been slathered with Sugru, a moldable adhesive compound. The video below shows the mold build, which has some interesting tips for the lathe, and the molding process itself. The Sugru was a little touchy about curing, but in the end the new strain relief looks almost like an original part.

Hats off to [Presser] for not taking the easy way out, and for showing off some techniques that could really help around the shop. We suppose the mold could have been 3D-printed rather than machined; after all, we’ve seen such molds before, and that 3D-printed dies can be robust enough to punch metal parts.

Continue reading “Damaged Power Cord Repaired With Shop-Made Mold”

The DIN Rail and How It Got That Way

Unless you’ve spent some time in the industrial electrical field, you might be surprised at the degree of integration involved in the various control panels needed to run factories and the like. Look inside any cabinet almost anywhere in the world, and you’ll be greeted by rows of neat plastic terminal blocks, circuit breakers, signal conditioners, and all manner of computing hardware from programmable logic controllers right on to Raspberry Pis and Arduinos.

A well-crafted industrial control panel can truly be a thing of beauty. But behind all the electrical bits in the cabinet, underneath all the neatly routed and clearly labeled wires, there’s a humble strip of metal that stitches it all together: the DIN rail. How did it come to be, and why is it so ubiquitous?

Continue reading “The DIN Rail and How It Got That Way”

PLA: The Plastic That Grows

If you’ve ever taken a coast-to-coast car trip across the United States, the one thing that’s sure to impress you is the mind-bogglingly immense amount of corn that we grow here. If you take the northern route — I’ve done it seven times, so I know it by heart — you’ll see almost nothing but corn from Ohio to Montana. The size of the fields is simply staggering, and you’re left wondering, “Do we really eat all this corn?”

The simple answer is no, we don’t. We grow way more corn than we can eat or, once turned into alcohol, drink. We do feed a lot to animals, many of which subsequently end up as burgers or pork chops. But even after all that, and after accounting for exports, we still have a heck of a lot of corn to put to work. There are lots of industrial uses for this surplus corn, though, and chances are pretty good you’ve got an ear or two worth coiled up next to your 3D-printer, in the form of polylactic acid, or PLA.

Continue reading “PLA: The Plastic That Grows”

Shop-Made Pneumatic Cylinders From PVC And Plywood

You see a lot of pneumatic actuators in industrial automation, and for good reason. They’re simple, powerful, reliable, and above all, cheap. Online sources and fluid-power suppliers carry a bewildering range of actuators, so why would anyone bother to make their own pneumatic cylinders? Because while the commercial stuff is cheap, it’s not PVC and plywood cheap.

Granted, that’s not the only reason [Izzy Swan] gives for his DIY single-acting cylinder. For him it’s more about having the flexibility to make exactly what he needs in terms of size and shape. And given how ridiculously easy these cylinders are, you can make a ton of them for pennies. The cylinder itself is common Schedule 40 PVC pipe with plywood endcaps, all held together with threaded rod. [Izzy] cut the endcaps with a CNC router, but a band saw or jig saw would do as well. The piston is a plywood plug mounted to a long bolt; [Izzy] gambled a little by cutting the groove for the O-ring with a table saw, but no fingers were lost. The cylinder uses a cheap bungee as a return spring, but an internal compression spring would work too,. Adding a second air inlet to make the cylinder double-acting would be possible as well. The video below shows the cylinder in action as a jig clamp.

True, the valves are the most expensive part of a pneumatic system, but if nothing else, being able to say you made your own cylinders is a win. And maybe you’ll get the fluid-power bug and want to work up to DIY hydraulics.

Continue reading “Shop-Made Pneumatic Cylinders From PVC And Plywood”

A DIY Balcony Crane Lifts Groceries For The Lazy But Patient

If necessity is the mother of invention, then laziness is probably its father. Or at least a close uncle. Who hasn’t thought, “There has to be a better way to do this, one that doesn’t involve me burning precious calories”?

Motivational laziness seems to increase with potential energy, as anyone who needs to haul groceries up four flights of stairs will tell you. This appears to be where this balcony-mounted drill-powered crane came from. Starting with a surplus right-angle gearbox and drum, [geniusz K] fabricated the rest of the crane from steel plate and tubing. We like the quality of fabrication and the tip on making slip couplings from bits of square tubing. The finished product got a nice coat of brown paint to match the balcony railing; keeping the neighbors happy is always important. He tested the crane with a 20-kg weight before installing it on the balcony and put it to work hauling groceries up three stories. Check out the build and the test in the video below.

While it won’t set any speed records, at least the drill is doing the work. But what if you’re impatient as well as lazy? Aside from being two-thirds of the way to programming greatness, you may have to up the game. A heavy-lift quadcopter, perhaps?

Continue reading “A DIY Balcony Crane Lifts Groceries For The Lazy But Patient”