Jigsaw Puzzles Are Defeated

To some folx, puzzles are the ultimate single-player game, but to others, they are like getting a single Tootsie Roll on Halloween. [Shane] of Stuff Made Here must fall into the latter category because he spent the equivalent of 18 work-weeks to make a robot that solves them automatically. Shots have been fired in the war on puzzles.

The goal of this robot is to beat a hybrid idea of two devilish puzzles. The first is all-white which could be solved by taking a piece at random and then checking its compatibility with every unsolved piece. The second is a 5000-piece monster painted white. There is a Moby Dick theme here. Picking up pieces like a human with fingers is out of the question, but pick-and-place machines solved this long ago, and we learn a cool lesson about how shop-air can create negative pressure. Suction. We wonder if anyone ever repurposed canned air to create a vacuum cleaner.

The meat of this video is overcoming hurdles, like a rhomboidal gantry table, helping machine vision see puzzle pieces accurately, and solving a small puzzle. [Shane] explains the solutions with the ear of someone with a technical background but at a high enough level that anyone can learn something. All the moving parts are in place, but the processing power to decode the puzzle is orders of magnitude higher than consumer machines, so that will wait for part two.

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Brass Plaque Honors Brother

Brass plaques are eye-catching because no one makes them on a whim. They are more costly than wood or plastic, and processing them is proportionally difficult. [Becky Stern] picked the medium to honor her brother, who enjoyed coffee, motorcycles, and making things by hand. She made some playing card-sized pieces to adorn his favorite brand of hot bean juice and a large one to hang at his memorial site.

The primary components are a vertical salt water bath, DC power supply, metal to etch, scrap steel approximately the same size, and a water agitator, which in this case is an air pump and diffuser stone. You could stir manually for two hours and binge your shows but trust us and take the easy route. The video doesn’t explicitly call for flexible wires, but [Becky] wisely selected some high-strand hook-up leads, which will cause fewer headaches as stiff copper has a mind of its own, and you don’t want the two sides colliding.

There are a couple of ways to transfer an insulating mask to metal, and we see the ole’ magazine paper method fail in the video, but cutting vinyl works a treat. You may prefer lasers or resin printers, and that’s all right too. Once your mask is sorted, connect the positive lead to the brass and the negative to your steel. Now, it’s into the agitated salt water bath, apply direct current, and allow electricity to immortalize your design.

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Tube Tumbler Provides The Perfect Culture

We’ve all had to shake jars of nail polish, model paint, or cell cultures. Mixing paint is easy – but bacteria and cells need to be agitated for hours.  Happily, laboratory tube tumblers automate this for us. The swishing action is handled with rotation. The vials are mounted at angles around a wheel. The angular offset means the tubes are inclined as they rise, and declined as they fall. This causes the liquid in the tube to slosh from one side to the other as the wheel rotates.  [Sebastian S. Cocioba] aka [ATinyGreenCell] released his plans through Tinkercad and GitHub, and with a name like Sir Tumbalot, we know he must be cultured indeed.

Grab your monocles. Version 2 features a driven wheel lined with magnets to attach tube adapters, and he’s modeled 50mL and twin 15mL tube holders. The attachment points look like a simple beveled rectangle with a magnet pocket, so if you’re feeling vigorous for vials, you can whip up custom sockets and tumble any darn thing. A Trinamic StealthChop chip on a custom PCB controls the pancake stepper, and the whole shebang should cost less than $50USD. We’re wondering what other purposes this modular design could have, like the smallest rock tumbler or resin print rinser.

Making lab equipment is phenomenal for saving money for things that just spin up to a biotech lab.

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Jet burner and close-up

$7 Tent Heater Provides Comfort On A Budget

At Hackaday’s Minnesota office, we appreciate central heat and hot coffee because the outdoor temperature is sub-zero in Celsius and Fahrenheit. Not everyone here has such amenities, and families living in tents could use heater help. If you live somewhere inhospitably cold and have the resources (time being the most crucial), please consider building and donating alcohol jet burners.

Alcohol burners like these are great for tents because if they tip over, they self-extinguish. You can fill them with 70% rubbing alcohol and they’ll heat a small space, and if running on denatured alcohol, they can be used to cook with. They won’t do you much good outdoors unless you have significant wind protection, as the tiny jet is likely to blow out. The first time you light one, you must heat the coil with a lighter or another heater to vaporize incoming fuel, then it can sustain itself by wicking fluid up from the reservoir jar. Relighting after a tip or accidental gust only takes a spark since the copper is already hot.

If you came for a hack, note how they fill the small tubes with salt funneled through a condiment cap before bending them. Sure, there are springy pipe bending tools, but who doesn’t already have salt and tape? Keeping humans warm is crucial, but heating metal takes a different approach.

Thank you for the tip, [cyberlass]

USB to Dupont adapter by [PROSCH]

USB Power Has Never Been Easier

USB cables inevitably fail and sometimes one end is reincarnated to power our solderless breadboards. Of course, if the cable broke once, it is waiting to crap out again. Too many have flimsy conductors that cannot withstand any torque and buckle when you push them into a socket. [PROSCH] has a superior answer that only takes a couple of minutes to print and up-cycles a pair of wires with DuPont connectors. The metal tips become the leads and the plastic sheathing aligns with the rim.

The model prints with a clear plus sign on the positive terminal, so you don’t have to worry about sending the wrong polarity, and it shouldn’t be difficult to add your own features, like a hoop for pulling it out, or an indicator LED and resistor. We’d like to see one with a tiny fuse holder.

If you want your breadboard to have old-school features, like a base and embedded power supply, we can point you in the right direction. If you are looking to up your prototyping game to make presentation-worthy pieces, we have a host of ideas.

Attack Of The Eighty-Foot String Shooter

String shooters are exciting because they adhere to the laws of physics in that peculiar way that makes us ask, “How?” and “Why?” After a bit of poking and prodding, maybe some light rope burn, we probably have a few ideas on how we’d make our own. [Nick Belsten] and [Joey Rain] saw some desktop models and thought, “Let’s make that puppy eighty feet long!” Video also embedded after the break.

Instead of hobby motors, flashlight batteries, and toy car wheels, they choose a washing machine motor and bike tires, then plug into an extension cord. The three-minute video isn’t a how-to build because once you start welding this kind of hardware together, you are already flying by the seat of your pants. You will see a front yard with people delighting in the absurdity of launching rope continuously over the treetops. There’s plenty of room for observing a wave traveling along the cord or polishing your fingernails in a hurry.

We want to make string shooters for the office and add our personal flavor, like lights or colored string so they’re safe to touch. If you have a unique twist on any physics experiments, drop us a line, but for insurance reasons, we’ll add that you should not make a chainsaw without a guide bar, aka, the forbidden chain-saber.

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Jared Holladay

The Safest Model Roller Coaster

[Jared Holladay] is a computer engineering student at the University of Cincinnati and a life-long roller coaster fanatic. A lot of people look at roller coasters as an exciting example of physics, like potential energy versus kinetic energy or inertia, and rightly so. [Jared] looks at them and wonders about the controls. Video also below and there is a feature-length explanation with more details. Some Hackaday readers and writers can identify the components, so we think his coaster model belongs here.

Like many folks in this field, he’s built K’nex models to get a handle on construction. He’s toured STEM shows with the tracks and undoubtedly wowed kids, adults, and physics teachers, but since he can speak to the programming, he is a triple threat. Now, he’s growing out of the toy construction plastic and moving into 3D printed parts with needle-fine tolerances.

His latest base is extruded aluminum, like what you’d want in a rigid CNC or printer. In addition to the industrial-grade surface, Rockwell Automation sent him a safety programmable logic controller, PLC, and a touchscreen HMI. Our fellows in the industry tell us those are far beyond the price scope of regular hobbyists. But fear not; your Arduino clones will suffice until you get your first grant.

The point of all the ruggedized hardware, aside from authenticity, is to implement safety features the same way you would in the industry. The redundant PLC connects to inductive prox sensors to check train speed and location. Other moving parts, like friction brakes, have sensors to report if there is a jam. After all, it’s no good if you can’t stop a train full of people. There are hundreds of things that can go wrong. Just ask [Jared] because he programmed on-screen indicators for all of them and classified them to let an operator know if they can keep the ride moving or if they need to call maintenance.

Not all homemade coasters are scale models, and some of the traditional ones have more than meets the eye.

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