Mechanisms: The Lever, It’s Everywhere

Levers are literally all around us. You body uses them to move, pick up a pen to sign your name and you’ll use mechanical advantage to make that ballpoint roll, and that can of soda doesn’t open without a cleverly designed lever.

I got onto this topic quite by accident. I was making an ornithopter and it was having trouble lifting its wings. For the uninitiated, ornithopters are machines which fly by flapping their wings. The problem was that the lever arm was too short. To be honest, as I worked I wasn’t even thinking in terms of levers, and only realized that there was one after I’d fine-tuned its length by trial and error. After that, the presence of a lever was embarrassingly obvious.

I can probably be excused for not seeing a lever right away because it wasn’t the type we most often experience. There are different classes of levers and it’s safe to say that most people aren’t even aware of this. Let’s take a closer look at these super useful, and sometimes hidden mechanisms known as levers.

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Trading Bird Food for Cigarette Butts

Positive reinforcement is the process of getting someone to understand their actions result in a reward. Children get a sweet treat when they pick up all their toys and older ones might get some cash for mowing the lawn. From the perspective of the treat-giver, this is like turning treats into work. A Dutch startup wants to teach the crow population to pick up cigarette butts in exchange for bird treats.

The whole Corvidae family of birds is highly intelligent so it shouldn’t be a problem training them that they will get a reward for depositing something the Hominidae family regularly throw on the street where the birds live. This idea is in turn an evolution of the open-source Crow Box.

For some, leveraging the intelligence of animals is more appealing than programming drones which could do the same thing. A vision system mixed with a drone and a manipulator could fulfull the same function but animals are self-repairing and autonomous without our code. The irony of this project is that, although it’s probably fairly easy to train crows to recognize cigarette butts, the implementation hinges on having a vision system that can recognize the butts in order to properly train the crows in the first place.

If we had the time to train crows, it would definitely be to poop on cars that don’t signal for turns. Maybe some of these winged devices can be programmed to recognize lapses in traffic laws in exchange for some electrons.

Thank you, [jo_elektro], for the tip.

 

Makerspace North, from Empty Warehouse to Maker Magnet

Makerspace North is unique out of the 5 makerspaces in the Ottawa, Canada area in that it started life as an empty 10,000 square foot warehouse with adjoining office spaces and large open rooms, and has let the community fill it, resulting in it having become a major hub for makers to mix in all sorts of ways, some unexpected.

Many makerspaces are run by an organization that provides tools that groups or individuals use, along with qualification courses for select tools. Makerspace North, on the other hand, provides the space and lets the community provide the maker component. The result is a variety of large scale events from indoor drone flying and various types of maker faire style days, to craft shows, garage sales, and even concerts. Smaller meet-ups, most often open to anyone, are held by such groups as the Ottawa Robotics Club and the Ottawa Electronics Club as well as some more general ones. Courses offered by the community are also as varied.

This also means that the owners of Makerspace North don’t provide tools for people to use, but instead provide dedicated rental space. That doesn’t mean there aren’t tools — it means that Makerspace North encompasses a microcosm of various renters who fill out the task of things like tool rental. This is just one example of how the community has embraced the unique approach. Let’s take a closer look at that and a few other novelties of this system.

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Surviving the FAA Regulations: Modelers Move Indoors

New FAA rules are making radio-controlled aircraft a rough hobby to enjoy here in the USA. Not only are the new drone enthusiasts curtailed, but the classic radio-controlled modelers are being affected as well. Everyone has to register, and for those living within 30 miles of Washington DC, flying of any sort has been effectively shut down. All’s not lost though. There is plenty of flying which can be done outside of the watchful eye of the FAA. All it takes is looking indoors.

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Mechanical Bird Actually Flies by Flapping its Wings

Turns out you don’t have to be a multi-million dollar corporation like Festo to create a remote controlled, flapping bird robot. [Kazuhiko Kakuta] is a medical Doctor of Allergy, and in his free time he likes to build flying mechanical birds with his son.

It has just over a meter wingspan, weighs 193 grams, and it flies by flapping its wings. The majority of its components are 3D printed. If that’s not impressive enough for you as is, consider this. It it has no sensors, no gyroscopes or anything — it’s all manually controlled by [Kazuhiko].

And this isn’t even the only ornithopter he’s done. He’s also created something out of an anime film, Castle in the Sky. He even sells the designs for one of them, to be printed via Shapeways.

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The World’s First Autonomous Flapping MAV

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[Ferdinand] sent in a tip about the very cool DelFly Explorer, built by researchers at Netherlands’ Delft University of Technology, which is claimed to be the world’s first autonomous, flapping micro air vehicle. While it doesn’t fly like a typical ornithopter, the specs will convince you not to care. It has an 28 cm wingspan and weighs 20 grams, which includes motors, a battery, two cameras, and an autopilot. The autopilot uses accelerometers and a gyroscope, plus a barometer for altitude measurement. You can see the on-board video at the 35-second mark on the video (after the break). They are incredibly noisy images, but apparently the researchers have come up with some algorithms that can make sense of it.

Put it all together, and you have a machine that can take off, maintain altitude, avoid obstacles, and fly for nine minutes. We’ve seen a cool ornithopter design before, and even a thrust vectoring plane, but this surpasses both projects. It’s pretty incredible what they have been able to fit into such a small design.

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Crazyflie control with Leap and Kinect

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The gang at Bitcraze is at it again, this time developing Leap Motion control for their Crazyflie quadcopter, as well as releasing a Kinect-driven autopilot proof of concept. If you haven’t seen the Crazyflie before, you may not realize how compact it is: 90mm motor to motor and only 19 grams.

As far as we can tell, the Crazyflie still needs a PC to control it, so the Leap and Kinect are natural followups. Hand control with the Leap Motion is what you’d expect: just imagine your open palm controlling it like a marionette, with the height of your hand dictating thrust. The Kinect setup looks the most promising. The guys strapped a red ball to the Crazyflie that provides a trackable object against a white backdrop. The Kinect then monitors the quadcopter while a user steers via mouse clicks. Separate PID controllers correct the roll, pitch and thrust to reposition the Crazyflie from its current coordinates to a new setpoint chosen by a click or a drag. Videos of both Leap and Kinect piloting are below.

Tight on cash but still want to take to the skies? We have two rubber-band-powered devices from earlier this week: the Ornithopter and the hilariously brilliant GoPro Slingshot.

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