Fail Of The Week: Bright Idea For LED Signs Goes Bad

Typically when we select a project for “Fail to the Week” honors, it’s because something went wrong with the technology of the project. But the tech of [Leo Fernekes]’ innovative LED sign system was never the problem; it was the realities of scaling up to production as well as the broken patent process that put a nail in this promising project’s coffin, which [Leo] sums up succinctly as “The Inventor’s Paradox” in the video below.

The idea [Leo] had a few years back was pretty smart. He noticed that there was no middle ground between cheap, pre-made LED signs and expensive programmable signboards, so he sought to fill the gap. The result was an ingenious “LED pin”, a tiny module with an RGB LED and a microcontroller along with a small number of support components. The big idea is that each pin would store its own part of a display-wide animation in flash memory. Each pin has two terminals that connect to metal cladding on either side of the board they attach to. These two conductors supply not only power but synchronization for all the pins with a low-frequency square wave. [Leo]’s method for programming the animations — using a light sensor on each pin to receive signals from a video projector — is perhaps even more ingenious than the pins themselves.

[Leo]’s idea seemed destined for greatness, but alas, the cruel realities of scaling up struck hard. Each prototype pin had a low part count, but to be manufactured economically, the entire BOM would have to be reduced to almost nothing. That means an ASIC, but the time and expense involved in tooling up for that were too much to bear. [Leo] has nothing good to say about the patent game, either, which his business partners in this venture insisted on playing. There’s plenty of detail in the video, but he sums it up with a pithy proclamation: “Patents suck.”

Watching this video, it’s hard not to feel sorry for [Leo] for all the time he spent getting the tech right only to have no feasible way to get a return on that investment. It’s a sobering tale for those of us who fancy ourselves to be inventors, and a cautionary tale about the perils of participating in a patent system that clearly operates for the benefit of the corporations rather than the solo inventor. It’s not impossible to win at this game, as our own [Bob Baddeley] shows us, but it is easy to fail.

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3D Printed GIFs For Stop Motion Memes

Lithophanes are nothing new, with examples going back to the 1800s. But they’ve become popular again thanks to the ease of which these pieces of artwork can be 3D printed. While the Internet would be more than happy to see somebody press an 3D image of their cat into a thin piece of translucent porcelain ready to have a light shone through it, that’s quite a bit harder than just firing up the Monoprice.

But since the machine is doing all the work for you, why stop at one? That’s precisely the sort of thinking that lead [The Mad Maker] to recreate animated GIFs with stop motion photography and a stack of printed lithophanes. Now all your favorite reaction memes can make the leap to the physical world…and then go right back into the computer.

The method here is pretty simple: [The Mad Maker] disassembles his favorite GIF to get the individual frame images, converts each one of those into a lithophane STL via an online tool, prints it out, photographs it, and then stitches all those photographs back into a new GIF. Given the incredibly time consuming nature of this process you’ll want to limit it to short animations, and even then, probably do only every 2nd or 3rd frame to preserve your sanity.

In the video after the break you can see the entire process, as well as check out the final result. While there weren’t really any technical hurdles to overcome in this project, we did like seeing how [The Mad Maker] experimented to find the ideal position for the backlight and camera. The wooden frame he came up with to hold everything in position should make subsequent meme conversions a lot easier, now he just needs to add a little color. Continue reading “3D Printed GIFs For Stop Motion Memes”

LC Oscillators, Animated

We wish that all the beautiful animations that are available today to understand math and electronics had been around when we were in school. Nonetheless, they are there for today’s students and [Learn Engineering] has another gorgeous one covering LC oscillation. Check it out, below.

If you are thoroughly grounded — no pun intended — in LC circuits, you probably won’t learn anything new. However, the animations are worth watching, just to admire them, if nothing else.

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Designing Sci-Fi Hack Chat

Join us on Wednesday, October 9 at noon Pacific for the Designing Sci-Fi Hack Chat with Seth Molson!

We all know the feeling of watching a movie set in a galaxy far, far away and seeing something that makes us say, “That’s not realistic at all!” The irony of watching human actors dressed up as alien creatures prancing across a fantasy landscape and expecting realism is lost on us as we willingly suspend disbelief in order to get into the story; seeing something in that artificial world that looks cheesy or goofy can shock you out of that state and ruin the compact between filmmaker and audience.

Perhaps nowhere do things get riskier for filmmakers than the design of the user interfaces of sci-fi and fantasy sets. Be they the control panels of spacecraft, consoles for futuristic computers, or even simply the screens of phones that are yet to be, sci-fi UI design can make or break a movie. The job of designing a sci-fi set used to be as simple as wiring up strings of blinkenlights; now, the job falls to a dedicated artist called a Playback Designer who can create something that looks fresh and new but still plausible to audiences used to interacting with technology that earlier generations couldn’t have dreamed of.

Seth Molson​ is one such artist, and you’ve probably seen some of his work on shows such as TimelessStargate Universe, and recently Netflix’s reboot of Lost in Space. When tasked to deliver control panels for spacecraft and systems that exist only in a writer’s mind, Seth sits down with graphics and animation software to make it happen.

Join us as we take a look behind the scenes with Seth and find out exactly what it’s like to be a Playback Designer. Find out what Seth’s toolchain looks like, how he interacts with the rest of the production design crew to come up with a consistent and believable look and feel for interfaces, and what it’s like to design futures that only exist — for now — in someone’s imagination.

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events in the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, October 9 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have got you down, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io. You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

 

Awesome Animation Channel Is An Educational Rabbit Hole

Once [Shabab] clued us in to the brilliant animations of [Jared Owen], we pretty much lost an afternoon exploring this incredible YouTube channel. Self-taught Blender wizard [Jared] combines fantastic animations with clear and concise explanations for the inner workings of everything from Nerf guns and Fisher-Price corn poppers to the International Space Station.

Space nerds and casuals alike should check out [Jared]’s crowning achievement: a three-video Apollo spacecraft series, which covers many details in a short amount of time. Want more Apollo? Here’s a deeper dive into the lunar module. [Jared] uses music to great effect in these videos, especially in the Apollo series.

Several videos are devoted to mechanisms, like the humble gumball machine, the grand piano, and the combination lock. In addition to all the great how-it-works videos, [Jared] explores various noteworthy buildings. You know there’s a bowling alley in the White House, right? [Jared]’s tour shows you exactly where it is.

We love the diversity of the videos, all of which [Jared] researches in great detail. He enjoys working from user suggestions, so let him know what you’re dying to see dissected in detail.

Thanks for the tip, [Shabab].

Use Movie Tools To Make Your Robot Move Like Movie Robots

Robots of the entertainment industry are given life by character animation, where the goal is to emotionally connect with the audience to tell a story. In comparison, real-world robot movement design focus more on managing physical limitations like sensor accuracy and power management. Tools for robot control are thus more likely to resemble engineering control consoles and not artistic character animation tools. When the goal is to build expressive physical robots, we’ll need tools like ROBiTS project to bridge the two worlds.

As an exhibitor at Maker Faire Bay Area 2019, this group showed off their first demo: a plugin to Autodesk Maya that translate joint movements into digital pulses controlling standard RC servos. Maya can import the same STL files fed to 3D printers, easily creating a digital representation of a robot. Animators skilled in Maya can then use all the tools they are familiar with, working in full context of a robot’s structure in the digital world. This will be a far more productive workflow for animation artists versus manipulating a long flat list of unintuitive slider controls or writing code by hand.

Of course, a virtual world offers some freedoms that are not available in the physical world. Real parts are not allowed to intersect, for one, and then there are other pesky physical limitations like momentum and center of gravity. Forgetting to account for them results in a robot that falls over! One of the follow-up projects on their to-do list is a bridge in the other direction: bringing physical world sensor like an IMU into digital representations in Maya.

We look forward to seeing more results on their YouTube channel. They join the ranks of other animated robots at Maker Faire and a promising addition to the toolbox for robot animation from Disney Research’s kinetic wires to Billy Whiskers who linked servos to Adobe Animate.

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Utterly Precise Light Painting, Thanks To CNC And Stop Motion

Light painting is the process of moving a light while taking a long-exposure photograph, which creates a sort of drawing from the path of the light source. It’s been done in one way or another since at least the early-to-mid 1900s, but modern hardware and methods have allowed for all kinds of new spins on this old idea. [Josh Sheldon] demonstrates just how true this is with the light painting he did for a gum ad, showing what’s possible with a single multicolor LED under CNC control combined with stop-motion animation techniques. The rest of the magic comes from the software. [Josh] designs the animations in Blender, and the paths are then exported and used as the instructions for his self-made Light Painting Machine. The machine therefore recreates the original animation with lights and camera and not a single computer-generated graphic.

[Josh] is no stranger to light painting in this way. We’ve seen his fantastic machine at work before and we’re glad he shared the details behind his latest work. Embedded below is a concise video that shows the whole process, but if you’re in a hurry and just want to see the end product, here’s a shortcut to the results.

For those of you who would like to know more, there are plenty of details on [Josh]’s Light Painting Machine on GitHub along with a more in-depth description of the workflow and software, so check it out.

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