Amazing Mechanical Linkages and The Software to Design Them

Most of us are more bits-and-bytes than nuts-and-bolts, but we have the deepest appreciation for the combination of the two. So, apparently, does [rectorsquid]. Check out the design and flow of his rolling ball sculpture (YouTube, embedded below) to see what we mean. See how the arms hesitate just a bit as the ball is transferred? See how the upper arm gently places it on the ramp with a slight downward gesture? See how it’s done with one motor? There’s no way [rectorsquid] designed this on paper, right?

Of course he didn’t (YouTube). Instead, he wrote a simulator that lets him try out various custom linkages in real time. It’s a Windows-only application (sigh), but it’s free to use, while the video guides (more YouTube) look very comprehensive and give you a quick tour of the tool. Of special note is that [rectorsquid]’s software allows for sliding linkages, which he makes very good use of in the rolling ball sculpture shown here.

We’ve actually secretly featured [rectorsquid]’s Linkage software before, in this writeup of some amazing cosplay animatronic wings that used the program for their design. But we really don’t want you to miss out if you’re doing mechanical design and need something like this, or just want to play around.

If you’d like to study up on your nuts and bolts, check out our primer on the ubiquitous four-bar linkage, or pore through Hackaday looking for other great linkage-powered examples, like this automatic hacksaw or a pantograph PCB probe for shaky hands.

Anyone know of an open-source linkage simulator that can also output STL files for 3D printing? Or in any format that could be easily transformed into OpenSCAD? Asking for a “friend”.

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Use a Drill to Power Your Flipbooks

[WolfCat] of Wolfcatworkshop is creating a hand-animated split-flap animation. But what do you use to test your animation once it’s on the split-flaps? Well, to test it out, [WolfCat] used a drill to give it motion. DoodlersAnonymous has some pics and an interview with [WolfCat] about his animation and there are some pictures on his Instagram page.

Technically, what [WolfCat] wanted to make is a “mutoscope,” a hand-cranked precursor to the movie projector that had its heyday in the late 19th and early 20th century. Originally installed in penny arcades and the like, mutoscopes were single-viewer apparatus. The viewer cranks the handle and the animated cards inside rotate around, stopped briefly by a bit of metal at the top in order to show a frame. The basic idea is similar to the way split-flap clocks or signs work.

[WolfCat] hand drew the animation for his movie and then scanned and printed out each frame. The frames were then transferred to a pair of flaps. [WolfCat] wanted to see how it would look when animated, but didn’t have any plans at the time for a case or a hand crank, so he found the closest tool that would do the job – a cordless drill. Attaching the drill and using a bit of card or wood as a stopper, [WolfCat] could see how the end result would look and could then start work on the case and crank.

The drill is a quick and easy way to see what the finished product would look like. Once he’s got it working, [WolfCat] could check out this 3D printed mutoscope case, or this flip dot animated display.

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Sense Hat Comes Alive

Remember the Raspberry Pi Sense Hat? Originally designed for a mission to the International Space Station, the board has quite a few sensors onboard as well as an 8×8 RGB LED matrix. What can you do with an 8×8 screen? You might be surprised if you use [Ethan’s] Python Sense Hat animation library. You can get the full visual effect in the video below.

The code uses an array to represent the screen, which isn’t a big deal since there are only 64 elements. Turning on a particular element to animate, say, a pong puck, isn’t hard with or without the library. Here’s some code to do it with the library:

for x in range(0,7):
 ect.cell(image,[0,x],[randint(0,255), randint(0,255), randint(0,255)],0.1)
for x in range(7,0, -1):
 ect.cell(image,[0,x],[randint(0,255), randint(0,255), randint(0,255)],0.1)

Each loop draws a box with a random color and then erases it before going to the next position. The second for loop makes the puck move in the opposite direction. You can probably deduce that the first argument is the screen array, the second is the position. The third argument sets the color, and the final argument sets an animation timer. Looking at the code, though, it does look like the timer blocks which is probably not going to work for some applications.

If that’s all there was, this wouldn’t be worth too much, but you can also draw triangles, circles, and squares. For example:,(4,4), 3, [randint(0,255), randint(0,255), randint(0,255)], 0.1)

We covered the Sense Hat awhile back. Of course, it does a lot more than just light up LEDs as you can see from this weather dashboard.

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Neural Networks Walk Better Than Humans for Game Animation

Modern day video games have come a long way from Mario the plumber hopping across the screen. Incredibly intricate environments of games today are part of the lure for new gamers and this experience is brought to life by the characters interacting with the scene. However the illusion of the virtual world is disrupted by unnatural movements of the figures in performing actions such as turning around suddenly or climbing a hill.

To remedy the abrupt movements, [Daniel Holden et. al] recently published a paper (PDF) and a video showing a method to greatly improve the real-time character control mechanism. The proposed system uses a neural network that has been trained using a large data set of walking, jumping and other sequences on various terrains. The key is breaking down the process of bipedal movement and its cyclic behaviour into a series of sub-steps or phases. Each phase translates to a natural posture for the character while moving. The system precomputes the next-phases offline to conserve computational resources at runtime. Then considering user control, previous pose of the character(including joint positions) and terrain geometry, the consequent frame of the animation is computed. The computation is done by a regression network that calculates future position of the joints and a blending function is used for Motion Matching as described in a presentation (PDF) and video by [Simon Clavet]. Continue reading “Neural Networks Walk Better Than Humans for Game Animation”

Valentine’s Heart with Awesome Animations

January has drawn to a close, and for many of you that means: “Oh no! Less than two weeks’ time until Valentine’s day.” But for us here at Hackaday, it means heart-themed blinky projects. Hooray!

[Dmitry Grinberg] has weighed in with his version of the classic heart-shaped LED ring. It’s hard to beat the BOM on this one: just a microcontroller, five resistors, and twenty LEDs. The rest is code, and optionally putting the name of your beloved into the copper layer. Everything is there for you to download.

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3D Printing A Stop Motion Animation

How much access do you have to a 3D printer? What would you do if you had weeks of time on your hands and a couple spools of filament lying around? Perhaps you would make a two second stop-motion animation called Bears on Stairs.

An in-house development by London’s DBLG — a creative design studio — shows a smooth animation of a bear — well — climbing stairs, which at first glance appears animated. In reality, 50 printed sculptures each show an instance of the bear’s looping ascent. The entire process took four weeks of printing, sculpture trimming, and the special diligence that comes with making a stop-motion film.

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DIY Lego Slit-Scan 2001 Stargate

[Filmmaker IQ] has a bunch of great tutorials on the technical aspects of making movies, but this episode on copying the stargate Stanley Kubrick’s famous 2001: A Space Odyssey using Legos is a hacker’s delight.

The stargate in 2001 is that long, trippy bit where our protagonist Dave “I’m sorry Dave” Bowman gets pulled through space and time into some kind of alternate universe and is reborn as the star child. (Right, the plot got a little bit bizarre.) But the stargate sequence, along with the rest of the visual effects for the film, won them an Academy Award.

Other examples of slit scan animations you’ll recognize include the opening credits for Doctor Who and the warp-drive effect in Star Trek: TNG.

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