Simple Automata Extravaganza

[Federico Tobon] from [Wolfcat Workshop] spent Makevember in 2017 building a series of fascinating automata using the most basic of craft supplies and simple tools in his workshop. Using a combination of rigid materials such as wooden cubes, popsicle sticks, and paper clips and pliable ones like paper and rubber bands, his creations are way more delightful to play with compared to fidget spinners.

There are no assembly guides, instructions or building plans, but for a hacker, one look at these designs ought to be enough to glean how to build one, with some trial and error to get it right. And that is exactly what [Tobon] found to his delight. After sharing animated GIFs of his creations on social media, numerous other hackers built and shared their own versions of his designs as well as building some new ones.

He posts several other useful resources, some of which were the inspiration that got him started making these automata. All of them are pretty interesting, so do take a look at them too. There is a lot that young kids can learn from building these little machines, given some guidance and help from the elders. But the way we see it, it’s likely the old folks will enjoy them more.

The video after the break compiles all of the little machines for six minutes of viewing pleasure.

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New Contest: 3D Printed Gears, Pulleys, and Cams

One of the killer apps of 3D printers is the ability to make custom gears, transmissions, and mechanisms. But there’s a learning curve. If you haven’t 3D printed your own gearbox or automaton, here’s a great reason to take the plunge. This morning Hackaday launched the 3D Printed Gears, Pulleys, and Cams contest, a challenge to make stuff move using 3D-printed mechanisms.

Adding movement to a project brings it to life. Often times we see projects where moving parts are connected directly to a servo or other motor, but you can do a lot more interesting things by adding some mechanical advantage between the source of the work, and the moving parts. We don’t care if it’s motorized or hand  cranked, water powered or driven by the wind, we just want to see what neat things you can accomplish by 3D printing some gears, pulleys, or cams!

No mechanism is too small — if you have never printed gears before and manage to get just two meshing with each other, we want to see it! (And of course no gear is literally too small either — who can print the smallest gearbox as their entry?) Automatons, toys, drive trains, string plotters, useless machines, clockworks, and baubles are all fair game. We want to be inspired by the story of how you design your entry, and what it took to get from filament to functional prototype.

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Karakuri Kaizen: Hacks For The Factory Floor

Anyone who has an interest and/or career in manufacturing would have heard of Kaizen, generally a concept to continuously improve your process everywhere. Under that huge umbrella is Karakuri Kaizen, encouraging workers on the factory floor to adopt a hacker mentality and improve their own work stations. It is right up our alley, manufacturer or not, making this overview by Automotive News an entertaining read.

Karakuri could be translated as “mechanism”, but implies something novel in the vein of English words gadgets, gizmos, or dare we say it: hacks. Karakuri has a history dating back to centuries-old wind-up automatons all the way to modern Rube Goldberg contraptions. When applied to modern manufacturing (as part of factory training) it encourages everyone to devise simple improvements. Each might only shave seconds off assembly time, but savings add up in due time.

Modern global manufacturing is very competitive and survival requires producing more efficiently than your competitors. While spotlights of attention may be focused on technology, automation, and construction of “alien dreadnoughts”, that focus risks neglecting gains found at a smaller and simpler scale. Kaizen means always searching for improvements, and the answer is not always more technology.

Several points in these articles asserted purely mechanical karakuri are far less expensive than automated solutions, by comparing price tags which are obviously for industrial automation equipment. We’d be curious to see if our favorite low cost tools — AVR, PIC, ESP32, and friends — would make future inroads in this area. We’ve certainly seen hacks for production at a much smaller scale.

Embedded below the break is a short video from Toyota showing off a few karakuri on their factory floor.

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Let’s Bring Back the Age of Automatons

Long before the concept of A.I., as we know it today existed, humans started building machines that seemed to move and even think by a will of their own. For decades we have been building automatons, self-operating machines, designed to resemble humans and animals. Causing the designer to break down human and animal movements, behaviors, and even speech (by way of bellows and air tubes) into predetermined sequential actions.

[Greg Zumwalt] created what he calls a hummingbird themed automaton inspired by his wife’s love of watching hummingbirds gather near their home. His 3D printed and assembled hummingbird automaton moves almost as fluid as its organic counterpart. The design is simple yet created from an impressive number of 97 printed parts printed from 38 unique designs which he includes in his Instructable. Other than meticulous assembly design, the fluid motion lends itself to a process of test fitting, trimming, and sanding all printed parts. Plus adding petroleum jelly as lubrication to the build’s moving parts. Along with the print files, [Greg Zumwalt] also gives you the print settings needed to recreate this precision build and a parts list accounting for all the multiple prints needed for each design. Continue reading “Let’s Bring Back the Age of Automatons”

Mechanical Wooden Turing Machine

Alan Turing theorized a machine that could do infinite calculations from an infinite amount of data that computes based on a set of rules. It starts with an input, transforms the data and outputs an answer. Computation at its simplest. The Turing machine is considered a blueprint for modern computers and has also become a blueprint for builders to challenge themselves for decades.

Inspired by watching The Imitation Game, a historical drama loosely based on Alan Turing, [Richard J. Ridel] researched Alan Turing and decided to build a Turing machine of his own. During his research, he found most machines were created using electrical parts so he decided to challenge himself by building a purely mechanical Turing machine.

Unlike the machine Alan Turing hypothesized, [Richard J. Ridel] decided on building a machine that accommodated three data elements (0, 1, and “b” for blank) and three states. This was informed by research he did on the minimum amount of data elements and states a machine could have in order to perform any calculation along with his own experimentation and material constraints.

Read more about Richard’s trial and error build development, how his machine works, and possible improvements in the document he wrote linked to above. It’s a great document of process and begs you to learn from it and take on your own challenge of building a Turing machine.

For more inspiration on how to build a Turing machine check out how to build one using readily available electronic components.

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See This Mesmerizing 3D Printed Water Droplet Automaton

Water Experiment No. 33 by [Dean O’Callaghan]
Most modern automata are hand-cranked kinetic sculptures typically made from wood, and [videohead118] was inspired by a video of one simulating a wave pattern from a drop of liquid. As a result, they made a 3D printed version of their own and shared the files on Thingiverse.

In this piece, a hand crank turns a bunch of cams that raise and lower a series of rings in a simulated wave pattern, apparently in response to the motion of a sphere on a central shaft. The original (shown in the animation to the right) was made from wood by a fellow named [Dean O’Callaghan], and a video of it in its entirety is embedded below the break.

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Hardware Heroes: Tim Hunkin

If you were an engineering student around the end of the 1980s or the start of the 1990s, your destiny most likely lay in writing 8051 firmware for process controllers or becoming a small cog in a graduate training scheme at a large manufacturer. It was set out for you as a limited set of horizons by the university careers office, ready for you to discover as only a partial truth after graduation.

But the chances are that if you were a British engineering student around that time you didn’t fancy any of that stuff. Instead you harboured a secret dream to be [Tim Hunkin]’s apprentice. Of course, if you aren’t a Brit, and maybe you are from a different generation, you’ll have responded quizzically to that name. [Tim Hunkin]? Who?

[Tim Hunkin] is a British engineer, animator, artist and cartoonist who has produced a long series of very recognisable mechanical devices for public display, including clocks, arcade machines, public spectacles, exhibits and collecting boxes for museums, and much more. He came to my attention as an impressionable young engineer with his late 1980s to early 1990s British TV series  The Secret Life Of Machines, in which he took everyday household and office machines and appliances and explained and deconstructed them in an accessible manner for the public.

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