Up Your Desk Toy Game With This 3D Printed Escalator

Let’s be real, nobody needs a tiny motorized escalator for their desk. But now that you’ve seen it, can you really say you don’t want one of your own? The design comes our way from [AlexY], and is actually the logical evolution of a manually-operated version released previously. But for our money (and 3D printing time), we’d definitely go with this new motorized variant.

While the core mechanism is largely the same, the powered unit uses a N20 geared motor and an 18650 cell. There’s no fancy motor controller here — just flip the switch and you’ve got 30 RPMs worth of stair-steppin’ action. When you’ve run the cell down, and you will, there’s an onboard TP4056 charging module to keep the good times rolling.

[AlexY] hasn’t had a chance to document the build process for the motorized version of the escalator, but as most of the parts are compatible with the manual version, you should be able to figure it out by referencing the earlier assembly guide.

Hot squirted plastic not your thing? We’ve previously seen a wooden escalator designed to keep a Slinky in motion for as long as it takes for you to realize you could be using your skills for something more constructive.

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Building A Levitating Turbine Desk Toy

Magnetic levitation is a beautiful thing to watch. Seeing small objects wobble about while seemingly hovering in thin air never gets old. If you want something suitably distracting in this vein for your own desk, consider building this levitating turbine from [JGJMatt].

The build uses a combination of 3D printed parts and metal rods to form a basic frame.  The turbine is also 3D printed, making it easy to create the complex geometry for the curved fins. Rare earth magnets are then slotted into the parts in order to create the levitation effect. Two magnets are fitted to each frame piece, and one magnet is inserted into each end of the turbine. When aligned properly, the turbine will hover over the frame and can spin freely with almost no friction.

One concession made to functionality is a sewing needle inserted into the turbine. This presses against one part of the frame in order to keep the turbine from being pushed out of the magnetic field entirely. It’s possible that with very careful attention to detail in alignment, the pin could be eliminated, but it makes the system far more robust and reliable to have it there.

Floating in the magnetic field, a simple puff of air is enough to set the turbine spinning for quite some time. It makes for a captivating desk ornament, and one that can be tinkered with by changing the turbine blades for different performance. It may be frivolous, but at the larger scale, magnetic levitation is put to more serious uses like high-speed transport. Video after the break.

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Kinetic Lamp Sheds Light On Scientific Principles

This thing right here might be the coolest desk toy since Newton’s Cradle. It’s [Stephen Co]’s latest installment in a line of mesmerizing, zodiac-themed art lamps that started with the water-dancing Aquarius.  All at once, it demonstrates standing waves, persistence of vision, and the stroboscopic effect. And the best part? You can stick your finger in it.

This intriguing lamp is designed to illustrate Pisces, that mythological pair of fish bound by string that represent Aphrodite and her son Eros’ escape from the clutches of Typhon. Here’s what is happening: two 5V DC motors, one running in reverse, are rotating a string at high speeds. The strobing LEDs turn the string into an array of optical illusions depending on the strobing rate, which is controlled with a potentiometer. A second pot sweeps through eleven preset patterns that vary the colors and visual effect. And of course, poking the string will cause interesting interruptions.

The stroboscopic effect hinges on the choice of LED. Those old standby 2812s don’t have a high enough max refresh rate, so [Stephen] sprung for APA102Cs, aka DotStars. Everything is controlled with an Arduino Nano clone. [Stephen] has an active Kickstarter campaign going for Pisces, and one of the rewards is the code and STL files. On the IO page for Pisces, [Stephen] walks us through the cost vs. consumer pricing breakdown.

We love all kinds of lamps around here, from the super-useful to the super-animated.

Surfing Diorama Makes For A Neat Desk Toy

In 1994, Weezer famously said that “you take your car to work, I’ll take my board”. Obviously, for the office-bound, surfing is simply out of the question during the working day.  That doesn’t mean you can’t have a little fun with a desk toy inspired by the waves.

The crux of the build is a watery diorama, which interacts with a faux-surfboard. The diorama consists of a tank constructed out of plexiglas, sealed together to be watertight. It’s then filled with blue-dyed water, and topped off with baby oil. The tank is then mounted on a cam controlled by a servo, which rocks the tank back and forth to create waves. This is controlled by the motion of the rider on the plywood surfboard, which can be rocked to and fro on the floor thanks to its curved bottom. An Arduino built into the board monitors a three-axis accelerometer, and sends this information to the Arduino controlling the tank.

By riding the board, the user can shake the tank. Get the motion just right, and smooth rolling waves are your reward. Jerk around with no real rhythm, and you’ll just get messy surf. We reckon it would be even better with a little surfer floating in the tank, too. It’s a fun build, and one that might help stave off the negative health effects of sitting at a desk all day. You might prefer a more shocking desk toy, however. Video after the break.

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Simulated Newton’s Cradle Makes A Flashy Desk Toy

Newton’s Cradle was once upon a time, a popular desk toy in offices around the world. For [TecnoProfesor], however, it wasn’t quite flashy enough. Instead, they built a simulated version with flashing LEDs. As you do.

Rather than relying on the basic principles of the cradle to make it work, this relies on two servo motors to move the balls on the ends, with the ones in the middle remaining stationary. Each ball is fitted with an RGB LED, which flashes with the simulated “motion” of the cradle. By using ping pong balls, the light from the LEDs is nicely diffused. The frame is built from wooden dowels, metal rods, and acrylic.

It’s a project that is sure to confuse at first glance, but it’s a great way to learn basic microcontroller skills like interfacing with LEDs and servomotors. We’d love to see a version that works like a real Newton’s Cradle, flashing the LEDs as they are hit by their neighbours. We’ve even seen them automated, for the truly lazy among us.  Alternatively, one could go completely ridiculous and have such a device tweet on every hit, though you might run afoul of the API’s spam restrictions. If you give it a go, drop us a line.

Burn Some Time With This Arduino Reddit Browser

If you’re like us, you probably spend more time browsing Reddit than you’d like to admit to your friends/family/boss/therapist. A seemingly endless supply of knowledge, wisdom, and memes; getting stuck on Reddit is not unlike looking something up on Wikipedia and somehow managing to spend the next couple hours just clicking through to new pages. But we’re willing to bet that none of us love browsing Reddit quite as much as [Saad] does.

He writes in to tell us about the handheld device he constructed which lets him view random posts from the popular /r/showerthoughts sub. Each press of the big red button delivers another slice of indispensable Internet wisdom, making it a perfect desk toy to fiddle with when you need a little extra push to get you through the day. Like one of those “Word a Day” calendars, but one that you’ll actually read.

For those curious as to how [Saad] is scraping Reddit with an Arduino, the short answer is that he isn’t. Posts are pulled from Reddit using an online tool created for the project by his wife (/r/relationshipgoals/), and dumped into a text file that can be placed on the device’s SD card. With 1500 of the all-time highest rated posts from /r/showerthoughts onboard, he should be good on content for awhile.

[Saad] has done an excellent job documenting the hardware side of this build, providing plenty of pictures as well as a list of the parts he used and a few tips to help make assembly easier. Overall it’s not that complex a project, but his documentation is a big help for those who might not live and breathe this kind of thing.

For the high-level summary: it uses an Arduino Pro Mini, a ILI9341 screen, and a 3.3 V regulator to step down 5 V USB instead of using batteries. A bit of perfboard, a 3D printed case, and a suitably irresistible big red button pulls the whole thing together.

We’ve seen a similar concept done in a picture frame a couple of years back, but if that’s not interactive enough you could always build yourself a Reddit “controller”.

Storm Detector Modules: Dancing In The Rain

Earlier, we had covered setting up an AS3935 lightning detector module. This detector picks up radio emissions, then analyzes them to determine if they are a lightning strike or some other radio source. After collecting some data, it outputs the estimated distance to the incoming storm front.

But that only gets you halfway there. The device detects many non-lightning events, and the bare circuit board is lacking in pizzazz. Today I fix that by digging into the detector’s datasheet, and taking a quick trip to the dollar store buy a suitable housing. The result? A plastic plant that dances when it’s going to rain!
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