We probably don’t have to tell the readers of Hackaday that LEGO isn’t just for kids; we’ve seen plenty of projects that live in an enclosure made of the multi-color bricks, and let’s not even get started on the Mindstorms builds we’ve seen over the years. But while LEGO (and especially the Technic product line) is fine for prototyping and putting together quick projects, the stock electronic components aren’t exactly top of the line. Which is why [Jason Kirsons] has been working on bridging the gap between LEGO and “real” parts.
His LEGO Technic tank is a perfect example of this principle. While the tank design itself is standard LEGO fare, he’s gone all in on the electronics. With an Adafruit Feather ESP32, custom motor controller board, and NEMA 8 steppers with 3D printed Technic adapters, this little tank has a lot more going on under the hood than you might expect. While this project is more a proof of concept than anything, the methods [Jason] demonstrates might be something to consider the next time you’re building with Billund’s best.
[Jason] chose the Feather ESP32 because of its small size, but you could get away with a generic board if you’re not trying to compress everything down into such a small footprint. Of course, if you go with another board you won’t be able to use the PCB he’s designed which attaches to the Feather and holds four Pololu DRV8835 motor drivers.
Easily the most broadly applicable element of this project is the work [Jason] has done designing adapter plates that let you use NEMA 8 motors with LEGO Technic parts. He’s put the adapters up on Thingiverse, for anyone looking for a drop-in solution to give their Technic creations a bit more oomph (technical term).
There is definitely a passion for detail and accuracy among LEGO builders who re-create recognizable real-world elements such as specific car models and famous buildings. However, Technic builders take it to a level the regular AFOLs cannot: Not only must their model look like the original, it has to function the same way. Case in point, [Wolf Zipp]’s version of a massive bridge-building rig. The Chinese-built SLJ900 rolls along the tops of bridges and adds ginormous concrete spans with the aplomb found only in sped-up YouTube videos. It is nevertheless a badass robot and a worthy target for Technicization.
[Wolf]’s model is 2 meters long and weighs 10.5kg, consisting of 13 LEGO motors and a pneumatic rig, all run by a handheld control box. The rig inserts LEGO connectors to a simulated bridge span, lifts it up, moves it over the next pier, then drops it down into place. The span weighs 2.5kg by itself — that ain’t no styrofoam! There are a lot of cool details in the project. For instance, the mechanism that turns the wheels for lateral movement consists of a LEGO-built pneumatic compressor that trips pneumatic actuators that lift the wheels off the ground and allows them to turn 90 degrees.
[Jason]’s at it again. This time the LEGO maestro is working on a LEGO BB-8 droid. As a first step he’s made a motorized monowheel that not only races along hallways and through living rooms at the peril of any passing people, but turns as well.
To drive it forward there’s an axle that runs across the center of the wheel and a motor that rotates that axle. He’s also included some weight bricks. Without the mass of those bricks for the rotation to work against, the motor and axle would just spin in place while the friction of the floor keeps the wheel from rotating. If you’ve seen the DIYer’s guide to making BB-8 drive systems, you’ll know that this is classified as an axle drive system.
For steering the monowheel left or right he has another mass located just above the axle. Shifting the mass to the left causes the monowheel to lean and move in that direction. Shifting the mass to the right makes the wheel move to the right in the same fashion. Being ever efficient, [Jason] has the motor that shifts the mass doubling as the mass itself.
As with any proof-of-concept, there are still some issues to work out. When turning the wheel left or right it can tip onto its side. Ridges on both sides of the wheel’s circumference reduce the chances of that happening but don’t eliminate it altogether. Also, the steering mass/motor doesn’t yet have a self-centering mechanism; after a turn it’s up to the person holding the remote control to find center. If the mass isn’t correctly centered after a turn, there tends to be some wobble.
As always, we’re looking forward to seeing how [Jason] solves those issues but first he’ll have to put it back together since, as you can see from the video below, it didn’t quite pass the stair test.
Music is a mystery to some of us. Sure, we know what we like when we hear it, but the idea of actually being able to make it baffles us. And the idea of being able to build new instruments to create it, like this paper-tape programmable music box (YouTube, embedded below), is beyond impressive.
You’ll no doubt remember [Martin Molin] of the group “Wintergatan” and his astounding marble madness music machine. This instrument is on a much more modest scale and is centered around an off-the-shelf paper tape music box. But the cheap plastic drive gears kept failing under performance conditions, so [Martin] headed to what appears to be his cave-based workshop and started grinding. He prototyped a new paper drive from Lego Technics, and while it worked, it needed help to pull the paper. What followed was an iterative design process that culminated in a hybrid of plastic and metal Technic parts that drive the paper reliably, and a musical instrument that’s much more than just a tinny wind-up music box. Hear it in action below with another new instrument, the Modulin, which sounds a little like a Theremin but looks like – ah, just watch the video.
The build video hints at more details to come, and we’re hoping for a complete series like that for the marble machine. We’d also love to see details on the Modulin too – if there ever was a hacked musical instrument, that’s it.
You’ve built the perfect robotic arm. How do you drive it? If you are [angrymop] you interface a 3D mouse from 3DConnexion via a few microcontroller boards. The Spacenavigator mouse is a staple anywhere professional CAD people are working, and it looks like it is a natural fit for a robot arm.
According to [angrymop], the Raspberry Pi can read the mouse’s commands via /dev/hidraw (that’s the raw human interface device). Each motion generates two lines of output. Each line has a unique identifying byte and values corresponding to the axis positions.
The Raspberry Pi then uses an SPI interface to talk to an ARM microcontroller and that drives the servos. The arm (the robot arm, not the processor) itself is well done, made from Lego Technic parts and common RC servos. Not that this is the most amazing thing we’ve ever seen built from Technic, but it is still pretty impressive.
We don’t need to mention that flip-dot displays are awesome. They use no power except in transitions, are visible on even the brightest of days, and have a bit of that old-school charm. So then it stands to reason that the flip-dot display that [AncientJames] made out of LEGO is awesome-plus. Heck, it even spells out “awesome”.
Built by [aeh5040], this beauty features 7 separate linkages that control each display segment. It’s powered off of a single motor which rotates a cylinder covered in small protrusions, similar to how music boxes work. As the cylinder rotates, the protrusions knock the main drive gears back and forth, flipping each segment between the ON and OFF states through a series of axle joints and bevel gears.