Sorting LEGO Is Like Making A Box Of Chocolates

Did you know that chocolate candy production and sorting LEGO bricks have something in common? They both use the same techniques for turning clumps of chocolates or bricks into individual ones moving down a conveyor belt. At least that’s what [Paco Garcia] found out when making his LEGO Sorter.

Sorting LEGO bricks using guidesHowever, he didn’t find that out right away. He first experimented with his own techniques, learning that if he fed bricks to his conveyor belt by dropping a batch of them in a line perpendicular to the direction of belt travel then no subsequent separation attempt of his worked. He then turned to [akiyuky’s] LEGO sorter for inspiration and dropped them onto the belt at an angle, ensuring that some bricks would be in front of others. A further trick he found is very well demonstrated in the chocolate sorting video below and shown in the image here. That is to use guides on the belt which serve to create speed differentials. Bricks move slower than the conveyor belt while pressed against a guide but when a brick leaves the guide, it accelerates to the speed of the conveyor belt, pulling away from the bricks still at the guide and thus separating them.

A further discovery had nothing to do with chocolate production, unless maybe for quality control. Once an individual brick had been separated out, it had to be classified. To do that he used Google’s Inception v3 neural network. But first, he had to retrain it for recognizing different types of LEGO bricks, something we’ve seen done before for use with recognizing playing cards. And to do the retraining, he needed many images of different bricks all separated into their different types. That’s where he came up with a clever trick. He used his own sorter for that. For example, to get a bunch of images of 1×1 bricks of different colors and orientations, he simply ran them through the sorter, saving the images to files and assigning them to the 1×1 brick class. He then used his desktop machine with a GeForce GT 730 GPU for the retraining, taking around 2.7 seconds per brick. For sorting though, he runs the trained neural network on a Raspberry Pi, taking 3.8 seconds for each brick. The resulting sorter works quite well, sorting with 89% accuracy. Watch it in action in the video below.
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FOSSCON 2018: Where Open Source and LEGO Collide

It probably won’t come as a surprise to anyone reading this, but hackers and makers absolutely love LEGO. We think you’d be hard pressed to find a Hackaday reader, young or old, that hasn’t spent some quality time with the little plastic bricks from Billund, Denmark. So it follows that there’s a considerable community of individuals who leverage their better than average technical prowess to utilize LEGO in new and unique ways. But the activities and history of these LEGO hackers is not exactly common knowledge to those who aren’t heavily vested in the hobby.

During the recent FOSSCON 2018 in Philadelphia, Daniel Pikora gave attendees a comprehensive look at the intersection of open source development and the world’s most popular brand of construction toys. A software developer with a penchant for open source code by trade, he’s also an avid member of what’s known as the Adult Fan of LEGO (AFOL) community who’s exhibited his creations at shows across the United States and Canada. Such a unique perspective, with a foot in both the FOSS and LEGO camps, makes Daniel an ideal tour guide for this particular microcosm of toys and tech.

In a whirlwind presentation that took attendees through 49 slides in about as many minutes, Daniel covered LEGO’s beginnings in the 1930s to the rise of 3D printed custom bricks, and everything in between. Some of the engineering-centric product lines, such as Technic and Mindstorms, were already fairly well known to the types of folk who spent a beautiful Saturday in Philadelphia at an open source conference. But Daniel’s deep-dive into the long history of open source LEGO projects brought to light the work of so many dedicated developers that everyone walked away with a newfound respect for the amount of work the AFOL community has put into elevating LEGO from a child’s toy to a legitimate tool. Join me below for a look at the particulars of that deep dive.

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Self-Vacuuming LEGO Box Makes Life Better

The last chapter of the fourth book of the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy mentions two hacks that made life pleasant enough to prevent a war: a super-fly that could fly out of the open half of a half-open window, and an off-switch for children. This is one of those types of hacks. Plus, it’s just an awesome idea, fun to watch, and possibly adaptable for the workshop.

LEGO vacuuming box lidAfter the kids have gone to bed and LEGO bricks are scattered all over the floor, furniture, stairs (ouch), and everywhere else, wouldn’t it be nice if you could simply vacuum it all up directly into the LEGO box? This ingenious hack from [The King or Random] YouTube channel shows how to just that. They put two holes in opposite corners of the box’s lid, one a tight fit for a flexible intake hose and the other for the Shopvac hose, or a normal household vacuum cleaner hose if you prefer. A disk cut from flyscreen covers the Shopvac hole in case the suction is strong enough to pull the bricks back out of the box and into the Shopvac. They also make a gasket for the lid by mixing up some silicone sealant and cornstarch, the cornstarch is to prevent the cured mix from remaining sticky. We of course really like the version they made which has a window in the side of the box for watching the bricks as they fly in. Check out their build and the action in the video below.

We wonder what other uses this can be put to. How about a container for sucking up a mess of loose hardware from a workbench or a garage floor for later sorting?

Where else can a vacuum come in handy? Here’s a vacuum table for holding down flexible material when using a laser cutter and another for holding parts on a CNC machine.

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LEGO: The Kristiansen Legocy

Whether you are young, old, or a time traveling Vulcan, something unites all of us globally: the innocent LEGO blocks that encourage creativity over spoon-fed entertainment. Have you noticed the excess of zombified children and adults alike drooling over their collective screens lately? Back in the ancient times, all a child needed to create hours of joy were plastic interlocking bricks and a place for their parents to trip over them. The LEGO Group harbored the inspiration of our childhood inventiveness, and none of it would have been possible without the founder, Ole Kirk Kristiansen (or Christiansen). The humble carpenter from Denmark forever made his mark on the little Scandinavian country, one brick at a time.

Well, maybe not at first. You see the plastic LEGO bricks we all know and love were initially made of wood. And they were also not actually bricks.

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Automatic MtG Card Sorter Separates Rags from Riches

Like many of us, [Michael Portera] was an avid trading card collector as a kid. Also like many of us, life got in the way, and the collections sat ignored in boxes until our mothers threatened to get rid of them (or skipped the threat altogether and sold them at a garage sale for next to nothing).

[Michael] was recently reunited with his collection of Magic cards, which vary in value as much as baseball or any other kind of collectible card. Now that his Friday nights are otherwise occupied, he decided to sell them off. But first, he had to know how much they’re worth.

Manually sorting and pricing hundreds of cards would take longer than he’d like, so he built a sorter to automate the process. It takes a stack of MtG cards and uses servos and little tires to move them, one by one, into position. A short Python script runs the servos, tells a Raspi 3 camera take a picture of each one, and uploads it to Amazon AWS. Once the pictures are there, [Michael] uses a second script to grab the card title text from the picture and fetch the value through TCGPlayer’s pricing API.

This machine probably isn’t for purists or people with a bunch of originals and re-issues of the same card. We probably should have mentioned that he took out all the Black Lotuses and other obviously valuable cards first. Someone still has to assess the condition of each card, but at two seconds per card, it’s quite the time twister saver. Time Walk past the break to see it in action.

Tired of using dice or scratch paper for your life counter? Summon some Nixie tubes and make a cooler one.

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LEGO Meets Nintendo Switch

As you probably know, the Nintendo Switch is the incredibly popular console of the moment. You of course also know that LEGO has been popular since the beginning of recorded history. So it was only a matter of time before somebody decided that these two titans of youthful entertainment needed to combine up like some kind of money-printing Voltron. You know, for science.

[Vimal Patel], a known master of all things plastic brick related, decided to take up the challenge with a few experimental LEGO accessories for the Switch. These add-ons are largely designed to make playing the Switch a bit more comfortable, but represent an interesting first step to more complex hardware modifications down the road.

The key to these experiments are a set of 3D printed rails which allow you to attach standard LEGO parts to the Switch. With the rails installed, [Vimal] demonstrates a simple “kick stand” which improves the system’s stability when not being used in handheld mode.

A few different steering wheel modifications are also demonstrated, which use an impressive bit of engineering to move the controller’s analog stick left and right with rotational input on the wheel. Both variations are shown in-use with Mario Kart, and seem to do the job.

It will be interesting to see what kind of projects will be made possible at the intersection of Switch and LEGO when Nintendo Labo goes live later this month.

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A Tabletop Star Wars Themed Lego Racer Game

When it comes to the title of undisputed king of the toy construction kit world, the Danes have it. Lego are ubiquitous in the toybox, and parents worldwide know the joy of stepping barefoot on a stray brick. Aside from the themed sets for youngsters and collectors, we see a lot of Lego in projects that make it to these pages. Sometimes they are from hardware hackers who’ve chosen Lego because they had some to hand or because of its utility, but at other times they come from the Lego community rather than the wider one.

Take the Star Racer from [Alexis Dos Santos] as an example of the former. It’s a table top racing game made entirely from Lego, and with control courtesy of Lego Mindstorms. It’s a real rolling road game, with a track made from five continuous belts of grey Lego sections, with obstacles attached to them. The Podracer slides from side to side at the front under user control, and the object is to avoid them as they come towards you at varying speed.

It’s a beautiful piece of work, and as well as the linked Flickr photographs it can be seen in the YouTube video below the break. The sticker says it’s a highly addictive game, and we’d be inclined not to disagree.

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