MIT Makes Lego Lab For Microfluidics

As any good hacker (or scientist) knows, sometimes you find the tools you need in unexpected places. For one group of MIT scientists, that place is a box of Lego. Graduate student [Crystal Owens] was looking for new ways to make a cheap, simple microfluidics kit. This technique uses the flow of small amounts of liquid to do things like sort cells, test the purity of liquids and much more. The existing lab tools aren’t cheap, but [Crystal] realized that Lego could do the same thing. By cutting channels into the flat surface of a Lego brick with a precise CNC machine and covering the side of the brick with glass, she was able to create microfluidic tools like mixers, drop makers and others. To create a fluid resistor, she made the channel smaller. To create a larger microfluidic system, she mounted the blocks next to each other so the channels connected. The tiny gap between blocks (about 100 to 500 microns) was dealt with by adding an O-ring to the end of each of channel. Line up several of these bricks, and you have a complete microfluidic system in a few blocks, and a lab that only costs a few dollars.

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LED Stand For Lego Saturn V Boldly Goes Where No Lego Has Gone Before

Hackers everywhere have spent the last couple of weeks building the remarkable Saturn V Lego models that they got for the holidays, but [Kat & Asa Miller] decided to go an extra step for realism: they built a stand with LED lights to simulate launch. To get the real feel of blast off, they used pillow stuffing, a clear acrylic tube and a string of NeoPixel LEDs. These are driven by an Adafruit Trinket running code that [Asa] wrote to create the look of a majestic Saturn V just lifting off the launchpad with the appropriate fire and fury.  They initially were not sure if the diminutive Trinket would have the oomph to drive the LEDs, but it seems to work fine, judging by the video that you can see after the break.

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Connecting Cherry MX Key Switches To LEGO Just Got Easier

The Cherry MX Blue keyswitch

Here on Hackaday, we like keyboard hacks. Given how much time we all spend pounding away on them, they’re natural hacks to come up with. If you’re pulling the circuitry from an existing keyboard then chances are the keys are pressed either by pushing down on rubber domes (AKA the membrane type), or on mechanical switches. [Jason Allemann] has just made it easier to do keyboard hacks using LEGO by building one for a circuit board with mechanical Cherry MX key switches. That involved designing parts to connect LEGO bricks to the switches.

For those custom parts, he recruited his brother [Roman], who’s a mechanical engineer. [Roman] designed keycaps with a Cherry MX stem on one side for snapping onto the key switches, and LEGO studs on the other side for attaching the LEGO bricks. The pieces also have a hole in them for any keys which have LEDs. Of the 100 which [Jason] ordered from Shapeways, around ten were a bit of a loose fit for the LEGO bricks, but only if you were doing extreme button mashing would they come off.

The easy part was the keyboard circuit board itself, which he simply removed from an old Cooler Master Quick Fire Rapid keyboard and inserted into his own LEGO keyboard base.

LEGO mechanical keyboard
LEGO mechanical keyboard

We do like his creative use of bricks for the keys. For one thing, the letter keys have no letters on them and so is for toufh-typosts touch-typists only. The Caps Lock is a baseball cap, which would be awkward to press except that no one ever does anyway. ESC is a picture of a person running from a dinosaur and F1, which is often the help-key, is the Star of Life symbol for medical emergency services such as ambulances. Scroll Lock is, of course, a scroll. And to make himself type faster, he incorporated blue racing stripes into the frame, but you can judge for yourself whether or not that trick actually works by watching his detailed build-video below.

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Solving a Rubik’s Cube with Just Two Motors

We’ve all seen videos of Rubik’s cube champions who can solve the puzzle in less than 5 seconds. And there are cube-twisting robots that can solve the cube even faster, often in under a second. This Rubik’s cube solver is not one of those robots, but it’s still pretty cool.

The reason we like Dexter Industries’ “BricKuber” is not for its lightning speed — it takes a minute or two to solve the puzzle. What we like is the simplicity of the approach to manipulating the cube. Built from LEGO parts, including Mindstorms motors and a BrickPi controller, the BricKuber uses only two motors to work the cube. One motor powers a square turntable upon which the cube sits, while the other powers an arm that does double duty — it either clamps the cube so the turntable can rotate a layer, or it rakes the cube to flip it 90° on the turntable. With a Pi Cam overhead, the rig images all six faces, calculates a solution to the cube, and then flips and twists the cube to solve it. It’s simultaneously mind-boggling and strangely relaxing to watch.

All the code is open source, and we strongly suspect a similar and possibly faster robot could be built without the LEGO parts. You might even be able to build one with popsicle sticks and an Arduino.

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Lego Go-Kart Scores Radio Control

LEGO has always been an excellent toy for both play and learning, and the Technic sets are a great starting point for any budding engineer. Not content to rest on their plastic, blocky laurels, LEGO introduced more advanced parts over the years, such as motors and battery packs to allow builders to propel their creations. Combine this mechanical philosophy with [Matt]’s Giant Lego Go-Kart and you have one heck of a project.

It all started months ago, when [Matt] built his original Giant Lego Go-Kart, a 5-times scaled up model of the original kit #1972-1. Achieved through the wonder of 3D printing, he had sized it up based off the largest parts he could fit on his printer. The Youtube video led to commenters asking – could it be driven?

He decided that radio control was definitely a possibility. Not content to simply bolt on a series of motors to control the drive and steering, he took the effort to build scaled up replica LEGO motors, even taking care to emulate the old-school connectors as well. A particularly nice touch was the LEGO antenna, concealing the Orange RX radio receiver.

There were some hiccups – at this scale & with [Matt]’s parts, the LEGO force just isn’t strong enough to hold everything together. With a handful of zipties and a few squirts of glue, however, the giant ‘kart was drifting around the carpark with ease and hitting up to 26km/h.

In the end, the build is impressive not just for its performance but the attention to detail in faithfully recreating the LEGO aesthetic. As for the next step, we’d like to know what you think – how could this be scaled up to take a human driver? Is it possible? You decide.

Functioning Technic SLJ900 Bridge Builder

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.

Sometimes it blows the mind what can be built with Technic. Check out this rope-braiding machine and this 7-segment display we’ve posted. Continue reading “Functioning Technic SLJ900 Bridge Builder”

Mechanical Marvel Trades Courage for Chocolate

When we see what [Jason Allemann] does with LEGO, we wonder why more one-offs aren’t made this way. This time he’s made a Halloween mechanical marvel that will surely scare more kids than anything else they’ll encounter on their rounds — so much so that many may even decline the chocolate it dispenses. Who wouldn’t when to get it you have to reach over an animatronic skeleton hand that may grab you while a similarly mechanized spider may lunge onto your hand.

The chocolate dispensing, the hand and the spider are all animated using four motors, a LEGO Mindstorms EV3 brick to control them, and a touch sensor. When a kid presses a pumpkin attached to the touch sensor, the next chocolate candy is lowered by gravity onto a conveyor belt and carried forward to the awaiting child. That much is automatic. At the discretion of [Jason] and his partner [Kristal], using an infrared remote control and sensor, they can activate the skeleton hand and the lunging spider at just the right moment. We’re just not sure who they’ll choose to spare. It is Halloween after all, and being scared is part of the fun, so maybe spare no one? Check out the video below and tell us if you’d prefer just the treat, or both the trick and treat.

We do have to wonder if there’s any project that can’t benefit from LEGO products, even if only at the prototype stage or to help visualize an idea. As a small sample, [Jason]’s also made a remote-controlled monowheel and an actual working printer along with a Morse key telegraph machine to send it something to print.

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