ABS: Three Plastics in One

It would be really hard to go through a typical day in the developed world without running across something made from ABS plastic. It’s literally all over the place, from toothbrush handles to refrigerator interiors to car dashboards to computer keyboards. Many houses are plumbed with pipes extruded from ABS, and it lives in rolls next to millions of 3D-printers, loved and hated by those who use and misuse it. And in the form of LEGO bricks, it lurks on carpets in the dark rooms of children around the world, ready to puncture the bare feet of their parents.

ABS is so ubiquitous that it makes sense to take a look at this material in terms of its chemistry and its properties. As we’ll see, ABS isn’t just a single plastic, but a mixture that takes the best properties of its components to create one of the most versatile plastics in the world.

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Lego Tardis Spins Through the Void

Using LEGO Technic gears and rods seems like a great way of bringing animation to your regular LEGO creation. Using gears and crank shafts you can animate models from your favorite TV show or movie like LEGO kinetic sculpture maker, [Josh DaVid] has done when he created a spinning TARDIS.  Crank the handle and the sculpture spins through space and time.

The large gear stays in place. The hidden gears, turned by the crank, rotate a shaft from below that goes through the large gear making the TARDIS rotate around the main axis. Connected to the TARDIS model is a smaller gear, at an angle, that meshes with the larger, stationary, gear. This smaller gear is what causes the TARDIS to rotate around its own axis while the whole thing rotates around the main axis. If your hand gets too tired, you can substitute a LEGO motor.

It’s a neat effect, and you can get the plans [Josh]’s Etsy page. The best part, however, is that you can get a set with all the parts as well! The TARDIS is a popular item here and we’ve had plenty of projects with it as the focus: Everything from a tree topper to sub-woofers. The only question we have, of course, is, ‘Is it bigger on the inside?’

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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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