Video De-shaker Software Measures Linear Rail Quality

Here’s an interesting experiment that attempts to measure the quality of a linear rail by using a form of visual odometry, accomplished by mounting a camera on the rail and analyzing the video with open-source software usually used to stabilize shaky video footage. No linear rail is perfect, and it should be possible to measure the degree of imperfection by recording video footage while the camera moves down the length of the rail, and analyzing the result. Imperfections in the rail should cause the video to sway a proportional amount, which would allow one to characterize the rail’s quality.

To test this idea, [Saulius] attached a high-definition camera to a linear rail, pointed the camera towards a high-contrast textured pattern (making the resulting video easier to analyze), and recorded video while moving the camera across the rail at a fixed speed. The resulting video gets fed into the Deshaker plugin for VirtualDub, of which the important part is the deshaker.log file, which contains X, Y, rotate, and zoom correction values required to stabilize the video. [Saulius] used these values to create a graph characterizing the linear rail’s quality.

It’s a clever proof of concept, especially in how it uses no special tools and leverages a video stabilizing algorithm in an unusual way. However, the results aren’t exactly easy to turn into concrete, real-world measurements. Turning image results into micrometers is a matter of counting pixels, and for this task video stabilizing is an imperfect tool, since the algorithm prioritizes visual results instead of absolute measurements. Still, it’s an interesting experiment, and perfectly capable of measuring rail quality in a relative sense. Can’t help but be a bit curious about how it would profile something like these cardboard CNC modules.

A CNC Hacked Together In Pajamas

Sometimes you just gotta sit down and hack something together. Forget the CAD and the cool software toys; just hammer away until you have something working. That’s how [bobricus] ended up with this cute little laser engraver anyway.

For under $300 US of parts and a few nights working in his pajamas, the aptly named, pajama micro laser engraver is a pretty nice little machine for its class. Not having the space for a full size machine and not necessarily needing its capabilities he aimed to produce something compact.

The frame is aluminium extrusion, the movement is core-XY an H-bot on linear rails, and it appears to just be a grbl board with a Chinese laser module on it. He took a bit of care to make the frame a cube which allows him to easily vent the fumes from the little unit. There’s even a small air pump to blow the off-gas from the cutting away from the laser.

All in all a nice little hack useful for all sorts of things from solder masks to cutting wood veneers. You can see it zipping around in the video after the break.

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Cheap And Easy Linear Supported Rail

Some of the very largest – and coolest – CNC machines use supported linear rail for their movement axes. For any home tinkerer trying to reproduce these supported rails, the problem of cost comes up very quick; these rails can run over $100 for just a few feet. [Michael] came up with a great way to build his own supported rail so he can build his very large CNC router.

There aren’t many tools needed to build [Michael]’s rail. He put a 90° notch in a 2×4 to support his 25mm rail, and clamped it down with a piece of plywood. After drilling a 5/16″ hole every 12 cm, he tapped these holes out to receive 3/8″ threaded rod. Yes, we also hate the mix of metric and imperial units in that description, but the results speak for themselves.

The now-supported rail was mounted to a piece of MDF with a few bolts and washers. MDF isn’t the most dimensionally stable material, so [Michael] will be covering the whole thing in a coat of epoxy very soon. Now, he’s one step closer to his gigantic CNC gantry router.

You can check out [Michael]’s demo video after the break.

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