[Tom], of the YouTube channel ThingsTomLike, found a very sweet little mechanical Pong clone at a thrift store. It came in broken, but in only fifteen minutes of your time, [Tom] manages a complete teardown and repair. (Video, embedded below.)
The game works by balancing a lightbulb on the end of a pivot arm that projects a “ball” onto a screen, while players move their paddles up and down to hit the spring that surrounds the light assembly. The ball arm gets periodically kicked by a DC motor and cam assembly, which makes it careen wildly back and forth across the screen.
It’s a marvel of simple, no-IC engineering. Ironically, it might have been cheaper than making it out of silicon at the time, but viewed from today’s economy, just the human labor in adjusting that counterweight so that the “ball” floats would blow the budget.
Why a screen and lightbulb? Because it’s emulating Pong, a video game, the new kid on the block. But even 45 years later, we think it has got a charm all of its own that the cold digital logic of Pong lacks, even if the gameplay suffers.
For many DIY hardware projects, the most movement it’s likely to see is when we pick the assembled unit up off the workbench and carry it to wherever it’s destined to spend the rest of its functional life. From weather sensors to smart mirrors, there’s a huge array of devices that don’t need to move one millimeter to function. But eventually, you’re likely to run into a project that’s a bit more dynamic. Maybe you’d like to motorize your window shades, or go all out and build a remote controlled rover. With these more active designs comes a whole slew of new problems you may never have encountered before.
Luckily for us, folks like Jeremy Fielding are out there and willing to share their knowledge. In his fascinating presentation for the 2021 Hackaday Remoticon, Building Hardware that Moves: the Fundamentals that Everyone Should Know, he took viewers on a whirlwind tour of what he’s learned about designing and building complex machines from his years of professional experience. Whether its a relatively simple articulated workbench for the shop, a gargantuan earthmoving machine, or a high-dexterity robotic arm, each project he’s worked on has presented unique challenges that needed to be solved.
A lot of the projects that Jeremy has worked on are on a much larger scale than what your average hobbyist is ever going to run into. When there’s an arrow pointing out the tiny human in a picture of you and the machine you’re currently working on, you know things are getting serious. But as anyone who’s watched his YouTube videos knows, he’s got a real knack for taking these high-level concepts and distilling them into something more digestible for the home gamer.
The only electric components on this robot is a small geared DC motor and a LiPo battery. The motor drives a shaft fixed to a wheel on one side, while the opposite wheel is free-spinning. A third wheel is mounted perpendicular to the other two in the center of the robot, and is driven from the shaft by a bevel gear. The third wheel is lifted off the surface by a pair of conical wheels on a pivoting axle. When one of these conical wheels go over the edge of whatever surface it’s driving on, it lowers front and brings the third wheel into contact with the surface, spinning the robot around until both front wheels are back on the surface.
Mechanical alternatives for electronic systems are easily overlooked, but are often more reliable and rugged in hostile environments. NASA is looking at sending a rover to Venus, but with surface temperatures in excess of 450 °C and atmospheric pressure 92 times that of Earth, conventional electronics won’t survive. Earlier in the year NASA ran a design competition for a completely mechanical obstacle detection system for use on Venus.
A lot can be done with simple motors and linear motion when they are mated to the right mechanical design and control systems. Teaching these principles is the goal behind the LCMT (Low Cost Mechatronics Trainer) which is intended primarily as an educational tool. The LCMT takes a “learn by doing” approach to teach a variety of principles by creating a system that takes a cup from a hopper, fills it with candy from a dispenser, then sorts the cups based on color, all done by using the proper combinations of relatively simple systems.
The Low Cost Mechatronics Trainer can be built for under $1,000 and is the wonderful work of a team from the Anne Arundel Community College in Maryland, USA. The LCMT is clearly no one-off project; there are complete CAD files and build documentation on the site, as well as a complete lab guide for educators.
A demo video of the assembled system is embedded below, with a walkthrough done by [Tim Callinan]. It’s worth a watch to see how cleanly designed the system is, and the visual learners among you may learn a thing or two just by watching the system go through its motions.
Telling time by using the current position of the sun is nothing revolutionary — though it probably was quite the “life hack” back in ancient times, we can assume. On the other hand, showing time by using the current position of the sun is what inspired [Rich Nelson] to create the Day Cycle Clock, a color changing light box of the Philadelphia skyline, simulating a full day and night cycle in real time — servo-controlled sun and moon included.
At its core, the clock uses an Arduino with a real-time clock module, and the TimeLord library to determine the sunrise and sunset times, as well as the current moon phase, based on a given location. The sun and moon are displayed on a 1.44″ LCD which doubles as actual digital clock in case you need a more accurate time telling after all. [Rich] generally went out of his way with planning and attention to detail in this project, as you can see in the linked video, resulting in an impressively clean build surely worthy as gift to his brother. And if you want to build one for yourself, both the Arduino source code and all the mechanical parts are available on GitHub.
We often wonder how many people have 3D printers and wind up just printing trinkets off Thingiverse. To get the most out of a printer, you really need to be able to use a CAD package and make your own design. However, just like a schematic editor doesn’t make your electronic designs work, a CAD program won’t ensure you have a successful mechanical part.
[TheGoofy] has a 100% 3D printed vise that looks like it is useful. What’s really interesting, though, is the video (see below) where he explains how printing affects material strength and other design considerations that went into the vise.
[thisoldtony] has a nice shop in need of a CNC. We’re not certain what he does exactly, but we think he might be a machinist or an engineer. Regardless, he sure does build a nice CNC. Many home-built CNCs are neat, but lacking. Even popular kits ignore fundamental machine design principles. This is alright for the kind of work they will typically be used for, but it’s nice to see one done right.
Most home-built machines are hard or impossible to square. That is, to make each axis move exactly perpendicular to the others. They also neglect to design for the loads the machine will see, or adjusting for deviation across the whole movement. There’s also bearing pre-loads, backlash, and more to worry about. [thisoldtony] has taken all these into consideration.
The series is a long one, but it is fun to watch and we picked up a few tricks along the way. The resulting CNC is very attractive, and performs well after some tuning. In the final video he builds a stunning rubber band gun for his son. You can also download a STEP file of the machine if you’d like. Videos after the break.