As much as some of us don’t like it, building things for real requires some mechanical component. Maybe it is something as simple as an enclosure or even feet for a PCB, but unless you only write software or play with simulators, you’ll eventually have to build something. It is a slippery slope between drilling holes for a front panel and attempting to build things that move. Sometimes that’s as simple as a hinge and a spring, or maybe it is a full-blown robot articulated arm. That’s why [RectorSquid] built Linkage, a “program that lets you design and edit a two-dimensional mechanism and then simulate the movement of that mechanism” (that quote is from the documentation.
The program has had a few versions and is currently up past 3.15. To get an idea of the program’s capabilities, the first video below shows an older version simulating a ball lift. The second video shows the actual mechanism built from the design. The associated YouTube channel has more recent videos, too, showing a variety of simulations.
The art of building purely mechanical automatons has dramatically declined with the arrival of electronics over the past century, but there are still a few craftsmen who keep the art form alive. [François Junod] is one of these masters, and the craftsmanship and intricacy on display in his automata is absolutely amazing.
[François]’ creations are all completely devoid of electronics, and are powered either by wound-up springs or weights. The mechanics of the automata are part of the display, and contain a vast array of gears, linkages, belts and tracks. Many of them also include their own soundtrack, which range from simple bells and chimes to complete melodies from mechanized wind instruments, as demonstrated in Le Champignonneur below. He also collaborates with craftsman like jewelers on works like La Fée Ondine, which we thought was CGI when we first saw it in the video after the break.
The convergence of mechanics and electronics in robotics brings with it a lot of challenges. Thanks to 3D printing and low cost components, it’s possible to quickly and easily experiment with a variety of robotics mechanism for various use cases. [Paul Gould] has been doing exactly this, and is giving us a taste of ten designs he will be open sourcing in the near future. Video after the break.
Three of the designs are capstan mechanisms, with different motors and layouts, tested for [Paul]’s latest quadruped robot. Capstan mechanisms are a few centuries old, and were originally used on sailing ships to give the required mechanical advantage to tension large sails and hoist cargo.
Two of the mechanisms employ GUS Simpson Drives, which use a combination of belts and a rolling joint. These were inspired by the LIMS2-AMBIDEX developed at the University of Korea. The ever-popular cycloidal gearbox also makes and appearance in the form of a high torque dual disk linked, two stage, NEMA17 driven gearbox.
[Paul] also built a room sized skycam-like claw robot for his daughter, suspended by four ball chain strings reeled in by four brushless motors with ESP32 powered motor controllers. We are looking forward to having a close look at these designs when [Paul] releases them, and to see how his quadruped robot will turn out.
When you’re building advanced rockets as BPS.Space are, an unreliable launchpad is the something you really don’t want to be struggling with. [Joe Barnard] is working on a model rocket that can land vertically under its own power, like the Falcon 9, and has upgraded his launchpad in the process. A lot of thought and hard-earned experience has gone into its design, and the video after the break is a fascinating look the engineering process.
[Joe]’s rockets don’t use guide rods and fins for stabilization in the way most amateur rockets do, but instead have thrust vectoring motor mounts and reaction wheels for active stabilization during launch and flight. The rockets are clamped to the launchpad right up to ignition, and then need to release quickly and reliably. His previous clamps looked very cool, but suffered from high friction forces during release, and the integrated covers prevented easy inspection. These were replaced by much simpler spring-loaded clamp held in place by a small locking bar, which is knocked out by a servo to release the clamp. It also has no static friction, since it moves up and away from the clamping surfaces on the rocket.
The launch pad also features a ATSAMD21 based launch computer named Impulse, which at the most basic level controls the igniter, clamps, buzzer and indicator lights. It also has a number of inputs and outputs to allow for expansion. [Joe] experienced a number of inexplicable failures of rocketry electronics in the past, but believes he has finally tracked down the culprit: Tennessee humidity. He has since started conformal coating all his electronics.
The launchpad itself is made from plywood, so to protect it from the hot exhaust it has in integrated flame trench. This was made from 1 inch steel plumbing components, and directs most of the exhaust out of one side of the platform. It can also be reconfigured to allow a three core rocket like a Falcon Heavy to be launched. Continue reading “The Ultimate Model Rocket Launchpad”→
Jokes aside, manually designing linkages that move along specific paths is no easy task. Whether we’re doodling paper sketches or constraining lines in a CAD program, we still need to do the work of actually “imagining” the linkage design. If only there were some sort of tool that would do all that hard imagining work for us! Thankfully, we’re in luck! That’s exactly what researchers [Gen Nishida], [Adrien Bousseau2], and [Daniel G. Aliaga1] at Purdue have done. They’ve designed a software tool that lets us position important bodies in space in particular “key” frames, and then the software simply fills in the linkage for you!
To start the design process, the user inputs a few candidate locations that their solid bodies need to reach in the final linkage path. From here, these locations get fed to a particle filter. This particle filter seeds thousands of semi-random linkage configurations at small timesteps, selects some of the best-matching ones that most closely approximate the required body locations, removes the lesser-scoring results, re-creates a new set of possible joint configurations based on the best matching ones, and repeats until the tool converges on a linkage that respects our input key frames.
Like a brute force search, this solution takes lots and lots of samples to find a solution, but unlike a brute force search, trials iteratively improve, enabling the software to converge closer and closer to a final solution. Under the hood, the software needs to actually simulate these candidate linkage in order to grade them. It’s in this step that the team wrote in additional checks to remove impossible linkages like self-intersecting joints from this linkage “gene pool” before reseeding them. The result is a tool that does all that trial-and-error scratchwork for you–no brain cycles. For more details, have a peek at their (open access!) paper.
Design software that augments our mechanical design capabilities is a rare gem on these pages, and this one is no exception. If your curious to play with other useful linkages simulating tools, have a go at Linkage Designer. And if you’re in the mood for other tools that fill in the blanks, check out this machine learning algorithm that literally fills in footage between frames in a video feed.
One of the challenges with humanoid robots, besides keeping them upright, is finding compact combinations of actuators and joint mechanisms that allow for good range of smooth motion while still having good strength. To achieve that researchers from the IRIM Lab at Korea University of Technology and Education developed the LIMS2-AMBIDEX robotic humanoid upper body that uses a combination of brushless motors, pulleys and some very interesting joint mechanisms. (Video, embedded below.)
From shoulder to fingers, each arm has seven degrees of freedom which allows the robot to achieve some spectacularly smooth and realistic upper body motion. Except for the wrist rotation actuator, all the actuators are housed in the shoulders, and motion is transferred to the required joint through an array of cables and pulleys. This keeps the arm light and its inertia low, allowing the arms to move rapidly without breaking anything or toppling the entire robot.
The wrist and elbow mechanisms are especially interesting. The wrist emulates rolling contact between two spheres with only revolute joints. It also allows a drive shaft to pass down the centre of the mechanism and transfer rotating motion from one end to the other. The elbow is a rolling double jointed affair that allows true 180 degrees of rotation.
There was a time, not so very long ago, when simply getting a 3D printer to squirt out an object that was roughly the intended shape and size of what the user saw on their computer screen was an accomplishment. But like every other technology, the state of the art has moved forward. Today the printers are better, and the software to drive them is more capable and intuitive. It was this evolution of desktop 3D printing that inspired the recently concluded 3D Printed Gears, Pulleys, and Cams contest. We wanted to see what hackers and makers can pull off with today’s 3D printing tools, and the community rose to the challenge.
Let’s take a look at the top ten spinning, walking, flapping, and cranking 3D printed designs that shook us up: