Enlarged Miniature Forklift

How do you classify something that is gigantic and miniature at the same time? LEGO kit 850, from 1977 when it was known as an Expert Builder set, was 210 modular blocks meant to be transformed into a forklift nearly 140mm tall. [Matt Denton] scaled up the miniature pieces but it still produced a smaller-than-life forklift. This is somewhere in the creamy middle because his eight-year-old nephew can sit on it but most adults would demolish their self-esteem if they attempted the same feat.

[Matt] has been seen before building these modular sets from enlarged LEGO blocks, like his Quintuple-Sized Go-Kart. He seems to have chosen the same scale for the pieces and who wouldn’t? If you’re printing yourself a ton of LEGO blocks, it just makes sense to keep them all compatible. Isn’t combing all your sets into one mishmash the point after all? We’ll see what his nephew/co-host constructs after his uncle [Matt] leaves.

In the time-lapse video after the break, you can see how the kit goes together as easily as you would hope from home-made bricks. With that kind of repeatability and a second successful project, it’s safe to say his technique is solid and this opens the door to over-sized projects to which LEGO hasn’t published instructions.

Hackaday is bursting with LEGO projects, K’Nex projects, and even Erector set projects.

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MIDI to CV/Gate The Easy Way

Let’s say you’ve got a modular synthesizer. You’re probably a pretty cool person. But all your cool laptop DJ friends keep showing off their MIDI-controlled hardware, and you’re getting jealous. Well, [little-scale] has the build for you.

The Teensy 3.6 is the current top-of-the-line Teensy from PJRC, and it’s [little-scale]’s weapon of choice here. With USB-MIDI and two 12-bit DACs on board, it’s made creating an interface between the worlds of analog and digital music into a remarkably simple job. Control voltages for pitch and velocity are pushed out over the analog pins, while pin 29 is used for gate signals.

It’s a testament to the amount of development that has gone into the Teensy platform that such projects can be built with virtually no off-board components. The build is a further step forward in simplicity from [little-scale]’s previous work, using a Teensy 2 with an offboard DAC to generate the output voltages.

Here at Hackaday, we’ve always been big fans of adding computer control to analog hardware. This CNC mod to a guitar pickup winding machine is a great example.

Capsela is Dead, Long Live Capsela

In the magical 80s, there was a building set that stood apart from the rest. Capsela, originally created by Mitzubishi Pencil Company (the Uniball folks) looked like a series of clear plastic spheres with gears and motors inside. The signature Capsela modules served as both enclosure and functional component. The set came with a variety of gear options like planetary gear, worm gear, and clutch capsules. You could use chain drives and propellers. A lot of the parts were water-resistant, and part of the toy’s shtik was that you could make boats out of it with pontoons keeping most of the robot out of the water.

Hex connectors printed by ericd3

Capsela’s sets were relatively simple, with only DC motors to make things move. However, as the product found success, the company built increasingly larger and more complicated sets with  greater capabilities. For instance, in ’87 they released the Robotic Workshop that included an IR remote that could be configured with a Commodore 64. Later on the Capsela Voice Command 6000 was released, featuring a microcontroller that could understand 8 verbal commands as well as interpret IR signals within 25 feet.

I never got any of those fancy sets, but I still found a lot to do with the basic set my parents bought me for Christmas. The unique architecture of the set was both boon and bane–it certainly was a striking set, in terms of its appearance. However, there were only so many ways you could those spheres together. Also, if you weren’t making a boat the pontoons were fairly useless, with the most clever solution being to use one as a wheel substitute.

The thing that really did it for me, other than hacking out reconfigurable boats in my bathtub, was being able to see everything. All the gearboxes could be seen though the clear plastic. How many nerds learned about mechanical engineering by peering through Capsela spheres?

As with all things, Capsela had its peak and faded away. The product was licensed to a number of new manufacturers, but never found the same success. They tried focusing on the educational market but no dice.

Nevertheless, the product has retained a degree of  nostalgia for those of us who outgrew it. A few years ago, software developer [José Romaniello] described how the toy set him on a path toward being an engineer. He started a Hacker News thread that engaged a bunch of fans in a nerdfest about how great the toy was and how one might 3D print new pieces. Not much was done in the 3DP world that I have seen, other than re-creating Capsela’s hex connectors and that sort of thing.

It’s Baaaaack….

“If they can remake Beauty and the Beast they can bring back Capsela”, is how I’m assuming the thought process went. Sure enough, a company emerged with a redesigned version of the set, available over the internet and in brick and mortar stores. Put out by a shell company called the Unitrust Development Company, the product has been renamed IQ Key.

The new kits seem very similar to those classic sets from  the 80s, other than superficial changes in the product’s appearance — the faceted geography of the pontoons and capsules suggest a refreshed product — it looks pretty much the same. The battery pack (slash switch) has also been redesigned, and looks like it may have an IR receiver built in. The company has also redesigned those hexagonal connectors and now they are circular and bayonet into place.

Is it the same old Capsela we knew and loved? Maybe, maybe not, but there’s only one way to find out: to hack the hell out of it!

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Modular Storage with Peanut Butter and Lasers

I have storage on the mind, and it comes from two facts in my life:

First, I have tons of stuff in my workshop, far too much for the amount of space I have. A lot of this material is much easier to use if it’s well-organized. Think electronics, robotics, building sets. Modular parts that need to go together a certain way for them to be useful. It is imperative, therefore, that I come up with some sort of organization system to keep the chaos in check.

Second, my favorite tool is the laser cutter, born from my love for building vector designs. I can do art on the computer and have it manufactured in front of my eyes, and share my designs with someone else who can remix it into something even cooler.

So with those two facts in mind, I set about creating a modular storage system in Inkscape and cutting out the design from pine boards using a laser cutter. Let us go on a journey through my thought process:

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Yet Another Unmanned Vehicle Controller

To build any sort of autonomous vehicle, you need a controller. This has to handle all sorts of jobs – reading sensor outputs, controlling motors and actuators, managing power sources – controlling a vehicle of even moderate complexity requires significant resources. Modern cars are a great example of this – even non-autonomous vehicles can have separate computers to control the engine, interior electronics, and safety systems. In this vein, [E.N. Hering] is developing a modular autonomous vehicle controller, known as YAUVC.

The acronym stands for Yet Another Unmanned Vehicle Controller, though its former name – Fly Hard With A Vengeance – was not without its charms. The project is built around the concept of modularity and redundancy. The controller, designed primarily for flying vehicles, has an ATMega328P as its primary processor, into which various modules can be plugged in to handle different tasks.

This design choice has several benefits – having separate processors to handle individual jobs can make sense in real-time systems. You’d hardly want your quadcopter to crash because the battery management routines were stealing CPU time from the flight dynamics calculations. Instead, by offloading tasks to individual modules, each can run without interfering with the others. Modularity does come with drawbacks however — the problem of maintaining efficient communication between modules is one of them. [Hering] also plans to make sure the system can be set up to use multiples of the same module for redundancy – similar to modern flight systems in passenger aircraft that weigh the results of several computers to make decisions.

Much work has already been done – with the YAUVC platform already fleshed out with a backbone design as well as modules for WiFi, accelerometers and GPS navigation. We look forward to seeing YAUVC reaching flight-ready status soon!

Hackaday Prize Entry: Modular Rail Lighting

When operating any kind of hydroponic farming, there are a number of lighting solutions — few of them inexpensive. Originally looking for an alternative to the lighting of IKEA’s expensive hydroponics system, [Professor Fartsparkle] and their colleague prototyped a rail system that allows clip-on LED boards for variable lighting options.

Taking inspiration from wire and track lighting systems, the key was the 5mm fuse holders mounted on the bottom of the LED boards. Snipping off their stopping clip makes them easy to install and remove from the mounting rails. The rails themselves double as power conduits for the LED boards, but keeping them out of the way is easily done with the variety of 3D printed hangers [Professor Fartsparkle] has devised. Lighting is controlled by a potentiometer on the power injection board, as well as any home automation control via an ESP8266.

[Professor Fartsparkle] asserts that the boards can be slid along the rails without any noticeable flickering, but they do suffer from heat dissipation issues. That aside, the prototype works well enough that the 3W LEDs can be run at half power.

This is an ingenious — and cheap — workaround for when sunlight isn’t an option, but you are still looking for a solution capable of automation.

It’s a Synthesizer. It’s a Violin. It’s a Modulin

It sounds a little like a Theremin and looks a lot like the contents of your scrap bin. But it’s a unique musical instrument called a modulin, and after a few teasers we finally have some details on how it was built.

Making music with marbles is how we first heard of [Martin] of the Swedish music group Wintergatan. He seems as passionate about making his own instruments as he is about the music itself, and we like that. The last time we saw one of his builds was this concert-ready music box, which he accompanied with an instrument he called a modulin. That video gave only a tantalizing look at this hacked together instrument, but the video below details it.

“Modulin” comes from the modular synthesizer units that create the waveforms and pressure-sensitive ribbon controller on the violin-like neck. The instrument has 10 Doepfer synthesizer modules mounted to a hacked-together frame of wood and connected by a forest of patch cables. [Martin]’s tour of the instrument is a good primer on how synthesizers synthesize – VCOs, VCAs, envelope generators, filters – it’s all there. We’re treated to a sample of the sounds a synthesizer can make, plus majestic and appropriately sci-fi sounding versions of Also sprach Zarathustra and the theme from Jurassic Park. And be sure to check out the other video for another possibly familiar tune.

This might be old hat to musicians, but for those of us to whom music is a mystery, such builds hold extra sway. Not only is [Martin] making music, he’s making the means to make music. We’re looking forward to hearing what’s next.

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