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:
It started with a cheap, punch-card programmable manual music box. Thirty-one hobby servos later, it ended as an automated MIDI music box, with a short pit stop as a keyboard-driven MIDI device.
If you think you’ve seen the music box in [Mitxela]’s video below before, you’re right. [Martin], musician, inventor, and father of the marvelous marble music machine, took an interest in these music boxes and their programming a while back. Like [Martin], [Mitxela] started his music box project with punch card programming, but he quickly grew tired of the bothersome process, even after automating production with a laser cutter. He decided to do away with the punch cards completely and devised a method to pluck all 30 notes using a few large handfuls of hobby servos. One servo, converted to continuous rotation, spins the drum, with the rest linked to small laser-cut acrylic plectrums via stiff brass wire. The fingers imitate the punched holes passing over the drum and pluck the notes according to MIDI messages. The whole thing can draw quite a bit of current, so in addition to a beefy power supply, [Mitxela] optimized the code to minimize power requirements. This had the happy consequence of reducing the latency enough to allow the music box to be played from a MIDI keyboard in real time.
A lot of work went into this one, but [Mitxela] isn’t resting on his laurels; he has a full slate of improvements that he wants to tackle, not least of which is SD card support for MIDI files to turn this into a jukebox. We’re looking forward to the updates.
[Niklas Roy] built a windmill-powered music box for his backyard, and it was so awesome all the neighbors wanted to take a picture of it. Someone even liked it so much that he stole [Niklas]’s windmill in the middle of the night. (We kind of don’t blame them, it’s a gorgeously clean build.)
In the past few weeks [Niklas] has been mass-producing 20 windmills for the KIKK Festival 2017 to be held in November in Namur, Belgium. The windmills will operate in a cluster, and all play “Für Elise” when the wind blows. However, each one is driven independently and so the music is asynchronous. Since he was building a bunch anyway, he built a replacement windmill for his backyard, and documented how to do it.
Most projects have one or two significant aspects in which custom work or clever execution is showcased, but this Music Box Hole Punching Machine by [Josh Sheldon] and his roommate [Matt] is a delight on many levels. Not only was custom hardware made to automate punching holes in long spools of paper for feeding through a music box, but a software front end to process MIDI files means that in a way, this project is really a MIDI-to-hand-cranked-music-box converter. What a time to be alive.
The hole punch is an entirely custom-made assembly, and as [Josh] observes, making a reliable hole punch turns out to be extremely challenging. Plenty of trial and error was involved, and the project’s documentation as well as an overview video go into plenty of detail. Don’t miss the music box version of “Still Alive”, either. Both are embedded below.
The loss of memory is an extremely difficult situation, not just for those afflicted, but also for immediate family, close friends, and care givers. With no cure available for dementia, providing care is an extremely demanding task for everyone involved – both mentally and physically. Patients are unable to retain recent events and information, but will most likely be able to recall some amount of past memories. This presents serious challenges when they encounter “modern” technology and cannot figure out how to use and operate everyday devices that normal people take for granted.
[rosswesleyporter]’s Dad had trouble using modern iPods and CD players, so he built DQMusicBox — a Dementia friendly music player. It’s very simple interface resembling a radio from half a century ago. There are just two large, clearly marked rotary dials — one for Volume, the other for Songs, and a headphone socket. The inspiration came from a very moving documentary called “Alive Inside” which explores how music brings extreme joy to people with dementia.
The device is built around a Raspberry Pi, enclosed in a laser cut enclosure and requires no soldering — making it easy for anyone to build one for themselves using easily available parts. The Raspberry Pi runs on a lightweight, optimized version of Raspbian called DietPi. The music playback is handled by VLC ensuring support for a large number of music formats. A Python script looks for music files, sets up the VLC-NOX player and handles knob and button events. A bundled image file for the software includes everything needed to get it running, making setup easy and quick. Since Raspberry Pi’s are prone to OS corruption when power is disconnected without performing a proper shutdown, [Ross] uses write protection on the SD-card and walks you through the process of how it works.
Between his Project page, Github and DQMusicBox website, you will be able to get all the information needed to replicate this excellent project. And for his next version, he already has a few ideas for improvement and would like to hear if other hackers have suggestions.
Fair warning: when you post a video of you doing an incredibly tedious process like manually punching holes in a paper tape to transfer a MIDI file to a music box, don’t be surprised when a bunch of hackers automates the process in less than a week.
The video below shows what he learned from his fans about automating his programming, but also what he learned about the community we all work and play in. Without specifically asking for help, random strangers brought together by common interests identified the problems, came up with solutions, sorted through the good and the bad ideas, and made the work publically available. Not bad for less than a week’s work.
Music is a mystery to some of us. Sure, we know what we like when we hear it, but the idea of actually being able to make it baffles us. And the idea of being able to build new instruments to create it, like this paper-tape programmable music box (YouTube, embedded below), is beyond impressive.
You’ll no doubt remember [Martin Molin] of the group “Wintergatan” and his astounding marble madness music machine. This instrument is on a much more modest scale and is centered around an off-the-shelf paper tape music box. But the cheap plastic drive gears kept failing under performance conditions, so [Martin] headed to what appears to be his cave-based workshop and started grinding. He prototyped a new paper drive from Lego Technics, and while it worked, it needed help to pull the paper. What followed was an iterative design process that culminated in a hybrid of plastic and metal Technic parts that drive the paper reliably, and a musical instrument that’s much more than just a tinny wind-up music box. Hear it in action below with another new instrument, the Modulin, which sounds a little like a Theremin but looks like – ah, just watch the video.
The build video hints at more details to come, and we’re hoping for a complete series like that for the marble machine. We’d also love to see details on the Modulin too – if there ever was a hacked musical instrument, that’s it.