Peek Behind The Curtain Of This Robotic Mouse

At first glance, this little animatronic mouse might seem like a fairly simple affair. A door opens, our rodent friend pops its head out, looks around, and goes back in. But just like in The Wizard of Oz, a strategically placed curtain is hiding the impressive array of gadgetry that makes the trick possible.

Creator [Will Donaldson] has put together a fantastic write-up of just what went into creating this little fellow, and we think you’ll be surprised at just how serious the mechanics involved are. Take for example the rig that provides horizontal motion with a NEMA 17 stepper motor mated to a 200 mm leadscrew and dual 8 mm rail assembly that would like right at home as part of a 3D printer.

The star of the show rides atop a beefy sliding carriage assembly made of printed components and acrylic, which is linked to the door via a GT2 timing belt and pulley in such a way that it automatically opens and closes at the appropriate time. To inject some life into the puppet, [Will] stuffed it with a pair of SG90 servos in a sort of pan-and-tilt arrangement: the rear servo turns the mouse’s body left and right, while the forward one moves the head up and down.

An Arduino Uno controls the servos, as well as the stepper motor by way of a TB6600 controller, and optical limit switches are used to make sure nothing moves out bounds. [Will] is keeping the CAD files and source code to himself for the time being, though we imagine a sufficiently dedicated mouseketeer could recreate the installation based on the available information.

This would appear to be the first animatronic mouse to grace the pages of Hackaday, but we’re certainly no strangers to seeing folks imbue inanimate objects with lifelike motion.

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New Part Day: The Wi-Fi Stepper Gets Ideas Working Faster

Like most of us, I sometimes indulge in buying a part for its potential or anticipated utility rather than for a specific project or purpose. That’s exactly how I ended up with the WSX100 Wi-Fi Stepper, a single board device intended to be one of the fastest and easiest ways to get a stepper motor integrated into a project. Mine came from their Crowd Supply campaign, which raised money for production and continues to accept orders.

What’s It For?

The WSX100 Wi-Fi Stepper Driver (with motor), by Good Robotics

The main reason the Wi-Fi Stepper exists is to make getting a stepper motor up and running fast and simple, in a way that doesn’t paint a design into a corner. The device can certainly be used outside of prototyping, but I think one of its best features is the ability to help quickly turn an idea into something physical. When prototyping, it’s always better to spend less time on basic bits like driving motors.

In a way, stepper motors are a bit like RGB LEDs or LCD displays were before integrated drivers and easy interfaces became common for them. Steppers require work (and suitable power supplies) to get up and running, and that effort can be a barrier to getting an idea off the ground. With the Wi-Fi Stepper, a motor can be fired up and given positional commands (or set to a speed and direction) in no time at all. By sending commands over WiFi, there isn’t even the need to wire up any control logic.

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An Open Hardware Laser Engraver For Everyone

Right now, you can get a diode laser engraver on eBay for around $100 USD. That sounds like a deal, but it’ll probably use some arcane proprietary software, won’t be terribly accurate, and the laser itself will almost certainly be fully exposed. Of course there’s no shortage of DIY builds which improve upon this situation greatly, but unfortunately the documentation and instructions to replicate them yourself often leave a lot to be desired.

To get a safe and accurate laser platform into the hands of hackers everywhere, we need more well documented open source designs that are actually built with community in mind. Projects like the Engravinator from [Adam Haile]. This isn’t a one-off design with documentation thrown together after the fact, it’s a fully open hardware engraver with a concise assembly guide that’s built from 3D printed parts and readily available components. You’re free to source and print the parts yourself or, eventually, purchase everything as a kit.

Pen-equipped Engravinator

The microwave-sized Engravinator is built from standard 2020 aluminum extrusion, and offers a workable area of 130mm x 130mm. There’s a hatch on the front of the enclosure for objects that are small enough to fit inside the machine, but the open bottom and handles on the top also allow the user to place the Engravinator directly onto the work surface. [Adam] says this feature can be especially useful if you’re looking to burn a design into a tabletop or other large object.

Outside of the aluminum extrusion and miscellaneous hardware that make up the frame, most of the other parts are 3D printed. Released under the CERN Open Hardware License v1.2 and distributed as both STL and STEP files, the printable parts for the Engravinator are ripe for modification should you be so inclined. The same goes for the DXF files for the enclosure panels, which will need to be cut out of orange acrylic with a CNC or (ironically) a laser.

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The MorningRod Wants Your Mornings Easier, Not Harder

Curtains are about as simple as household devices get, but they can be remarkably troublesome to automate. Everyone’s window treatments are slightly different, which frustrates a standardized solution. [dfrenkel] has a passion for DIY and wanted his mornings flooded with sunlight for more peaceful awakenings, so the MorningRod Smart Curtain Rod was born.

Replacing the curtain rod with aluminum extrusion and 3D printed fixtures goes a long way towards standardizing for automation.

MorningRod’s design takes advantage of affordable hardware like aluminum extrusions and 3D printed parts to create a system that attempts to allow users to keep their existing curtains as much as possible.

The curtain rod is replaced with aluminum extrusion. MorningRod borrows ideas from CNC projects to turn the curtain rod into a kind of double-ended linear actuator, upon which the curtains are just along for the ride. An ESP32 serves as the brains while a NEMA17 stepper motor provides the brawn. The result is a motorized curtain opening and closing with a wireless interface that can be easily integrated into home automation projects.

[dfrenkel] is offering a kit, but those who would prefer to roll their own should check out the project page on Thingiverse.

Fortified Feeder For Feral Felines

Most of the commercially-available pet feeders littering the internet are cheaply-made, with wimpy motors and infuriating interfaces. Want to use it outdoors? Good luck. If you need a heavy-duty, outdoor cat feeder, you gotta heat up your soldering iron and do it yourself.

[jplanaux] is under contract to feed a bunch of feral cats that hang around, but he’s often gone for weeks at a time. His two-feeder fail-over system has one weak link, and it’s these commercial feeders — they’re under-powered and just plain unreliable, even after modding them for Raspi control. What he needed was an industrial strength automatic feeder that’s completely customized for his situation.

A simple web interface lets him set up automatic feeding times, or push kibble on demand if customers show up and there’s no food. The system takes pictures of the bowl to verify that food came out and was subsequently eaten. It’s supposed to be racoon-proof, so [jplanaux] can see who or what is chowing down. Aside from that, the feeder is pretty standard, with a large hopper on top of a screw drive that’s driven by a NEMA17. The stepper is relay-driven, so it only uses power when it’s driving the screw.

[jplanaux] has the STL files and code available, and even designed a bowl and base extension for people who want to build one and use it indoors. Nibble at the kibble-sized demo video after the break.

The lion’s share of the auto-feeder builds we chew on around here are designed for dry food. Serving wet food is a much harder problem, but is definitely possible to pull off.

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3D Printed Pen Plotter Is As Big As You Need It To Be

There’s nothing quite like building something to your own personal specifications. It’s why desktop 3D printers are such a powerful tool, and why this scalable plotter from the [Lost Projects Office] is so appealing. You just print out the end pieces and then pair it with rods of your desired length. If you’ve got some unusually large computer-controlled scribbling in mind, this is the project for you.

The design, which the team calls the Deep Ink Diver (d.i.d) is inspired by another plotter that [JuanGg] created. While the fundamentals are the same, d.i.d admittedly looks quite a bit more polished. In fact, if your 3D printed parts look good enough, this could probably pass for a commercial product.

For the electronics, the plotter uses an Arduino Uno and a matching CNC Shield. Two NEMA 17 stepper motors are used for motion: one to spin the rod that advances the paper, and the other connected to a standard GT2 belt and pulley to move the pen back and forth.

We particularly like the way [Lost Projects Office] handled lifting the pen off the paper. In the original design a solenoid was used, which took a bit of extra circuitry to drive from the CNC Shield. But for the d.i.d, a standard SG90 servo is used to lift up the arm that the pen is attached to. A small piece of elastic puts tension on the assembly so it will drop back down when the servo releases.

If this plotter isn’t quite what you’re after, don’t worry. There’s more where that came from. We’ve seen a number of very interesting 3D printed plotters that are just begging for a spot in your OctoPrint queue.

Arduino Drives Seventeen Stepper Motors, Carefully

It’s fair to say that building electronic gadgets is easier now than it ever has been in the past. With low-cost modular components, there’s often just a couple dozen lines of code and a few jumper wires standing between your idea and a functioning prototype. Driving stepper motors is a perfect example: you can grab a cheap controller board, hook it up to a microcontroller, and the rest is essentially just software. But recently [mechatronicsguy] wondered if even that was more hardware than was technically necessary to get the job done.

It’s not that he was intentionally looking to make things more complicated for himself, of course. His rationale was entirely economic; if you’re looking to drive a dozen or more stepper motors, even the “cheap” controllers can add up. So he started to wonder if he could skip the controller entirely and connect the stepper motor directly to the digital pins of an Arduino. Generally speaking this is a bad idea, but if you’re careful and are willing to take the risk, [mechatronicsguy] is living proof it’s possible

So what’s the trick to running a whopping seventeen individual stepper motors directly from the digital pins of an Arduino Mega? Well, to start with you’re not going to be running the beefy NEMA 17 motors like you might find in a 3D printer. [mechatronicsguy] is using the diminutive (and dirt cheap) 28BYJ-48, a light duty stepper used in many consumer products. Even with this relatively tiny motor, you need to crack open the case and cut a trace on the PCB to switch it from unipolar to bipolar.

Beyond that, you need to be careful. [mechatronicsguy] reports he’s had success running as many as ten of them at once, but realistically the fewer operating simultaneously the better. This is actually made easier due to the relatively poor specs of the 28BYJ-48 motor; its huge eleven degree step size means its not really susceptible to the same kind of slippage you’d get on a NEMA 17 when powered down. This means you can cut power to all but the actively moving motor and be fairly sure they’ll all stay where you left them.

With as popular as the 28BYJ-48 stepper is, there are several projects this “quick and dirty” method of interfacing could potentially work with. This small “barn door” star tracker is an obvious example, but we’ve also seen some very nice robotic arms built with these low-cost motors which could benefit from the technique.