Building Reaction Wheels With Python And LEGO

Reaction wheels are useful things, typically used by satellites to keep themselves oriented the right way up in space. Turning the reaction wheel creates an equal and opposite torque in the spacecraft, allowing it to point and rotate itself accurately. The same technique also works here on Earth, and [Brick Experiment Channel] decided to build one out of LEGO to control an inverted pendulum.

The initial design using a small LEGO wheel on an inverted pendulum was only able to work reliably over a 4-degree angle from the vertical. Upgrading the wheel to a larger, heavier one enabled the wheel to instead work over a 28-degree range instead.

A MPU9250 inertial measurement unit was pressed into service for control of the reaction wheel, fitted to the base of the pendulum and read by a Raspberry Pi. The Pi takes accelerometer and gyroscope readings, and then controls the motor on the pendulum with a PID controller to keep the inverted pendulum upright.

The video goes into a great deal of detail on what it takes to make the pendulum run smoothly. From changes to the control coefficients to measuring the motor’s back EMF, [Brick Experiment Channel] demonstrates everything required to make the pendulum robust to outside perturbances.

The inverted pendulum is a great way to learn about control theory, as we’ve seen time and again.

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PendulumSynth Ties Music And Physics Together

Many musicians will be familiar with the metronome, a pendulum charged with generating a rhythmic tick to keep one’s performance in regular time. With PendulumSynth, [mrezanvari] takes the same basic pendulum but uses it in an altogether different musical way.

The build relies on a 10-inch plastic ball to serve as the weighted end of the pendulum, stuffed with a STM32F411CE BlackPill board, a BNO085 IMU, and an nRF radio module for sending out data for external processing. The pendulum’s motion is turned into MIDI data or CV for output to musical hardware which handles actually generating the output sounds.

The system operates in a variety of modes. Gravity mode outputs continuous MIDI data and CV relative to the continuous motion of the pendulum, while DIV3 mode tracks the pendulum’s motion and outputs 3 regular trigger points that correspond as such.

The combination of the intuitive physical nature of the pendulum and its sheer large size makes for an enticing musical exhibit. We’ve seen some other great musical installation pieces before, too. Video after the break.

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This POV Clock Combines A Nixie With A Pendulum

Talk about your mixed timekeeping metaphors: there are clocks, and pendulum clocks, and there are Nixie clocks, and persistence of vision clocks. But this is a Nixie pendulum POV clock, and we think it’s pretty cool.

We first spied this on Twitter and were subsequently pleased to learn that [Jayzon Oeve] has posted a more detailed build log over on Hackaday.io. Rather than a moving array of dots to create the characters to display, this uses a single IN-12b Nixie tube at the end of a pendulum. The pendulum is kept moving by a small nudge created by a pulse through a fixed hard drive voice coil acting on a magnet affixed to the bottom of the pendulum — we’ve seen a similar approach used before.

Pretty much all of the electronics are mounted on the pendulum arm, including a Nano, an RTC, and an accelerometer to figure out where in the swing the bob is and when to flash a number on the display. There’s a video below that shows it at work both at full speed and in slow-motion; as always with POV clocks, these things probably look better in person than on video. And while swinging Nixies around like that seems a little dicey, we like the way this turned out.

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Double Pendulum Uses Custom Slip Rings

Rotating mechanisms can be a headache when it becomes necessary to deliver power through them. [Igor Brkic] faced just such a challenge when creating his double-pendulum build, and solved it with a little DIY.

The project is known as KLAATNO, inspired by the Croatian word for pendulum, klatno. It’s a mechanical installation piece, consisting of a power-assisted pendulum, with a second pendulum fitted at the end of the swinging arm. A 24 volt geared motor is used to drive the assembly. It’s controlled by an Arduino Pro Mini, which measures the back EMF from the motor terminals to determine the speed and direction of the motor’s movement.

To make the installation more visually striking, EL wire was installed on the swinging arms of the twin pendulums. This required the transfer of power to the rotating assembly, which was achieved through the use of custom made slip rings. Copper sheet is used in combination with a flexible metal wire sourced from a guitar string. It’s not as low-friction as [Igor] would like, but it gets the job done.

It’s a fun installation that would be perfectly at home in the common area of any university engineering building. Of course, our favorite pendulums are of the siege weapon variety. Video after the break.

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Gesture Control Without Fancy Sensors, Just Pots And Weights

[Dennis] aims to make robotic control a more intuitive affair by ditching joysticks and buttons, and using wireless gesture controls in their place. What’s curious is that there isn’t an accelerometer or gyro anywhere to be seen in his¬†Palm Power!¬†project.

The gesture sensing consists not of a fancy IMU, but of two potentiometers (one for each axis) with offset weights attached to the shafts. When the hand tilts, the weights turn the shafts of the pots, and the resulting readings are turned into motion commands and sent over Bluetooth. The design certainly has a what-you-see-is-what-you-get aspect to it, and as a whole it works much like an inverted, weighted joystick hanging from one’s palm.

It’s an economical way to play with the idea of motion sensing, and when it comes to prototyping, being able to test a concept while keeping costs to a minimum is a good skill to have.

Clock This! A 3D-Printed Escapement Mechanism

Traditional mechanical clockmaking is an art that despite being almost the archetype of precision engineering skill, appears rarely in our world of hardware hackers. That’s because making a clock mechanism is hard, and it is for good reason that professional clockmakers serve a long apprenticeship to learn their craft.

Though crafting one by hand is no easy task, a clock escapement is a surprisingly simple mechanism. Simple enough in fact that one can be 3D-printed, and that is just what [Josh Zhou] has done with a model posted on Thingiverse.

The model is simply the escapement mechanism, so to make a full clock there would have to be added a geartrain and clock face drive mechanism. But given a pair of 608 skateboard wheel bearings and a suitable weight and string to provide a power source, its pendulum will happily swing and provide that all-important tick. We’ve posted his short video below the break, so if Nixie clocks aren’t enough for you then perhaps you’d like to take it as inspiration to go mechanical.

A pendulum escapement of this type is only one of many varieties that have been produced over the long history of clockmaking. Our colleague [Manuel Rodriguez-Achach] took a look at some of them back in 2016.

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Inverted Pendulum For The Control Enthusiast

Once you step into the world of controls, you quickly realize that controlling even simple systems isn’t as easy as applying voltage to a servo. Before you start working on your own bipedal robot or scratch-built drone, though, you might want to get some practice with this intricate field of engineering. A classic problem in this area is the inverted pendulum, and [Philip] has created a great model of this which helps illustrate the basics of controls, with some AI mixed in.

Called the ZIPY, the project is a “Cart Pole” design that uses a movable cart on a trolley to balance a pendulum above. The pendulum is attached at one point to the cart. By moving the cart back and forth, the pendulum can be kept in a vertical position. The control uses the OpenAI Gym toolkit which is a way to easily use reinforcement learning algorithms in your own projects. With some Python, some 3D printed parts, and the toolkit, [Philip] was able to get his project to successfully balance the pendulum on the cart.

Of course, the OpenAI Gym toolkit is useful for many more projects where you might want some sort of machine learning to help out. If you want to play around with machine learning without having to build anything, though, you can also explore it in your browser.

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