Adding Two Axes Makes CNC Router More Than The Sum Of Its Parts

The problem with building automated systems is that it’s hard to look at any problem and not see it in terms of possible automation solutions. Come to think of it, that’s probably less of a bug and more of a feature, but it’s easy to go overboard and automate all the things, which quickly becomes counterproductive in terms of time and money.

If you’re clever, though, a tactical automation solution can increase your process efficiency without breaking the budget. That’s where [Christopher Helmke] seems to have landed with this two-axis add-on fixture for his CNC router. The rig is designed to solve the problem of the manual modification needed to turn off-the-shelf plastic crates into enclosures for his line of modular automation components, aspects of which we’ve featured before. The crates need holes drilled in them and cutouts created in their sides for displays and controls. It’s a job [Christopher] tackled before with a drill and a jigsaw, with predictable results.

To automate the job without going overboard, [Christopher] came up with a tilting turntable that fits under the bed of the CNC router and sticks through a hole in the spoil board. The turntable is a large, 3D printed herringbone gear driven by a stepper and pinion gear. A cheap bearing keeps costs down, while a quartet of planetary gears constrain the otherwise wobbly platform. The turntable also swivels 90 degrees on a herringbone sector gear; together, the setup adds pitch and roll axes to the machine that allow the spindle access to all five sides of the crates.

Was it worth the effort? Judging by the results in the video below, we’d say so, especially given the number of workpieces that [Christopher] has to process. Add in the budget-conscious construction that doesn’t sacrifice precision too much, and this one seems like a real automation win.

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Bicopter Phone Case Might Be Hard To Pocket, But Delivers Autonomous Selfies

Remember that “PhoneDrone” scam from a while back? With two tiny motors and props that could barely lift a microdrone, it was pretty clearly a fake, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a pretty good idea. Good enough, in fact, that [Nick Rehm] came up with his own version of the flying phone case, which actually works pretty well.

In the debunking collaboration between [Mark Rober], [Peter Sripol], and the indispensable [Captain Disillusion], you’ll no doubt recall that after showing that the original video was just a CGI scam, they went on to build exactly what the video purported to do. But alas, the flying phone they came up with was manually controlled. While cool enough, [Nick Rehm], creator of dRehmFlight, can’t see such a thing without wanting to make it autonomous.

To that end, [Nick] came up with the DroneCase — a bicopter design that allows the phone to hang vertically. The two rotors are on a common axis and can swivel back and forth under control of two separate micro-servos; the combination of tilt rotors and differential thrust gives the craft full aerodynamic control. A modified version of dRehmFlight runs on a Teensy, while an IMU, a lidar module, and a PX4 optical flow sensor round out the sensor suite. The lidar and flow sensor both point down; the lidar is used to sense altitude, while the flow sensor, which is basically just the guts from an optical mouse, watches for translation in the X- and Y-axes.

After a substantial amount of tuning and tweaking, the DroneCase was ready for field tests. Check out the video below for the results. It’s actually quite stable, at least as long as the batteries last. It may not be as flexible as a legit drone, but then again it probably costs a lot less, and does the one thing it does quite well without any inputs from the user. Seems like a solid win to us.

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3D Printed Wind Turbine Has All The Features, Just Smaller

For anyone with even the slightest bit of engineering interest, wind turbines are hard to resist. Everything about them is just so awesome, in the literal sense of the word — the size of the blades, the height of the towers, the mechanical guts that keep them pointed into the wind. And as if one turbine isn’t enough, consider the engineering implications of planting a couple of hundred of these giants in a field and getting them to operate as a unit. Simply amazing.

Unfortunately, the thing that makes wind turbines so cool — their enormity — can make them difficult to wrap your head around. To fix that, [3DprintedLife] built a working miniature wind turbine that goes a bit beyond most designs of a similar size. The big difference here is variable pitch blades, a feature the big turbines rely on to keep their output maximized over a broad range of wind conditions. The mechanism here is clever — the base of each blade rides in a bearing and has a small cap head screw that rides in a hole in a triangular swash block in the center of the hub. A small gear motor and lead screw move the block back and forth along the hub’s axis, which changes the collective pitch of the blades.

Other details of full-sized wind turbines are replicated here too, like the powered nacelle rotation and the full suite of wind speed and direction sensors. The generator is a NEMA 17 stepper; the output is a bit too anemic to actually power the turbine’s controller, but that could be fixed with gearing changes. Still, all the controls worked as planned, and there’s room for improvement, so we’ll score this a win overall.

Looking for a little more on full-size wind turbines? You’re in luck — our own [Bryan Cockfield] shared his insights into how wind farm engineers deal with ice and cold.

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Clever Control Loop Makes This Spinning Drone Fault-Tolerant

Most multi-rotor aircraft are about as aerodynamic as a brick. Unless all its motors are turning and the control electronics are doing their thing, most UAVs are quickly destined to become UGVs, and generally in spectacular fashion. But by switching up things a bit, it’s possible to make a multi-rotor drone that keeps on flying even without two-thirds of its motors running.

We’ve been keeping a close eye on [Nick Rehm]’s cool spinning drone project, which basically eschews a rigid airframe for a set of three airfoils joined to a central hub. The collective pitch of the blades can be controlled via a servo in the hub, and the whole thing can be made to rotate and provide lift thanks to the thrust of tip-mounted motors and props. We’ve seen [Nick] manage to get this contraption airborne, and hovering is pretty straightforward. The video below covers the next step: getting pitch, roll, and yaw control over the spinning blades of doom.

The problem isn’t trivial. First off, [Nick] had to decide what the front of a spinning aircraft even means. Through the clever uses of LED strips mounted to the airfoils and some POV magic, he was able to visually indicate a reference axis. From there he was able to come up with a scheme to vary the power to each motor as it moves relative to the reference axis, modulating it in either a sine or cosine function to achieve roll and pitch control. This basically imitates the cyclic pitch control of a classic helicopter — a sort of virtual swashplate.

The results of all this are impressive, if a bit terrifying. [Nick] clearly has control of the aircraft even though it’s spinning at 250 RPM, but even cooler is the bit where he kills first one then two motors. It struggles, but it’s still controllable enough for a bumpy but safe landing.

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[Tom Stanton] Builds An Osprey

The V-22 Osprey is an aircraft like no other. The tiltrotor multirole military aircraft makes an impression wherever it goes; coincidentally, a flight of two of these beasts flew directly overhead yesterday and made a noise unlike anything we’ve ever heard before. It’s a complex aircraft that pushes the engineering envelope, so naturally [Tom Stanton] decided to build a flight-control accurate RC model of the Osprey for himself.

Sharp-eyed readers will no doubt note that [Tom] built an Osprey-like VTOL model recently to explore the basics of tiltrotor design. But his goal with this build is to go beyond the basics by replicating some of the control complexity of a full-scale Osprey, without breaking the bank. Instead of building or buying real swash plates to control the collective and cyclic pitch of the rotors, [Tom] used his “virtual swashplate” technique, which uses angled hinges and rapid changes in the angular momentum of the motors to achieve blade pitch control. The interesting part is that the same mechanism worked after adding a third blade to each rotor, to mimic the Osprey’s blades — we’d have thought this would throw the whole thing off balance. True, there were some resonance issues with the airframe, but [Tom] was able to overcome them and achieve something close to stable flight.

The video below is only the first part of his build series, but we suspect contains most of the interesting engineering bits. Still, we’re looking forward to seeing how the control mechanism evolves as the design process continues.

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Automatic guitar tuning robot

Handheld Bot Takes The Tedium Out Of Guitar Tuning

Even with fancy smartphone apps and custom-built tuners, tuning a guitar can be a tedious process, especially for the beginner. Pluck a string, figure out if the note is sharp or flat, tighten or loosen accordingly, repeat. Then do the same thing for all six strings. It’s no wonder some people never get very far with the guitar.

Luckily, technology can come to the rescue in the form of this handy open-source automatic guitar tuner by [Guyrandy Jean-Gilles]. The tuner has a Raspberry Pi Pico inside, with a microphone attached to the ADC. The program running on the Pico listens for the sound of a plucked string and determines whether the note is sharp or flat. The Pico then drives a small DC gear motor in the appropriate direction, which turns the peg the right way to bring the string into tune. The tuner makes ample use of 3D-printed parts, STLs for which are included in the project repo. [Guyrandy] has also made some updates to the project to make the tuner a little easier to use.

While there’s an affordable commercial version of this — upon which [Guyrandy] based his design — we really like the fact that he rolled his own here, and made the design freely accessible to everyone. We also like the idea that guitarists who can’t use tuners requiring visual feedback can use this, too — just like this one.

[via r/raspberry_pi]

Open-Source Grinder Makes Compression Screws For Plastic Extruders Easy

In a world that’s literally awash in plastic waste, it seems a pity to have to buy fresh rolls of plastic filament to feed our 3D-printers, only to have them generate yet more plastic waste. Breaking that vicious cycle requires melding plastic recycling with additive manufacturing, and that takes some clever tooling with parts that aren’t easy to come by, like the compression screws that power plastics extruders.

This open-source compression screw grinder aims to make small-scale plastic recyclers easier to build. Coming from the lab of [Joshua Pearce] at the Michigan Technological University in collaboration with [Jacob Franz], the device is sort of a combination of a small lathe and a grinder. A piece of round steel stock is held by a chuck with the free end supported by bearings in a tailstock. On the bed of the machine is an X-Y carriage made of 3D-printed parts and pieces of electrical conduit. The carriage moves down the length of the bed as the stock rotates thanks to a pulley and a threaded rod, carrying a cordless angle grinder with a thick grinding wheel. A template attached to the front apron controls how deep the grinder cuts as it tracks along the rod; different templates allow the screw profile to be easily customized. The video below shows the machine in action and the complicated screw profiles it’s capable of producing.

We’ve seen lots of homebrew plastic extruders before, most of which use repurposed auger-type drill bits as compression screws. Those lack the variable geometry of a proper compression screw, so [Joshua] and [Jacob] making all the design documents for this machine available should be a boon to recycling experimenters.

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