Watch A Fast Sand Plotter Plow Patterns At Speed

[Mark]’s sand table wisely has a glass top.
Most of us have probably seen a video of a sand drawing table at work, in which a steel ball — magnetically-coupled to a gantry under a layer of sand — lazily draws geometric patterns with utter precision and zen-like calmness. That’s all well and good, but [Mark Rehorst] thinks it can also be interesting to crank up the speed and watch the ball plow through sand just as physics intended. There’s a deeper reason [Mark] is working at this, however. Faster drawing leads to less crisp results, but by how much, exactly? To answer this, [Mark] simply ran his table (which is named The Spice Must Flow) at both fast and slow speeds and documented the results.

These two images show the difference between running the table at 100 mm/s versus 500 mm/s. The slower speed is noticeably crisper, but on the other hand the faster speed completed the pattern in about a fifth of the time. [Mark] says that as the ball aggressively accelerates to reach target speeds, more sand is thrown around over existing lines, which leads to a loss of detail.

Crisper detail, or a faster draw? Which is “better” depends on many things, but it’s pretty clear that [Mark]’s cat finds the fast version more exciting. You can see [Mark]’s table at high speed and the cat’s reaction in the video, embedded below.

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Cyberplotter Uses Multiple Tools To Great Success

The CNC bug is a familiar ailment in these parts. Often, patients present with persistent obsession with computer controlled machinery, most commonly after initial contact with gateway hardware such as 3D printers or basic plotters. Once diagnosed, there is no cure – simply the desire to build, and build again. [Adam Haile] knows this all too well, and built the Cyberplotter in service to the affliction. 

The Cyberplotter is the culmination of [Adam]’s CNC wishlist – a two-axis build with a seriously large build area, and the capability to mount a whole bunch of different tools for different jobs. With a work area of up to 800mm x 750mm depending on what’s mounted, it can produce some seriously big output. With a Smoothieboard 5X running the show, [Adam] does all kinds of neat hacks to make the system play with different gadgets on the business end. There’s a laser for engraving, and a top-notch pen plotter featuring a high-quality linear rail for precise movement. But the fun doesn’t stop there – [Adam] goes so far as mounting a Z-axis, camera, and even a Sharpie-based airbrush which we’d never even contemplated before.

It’s not [Adam]’s first build, and past experience shines through here – armed with prior knowledge, the build does many things well without compromising on outright capability. You may find [Adam]’s name familiar – we’ve featured his Engravinator on these pages before. Video after the break.

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Art Piece Builds Up Images With Dots On Thread

Hackers being as a rule practical people, we sometimes get a little guff when we run a story on an art installation, on the grounds of not being sufficiently hacky. We understand that, but sometimes the way an artist weaves technology into their pieces is just too cool to pass us, as with this thread-printing art piece entitled On Framing Textile Ambiguities.

We’ll leave criticism of the artistic statement that [Nathalie Gebert]’s installation makes to others more qualified, and instead concentrate on its technical aspects. The piece has four frames made mainly from brass rods. Three of the frames have vertical rods that are connected to stepper motors and around which is wrapped a single thread. The thread weaves back and forth over the rods on one frame, forming a flat surface that constantly changes as the rods rotate, before heading off to do the same on the others. The fourth frame has a platen that the thread passes over with a pen positioned right above it. As the thread pauses in its endless loop, the pen clicks down onto it, making a dot of color. The dots then wend their way through the frame, occasionally making patterns that are just shy of recognizable before morphing into something new. The video below shows it better than it can be easily described.

Love it or hate it, you’ve got to admit that it has some interesting potential as a display. And it sort of reminds us of this thread-art polar robot, although this one has the advantage of being far simpler.

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Plot And Visualise Brain Data In An Artwork

One of the most interesting streams through which we receive new projects to write about here at Hackaday comes from the intersection between technologists and artists. Those artists who straddle both disciplines bring creativity that those of us without their backgrounds can only dream of. The artist [Rosa Francesca] produced a piece called Cinematica, in which she monitored her brain waves with an EEG and from them produced on-paper visualizations with a pen plotter.

The hardware in use is an Interaxon Muse EEG headband read through the Muse Monitor app, and some code to drive an Evil Mad Scientist AxiDraw V3 plotter via its serial port. The write-up goes in some depth into the different types of brain waves, explaining her choice of monitoring gamma and theta waves for her source data. The result is a series of repeating shapes that vary with the brain waves of the wearer, creating drawings that are both pleasing and unique.

If you’re interested by the Muse headset used in this artwork, you might find a teardown we covered a few years ago to be of interest. And if you’re tempted by the plotter, you can always try making your own.

Thanks, @tanurai for the tip!

Conduit, Birdhouse, And Skateboard Become Giant Pen Plotter

If you think you need fancy parts to build a giant robot drawing machine, think again! [Cory Collins] shows you how he built his Big-Ass Wall Plotter v.2 out of stuff around the house or the hardware store, including electrical conduit, gang boxes, scrap wood, and skateboard bearings, alongside the necessary stepper motors, drivers, and timing belt. (You should consider having this trio of parts on hand as well, in our opinion.) With a span of 48″ (1.2 m) on a side, you probably don’t have paper that’s this big.

And while the construction is definitely rough-and-ready, there are a ton of details that turn this pile of parts into a beautifully working machine in short order. For instance, making the rails out of electrical conduit has a few advantages. Of course it’s cheap and strong, but the availability of off-the-shelf flanges makes assembly and disassembly easy. It also hangs neatly on the wall courtesy of some rubber cuphooks.

Note also the use of zip-tie belt tensioners: a simple and effective solution that we heartily endorse. [Corey] makes good use of custom 3D printed parts where they matter, like the compliant pen holder and linear mechanism for the z-axis, but most of the mechanical accuracy is courtesy of wooden shims and metal strapping.

[Corey] uses the machine to make patterns for his paper sculptures that are worth a look in their own right, and you can see the machine in action, sped up significantly, in the video below. This is the perfect project if you have a DIY eggbot that’s out of commission post-Easter: it reuses all the same parts, just on a vastly different scale. Heck, [Corey] even uses the same Inkscape Gcodetools extension as we did in that project. Now you know what we’re up to this weekend.

Can’t get enough pen plotters? Check out this one that lets you write whatever you want!

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Plasma Cutter + Sharpie Is Surprisingly Useful

What we want is a Star Trek-style replicator. What we have are a bunch of different machines that can spew out various 2D and 3D shapes. For the foreseeable future, you’ll still need to post-process most of what you build in some way. [Stuff Made Here] had a challenge. He often uses his plasma cutter to create complex sheet metal items. But the cutter is two dimensional so the piece doesn’t look right until you bend it at just the right places. If you are doing a simple box, it is easy to figure out, but getting just the right spot on a complex bend can be a challenge. His answer? Attach a marker to the gantry so the machine can draw the lines right on the sheet metal.

Sounds easy and if you were willing to do a pen pass separately and then remove the pen and do the plasma cutting it would be relatively easy. However, that seems kind of crude. Mounting it permanently requires a way to raise it up when cutting — and it needs to survive the noisy environment near the torch. The pen would also dry out if you left in uncapped. The answer was using a permanent marker with a click retractor and let the mechanism extend and retract the pen point on command.

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Vintage Plotter Gets Bluetooth Upgrade

Recently [iot4c] stumbled upon this gorgeous Robotron Reiss plotter from 1989, brand-new and still in its original box. Built before the fall of the Berlin Wall in East Germany, it would be a crime to allow such a piece of computing history to go unused. But how to hook it up to a modern system? Bad enough that it uses some rather unusual connectors, but it’s about to be 2020, who wants to use wires anymore? What this piece of Cold War hardware needed was an infusion of Bluetooth.

While the physical ports on the back of the Robotron certainly look rather suspect, it turns out that electrically they’re just RS-232. In practice, this means converting it over was fairly straightforward. With a Bolutek BK3231 Bluetooth module and an RS-232 to UART converter, [iot4c] was able to create a wireless adapter that works transparently on the plotter by simply connecting it to the RX and TX pins.

A small DC buck converter was necessary to provide 3.3 V for the Bluetooth adapter, but even still, there was plenty of room inside the plotter’s case to fit everything in neatly. From the outside, you’d have no idea that the hardware had ever been modified at all.

But, like always, there was a catch. While Windows had no trouble connecting to the Bluetooth device and assigning it a COM port, the 512 byte buffer on the plotter would get overwhelmed when it started receiving commands. So [iot4c] wrote a little script in Node.js that breaks the commands down into more manageable chunks and sends them off to the plotter every 0.1 seconds. With this script in place the Robotron moved under its own power for the first time in ~30 years by parsing a HP-GL file generated by Inkscape.

If you’re interested in a plotter of your own but don’t have a vintage one sitting around, never fear. We’ve seen an influx of DIY plotters recently, ranging from builds that use popsicle sticks and clothespins to customizable 3D printed workhorses.