What Does It Take For A LEGO Car To Roll Downhill Forever?

Cars (including LEGO ones) will roll downhill. In theory if the hill were a treadmill, the car could roll forever. In practice, there are a lot of things waiting to go wrong to keep this from happening. If you’ve ever wondered what those problems would be and what a solution would look like, [Brick Technology] has a nine-minute video showing the whole journey.

The video showcases an iterative process of testing, surfacing a problem, redesigning to address that problem, and then back to testing. It starts off pretty innocently with increasing wheel friction and adding weight, but we’ll tell you right now it goes in some unexpected directions that show off [Brick Technology]’s skill and confidence when it comes to LEGO assemblies.

You can watch the whole thing unfold in the video, embedded below. It’s fun to see how the different builds perform, and we can’t help but think that the icing on the cake would be LEGO bricks with OLED screens and working instrumentation built into them.

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Building Circuits Flexibly

You think of breadboards as being a flexible way to build things — one can easily add components and wires and also rip them up. But MIT researchers want to introduce an actual flexible breadboard called FlexBoard. The system is like a traditional breadboard, but it is literally flexible. If you want to affix your prototype to a glove or a ball, good luck with a traditional breadboard. FlexBoard makes it easy. You can see a short video below and a second video presentation about the system, also.

The breadboard uses a plastic living hinge arrangement and otherwise looks more or less like a conventional breadboard. We can think of about a dozen projects this would make easier.

What’s more, it doesn’t seem like it would be that hard to fabricate using a 3D printer and some sacrificial breadboards. The paper reveals that the structures were printed on an Ender 3 using ePLA and a flexible vinyl or nylon filament. Want to try it yourself? You can!

We know what we will be printing this weekend. If you make any cool prototypes with this, be sure to let us know. Sometimes we breadboard virtually. Our favorite breadboards, though, have more than just the breadboard on them.

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Wi-Fi Sensor For Rapid Prototyping

There might seem like a wide gulf between the rapid prototyping of a project and learning a completely new electronics platform, but with the right set of tools, these two tasks can go hand-in-hand. That was at least the goal with this particular build, which seeks to use a no-soldering method of assembling electronics projects and keeping code to a minimum, while still maintaining a platform that is useful for a wide variety of projects.

As a demonstration, this specific project is a simple Wi-Fi connected temperature monitoring station. Based around an ESP32 and using a DS18B20 digital temperature sensor, the components all attach to a back plate installed in a waterproof enclosure and are wired together with screw-type terminal breakout boards to avoid the need for soldering. The software suite is similarly easy to set up, revolving around the use of Tasmota and ESPHome, which means no direct programming — although there will need to be some configuration of these tools.

With the included small display, this build makes a very capable, simple, and quick temperature monitor. But this isn’t so much a build about monitoring temperature but about building and prototyping quickly without the need for specialized tools and programming. There is something to be said for having access to a suite of rapid prototyping tools for projects as well, though.

Ply Your Craft With Tubular Origami

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have just published a paper on creating modular tubular origami machines which they call “Kinegami”, a portmanteau of “kinematic” and “origami”.

Diagrams of "kinegami" folds for various modules and joint mechanism

The idea behind their work is to create individual modules and joint mechanisms that can then be chained together to create a larger “serial” robot. Some example joints they propose are “prismatic” joints, allowing for linear motion, and “revolute” joints, which allow for rotational motion. One of the more exciting aspects of this process is that the joint mechanisms are origami-like structures which can be constructed from a single piece of flat material which is folded and glued together to make the module. Of particular interest is that the crease pattern for the origami-like folds can be laser cut into a material, cardboard or thin acrylic for example, which can be used as a guide to create the resulting structure. The crease patterns for the supporting structures, such as tubes or joints, can be taken from pre-formatted patterns or customized, so this method is very accessible to the hobbyist and could allow for a rich new method of rapid project prototyping.

The researchers go on to discuss how to create the composition of modules from a specification of joints and links (from a “Denavit-Hartenberg” specification) to attaching the junctures together while respecting curvature constraints (via the “Dubins path”). Their paper offers the gritty details along with the available accompanying source files. Origami hacking is a favorite subject of ours and we’ve featured articles on the use of origami in medical technology to creating inflatable actuators.

Video after the break!

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Dream Projects Face Reality

Do you ever get a project stuck in your mind? An idea so good you just keep thinking about it? Going over iterations and options and pros and cons in the back of your mind, or maybe on paper, but having not yet subjected it to the hard work of pulling it into reality? I’ve had one of those lurking around for the last couple weeks, and it’s time for me to get building.

And I’ve got to get started soon, because it’s rare that any project makes the leap from thought to reality unscathed, and when I hold on to the in-thought project too long, I become far too fond of some of the details and nuances that just might not make the cut, or might get in the way of getting a first pass finished. When I really like a (theoretical) solution to a (theoretical) problem, I’ll try to make it work a lot longer than I should, and I can tell I’m getting attached to this one now.

The only cure to this illness is to get prototyping. When the rubber hits the road, and the bolts are tightened, either the solution is a good one or it’s not, and no amount of dreaming is going to change that. Building is a great antidote to the siren song of a dream project. Although it feels now like I don’t want the fantasy to have to adapt to reality, as it inevitably will, I know that getting something working feels a lot better. And it frees me up to start dreaming on the next project… To the workshop!

3D Printed Circular Prototype Performance Prop Captivates Circus Spectators

When mathematically inspired maker [Henry Segerman] conspired with circus performer and acrobat [Marcus Paoletti] to advance the craft of acrobatics in round metal objects (such as cyr wheels and German Wheels), they came up with a fascinating concept that has taken shape in what [Henry] calls the Tao-Line.

Similar performance devices go in a straight line or can be turned on edge, but the Tao-Line is far more nimble. This is because the Tao-Line is not a continuous cylinder, but rather is made up of numerous circular shapes that allow the Tao-Line to be turned and inverted at different points in its rotation.

While a circus prop might not be your average Hackaday fare, it’s noteworthy because the Tao-Line started off as a 3D printed prototype, which was then turned into the metal fabrication you see in the video below the break.  It’s an excellent example of how modeling complex shapes as a physical product- not just a 3D model on the screen- can be helpful in the overall design and construction of the full scale piece.

If you’re looking to build something that’s under the big top but not quite so over the top, you might enjoy this mixed-media digital clock. Thanks to [Keith] for the great tip. Be sure to submit send your cool finds via the Tip Line!

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USB to Dupont adapter by [PROSCH]

USB Power Has Never Been Easier

USB cables inevitably fail and sometimes one end is reincarnated to power our solderless breadboards. Of course, if the cable broke once, it is waiting to crap out again. Too many have flimsy conductors that cannot withstand any torque and buckle when you push them into a socket. [PROSCH] has a superior answer that only takes a couple of minutes to print and up-cycles a pair of wires with DuPont connectors. The metal tips become the leads and the plastic sheathing aligns with the rim.

The model prints with a clear plus sign on the positive terminal, so you don’t have to worry about sending the wrong polarity, and it shouldn’t be difficult to add your own features, like a hoop for pulling it out, or an indicator LED and resistor. We’d like to see one with a tiny fuse holder.

If you want your breadboard to have old-school features, like a base and embedded power supply, we can point you in the right direction. If you are looking to up your prototyping game to make presentation-worthy pieces, we have a host of ideas.