Making A Modern Version Of A Steam Engine From Antiquity

Imagine traveling back in time about 2,200 years, to when nothing moves faster than the speed at which muscle or wind can move it. Think about how mind-shattering it would have been to see something like Hero’s Engine, the first known example of a steam turbine. To see a sphere whizzing about trailing plumes of steam while flames licked around it would likely have been a nearly mystical experience.

Of course we can’t go back in time like that, but seeing a modern replica of Hero’s Engine built and tested probably isn’t too far from such an experience. The engine, also known as an aeolopile, was made by the crew over at [Make It Extreme], whose metalworking videos are always a treat to watch. The rotor of the engine, which is fabricated from a pair of hemispherical bowls welded together, is supported by pipes penetrating the lid of a large kettle. [Make It Extreme] took great pains to make the engine safe, with relief valves and a pressure gauge that the original couldn’t have included. The aeolopile has a great look and bears a strong resemblance to descriptions of the device that may or may not have actually been invented by Greek mathemetician [Heron of Alexandria], and as the video below shows, when it spins up it puts on a great show.

One can’t help but wonder how something like this was invented without someone — anyone — taking the next logical step. That it was treated only as a curiosity and didn’t kick off the industrial revolution two millennia early boggles the mind. And while we’ve seen far, far simpler versions of Hero’s Engine before, this one really takes the cake on metalworking prowess.

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Robot’s Actions And Our Reactions

If you walk into a dog owner’s home that dog is probably going to make a beeline to see if you are a threat. If you walk into a cat owner’s home, you may see the cat wandering around, if it even chooses to grace you with its presence. For some people, a dog’s direct approach can be nerve-wracking, or even scary depending on their history and relative size of the dog. Still, these domestic animals are easy to empathize with especially if you or your family have a pet. They have faces which can convey curiosity or smug indifference but what if you were asked to judge the intent of something with no analogs to our own physical features like a face or limbs? That is what researchers at the IDC Herzliya in Israel and Cornell University in the US asked when they made the Greeting Machine to move a moon-like sphere around a planet-like sphere.

Participants were asked to gauge their feelings about the robot after watching the robot move in different patterns. It turns out that something as simple as a sphere tracing across the surface of another sphere can stir consistent and predictable emotions in people even though the shapes do not resemble a human, domestic pet, or anything but a snowman’s abdomen. This makes us think about how our own robots must be perceived by people who are not mired in circuits all day. Certainly, a robot jellyfish lazing about in the Atlantic must feel less threatening than a laser pointer with a taste for human eyeballs.

 

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Animatronic Head Responds With Animated GIFs

[Abhishek] describes Peeqo as a “personal desktop robotic assistant” that looks like “the love child of an Amazon Echo and a Disney character.” We’re not sure about that last part — we’re pretty sure [Bender Bending Rodriquez] would fail a paternity suit on this one. Just look at that resemblance.

vkwnaidWhatever Peeqo’s parentage may be, it’s a pretty awesome build, and from the look of [Abhishek]’s design notes, he put a lot of thought into it, and a lot of work too. The build log reveals 3D-printed parts galore, custom-etched PC boards, and a hacked Raspberry Pi to both listen for voice commands and play responses in the form of animated GIFs on Peeqo’s ‘face’. The base has six modified RC servos to run the Gough-Stewart platform that lets Peeqo emote, and the head contains pretty much all the electronics. Beyond the hardware, a ton of programming went into giving Peeqo the ability to communicate through head gestures and GIFs that make sense for the required response.

Whether it’s bopping along to the tunes on your playlist or motivating you to lay off the social media with [Will Ferrell]’s flaming angry eyes, Peeqo looks like a ton of fun to build and use. Conveniently enough, [Abhishek] has shared all his files so you can build one too.

We haven’t seen anything like Peeqo before, but we have seen a lot of Amazon Echo hacks and even a few Stewart platform builds. But did we inadvertently feature a project starring Peeqo’s dad way back in 2009?

[Thanks to Aaron Cofield for the tip]

Copper Thermite Explodes And Smolders Successfully

It was quite a surprise to learn that thermite isn’t just rust and aluminum powder, but describes any combination of metal powder, metal oxide, and optionally fuel mixed together in a reactive ratio.  [sciencewithscreens] shows us some of the properties of a copper (II) oxide based thermite.

We can only assume he has a thing for copper as an element. After growing his copper crystal it wasn’t long before he followed a winding road of copper based experiments and found himself with a supply of copper (II) oxide after rendering it from common household chemicals. He had two missions for it. The first was to witness an unfettered copper oxide based thermite reaction. Some had assured him it was practically explosive. The other was to attempt refining pure copper using the reaction. That would be pretty cool considering it all started out as an impure blend of laundry detergents and fertilizer.

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