The purpose of a Zen garden, those stylized landscapes created by painstakingly placing rocks and raking gravel into perfect patterns, is the doing of the thing. Making sure every line is perfectly formed is no mean feat, and the concentration required to master it is the point of the whole thing. But who has time for that? Why not just build a robot to create the perfect Zen garden in miniature?
That was what [Tim Callinan] and his classmates did for a semester project, and the “ZenXY” sand plotter was the result. There isn’t a build log for the device per se, although the video below makes it plain how they went about this. The sand table itself is a plywood box whose bottom is layered with fine white sand and contains a single steel ball. Below the table is an X-Y gantry carrying a powerful magnet. A gShield riding on top of an Uno turns G code into slow, stately movement of the ball through the sand. The patterns are remarkably intricate, and while it might not be the same as mastering the body control needed to rake gravel with precision, watching the ball push the sand around is pretty Zen all by itself
The patience and precision involved with drawing geometric patterns in sand is right up a robot’s alley, and demonstrating this is [rob dobson]’s SandBot, a robot that draws patterns thanks to an arm with a magnetically coupled ball.
SandBot is not a cartesian XY design. An XY frame would need to be at least as big as the sand table itself, but a SCARA arm can be much more compact. Sandbot also makes heavy use of 3D printing and laser-cut acrylic pieces, with no need of an external frame.
[rob]’s writeup is chock full of excellent detail and illustrations, and makes an excellent read. His previous SandBot design is also worth checking out, as it contains all kinds of practical details like what size of ball bearing is best for drawing in fine sand (between 15 and 20 mm diameter, it turns out. Too small and motion is jerky as the ball catches on sand grains, and too large and there is noticeable lag in movement.) Design files for the SCARA SandBot are on GitHub but [rob] has handy links to everything in his writeup for easy reference.
Sand and robots (or any moving parts) aren’t exactly a natural combination, but that hasn’t stopped anyone. We’ve seen Clearwalker stride along the beach, and the Sand Drawing Robot lowers an appendage to carve out messages in the sand while rolling along.
When strolling down the beach, there’s always an urge to draw in the sand – it seems compulsory to make your mark by inscribing something. But there’s a dilemma: how do you go about physically drawing it? You could opt to remain standing and attempt to deploy a toe, but that requires a level of dexterity few possess. The only other option is to bend down and physically use your hands. Ultimately, there’s no way to draw anything in the sand without losing your dignity.
The solution? A robot, of course – the brainchild of [Ivan Miranda]. The idea is simple and elegantly executed: make a large linear actuator, place it on wheels, and attach a servo which can position an etching tool to be either in the sand or above it. The whole contraption moves forward one column at a time, making a vertical pass with the marker being engaged or disengaged as required. The columns are quite thin, giving relatively high-resolution text, though this does mean it take a while. Adding another servo and marking two adjacent columns at the same time would be an easy way to instantly double the speed.
We’ll preface this by stating that this isn’t the easiest hack to pull off on a lazy Saturday afternoon. You need a spare hot tub, plenty of pipe, and a seriously big air supply. But if you can pull it all together, the payoff is fantastic.
What [Mark] has achieved is turning a regular hot tub into a fluidized bed. In simple terms, this is where a solid particulate material (like sand) is made to act more like a fluid by passing pressurized fluid through the material. Through a carefully built series of drilled copper pipes, [Mark] manages to turn the hot tub into a fluidized bed, much to the enjoyment of his young nephews.
While it’s not the easiest hack to copy at home, [Mark] drives home the science of both the fluidized bed and why certain objects float or sink in the sand. It’s something that can also be easily tackled at a smaller scale, if you’re looking for something more achievable for the average maker.
Hackaday gets results! Reader [John] saw our recent Fail of the Week post about a “sand matrix printer” and decided to share his own version, a sand-dispensing dot matrix printer he built last year.
Granted, [John]’s version is almost the exact opposite of [Vjie Miller]’s failed build, which sought to make depressions in the sand to print characters. [John]’s Sandscript takes a hopper full of dry, clean sand and dispenses small piles from six small servo-controlled nozzles. The hopper is mounted on a wheeled frame, and an optical encoder on one wheel senses forward motion to determine when to open each nozzle. As [John] slowly walks behind and to the side of the cart, a line of verse is slowly drizzled out onto the pavement. See it in action in the video below.
More performance art piece than anything else, we can see how this would be really engaging, with people following along like kids after the [Pied Piper], waiting to find out what the full message is. There’s probably a statement in there about the impermanence of art and the fleeting nature of existence, but we just think it’s a really cool build.
NYC beaches are where tropical beaches addicted to meth go to die. So says [Vije Miller] in his write-up for his Arduino sand matrix printer. It’s a clever idea, five servo-operated cardboard plungers that indent a pattern of dots in the sand as the device is pulled forward, resulting in something not unlike a dot matrix printer that can write messages in the sand.
He’s submitted it to us as a Fail Of The Week, because it doesn’t do a very good job of writing in the sand, and it’s burned out a servo. But we feel this isn’t entirely fair, because whether or not it has delivered the goods it’s still an excellent build. Cardboard isn’t a material we see much of here at Hackaday, but in this case he’s mastered it in a complex mechanism that while it may have proved a little too flexible for the job in hand is nevertheless a rather impressive piece of work.
You can see a brief video below the break showing it in action. He tells us his motivation has waned on this project, and expresses the hope that others will take up the baton and produce a more viable machine.
Some people find it hard to look at a huge, flat expanse of floor or ground and not see a canvas. From the outfield grass of a baseball park to some poor farmer’s wheat field, trampling, trimming or painting patterns can present an irresistible temptation. But the larger the canvas the more challenging the composition will be, which is where this autonomous beach-combing art robot comes into play.
Very much still a work in progress, [pablo.odysseus]’ beach bot was built to take advantage of the kilometers-wide beaches left by the receding tides near his home. That immense canvas is begging to be groomed, and this bot is built for the task. The running gear itself is simple – an extruded aluminum chassis powered by wheelchair drives with added optical encoders and dragging a retractable rake – but the bot is bristling with electronics dedicated to navigation. A pair of Arduinos run the dual odometers, compass, and a GNSS receiver, as well as providing a smartphone interface for on-the-fly changes. The art is composed as a DXF file converted to latitude and longitude points and exported to Google Earth as a KML. That means the bot can just be brought to the beach and allowed to draw autonomously. An early test run is seen below the break; better “brushes” are in the works.
Watching the art unfold on a beach would be relaxing, like watching a zen garden being created. We’re looking forward to [pablo]’s progress on this one. Of course, art bots aren’t the only autonomous machines that big, wide beaches attract.