LEGO and its Technic line is a great way to learn about all kinds of mechanical things, but it’s also just a whole lot of fun to play with. We suspect the latter reason is what got [Brick Technology] to pursue creating a trippy water vortex with the building toy.
The first design uses a transparent plastic sphere as a water vessel. Inside the sphere is placed a small turbine, turned from the outside via a magnetic coupling. This means the sphere can remain intact, with no holes required, nor complicated seals which can leak. It works well, and produces a vortex when the turbine is spun by a regular LEGO motor. A second attempt elects to rotate the entire sphere itself. Small LEGO wheels are then used to hold the sphere in place on the rapidly spinning turntable. The results are impressive, creating a large and relatively well-formed vortex.
Naturally, though, the video saves the best for last. The big transparent sphere is installed in a rig that surrounds it completely. The sphere itself is spun up thanks to wheels installed on two different axes. This allows the sphere to be spun in various directions under command from a PlayStation controller, creating more complicated vortexes and flow patterns. A set of swiveling casters are provided to hold the sphere in place as it rotates in various directions, and are damped with springs and rubber bands to stop the rig shaking itself apart.
Disco balls take a zillion mirrors glued to a sphere and shine a spotlight on them. But what if the ball itself was the light source? Here’s a modern version that uses addressable LEDs in a 3D-printed sphere that also hides the electronics inside the ball itself.
Check out the video below to see the fantastic results. It’s a Teensy 3.6 driving a whopping 130 WS2812 LEDs to make this happen. (Even though the sphere has the lowest surface area to volume ratio.) There’s even a microphone and an accelerometer to make the orb interactive. Hidden inside is a 4400 mAh battery pack that handles recharging and feeds 5 V to the project.
For us, it’s the fabrication that really makes this even more impressive. The sphere itself is 3D printed as four rings that combine to form a sphere. This makes perfect spacing for the LEDs a snap, but you’re going to spend some time soldering the voltage, ground, and data connections from pixel to pixel. In this case that’s greatly simplified because the LEDs were sourced from AliExpress already hosted on a little circle of PCB so you’re not trying to solder on the component itself. Still, that’s something like 390 wires requiring 780 solder joints!
Every person who reads these pages is likely to have encountered a neodymium magnet. Most of us interact with them on a daily basis, so it is easy to assume that the process for their manufacture must be simple since they are everywhere. That is not the case, and there is value in knowing how the magnets are manufactured so that the next time you pick one up or put a reminder on the fridge you can appreciate the labor that goes into one.
[Michael Brand] writes the Super Magnet Man blog and he walks us through the high-level steps of neodymium magnet production. It would be a flat-out lie to say it was easy, but you’ll learn what goes into them and why you don’t want to lick a broken hard-drive magnet and why it will turn to powder in your mouth. Neodymium magnets are probably unlikely to be produced at this level in a garage lab, but we would love to be proved wrong.
Every once in a while a project comes along with that magical power to consume your time and attention for many months. When you finally complete it, you feel sorry that you don’t have to do anything more.
What is so special about this Bingo ball reader? It may seem like an ordinary OCR project at first glance; a camera captures the image and OCR software recognizes the number. Simple as that. And it works without problems, like every simple gadget should.
But then again, maybe it’s not that simple. Numbers are scattered all over the ball, so they have to be located first, and the best candidate for reading must be selected. Then, numbers are painted onto a sphere rather than a flat surface, sometimes making them deformed to the point where their shape has to be recovered first. Also, the angle of reading is not fixed but somewhere on a 360° scale. And then we have the glare problem to boot, as Bingo balls are so shiny that every light source reflects as a saturated bright spot.
So, is that all of it? Well, almost. The task is supposed to be performed by an embedded microcontroller, with limited speed and memory, yet the recognition process for one ball has to be fast — 500 ms at worst. But that’s just one part of the process. The project includes the pipelined mechanism which accepts the ball, transports it to be scanned by the OCR and then shot by the public broadcast camera before it gets dumped. And finally, if the reading was not reliable enough, the ball has to be subtly rotated so that the numbers would be repositioned for another reading attempt.
Despite these challenges I did manage to build this system. It’s fast and reliable, and I discovered some very interesting tricks along the way. Take a look at the quick demo video below to get a feel for the speed, and what the system “sees”. Then join me after the break to dive into the details of this interesting embedded build.
Ever wonder how wood spheres are made? Normally they are made on a wood lathe with some fancy jigs and fixtures. [Izzy Swan] set out to bring wood sphere manufacturing to the masses by designing an inexpensive machine that uses a standard circular saw to carve a block of wood into a sphere.
Here’s how it works: a piece of wood is held in a wood fixture and spun using a hand drill. The fixture and drill are mounted to a wooden ring that rotates about a perpendicular axis. The user manually moves the entire assembly back and forth about that second axis while spinning the drill. Meanwhile, a circular saw is moved closer and closer to the soon-to-be-sphere, nibbling away little by little. After most of the material has been cut from the block of wood, it is removed from the fixture and spun 90 degrees to cut the two remaining nubs. The end result is a pretty nice looking sphere.
This is one of the simplest CNC builds we’ve seen but it still functions quite well. It’s a clone of the EggBot, but is aimed at printing on spherical Ping Pong balls rather than oblong eggs. [Chad] calls it the Spherebot, but you should be careful not to confuse it with the morphing sphere robot which can walk around like a hexapod.
The project is both mechanically and electronically simple. The body of the printer is made up of three acrylic plates, which we’re sure were clamped together when drilling holes to guarantee proper alignment. Threaded rod and nuts are used to mount the plates to one another, as well as to hold the sphere in place while printing. One stepper motor turns the ball while the other pivots the pen mount. A servo motor is responsible for lifting the pen. The entire thing is driven by an Arduino along with two stepper motor driver boards. Don’t miss [Chad’s] presentation embedded after the break.
This sort of thing is right up our alley, but unlike the last time Dyson engineers shrugged off the daily grind to hack their own hardware, this doesn’t show off nearly enough of the festivities. Sure the pair of videos embedded after the break make a great trailer for the event, but we would love to have seen 90 seconds devoted to each of the entries. Alas, you do get to see most of the winning unit’s obstacle course run which includes a distance route, navigating through rough terrain, and negotiating a high path where falling off the edge is a real threat.