Hackaday Podcast Ep8 – The Art Episode: Joe Kim, Strings And CRTs, Hydrogen Done 2-Ways

We know you love the original art on Hackaday. Those fantastic illustrations are the work of Joe Kim, and he joins us as a guest on this week’s episode to talk about his background, what inspires him, and how he pulls it all off.

This episode is still packed with hacks. Editors Mike Szczys and Elliot Williams somehow stumble into two projects that end up generating hydrogen (despite that not being their purpose). But that art angle this week goes beyond Joe’s guest appearance as we look at a hack to add green curve tracing goodness on a black and white CRT, and an incredible take on a string art building machine. We get a look at interesting hardware that landed on the clearance rack, ultralight robots that move with flex PCB actuators, a throwback to mechanical computing, and giving up control of your home heating and cooling to a Raspberry Pi.

Links for all discussed on the show are found below. As always, join in the comments below as we’ll be watching those as we work on next week’s episode!

Direct download (64.9 MB)

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Polar Platform Spins Out Intricate String Art Portraits

We have semi-fond memories of string art from our grade school art class days. We recall liking the part where we all banged nails into a board, but that bit with wrapping the thread around the nails got a bit tedious. This CNC string art machine elevates the art form far above the grammar school level without all the tedium.

Inspired by a string art maker we recently feature, [Bart Dring] decided to tackle the problem without using an industrial robot to dispense the thread. Using design elements from his recent coaster-creating polar plotter, he built a large, rotating platform flanked by a thread handling mechanism. The platform rotates the circular “canvas” for the portrait, ringed with closely spaced nails, following G-code generated offline. A combination of in and out motion of the arm and slight rotation of the platform wraps the thread around each nail, while rotating the platform pays the thread out to the next nail. Angled nails cause the thread to find its own level naturally, so no Z-axis is needed. The video below shows a brief glimpse of an additional tool that seems to coax the threads down, too. Mercifully, [Bart] included a second fixture to drill the hundreds of angled holes needed; the nails appear to be inserted manually, but we can think of a few fixes for that.

We really like this machine, both in terms of [Bart]’s usual high build-quality standards and for the unique art it creates. He mentions several upgrades before he releases the build files, but we think it’s pretty amazing as is.

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String Art Robot Is An Autorouter In Reverse

In the depths of Etsy and Pinterest is a fascinating, if tedious, artform. String art, the process of nailing pins in a board and wrapping thread around the perimeter to create shapes and shading, The most popular project in this vein is something like putting the outline of a heart, in string, in the shape of your home state. Something like that, at least.

While this artform involves about as much effort as pallet wood furniture, there is an interesting computational aspect of it: you can create images with string art, and doing this is a very, very hard problem to solve with an algorithm. Researchers at TU Wien have brought out the best that string art has to offer. They’ve programmed an industrial robot to create portraits out of string.

The experimental setup for this is about as simple as it gets. It’s a circular frame studded with 256 hooks around the perimeter. An industrial robot arm takes a few kilometers of thread winds a piece of string around one of these hooks, then travels to another hook. Repeat that thousands and thousands of times, and you get a portrait of Ada Lovelace or Albert Einstein.

The wire wrapped backplane of a DEC PDP-11. This was assembled by a robot that was programmed with an autorouter. It’s also string art.

The real trick here is the algorithm that takes an image and translates it into the paths the string will take. This is an NP-hard problem, but it is a surprisingly well-studied problem. The first autorouters — the things you should never trust to route traces between the packages on your PCB — we created for wire wrapped computers. Here, computers would find the shortest path between whatever pins had to be connected together. There were, of course, limitations: pins could only have so many connections on them thanks to the nature of wire wrapping, and you couldn’t have one gigantic mass of wires for a parallel bus. The first autorouters were string art algorithms, only in reverse.

You can take a look at the complete publication here.

You’ll also find prior art (tee-hee) in our own pages. Here is an artist doing it by hand, and here’s a machine to do it for you if you’re lazy. We’ve even seen further work on the underlying algorithm on Hackaday.io.

Autograph: A String Art Printer

“String Art” is the name of the art form that transforms thousands of nails and just as many feet of thread into unique masterpieces. Some artists have developed techniques to create photorealistic string art works, but until now, there was no way around the tedious and time-consuming manufacturing process. Depending on the size, it can take months to complete a single piece by hand.

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