LEGO-Sorting Vacuum Defeats The Problem

What’s the worst thing about LEGO? Most would agree that it’s the fact that those bright and colorful pieces of ABS are somehow the most evil thing that can come between your bare feet and solid ground. [Unnecessary Inventions] have done a one-eighty from their handle and made a quite useful invention — a LEGO-sorting vacuum cleaner called Suck It.

Well, technically, it’s a shop vac attachment, but it does the job beautifully. [Unnecessary Inventions] started with a never-used machine and a clear plastic cylinder cut into fourths. Then he designed some 3D printable brackets that have two jobs: they hold the cylinder together again, and they do so in stages that collect and sort LEGO by size.

The sorting brackets have no top and bottom layers to them — they are all sorting holes and infill to allow maximum suction. But wait, it gets even better, because the brackets click together satisfyingly with embedded magnets. The only thing that would make this build better is some kind of head attachment that could gather more than a narrow swath at a time. Be sure to check out the build and demo video after the break.

Of course, with this method, you still have to open up the sections and put your LEGO away. You could just vacuum them straight into the box.

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Pressure Gauge Built In A Vacuum

Necessity might be the mother of all invention, but we often find that inventions around here are just as often driven by expensive off-the-shelf parts and a lack of willingness to spend top dollar for them. More often than not, we find people building their own tools or parts as if these high prices are a challenge instead of simply shrugging and ordering them from a supplier. The latest in those accepting the challenge of building their own parts is [Advanced Tinkering] who needed a specialty pressure gauge for a vacuum chamber.

In this specific case, the sensor itself is not too highly priced but the controller for it was the deal-breaker, so with a trusty Arduino in hand a custom gauge was fashioned once the sensor was acquired. This one uses an external analog-to-digital converter to interface with the sensor with 16-bit resolution, along with some circuitry to bring the ~8 V output of the sensor down to the 5 V required by the microcontroller. [Advanced Tinkering] wanted a custom live readout as well, so a 3D printed enclosure was built that includes both an LCD readout of the pressure and a screen with a graph of the pressure over time.

For anyone else making sensitive pressure measurements in a vacuum chamber, [Advanced Tinkering] made the project code available on a GitHub page. It’s a great solution to an otherwise overpriced part provided you have the time to build something custom. If you’re looking for something a little less delicate, though, take a look at this no-battery pressure sensor meant to ride along on a bicycle wheel.

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Rapid-Reload Vacuum Cannon Totally Demolishes Those Veggies

[NightHawkInLight] has been developing his design for a vacuum canon for a while now, so it seems fitting to drop in check out the progress. The idea is pretty straightforward, take a long rigid tube, insert a close fitting piston, magnetically attached to a projectile, and stopper the open end with something easily destroyed. The piston needs to be pulled into the tube with some force, to pull a vacuum against the stopper. The interesting bit happens next, when the piston exits the other end of the tube, with the vacuum at its maximum, there is a sudden inrush of air.  Apparently this inrush of supersonic velocity, and the momentum of the mass of air is sufficient to eject the projectile at considerable velocity, smashing through the plug and demolishing the target. So long as the target is of the soft and squishy variety anyway.

It’s an interesting idea, and certainly gives plenty of bang for not many bucks. That big lump of acrylic tubing (presumably used for ease of explanation in the video) looks fairly expensive to buy off the shelf, but we reckon any old pipe would probably work out fine.

We’ve definitely covered our share of DIY projectile weapons, like this air cannon made from PVC pipe parts, and of course there’s this crazy big one, that you should definitely not try at home.

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Quantum Atomic Interferometer For Precision Motion Sensing

The current state of the art of embedded motion sensing is based around micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) devices. These miracles of microfabrication use tiny silicon structures, configured to detect acceleration and rotational velocity in three dimensions. Accumulate these accelerations and rotations, and you’ve got a device that can find its orientation and track movement without any external waypoints. This is the basis of the technique of dead reckoning.

Why do we care about dead reckoning anyway? Surely GPS and related positioning systems are good enough? Above ground GPS is usually good enough, but underwater and underground this simply won’t work. Even heading indoors has a dramatic effect on the GPS signal strength, so yes, we need another way for some applications.

Right now, the current state of the art in portable sensors are MEMS devices, and you can get them for the cost of a hamburger. But if you want the ultimate in accuracy, you’ll want a quantum atomic interferometer. What that is, and how it will be possible to make one small enough to be useful, is half of the story. But first, let’s talk MEMS.

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Solder stencil vacuu assist jig

Stencil Vacuum-Assist Helps Avoid The Heartbreak Of Smeared Solder Paste

While using a stencil should make solder paste application onto PCBs a simple affair, there are a number of “gotchas” that make it more art than science. Luckily, there are tools you can build, like this 3D-printed vacuum-assist stencil jig, that take a little of the finesse out of the process.

For those who haven’t had the pleasure, solder paste stencils are often used to make the job of applying just the right amount of solder paste onto the pads of a PCB, and only on the pads. The problem is that once the solder paste has been squeegeed through the holes in the stencil, it’s not easy to remove the stencil without smearing. [Marius Heier]’s stencil box is essentially a chamber that attaches to a shop vac, along with a two-piece perforated work surface. The center part of the top platform is fixed, while the outer section moves up and down on 3D-printed springs.

In use, the PCB is placed on the center fixed platform, while the stencil sits atop it. Suction pulls the stencil firmly down onto the PCB and holds it there while the solder paste is applied. Releasing the suction causes the outer section of the platform to spring up vertically, resulting in nice, neat solder-covered pads. [Marius] demonstrates the box in the video below, and shows a number of adapters that would make it work with different sized PCBs.

If you think you’ve seen a manual vacuum stencil box around here recently, you’re right — we featured one by [UnexpectedMaker] not too long ago.

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A man using a homemade vacuum apparatus to climb a wall

Scale Buildings With The Power Of Suction

Walls can’t hold [Elijah Cirioli]. The would-be superhero has been busy scaling the sides of buildings using his self-contained vacuum climbers. (Video embedded after the break.)

After being inspired by the winning project of an Air Force design challenge, our plain-clothed crusader got to work on a pair of prototype vacuum climbers. The wooden prototypes were an unexpected success, so work soon began on the models featured in the video after the break. The main improvements in this second version included using ¼ inch acrylic instead of plywood, as well as an improved gasket for a better seal against the imperfect exterior of many building walls.

While the system would still ultimately struggle with brick walls (and other imperfect surfaces), it performs more than adequately when ascending smoother concrete walls. And while the acrylic was a far better choice than the plywood, one of the acrylic panels still developed a fracture. Even so, the results speak for themselves, and we have to applaud the inventor’s seemingly unconditional trust in his equipment.

We haven’t seen a follow-up from [Elijah Cirioli] recently, so here’s hoping that he’s busy working on version three, and that he’s not stuck up a wall somewhere. In the meantime, check out how someone accomplished similar wall-climbing feats using salvaged microwave transformers.

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Wearable soft robot grippers

Soft Robotics Hack Chat

Join us on Wednesday, October 27 at noon Pacific for the Soft Robotics Hack Chat with Ali Shtarbanov!

By this point in technological history, we’ve all been pretty well trained in how to think about robots. Designs vary wildly, but to achieve their goals, most robots have one thing in common: they’re rigid. Whether it’s a robot arm slinging a spot welder on an assembly line or a robot dog on patrol, they’re largely made of stiff, strong, materials that, more often than not, are powered by electric motors of some sort.

But just because that’s the general design palette for robotics doesn’t mean there aren’t other ways. Robots, especially those that are intended to be used in close association with humans, can often benefit from being a little more flexible. And that’s where the field of soft robotics shines. Rather than a skeleton of machined aluminum and powerful electric actuators, these robots tend more toward silicone rubber construction with pneumatic activation. Some soft robots are even compliant and safe enough to be wearable, giving humans the ability to do things they never could before, or perhaps restoring functions that have been lost to the ravages of entropy.

Soft robotics is a fascinating field with the potential to really revolutionize things like wearables and collaborative robotics. To help us understand a little more about what’s going on in this space, we’re pleased to welcome Ali Shtarbanov to the Hack Chat. Ali is a Ph.D. student at MIT’s famed Media Lab, where he studies Human-Computer Interaction. He’s particularly interested in making soft robotics as fast and easy to prototype as traditional robotics have become, and to this end, he invented FlowIO, an open-source platform for pneumatic control. We’ll use this as a jumping-off point to discuss the whole field of soft robotics, especially where it is now and where Ali sees it going in the future.

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events in the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, October 27 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have you tied up, we have a handy time zone converter.