Minimalist Marble Machine

I always loved watching marble machines, especially the creations of denha. These little machines are super cute and very well made. So a marble machine was on my todo list for a very long time.

Minimalist Marble Machine

To start easy, I decided to build the most minimalistic marble machine I could think of. Just one oval and a single lift mechanism.

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Halfbug

Since I started playing with electronics, I dreamed of building my own robot. Not buying a kit, but making every part of it myself. It took quite a while, almost 11 months, not full time, of course, but on and off, with smaller projects and work in between.

Last year I bought a small used lathe, then a small mill and beginning of this year, 2014, a ShapeOko 2 CNC mill. Every machine has it’s own rabbit hole. Hard to not get lost for a beginner like me. So many ways to screw up. I checked a couple.

halfbug

So here it is, my very first robot, halfbug. All parts are machined and manufactured by myself, not counting the Arduino board and the servos. Everything is screwed or clamped together without any glue.
Well, almost.

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Boring bar tool holder

Proxxon SD300

Last July I bought a small used lathe. It’s a Proxxon SD 300, also known as Hobbymat MD65 or as PRAZI Saupe/Unitech SD-300. It can hold pieces up to 300mm in length and weighs about 45kg. Why a lathe you ask? I wanted to do more mechanical stuff. 3D printers are fine and all that but I wanted something stronger. At least aluminum.

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Raspberry Pi with RGB-Pixels and node.js

This article is also available in Serbo-Croatian language by Vera Djuraskovic. Thanks Vera!

For quite some time I had my Raspi lying around. And some RGB Pixels as well. So it was about time to bring them together. The last couple of days I built a web interface that I can use to control my pixels. That’s more a technical demo, rather than something useful. But I learned quite a bit.

For the server part I decided to use node.js. For the client I wanted to use Angular.js and Bootstrap. To have the UI work on a mobile as well, I had to include Angular-touchevents.

The pixels are connected to the Raspi vi SPI. Although there are node modules for SPI and Adafruit pixels, they were not working out of the box. I had to poke around a bit to make them work. Changes are included in the node-pixel repository.

When put together, it works like this:

  • The browser opens index.html and renders an array of 25 clickable batches.
  • Clicking and dragging on a batch changes its color and lighting.
  • These changes are send to the server over web sockets.
  • The server receives the color changes, updates the pixels over SPI and then sends a broadcast via web sockets to all connected clients

Over all I’m quite pleased with the outcome. It works and the amount of code is rather small. And I learned to write tiny bits of javascript for the client and for the server. More fun than expected. Especially sending data over web sockets is nice and easy.
As seen in the demo, there is a very noticeable lag between updates. For a more pro solution you may want custom build clients and your own custom protocol (or maybe DMX?) to get rid of that.

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The Almost Useless Machine

We all know, we should use more renewable energy. Here is my contribution. Use solar power if you want to cut 20mm wooden rods. And plan ahead because it may take a while.

This little machine uses a so called solar engine to drive the motor. This solar engine is able to collect tiny amounts of energy over time and stores it in large capacitors. When the voltage reaches a certain level, it opens up and uses all the stored energy at once to drive a motor. These engines were used to drive tiny BEAM-bots and were quite popular a while ago. A lot of information can be found at beam-wiki.org on how to build them and how they work.

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Home Sweet Home

In July Jeremy Abbett of Makers and Company came over and we discussed, what would be a cool project for Google’s Creative Sandbox event in Berlin. Finally we settled with “Home Sweet Home”, a Google Latitude Arduino driven Lamp.
The idea is, that your kids at home have a hanging lamp that tells them how far away dad is and in which direction he is heading. The closer he comes home, the lower the lamp would go. So it’s kind of an ambient tracking thing, but only for your family.

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Battery Adapter for Canon Powershot SX200

Last year I bought a Canon PowerShot SX200 on ebay. I wanted to play a bit with CHDK, the Canon Hack Development Kit to make some timelapse things. Problem was, the battery would hold only up for 2 hours or so. Even worse, the camera has no power jack to attach a power supply. The solution is to buy a battery dummy that has a jack on its back. That costs like 30 euros!

3D printing to the rescue!

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The Indestructible Billboard

In March Marcus of Interactive Matter and I helped Publicis to build an interactive billboard for Evoc.

Evoc makes backpacks with protectors, called LITESHIELD. The protector is used to absorb a good portion of an impact in case of an accident. So we were asked to build a billboard with an included backpack and a sensor, that measures an impact. The impact and the absorbed portion would be displayed on a screen, also integrated into the billboard. A webcam should take a picture of a candidate, while he tries to hit the backpack as hard as he could. The picture would then be uploaded to Facebook, if the candidate agrees.

Our part was all the electronics and programming. Rest of the innards was made by the great guys of Create and More. As sensor we used an Arduino and a accelerometer with +/-250g range. Whenever a punch is detected, the maximum value gets sent to an Processing sketch, that takes a picture, updates the display and sends the picture to Facebook. No open source here, it’s simply too ugly and we are embarrassed.

Presentation took place in Berlin at the end of March. Everything worked out really well. Only problem was a slightly flaky internet uplink. Next time we will have at least two 3G USB sticks as fallback. Despite that everyone had a lot of fun, especially the kids and some young guys, giving the billboard and the backpack a hard time. But it withstood. Of course.