Category Archives: Uncategorized

New Maker Space going in at Capital

I’m now a Scholar in Residence at Capital University in the Columbus, Ohio area and just couldn’t resist the urge to establish a new maker space–or as I prefer to call it–a prototyping lab. We are still in the very early days here with only one room, a couple 3D printers, and some scrounged computers and furniture. Still, we already have a number of students coming in and doing cool projects. Next up will be outfitting the electronics bench and then we will see where things lead…..

 

MakerX The Columbus Maker Expo!

MakerX The Columbus Maker Expo will take place on April 21, 2018. Full details, including the call for exhibitors and venue information, can be found at:

www.makerx.org

MakerX is an independent maker festival that consists of a celebration, learning, and networking event for everyone in interested in the exciting new technologies of digital design and fabrication.

We are now accepting proposals to exhibit at MakerX!

We are seeking exhibitors who are: makers, inventors, tinkerers, teachers, clubs, meetups, hobbyists, professionals, makerspaces, schools, universities, start-ups, and corporations who want to share their knowledge of the world of digital design and fabrication.

The list of what we would like to see at MakerX is equally long and open ended. It certainly includes robotics of all sorts, drones, 3D printing and other digital prototyping and production technologies, electronic technology of all vintages, digital art and music, entertainment technologies, engineering innovations, game development, industrial design, AR/VR/mixed reality, digital biohacking, high-tech manufacturing, and technologies of citizen science.

In addition to this core we invite exhibits that round out a stimulating and fun event and remind us where our digital age has come from and where it may go: for example, cosplay of the sci-fi and steampunk variety, production crafts like blacksmithing, steam engines, DIY vehicles and art cars.

Tickets to attend MakerX will be available in January. In the meantime, please check it out at www.makerx.org, submit your proposal by December 1, and pass this announcement on to anyone you think might be interested.

MakerX is an entirely volunteer effort. Event contact: Bill Ball, billball@capital.edu.

Not Bored with the Boards?

I have sold several hundred of the prototype boards discussed here on Ebay. I made less than a dollar on each but it was fun to connect with like-minded hobbyists who seem to have found the boards quite useful. I’ve gotten bored with filling small orders and plan to keep the remaining stock of manufactured boards for my instructional endeavors. But I wanted to make the files for manufacturing new boards available.

The black lines and boxes show the pads tied together in the board (these are in white silkscreen on the top of the actual board).

If you want to have your own PCBs made you are free to do so as long as you keep the robot50.net as the only website on the silkscreen. This includes for commercial use. The Gerber files can be found here. The original blog post specified the manufacturer I used in China and I will note that I never had a problem with them across several orders.

Agricultural Adventure

This is a self-watering (aka bottom irrigation) planter that I created as an easy 3D print.

It can easily be scaled to fit your space and plant, although 50% is probably the realistic minimum size. The full size version works well on a window sill.

This is three-piece print is designed to print well on any 3d printer without supports. If you have it, it is a good idea to use a second color for the float to make it more visible.

More information can be found on the Easy 3D Print page. The STL files are available on Thingiverse.

Circuit Playground Workshop

The Circuit Playground board from Adafruit is a wonderful thing. It provides a self contained learning environment for Arduino with built-in environmental sensors, neopixels, and buttons and switches in a wearable format for $20. This is an excellent teaching tool that is cheap enough for students to take home with them and continue tinkering with. The board is event built into the current Arduino environment.

I have developed a introductory workshop to the Arduino world using the Circuit Playground. At the moment I am offering this workshop at the Columbus Idea Foundry. Materials for the course can be found under the workshop tab on this site.

Creating my own Makerspace

After a recent move it was time for me to put together my own workspace. Although the space I would be using is far from ideal, at least I would have all my tools together for the first time.

The situation I faced was probably not that unusual so I thought I would share some thoughts and pictures on how I dealt with it.

I have a basement space of just over 200 square feet. The basement has a “floating floor” which is not attached to the walls and is far from level. The idea is that any water pressure that builds up on the outside will slowly seep through and out some drains in the floor. It seems to work, but it means nothing is level and it would be a bad idea to attach anything (especially anything conducting electricity) to the walls. Like most basements, it has low ceilings. Since this house is almost 100 years old there are also large ducts for the add-on AC and several generations of wiring running along the bottom of the joists. Despite this, things turned out ok. I detail my approach in the picture captions that follow.

The raw space. After clearing an old store room I began to chalk out the locations of work tables on the floor. I would use these to set the locations for lights and outlets on the floor joists above.The raw space. After removing an old store room I began to chalk out the locations of work tables on the floor. I would use these to set the locations for lights and outlets on the floor joists above.

A reverse angle on the raw space. I have begun to mark locations for lights and outlets. By mounting those to the joists I keep them away from the walls. The glass block window has an unused vent that may come in handy some day.A reverse angle on the raw space. I have begun to transfer the floor chalk marks to the joists. By mounting lights & outlets to the joists above I keep them away from the walls and basement floor. The glass block window has an unused vent that may come in handy some day.

The work tables starting to go in. I used 3 of these 72"x24" tables for tool stations and one for a workbench. Adjustable height legs are useful. Floor leveling feet are an absolute requirement here since every slab of this floor tilts at a different angle.The work tables starting to go in. I used 3 of these 72″x24″ tables for tool stations and one for a workbench. Adjustable height legs are useful. Floor leveling feet are an absolute requirement here since every slab of this floor tilts at a different angle.

This was a major score. A 72"x36" proper electronics workbench I found at a local office surplus store. Getting it home and into the basement aone was a challenge.This was a major score. A 72″x36″ proper electronics workbench I found at a local office surplus store. Getting it home and into the basement alone was……interesting.

Almost everything set up. I used an online lumen calculator set bright office with dark walls to estimate the lighting. BR40 bulbs fit the narrow deep spaces between the joists. I went with 4000k high CRI LEDs, which give awesome light and are plastic, cool, and low energy to boot. Ceiling outlets provide drops to power strips on each bench. Lots of rolling storage with nothing on the floor. It's already full. Typical :) Almost everything set up. I used an online lumen calculator set to a bright office with dark walls to estimate the lighting. Eight BR40 bulbs fit the narrow and deep spaces between the joists. I went with 4000k high CRI LEDs, which give awesome light and are plastic, cool, and low energy to boot. Ceiling outlets provide drops to power strips on each bench. Lots of rolling storage with nothing on the floor. It’s already full. Typical 🙂

And now for some fun. I don't know how filament will fare in this high humidity environment (when it's rainy, at least), but one challenge at a time. And now for some fun. I don’t know how filament will fare in this high humidity environment (when it’s rainy, at least), but one challenge at a time.

Generating New Makerfaire Fun

The surplus store in my area carries a collection of old electronics gear, in addition to a gazillion other things. Many of these units include an impressive array of knobs, dials, switches, and indicator lights. I have spent an inappropriate amount of time daydreaming about the fancy toy I could turn one of those units into while in the store shopping for heat shrink tubing or whatever. The problem is that the owners price these obsolete units like they were still useful—usually in the hundreds of dollars.

But I finally scored this one for much less than that.

genorig1

It’s a radio signal generator built for the Navy in the 1950s. Since it looks like a prop you would see in a Sci-Fi movie from the 50s or 60s, my plan is to make it work like it would have in Sci-Fi land. In other words, keep the knobs and dials but have them run blinking lights video clips and sound effects reminiscent of those movies. I hope it will be a hit at Makerfaires of the future.

The first stage was tear down. This proved quite entertaining in it’s own right. This piece of equipment was clearly built at high cost to be used and serviced by people with minimal training in a hostile environment. It’s made from dense anodized aluminum. Every knob has two set screws holding it in place. Every nut is a lock nut. The vacuum tubes were both sleeved and caged. There was wire wrap every inch or so on the harness. It weighed about 40 lbs. Everything comes apart–nothing is glued or otherwise sealed. It even has the schematic riveted to the inside of the outer case.

Here are some photos of the tear down into major components. I offered the tubes and other major parts on Ebay but there were no takers. So they went into the bin. The front panel, its support, and the outer case will provide ample opportunities to add modern micros, video screens, blinky lights, and powered speakers.

genorig2

genorig3

genorig4

Flippin’ out on Digital Fabrication

I really like Flipboard, it combines the best of traditional and new media without all the fear mongering that dominates the broadcast world. Flipboard also gives users a convenient way to create their own “magazines” of curated content and share them. Thus I have created a Flipboard magazine that encompases the interests reflected on this site. Please check it out if you are a Flipboard user.

DIGITAL FABRICATION: LEARNING TO DOING

For home, school, and maker space. Covers 3D printing, Laser cutting, CNC, Arduino and other microcontrollers, internet of things, electronics, 3D design software, industrial design, rapid prototyping, social entrepreneurship, education technology, maker spaces and more.

 View my Flipboard Magazine.

Easy Prints

I’ve created a new project category for robot50.net: Easy 3D Prints. These are simple, but functional, objects suitable for printing on pretty much any 3D printer. As the collection grows I may include some that require a commonly available non-3D printed part or two. But the point is to keep things as simple as possible. In addition to detailed descriptions on the project page, all files will be shared on Thingiverse and other repositories.

ESP8266 + Arduino + Blynk = Easy and Cheap IoT?

Internet of Things (IoT) is all the rage, with many (probably) useless IoT devices coming on the market all the time now. I’ve been looking for the best path for someone of my background to get involved. Coming from an Arduino-heavy involvement and with very weak network programming skills, not every solution being put out there for IoT development was going to work for me.

The advent of the dirt cheap ESP8266 chips and modules combined with porting of the the Arduino system to them offers an intriguing path forward. Starting several months ago, I worked with a partner to develop some robotic car prototypes around the ESP8266. At the time we were looking at a very low cost educational platform for introducing computer programing that would require no installs since it would all be done in a web browser. While I focused on the chassis and components, my partner developed the custom circuit board and some really slick interface applications.

IoT enabled robotic cars. The one on the right has a ESP8266 (as NodeMCU) running Arduino + Blynk installed.
IoT enabled robotic cars. The one on the right has a ESP8266 (as NodeMCU) running Arduino + Blynk installed.

That project is on hold, possibly forever, since many similar products have come on the market. However it clarified to me that I would be really struggling to become competent on developing for the remote devices (i.e. phones and tablets) that would be controlling the robot car (or other IoT things). Also, pure web interfaces can be clumsy on one hand, yet Apple has made it far from easy to produce iPhone apps, on the other.

Meanwhile a number of projects have launched that are designed to make it easier to develop IoT apps/devices for people who are not professional-level programmers. I now have a box of their hardware platforms after backing too many kickstarters :). It’s still pretty much a wild west environment out there, but I think things are beginning to settle down a bit.

One system for easy IoT that appeals to me is Blynk. Blynk has several things going for it:

  • Easy integration into the Arduino environment / skill set.
  • Runs on a variety of micro-controller hardware, including Arduinos & Raspberry Pis with connectivity, the ESP8266 series, and Particle’s products.
  • Pretty open and can be run on their servers or yours.
  • A rational business model: free to download and play with, a one-time small charge for using elements beyond the free allowance.
  • A method for sharing control of your IoT devices with others.

But does it work? As a first attempt I rebuilt one of our robotic car chassis with a ESP8266 in the NodeMCU carrier format, mounted to a motor driver shield (from doit.am). I installed the Blynk app on my Android phone and modified one of their example apps to upload to the NodeMCU via the Arduino environment. Success! Sort of! I could run the motors up and down with the Blynk app on my phone. However I was running it through their servers and the network lag made the car uncontrollable. So far, I have not gotten the direct access mode working were the phone connects directly to the ESP8266 running as an access point. That should solve the lag problem.

So I am going to start a project to learn IoT using a home automation type demo. It will probably be a combination of lighting, environmental sensing, and perhaps notifications. This will be on the ESP8266 platform with Arduino + Blynk and using commonly available and cheap sensors and probably 3D printed housings. I will post all the details to a project web page on robot50.net