We’ve seen the story about the kid getting punished for eating a Pop-Tart into the shape of a gun in school. Most likely you’ve seen some meta-journalism about the hype cycle on this, what the constant terror about guns means for the state of humanity, and exactly how much navel gazing is appropriate based on one inconsequential piece of news. Chances are you’ve also seen some truly awful leader images for those stories as well. Numi and I set out to change that.
We’ve made a selection of creative commons high resolution images of high fidelity pop tart guns for you to use to your heart’s content. Download them. Use them. Remix them into a food gun collage bonanza. The sky’s the limit.
This will be an update on the things I’ve learned molding quadrupeds over the last couple of months and some previews of the new robots I’ll be experimenting with in the next few weeks. To start, I’ve had the chance to run a gaggle of design experiments ranging from small changes to the particular silicone I’ve been casting, to more radical changes to how the whole plionics manufacturing process comes together.
I’ve discovered that molding complex channels of tubing can be extremely difficult, and the CAD equally infuriating. I’m discovering some automatic routing tools in SolidWorks that could streamline the process, but there might be another solution that sidesteps that whole mess entirely. It’s possible to cast around silicone tubing that’s already connecting up all the interior geometry. So, what I’d have to do to get the design working is build the cores with little fastenings for plugging in tubing and make sure all the tubes have enough clearance to get past one another. I’m anticipating the world of reality doesn’t let me off the hook that easily, but it’s a start. More »
I’ve been designing things for Pork Pie Hatters for a year, now. This has included their site, a custom door, some signage, an extra large stamp, a series of hats, and a host of other things. Recently, we’ve been talking about displays, interior decoration, and finding ways to maximize the hats on display while keeping a lid on the clutter. The main problem with selling anything in Manhattan is finding a place to put any stock that isn’t out on the shelves, and the problem with buying anything in Manhattan is sorting it into your microscopic apartment. So, I came up with some flat pack hat stands. More »
This is a response, more of a high five, to Zach Hoeken’s post up on MAKE: “First to File? Nah, First to Blog!” Basically his post was a series of ideas that have been hanging around in his notebooks, possibly eligible for patents, that he would rather see out there and made in the world than locked away between the pages of a personal sketchpad forever or exploited to the chagrin of mankind by some unruly technological entity, wrapped up in complex patent labyrinths, and never put to a more just use than in sole product from a sole company (see 3d Systems vs the Form 1, Patent Busting, 3d printing patent challenges, etc). Even worse is the possibility of an idea getting patented and never implemented, only used as a club to hit innovators over the wallet (see Intellectual Ventures). I’m in favor of this. Truth be told I’m pretty aggressively anti patent, which is why all of my recent robotics projects have been released into the open source. Although I realize there’s a difficult road ahead, finding ways to keep funding innovation and novel IP in the world patent abolitionists have been gunning for, I believe open access to information and the network effects it generates far far and away outweigh the small innovation boost you get from researchers confident they’ll be the only people able to profit from the particular idea they’re developing. More »
Earlier this week I had the opportunity to show off the soft robots I’ve been developing at the National Robotics Week: Extending Human Reach event held at HUGE labs and facilitated by Honeybee Robotics. I was originally excited at the prospect of seeing the incredibly varied group, the police standing next to bomb sniffing drones, LittleBits showing off tiny circuit construction kits, Honeybee demonstrating the lab tools they designed that are currently roving around on Mars. It was a shame I didn’t have more time away from my booth to check out the tech everyone else brought, but the general crowd was so excited, so eager to chat about robots and what I was presenting, that the event was almost over before I caught my breath. Thankfully Numi was there, helping set up, answering questions, and generally being awesome.
So, now I’ve got a pile of business cards representing science minded folks to email, some new medical applications to push the next prototypes towards, and an urge to show this stuff off to the public more.
Quadrupeds. I’ve been dreaming about quadrupeds. I’ve been hunting for challenges to test my methods and improve the engineering on the whole “print and cast a soft robot” thing (I really need to come up with a name for this… “Borgatronics?”). I started with tentacles because they were easy to design, easy to test, and symmetrical.
Waxes suspended in the silicone.
They’ve made a lot of progress, but it’s time to turn to other designs. I’ve produced a few prototypes along one main design, and have discovered many things. I’m going to try and explain my logic behind the design and some of the major changes I intend to make in the next version. I’m also going to tell you all the myriad ways I went wrong in this design and the things I’ve done to try and make it right.
This is going to be a pretty dry technical post on the industrial design aspects of the robots I’ve been developing. I promise you entertainment and levity aplenty in the future. For now, we grump about casting flaws, mold design, and process control. More »
If you're craving an animated GIF of a tentacle wiggling about, this here's your image.
I am now the grinning overlord of a fully functional robotic tentacle. I’m quite pleased. After a few iterations, some hair pulling, and some utterly excellent help from programmer, hacker, and generally awesome person TQ, the Trefoil Tentacle is now waving about in all its eerie undulating glory. You can find a whole set of high res images of it here.
The control scheme is pretty simple: a barebones visual interface in Processing sends signals to an Arduino. From there, it switches the low power signal to high power via a Darlington transistor. The transistor switches each of 3 solenoid valves on and off, providing air to each of the 3 bladders inside of the silicone tentacle. The valves operate on a really slow PWM, their duty cycle determining how much air makes it to each bladder. Since there’s a bleed I can control on the system, I don’t have to worry about pumping air both in and out. I just adjust how much time the valves spend on, and the tentacle does it’s routine. All of the code for the setup is here on Adafruit’s forum.
I got some video of the thing waving about, flexing, and doing a 360 yesterday:
There’s a quadruped design getting its internals injection cast in wax this week, and should be seeing some progress in the very near future. I’ve been making steady progress on setting up an automated system to work out the internal geometry of these mechanisms with Meredith Patterson, and am hoping to have something to show for it in a month’s time. All in all, the world of soft robotics is looking pretty excellent at the moment.
I don’t tend to use this space for out of channel stuff. I’m all about making and building and doing and all that, and don’t want to cloud things up with all kinds of other dross. But, this feels like a special case for all you makers out there, especially ones with laser cutters. DON’T SHOP AT WILDWOOD DESIGNS (aka Cherry Tree Toys).
One sheet cut through at 40% power 10 speed. One did not.
Wildwood Designs (site, Facebook, Twitter) sold me a bulk order of custom cut plywood. It was 100 sheets of the 1/4″ veneer core birch plywood. I’ve bought a half dozen sheets of it before at the recommendation of some folks from Artisan’s Asylum, and thought it was a good consistent material. That notion took a sharp turn as I opened up the box containing my purchase (a solid three feet of stacked sheets of wood) and found two different products inside. One was the wood I was used to, a plywood that cuts well and leaves a nice soot-free edge. The other had the same veneer jacket, but was a completely different beast. I haven’t given everything a final count, but it looks like about 70% of all my wood is the very, very bad kind. More »
Mold making and casting has been a huge part of my life for years. It started in the SFX industry, making molds and cleaning up parts for robotic snakes on Snakes on a Plane (really), and has become an even more significant factor with the recent soft robotics project. However, one thing has plagued me this whole time: buckets.
There are lots of elegant methods for prepping a mold, squaring away your shop space, keeping everything all clean and science-y, but no matter how you slice things (unless you’re dealing with 50 gallon drums), pouring out gooey slimy liquid rubber always ends up being a mess. I often end up going through several sets of stirring sticks and dipping disposable cups into my material in the hopes of keeping everything quarantined and safe from contamination. Still I end up feeling like a Dickensian orphan, dipping a ladle into what amounts to $200 of runny goo. More »
Last week I headed up to Viridis3d for some more hacking. We got some beautiful results using some vaccuum casting with the trefoil design, parts printed for both the internals and outer shell of the quadruped, and schemes for tempting new mechanisms. All in all it’s been really exciting seeing the progress. Also, I have some updates on controlling the trefoil tentacle with an arduino powered set of air solenoids.
An assembled trefoil mold, in the vacuum chamber.
One of the confounding factors in getting this flavor of robot moving predictably has been how difficult it is to control wall thickness and bubble inclusions when casting the final silicone pieces. Like almost every mold, you do the best you can, try to create a nice, sterile, well ordered universe, and hope. Although Dragon Skin has performed really well as a durable, flexible silicone, it has the nasty habit of trapping bubbles in inconvenient spots when curing. Many silicones have a thin, pancake syrup consistency when mixed, but Dragon Skin is much more like honey or molasses, meaning it’s really easy to trap bubbles in the mix while stirring and have them set in place when everything’s curing. A good solution for the problem is pulling them back out with a vacuum chamber. More »