After testing the Flat-Pack Camera Arm I built, I was pretty happy with the results. Happy, except for one detail: the joint at the base of the arm would creep down over time. This wasn’t a problem while taking shots of projects at the bench, given how often I’d have to reposition it anywhere. The big breakdown was trying to capture time lapses. The creep was just too noticeable, and it would never stay in place long enough to keep the action of a day’s hacking in frame.
So, I set out to make some locking plates for the arm, and I think people could find some interesting uses for the process I came up with. The broad strokes of the method are that you design the part you’d like at the end in CAD, design a floor under your part with walls around it (I call this a bathtub), print the bathtub mold you designed, cast the mold using 2-part silicone (making sure it’s nice and level), and cast your final material into that mold. Once you’ve got the knack of replicating parts using 1-part molds, you can get fancier: adding vent holes for letting air escape or labels for your parts or building multiple parts for your molds for even more precise geometry.
Below you can find more information on the whole project:
I’ve been experimenting with printed flexures, and wanted to make a simple tensegrity toy to explore the concept. This design (which you can download on Thingiverse) features both printed tension and compression elements that all build together into a slightly bouncy tensegrity sculpture.
I also optimized the design to allow everything to print at once on my Ultimaker 2+ buildplate. The sculpture assembles with a handful of self-threading torx screws to make it easy for anyone to replicate.
Kari Love and I gave a talk at Maker Faire last year detailing how the maker mindset (tinkering to get an intuitive sense of the rules governing the system, hands-on learning, fast frugal iteration, and sharing) can be transformative for research into fundamental technologies and chronically intractable problems.
The key factor is going from zero to a working understanding of the ground truths underlying the problem you’re trying to solve as quickly as possible. From historical surveys of how transformative technologies have been developed in the past (like TRIZ), deeply focused research is no match for playful learning and interdisciplinary exploration.
These are the techniques we use at Super-Releaser to get things done given how new the field is and how much it relies on an intuitive understanding of the mechanics of soft systems. When there isn’t a robust framework to simulate before experimentation, you need to rely on experience and spot tests.
We were also very proud to have our intern, Aidan Leitch, give his own talk on his soft robotics research. It was very well attended and people seemed excited to see live demos of his soft robot designs.
Super-Releaser has begun work on a book on soft robotics for Maker Media. Kari Love and I are writing a book that provides a history of the field of soft robotics, tutorials demonstrating its basic principles, more sophisticated projects like a control system and entire soft robots, and the potential of applied soft robotics from medical devices to human spaceflight to interplanetary exploration. As far as we can tell this will be the first book published demonstrating practical soft robotics.
We are working with Roger Stewart to complete the text before the end of this year. Fingers crossed it will be available in bookstores in early 2018.
Do you like 3D printing, mold making, industrial design, jewelry, and RGB LED’s? You’re in luck, then. I just finished this tutorial for Adafruit and think it’s well worth a look.
In this project, I attempted to make an Arduino powered device that was easy to use, easy to make, and self contained. Every 3d printed component can be done in a single build without support material. The ring has a battery, switch, and USB port. Once it’s together, all you need to charge or reprogram it is a USB Micro cable.
Long time no see, folks. I’ve got some great news for you. I’ve finally found a method for getting super complicated geometry locked inside of a seamless skin. It’s taken a lot of prototypes to get here, but I think the results are more than worth the effort. There are some wrinkles to iron out (which I’ll get to below) but all in all I think I’m incredibly close to rapid-fire casting working quadrupeds, ready to go in just a few short steps after popping the mold. In other good news, I’ll be dropping some files very soon which should get you your very own working quadruped using any FDM printer. All you need is a Makerbot or similar, a few hours, and some casting materials to have an exact duplicate of my most sophisticated robot to date.
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. Continue reading →
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. Continue reading →
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.
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. Continue reading →