Automatic Origami

I’ve been playing with origami, lately. Specifically, I’ve been exploring how to simulate, model, and fold origami shapes in ways that could be automated to create useful mechanisms. The system I’ve come up with is designed to fold rip-stop nylon, which I’ve worked with a bit during my time at Makani Power and research at Super-Releaser.

After some experiments with programs designed specifically for generating origami patterns, I found I wasn’t able replicate the patterns I’d prototyped in paper. Since I wanted to start out with a paper prototype, do some bench tests, and move to CAD from there, I needed to consider other options. I also wasn’t able to convert the output into a format that would play with CAD for printing and prototyping the resulting forms. So, I fell back on my old standard: SolidWorks. If you’ve worked with me before or you’re a regular reader, you don’t get any bonus points for guessing I’d find a way to turn this into a SolidWorks project. This video was very helpful for understanding how to think about origami in a SW context.

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3D Printed Syringe Static Mixer

I developed this static mixer design to streamline casting demos. Often times, a casting demo can get bogged down with portioning, mixing, and degassing, especially when you’re trying to have a group of students get hands-on time with the casting materials.

With this design, you load up degassed silicone, store the unit until needed, and then dispense mixed material out of the nozzle. If you’d like to build your own, you can find all of the source files on Thingiverse. This project was also picked up by Hack A Day.

Grow Light Diffuser

Cheap grow lights are great – they’re energy efficient, ubiquitous, and the design pattern of the aluminum-backed PCB for dissipating heat is well chosen. However, unshielded high-output LED’s are a real pain on the eyes.

I bought a set of these grow lights to give the plants in my bedroom a little boost since their window faces a shaded courtyard in the center of my building. Rather than invest in something more expensive or put up with hot pinpoints of light stabbing my eyes every day, I designed a cheap printed diffuser to make the system more hospitable.

You can download the design files and read the build instructions on Thingiverse.

As a bonus, they also provide some great Miami Vice lighting, just in case I wanted to film my own episode of ContraPoints.

Metal Parts from 3D Prints

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:

ShopBot Camera Arm – Handsfree Project Documentation

I’ve been wanting an extra set of hands to hold a camera while I document projects for a long time. Kari and I are writing a book for MAKE all about soft robotics, and I figure there’s probably not going to be a better time to have a serious documentation setup than when someone’s paying me to do a good job at it. Since NYC Resistor just got a ShopBot and I’ve been meaning to get back into plywood fab for years, it seemed like a pretty auspicious syzygy. If you’d like to replicate this design for yourself, you can find the source files and project notes here. You can also see my photos from the cutting and assembly of the project here. Continue reading

The Glaucus

The Glaucus is a soft robotic quadruped composed of a single seamless silicone part. It has a complex network of interior channels, created via a lost wax process, that turn into actuators when pressurized with air. It’s able to walk with a diagonal gait, similar to a gecko or Glaucus Atlanticus sea slug, using only two input channels.

quad_03The Glaucus was created to demonstrate a method for fabricating soft robots of nearly any geometry with arbitrary interior structures. It’s been my goal, since beginning my research into soft robotics, to simplify the process of prototyping and refining designs. Often the barrier between an interesting bench prototype and practical application is how it scales into production. If methods for experimenting with the core concepts, evaluating them in a context that represents their final manufactured state, and refining them for mass production don’t exist, the idea is very likely to languish on the bench. Continue reading

Scrap Microwave Spot Welder

This project involves AC power, high amperage, and high temperatures. Although this project is simple in principle replicating it on your own offers a lot of opportunities to hurt yourself. Proceed with caution.

Microwaves are treasure troves of useful electronic components. They’ve usually got some nice microswitches, a big transformer, a magnetron, and some smaller transformers and rectifiers to drive the display. I found a decent sized microwave hanging out on the street and transformed it into a shop tool I’d been wanting for a while – a spot welder.

Why Spot Welders are Useful

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Spot welders are handy to have around the shop. They can tack together wire for quick brazing, and permanently weld sheet metal for durable enclosures. If you want a thorough guide on what you can do with a spot welder, Dan Gelbart has all the answers. I’ve been looking to up my prototyping game and have more freedom to build custom components when off the shelf parts won’t suit. Unfortunately my workshop is in Brooklyn and space is at a premium. I spent a lot of time fabricating structures out of steel wire in school and have found that it’s a good replacement for bent sheet metal and structural framing if you play your cards right. Wire is easy to store in a small shop, doesn’t take much equipment to manipulate, and can hold good tolerances in various dimensions as its behavior is very predictable. You can still find the manual I follow for a lot of my techniques on Amazon. Continue reading

DIY Infusions – Cocktail Fuel

I’m fond of giving people gifts, but often shy away from just giving people stuff. There’s a complex dance of figuring out if it’ll be useful, if the quality’s any good, if they’ve already got one around, that muddies the water. I prefer to make something that doesn’t take up much space and has the chance of getting used up rather than living out the rest of its existence in storage. I’ve found that infusions work pretty perfectly for this job.

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I’ve gone through a lot of recipes and variations over the years (they’ll likely show up on this blog eventually) but I was especially fond of this batch made in 2013. I made 5 infusions as christmas gifts to send to friends and family. The mixes were black pepper vodka, pumpkin vodka, lady grey tea gin, raw honey vodka, and red pepper tequila. Continue reading

Glowy Crystal Ring

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.

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