A Giant Breadboard for the Giant 555

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One of the common reactions that people have when they first see our Three Fives kit is to joke “Now all I need is a giant breadboard!”  Well, Michael Pechner actually designed and made one, and put the files up on Thingiverse.  He built the design in Fusion 360 with a little help from Michael Gregg and printed it out in PLA ABS on his 3D printer.

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Thus far, the design is “plastic only,” without the metal inserts that one would find in a real electronic breadboard — but that’s okay, since the aluminum legs on the Three Fives kit are also decorative rather than functional. But, there are holes in the tops and slots in the bottom in case someone would like to add them.

 

Kids Hack Day

Inspired by the global hackerspace movement and (software) hack days, Kids Hack Day is a 1-day event held in various locations around the world, where children and adults come together to “hack” and make new uses of every day items.

This incredibly charming video from the Kids Hack Day kickoff event in Moscow on May 25 shows you what it’s all about. (And, we are tickled to see our own WaterColorBot and EggBot making little appearances as well.)

The Incredible Computer-Controlled … Computer!

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A guest post by Daniel Gentleman 

About a year ago, I started working on a project that used robotics to control a Surface Pro tablet. Not long after I started, I got my first glimpse at the the WaterColorBot on display at Maker Faire Bay Area 2013. The WaterColorBot is designed to carry a paintbrush over a piece of paper, raising and lowering it as needed to paint a picture. The movement and software control is similar to CNC router with special design modifications to make it lighter, cheaper and easier to control. A CNC router has to move heavyweight cutting bit with friction so needs expensive motors, rails, and belts. The WaterColorBot, on the other hand, needs only to move a paintbrush in a low friction environment.

I was instantly sold on the idea of using a WaterColorBot to control the Surface. I backed the Kickstarter, waited for my bot to arrive, and started working on software. When the WaterColorBot arrived, I was not disappointed. The assembly was quick and I was robotically painting in no time.

With the big mechanical and electronic solutions solved, my attention turned to the tablet. The Surface Pro is rare among tablets in that it uses a digitizer that allows extremely precise tracking with a stylus along with “hover” and “right-click” functionality. It does not need to be electrically grounded like a stylus for a screen that only supports capacitive touch. I was certain that the Surface Pro was the way to go, but not quite how it was going to be held together. The project was about to take a another serendipitous turn.

 

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The custom-cut spoilboard

At this point, I shared my enthusiasm with Windell and Lenore of Evil Mad Scientist and they gave me a unique offer: Stop by the Evil Mad Scientist shop and together we would make a custom cut spoilboard (lower deck) fitted to mount the Surface Pro 2. Wielding digital calipers and other measurement and software tools, Windell came up with a design that held the tablet firmly and had extra space cut out for the charger, power button, and USB cable.

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The area beneath the tablet has a lip and a lower recessed area. This design reduces wobble and makes it look even better. On the topic of machining – I got a few lessons in how larger CNC machines work. Windell showed me some design considerations in software and gave me a safety briefing about the CNC router itself. This thing can cut fast.

After a little sanding, we fitted the tablet, spoilboard, and WaterColorBot together. Having the co-creators of the WaterColorBot with me on this journey was priceless, as we can see from the final assembly. The first spoilboard we cut matched perfectly and the tablet is held firmly in place.

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With enthusiasm fueled by seeing it all fit together, we decided to tell the WaterColorBot to do some painting. Windell loaded up an example sketch in Inkscape and, with only a minute to calibrate the stylus height, we were drawing!

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The software running on the Surface Pro is called FreshPaint and we chose a simple marker tool. In the video, you’ll hear a laughter break where the Surface picked up the floating toolbar in the app and dragged it around the screen.

Given a little time, we could have taught the WaterColorBot to change brushes and colors in FreshPaint, but our goals for the day were met. The light weight and low friction of the Surface stylus is perfectly matched for use on the WaterColorBot. A custom fitted spoilboard means the Surface will always be at the exact same place on the X/Y plane, greatly simplifying future software development. Next project: Teaching the robot how to see!

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(Full disclosure: My day job is Systems Operations with Yammer, a Microsoft company. This project and use of the Surface Pro 2 is not affiliated with Microsoft in any way nor did they influence the project with sponsorship or exercise any editorial control. If they had, I’d try to talk them into contributing a Surface Pro 3! “Surface” is a trademark of Microsoft Corporation.)
 

A WaterColorBot Water Clock

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We built a evaporating-hand water clock using a WaterColorBot fitted with a Buddha Board. The Buddha Board is a black board with a gray ceramic coating that becomes transparent when wet, so you can paint on it with plain water to make black marks that disappear as the water evaporates.  (And, it fits nicely in a WaterColorBot with the appropriate jig.)

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As a clock, once a minute it draws the minute hand, then the hour hand, and finally the outline of the clock face.

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As the water evaporates over the course of a few minutes, the old minute hands fade away. It’s a neat effect.

And of course, video:

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555 kit, version 2.0

555 Kit v 2.0

Today we’re introducing version 2.0 of our “Three Fives” Discrete 555 timer kit.  Version 2.0 has a number of little tweaks and improvements, with a cleaner design and — coolest of all — an all-new set of smooth anodized aluminum legs.

555 Kit v 2.0

The Three Fives kit is a faithful and functional transistor-scale replica of the famous 555 timer integrated circuit — one of the most popular and well-loved chips of all time. (An original NE555 IC is shown above for scale.)

We are also releasing the first version of our educational supplement for the Three Fives kit: A detailed description of how the 555 circuit actually works, with plenty of opportunities for further exploration.  You can find it on the downloads section of the product page or on our documentation wiki.

 

 

Maker Faire Bingo

With Maker Faire coming up next week, @techninja42 suggested that Maker Faire Bingo would be a great way to get ready! With the help of some friends, he put together a site where you can grab a bingo card to play during your visit to Maker Faire. We tried it out with the WaterColorBot, but you can use your preferred automated printing method to make your own, or maybe even find a robot at Maker Faire to draw it for the ultimate Maker Faire Bingo!

Send your maker bingo suggestions to @mfbingo for inclusion in the bingo card generator.

The Printr Egg Boogie Board Bot

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Over at Thingiverse, user gkrangan posted this wacky contraption: A machine to write with a stylus on a Boogie Board e-writer, built from PrintrBot Simple frame components, along with EggBot electronics and the pen-holder.  It’s driven through the EggBot extensions for Inkscape.

I was initially taping an index card onto the print platform for testing purposes, but when I saw this Boogie Board at a toy store, it seemed like a perfect choice to be used as the writing surface. One can draw/write anything on it, and erase with a press of a button. Of course, it can still be removed and any other suitable surface can be taped or mounted on the print platform, as necessary.

Printer Egg Boogie Board Bot @ Thingiverse