The Exploratorium is holding their annual member holiday party and shopping night on Sunday, December 7 from 6-9 p.m. We’re excited to be there to show off some of our kits, including the EggBot, which will be available for sale. You must be a member to attend (need an excuse to become a member?), and RSVP by December 4.
We are very pleased to introduce something that we’ve been working on for most of this year: WaterColorBot version 2.0!
The WaterColorBot is our collaboration with Super Awesome Sylvia: A friendly art robot that moves a paint brush to paint your digital artwork onto paper, using a set of watercolor paints.
Version 2.0 brings it to the next level with some greatly improved hardware. First and foremost, the carriage that holds the brush has been completely redesigned:
The carriage on the original WaterColorBot was made from laser-cut plywood, with nylon bushings and two simple delrin strips that formed the vertical flexure translation stage. (You can read more about the original carriage here and here.)
The new carriage consists mainly of two pieces of metal. The center block of anodized aluminum is CNC milled, and houses crossed linear roller bearings. Wrapped around that is a laser-cut and formed aluminum part that mounts the brush-lift motor, cable guide, and the flexure stage.
The new flexure stage is built with two custom flex circuit boards, used in this case as mechanical flexures. Each board consists of a very thin (0.1 mm, 4 mil) Kapton sheet with a thin fiberglass (G10/FR4) stiffener on its center section. With the two ends of each sheet clamped rigidly and the stiffener in the center, each flex circuit is to flex only along two well-defined lines. And with two boards, it forms a neat parallelogram linkage, without the slop that one might encounter in multi-part hinges. The net effect is that this new flexure stage has remarkable stiffness compared to the old design.
That stiffness, combined with the improved performance of the linear ball bearings makes this a more precise WaterColorBot. Not that you could even detect the improvement with a fat brush and watercolor paints, but things are looking quite good even with using ultra-fine point drawing pens, as you can see above.
The second major change is to the system of Spectra cords that the stepper motors control in order to move the carriage. Previously, the cords were guided around 11 plain bearings (stainless steel solid rivets) and 3 ball bearings. We’ve simplified this into an arrangement of just 8 ball bearings— four for each motor. The ball bearing pulleys have also been updated to use wide V-groove bearings that are easy to wrap the cords around.
Which brings us to the third (and last) major change. Thus far, WaterColorBot kits have shipped “some assembly required” — with all the major components built, but the cord lacing left to the end user. As of 2.0, WaterColorBot kits now come fully assembled and tested. That doesn’t make them any less hackable, but it does mean that you can get up and running faster.
Version 2.0 includes the same CNC machined aluminum winches that we introduced back in August. Tiny detail: we’ve carved a subtle indentation into the wood around the winch that makes them a little easier to turn by hand.
The new WaterColorBot kits will begin to ship right after Thanksgiving. And a bonus present for the holiday season: Version 2.0 is priced the same as the previous version, it’s just a whole lot more awesome per dollar.
Introducing our newest Hanukkah menorah kit: Mega Menorah 9000!
This is a great new easy soldering kit to make a handsome and decently-sized menorah. Once built, it stands just over 6 inches (15 cm) tall, and is 7.5 inches (19 cm) wide.
It’s USB powered, USB programmable with a built-in interface based on the Adafruit Trinket, and features 9 discrete RGB LED “pixels” that can produce all kinds of bright colors. Flickery flame effects built in too, of course.
One of the cool things about this kit is that it has a unique “Trompe-l’œil” circuit board design that gives some illusion of a rounded 3D surface. As you can see above, it’s actually flat as a board.
To make it, we started with a 3D CAD model of what we wanted the circuit board to look like. The outer contours of the model became the outline of the circuit board. We then rendered the CAD model, and used our StippleGen 2 software to convert the resulting image into a vector stipple drawing— one that could eventually be converted into the artwork for the circuit board. All together it’s over 9000 stippled dots of black silkscreen! (To be more specific, there are roughly 17,000 dots on each side.)
MM9k FAQ: OK, but isn’t the name “Mega Menorah 9000″ perhaps just slightly on the excessive side?
Yes, we must (grudgingly) admit that it is. It just slipped out when we were trying to come up with a working title for the project — a name that meant “better than deluxe” so as to distinguish this model from our old favorite Deluxe LED Menorah Kits.
Alas, it was funny. And so it stuck. And now, it’s too late.
There are two circuit boards in the kit. The “top” PCB is shaped like a menorah and the components (mainly just the nine WS2812-style LEDs) are for the most part hidden on the back side.
The base circuit board has rubber feet, the control buttons (color, night, reset), an ATtiny85 AVR microcontroller, USB power/programming jack, and a programming indicator LED. The circuit is actually an implementation of the Adafruit Trinket, which allows for reprogramming the microcontroller without requiring any hardware other than a regular USB cable.
MM9k FAQ: Why is there a binder clip there?
It’s an assembly jig that helps to align the parts in place so that it’s easy to build and looks neat. We’ll write more about it later.
And, wow does this thing do colors! The nine WS2812-style individually addressable RGB LEDs in 5 mm packages, look reminiscent of candle flames, but can be tuned to just about any color in the rainbow. From a control standpoint, it’s awfully nice that they’re managed by just a single pin of the microcontroller, and have the built-in ICs to handle colors and dimming.
Mega Menorah 9000 begins shipping this week.
We’ve just released version 2.0 of our Ostrich EggBot kit! This is the giant size EggBot. Like the smaller models, it’s a machine capable of drawing on the surface of all kinds of spherical and egg-shaped objects up to 6.25 inches (15 cm) in diameter, including large ostrich eggs.
This chassis of the new version is CNC machined from melamine-faced MDF, and laser engraved with markings and calibration scales. (The previous version was made of plywood; you can read about it here.) We’ve also updated the graphics, and rolled in a number of subtle improvements based on user suggestions and our own extensive experience with the machine and other members of the EggBot family.
With a relatively large chicken egg chucked into the holders, you can get a better sense of scale. (An ostrich egg is a terrible object to suggest a sense of size!)
The tailstock (the sliding portion of the right hand side) has been slightly redesigned for higher stiffness and better ease of use. The bulk of the stiffness in the directions that we care about (that is, in the directions where the chassis material is not strong) derives from the steel angle brackets, and the new tailstock helps to reinforce that for better overall rigidity.
One of the best things about the new chassis material is that it laser engraves particularly well, giving high-contrast, highly readable adjustment scales on the sides. And that makes it all easier to use in practice. All considered, this has turned out to be quite a nice little upgrade.
For Halloween this year, I went as a robot, wearing a silver dress with a slowly pulsing LED heart glowing visibly under the fabric.
The LED is a one watt white LED, which we’re running at about 50 mA. It has a wide viewing angle, and the star-shaped mount lies conveniently flat. The LED is wired up to the PCB with a pair of twisted magnet wires. Magnet wire is flexible and thin, which makes it hardly noticeable under clothing. It is controlled by ATtiny2313 (running the code from our Mac sleep light pumpkin project) and powered by three AAA batteries. The PCB corners were rounded off so it wouldn’t be stabby.
The dress was fully lined, which made it very convenient for mounting electronics. I pinned a makeshift pocket onto the liner, and tucked the battery holder and PCB in the pocket. I could feel the battery holder switch and turn it on and off through the fabric.
The LED was taped to the dress liner with medical tape to hold it in place. An extra piece or two of tape held the wires to make sure there was appropriate slack for movement. (A note on tape: use the good stuff. The cheap paper tape in the off-brand first aid kit only stuck to itself and the magnet wire. 3M plastic medical tape worked great and came off easily.) This makes it easy to disassemble after Halloween.
A collection of separate eyes, noses and mouths, each set on its own layer, for a customized jack-o-lantern/ghost face to be printed with the Eggbot. These were made to print on ping pong balls. You may need to adjust for eggs and other less regularly shaped items. I have included a “faces menu” PDF so that you can clearly review your choices. This was really helpful in a classroom situation.
We’ve talked previously about making simple LED pumpkins with candle flicker LEDs. Lately we’ve been playing with making better looking flames by using multiple independent flickering LEDs with different colors and lens styles. It makes a spectacular difference: it goes from something that looks like, well, a flickering LED to something that really looks like there might be a flame in there.
The end result is pretty neat: A compact battery powered “flameless flame” that looks great in a pumpkin, luminaria, or as a stage prop. The interplay of the different LED types and colors gives an ever-changing and shifting flame display.
- Battery Holder (2×AA with switch)
- 6 × candle flicker LEDs (2 red diffused, 2 yellow diffused, and 2 yellow clear lens)
- 6 × 68 ohm resistor
- 2 × wire jumper
- White paper bag (optional)
- 2 × AA Batteries (not optional)
- Wire clippers, cutting pliers, or “beater” scissors (optional)
Hook up the battery holder to the breadboard several rows apart to give enough room to install the resistors and LEDs. Optional: peel off the backing on breadboard and adhere it to the battery holder. Connect each LED with its own 68 ohm resistor. (Use the “in parallel” method from this article.) The extra jumpers are included to help bridge across the center gap in the breadboard.
Trimming the resistor leads will keep the breadboard tidy, and help prevent short circuits. Trimming the LED leads to varying heights will help distribute the light in different ways.
The white paper bag included with the kit can be used for creating a traditional luminaria or for making a ghostly halloween decoration.
Halloween, always one of our favorite holidays, is fast approaching again. We’ve updated our Halloween Projects Archive as we do every year to ensure that all of our Halloween projects are gathered together in one convenient location. We’ll continue to add projects as we post them. If one of our projects inspires you to make something, we’d love to hear about it!
We’re excited to be bringing the EggBot back to the East Bay Mini Maker Faire on Sunday, October 19. The schedule of presentations and performances covers everything from “The Importance of Junk” to minestrone making. The list of makers attending covers the gamut as well. Evil Mad Scientist readers get a 15% discount on advance tickets using the code MAKERFRIEND.