LED Pez Menorah, this time with instructions!

Joyce wrote in this year with her latest Pez Menorah (using our Deluxe LED Menorah kit), featuring a Star Wars theme.

She also wrote up a thorough set of instructions on tumblr, which looks like a remarkably easy way to publish a step-by-step tutorial without using a platform like instructables. It may take some getting used to reading chronologically, but it is effective.

Previous Pez Menorah posts:

LED Metronome


After seeing our Larson Scanner kit, Martin shared this LED metronome project with us. Martin says:

It was designed as a “Visual Metronome”  So a learning music student could help see the timing by watching the green light.  There was to be an optional clicking sound  by using a small solenoid for the ticking – I chose that in place of a speaker for a more authentic sound.

The timing is a standard 555 timer which is fed to 7442 BCD to DECIMAL counter.  Next chip is a 74193 UP/DOWN counter.  When the count hits the last number, it sends a pulse to reverse the count or start over – depending on the toggle switch on the side.

There is also a pot on the 555 to control the speed.  All this was made in one night while I was working the graveyard shift.

The entire LED display was hand wired using a manual wire-wrap tool.

The chip pin labels on the back of the perf board are a particularly awesome relic of a different era of electronics assembly. Thanks for sharing your project photos and video with us!

Introducing WaterColorBot 2.0

WaterColorBot 2.0

We are very pleased to introduce something that we’ve been working on for most of this year: WaterColorBot version 2.0!

WaterColorBot 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:

WaterColorBot 2.0

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.

WaterColorBot 2.0

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.

WaterColorBot 2.0

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.

WaterColorBot 2.0

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.

WaterColorBot 2.0

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.

WaterColorBot 2.0

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.

Mega Menorah 9000!

MM9k

MM9k  MM9k

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.

MM9k

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.

MM9k  MM9k

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.

MM9k

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.

The DIYIC Protoboard

Introducing our new kit, DIYIC, which stands for “Do-It-Yourself Integrated Circuit!” This breadboard-style solderable proto board is shaped like a giant integrated circuit. It’s a freeform complement to our 555 and 741 “dis-integrated circuit” kits. Make your own custom 8-pin integrated circuit, use it as a giant connectorized breakout board for smaller components, or however you see fit.

Fine labeling

The matte-black circuit board is extra thick and has subtle white markings including an alphanumeric grid and pin number labels.

reverse side of PCB

The wiring pattern — that of classic breadboards — is easy to see by looking at the exposed traces on bottom of the board. Connections to the 8 terminal posts are through the three-position strips on the PCB; each is labeled with the corresponding pin number.

The DIYIC is available either as a bare circuit board or in a full kit, complete with the “Integrated Circuit Leg” stand and 8 color coded thumbscrew terminal posts.

Ostrich EggBot 2.0

Ostrich EggBot
Ostrich EggBot

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.

Ostrich EggBot Ostrich EggBot

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.

Ostrich EggBot

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.

Solderless Flickery Flame

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.

Other than the candle flickering LEDs, the parts are commonly available. We’ve also bundled them together in the Solderless Flickery Flame Kit.

Components:

  • Battery Holder (2×AA with switch)
  • Mini-breadboard
  • 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)

Also needed:

  • 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.


You can find more Halloween decor projects in our Halloween Project Archive.

Fixing on the fly at Maker Faire

Maker Faire can be a pretty demanding environment for a project. Outdoor locations expose many projects to the weather, prototypes may have been unpacked and repacked by the TSA, and curious visitors may handle projects in new and unexpected ways. Or maybe ambitions were greater than preparation time, and the project just didn’t quite get finished before the fair opened. No matter what the reason, Maker Faire is a great place to see people in action fixing, troubleshooting, and finishing their projects. Below are some beautiful projects I caught in progress at Maker Faire New York.

Pick n place

The FirePick Delta pick and place machine was a victim of the TSA, and arrived less functional than when it had been packed. The team was working on it valiantly, which also provided opportunities to get a closer look at many of the components.

Pick n place

Components not in use were repurposed for holding down business cards in the breezy aisle of 3D village.

Fixing robotic soccer

The maker of this robot arm soccer game was opening up one of the control boxes to check on a malfunctioning knob.

Robotic soccer (after repair)

He had no shortage of willing testers after the repair.

Tiny 3D printer under repair

This half-scale 3D printer assembly was at least as charming in its disassembled state as it would have been all put together. It is great to see the components along with the kinds of tools that are used to assemble and repair projects like this one.

Gertie the jumping robot

Gertie the robot had seen quite a bit of action, first at the Bay Area Maker Faire and then in New York. Her actuators were apart and in the middle of repair when we came by.

Gertie the jumping robot

This let Alonso show us the mechanism and demonstrate how the internal frame worked to lean and make Gertie jump in different directions.

Maker Faire exhibitors are generous with sharing tools and materials with each other, and visitors are treated to what are typically hidden activities. No one whisks away a broken prototype to hide it out of sight. Instead, the guts are happily spilled out for everyone to see and learn from.