Simple Relay Shield v 2.0

relay shield

A minor bump for one of our little open source Arduino add-ons. The Simple Relay Shield is an easy to use single-relay board that does one thing, and does it well: It adds a beefy little mechanical relay to an Arduino, which you control through pin Digital 4.

relay shield

Version 2.0 adds the ability — by popular request — to control it from a pin other than D4. Solder the jumper in the normal way (in location JP), and it works on pin D4. Hook it up to any other digital pin, say to D7, and now you have a relay on that pin. The Simple Relay Shield is available as a complete soldering kit or as a bare PCB, and you can find documentation on our wiki.

Open Source Beehives

The Open Source Beehives project is currently running a crowdfunding campaign with the goal of gathering information from sensor equipped hives throughout the world to help solve bee population problems like colony collapse syndrome. The sensors can also be used by individual beekeepers to monitor the health of their hive.

Even without the sensors and the citizen science, their hive designs are beautiful.

Basics: AVR Target Boards and Arduino Compatibility

Diavolino
Gary writes:

I have fallen in love with your Diavolinos – thank you!
My question: does the “Simple target board” allow for the 6-pin FTDI Friend hookup to upload sketches? This is quick and easy with the Diavolino. I’m new to reading circuits and stuff, and I cannot tell looking at the target board. It says to use in-system programmer, but I prefer to not buy another interface. Thanks!

Excellent question! It is certainly possible, but not as quick and easy.  Both the Diavolino and our ATmegaXX8 target boards boards use the same chip, usually the ATmega328P.  But, one might say that our ATmegaXX8 board is a simple AVR target board optimized for use with an AVR ISP programmer (like the USBtinyISP), whereas the Diavolino is a simple target board optimized for use with the FTDI interface.

XX8 Target Board

Versus a “bare” target board (with just the chip and power), there are four things that you would normally add, in order to use the FTDI interface to upload a sketch from within the Arduino environment:

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MakerBeam Comes of Age

makerbeam pieces

Back in 2009, we helped support the launch on Kickstarter of MakerBeam, a miniature open source aluminum T-slot profile construction set. Just a few months later, we wrote about receiving our first batch of MakerBeam parts.  And while there were some good things that might be said about those first-batch parts, there were some not-so-good things as well. For example, custom screws that couldn’t really be tightened and fastening plates made of too-brittle plastic. With some improvement — stainless steel brackets — MakerBeam eventually found limited distribution in 2011 at Sparkfun in the USA and at MakerBeam.eu, but on the whole, it seemed to be fizzling out of existence.

But, things change, sometimes for the better.  In 2012, Terence Tam’s excellent OpenBeam (a slightly larger T-slot profile, also currently sold by MakerBeam.eu) came roaring out of the gate, reminding us of what great things one can build out of extrusion profiles.  Meanwhile, the folks from MakerBeam.eu took hold of MakerBeam and began to run with it — turning a languishing project into an open source hardware success story. They recently sent us a starter kit to review, and we have to say— we were blown away.

makerbeam 2014 20

To begin with, they redesigned the profile itself.  The basic proportions are still the same (10 mm across), but the new shape has a thicker solid core that improves strength, and now allows the ends to be tapped. (The hole does not go all the way through.)  They also started having their profiles anodized, providing a harder outer surface, and tapping the ends.

makerbeam 2014 10 makerbeam 2014 11
makerbeam 2014 15 makerbeam 2014 16

Next up: Nicely made stainless steel angle brackets and fastening plates.  Rock solid when bolted down, although (things being small) you may need to use several of them to get the kind of rigidity that you need for certain applications. We already had some of these shapes from the original MakerBeam makers.

makerbeam 2014 17

Silly: Some of the fastening plates (the ones designed by the original MakerBeam team) are inscribed with the angle in fractions of Tau, as in τ/4 instead of 90°.  Our guess: it’s certain to please many fewer people than it annoys.

 

makerbeam 2014 4
makerbeam 2014 5

And, most important: A fastening system that really works.  These stainless steel M3 screws with modified pyramid-shaped button socket cap heads are simply fantastic.  They slide easily into and out of the MakerBeam slots, and lock into place perfectly with a simple hex nut on the exterior.

There are arguments to be said for and against putting screw heads in the channels, but if you’re going to do it, you had damn well better do it right. And, finally, someone is doing it right.  You can read about the evolution of the fasteners on the MakerBeam.eu blog, here, here, here, here, and here.

 

makerbeam 2014 18

 

Old components, Left side:  MakerBeam profile 1.0, old-style screws, machined ABS fastening plate.
New components, Right side: MakerBeam profile 2.0, new screws, stainless steel fastening plates.

makerbeam 2014 8

So, after nearly five years, MakerBeam has come of age, and finally fulfilled its promise of being a really nice miniature construction set.  Our congratulations and thanks to MakerBeam.eu for doing such a great job of this, and especially for making these sets available for everyone else.

The Winch Cutting Jig

WinchCutter 5

In our recent article, The Making of the WaterColorBot, we walked through the manufacturing process of the WaterColorBot, in which we make use of a number of specialized jigs, with varying levels of complexity.  We also left a teaser:

“The winch is also assembled from laser-cut wooden parts. The lower part has the shaft collar that mounts to the motor shaft, and the upper part has two halves that disassemble for cord management. It turns out that the winding-drum part of the winch needs to be quite round and concentric with the motor shaft for smooth operation– smoother than we can get with the laser. We solve this with our very-most-complicated assembly jig….”

And here it is.
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Decorating Christmas Ornaments with the Eggbot

ornaments

Despite what you might guess from the name, our Egg-Bot kit is not just for eggs.  In fact, it turns out to be a pretty freaking amazing machine for decorating and personalizing your own Christmas ornaments!

Today we’re releasing the “Eggbot Holiday Super Pak” — a set of Eggbot-ready holiday ornament designs to give you a head start.  The set includes the designs above and many more.  It’s free, available for download here (2.2 MB .zip file), and will be periodically updated as we add more designs.

Read on for some additional tips and tricks for using ornaments in the Eggbot!

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WaterColorBot Software and Documentation

We’re wrapping up this week’s updates on the WaterColorBot project with some notes about software and documentation.

Documentation

Our guides for setting up and using the WaterColorBot are already extensive, and still growing. You can find them at the Evil Mad Scientist wiki, or get there with a shortcut: watercolorbot.com/docs.

getting started booklet
Getting Started with WaterColorBot
One of the most important parts of the WaterColorBot’s documentation is our booklet “Getting Started with WaterColorBot.” The booklet covers the process of assembling the WaterColorBot kit, basic usage, an overview of software options, and a host of tips and tricks. It’s available on our documentation site in PDF format.
video still
Assembly video
We’ve put together a setup video, walking through the steps of putting together the WaterColorBot kit. The video is strictly optional, and covers much of the same ground that the booklet does. You can watch it at http://watercolorbot.com/setup.html, or find it linked from our documentation page.

 

Software

There are, at present, three primary applications that you can use to control the WaterColorBot, each of which has unique advantages.

RoboPaint RT
RoboPaint RT
The simplest of the three programs is RoboPaint RT, which is the one that we featured in our Kickstarter video. RoboPaint RT is a “real time” application that allows you to paint with the WaterColorBot. It’s straightforward and manual: Click on a color in the paint palette to change to that color, click on the water to dip the brush in the water, and drag the brush to paint on your paper.

With RoboPaint RT, you can also replay your drawing to make multiple copies, and save the file to open up and print again later. This program can be a lot of fun to play with and is a great way to get acquainted with the WaterColorBot. For those with good artistic skill, it can also be a remarkably powerful program.

 

RoboPaint
RoboPaint
Next up is RoboPaint, another stand-alone application written by the WaterColorBot team. In RoboPaint, you can open existing artwork in SVG format, snap the colors to your paint palette, and paint the document. It also has a rudimentary edit mode that lets you create new drawings to print. If you’re starting with existing SVG artwork, RoboPaint is generally the best of the three programs to use for a few different reasons. Most importantly, it’s good at automatically filling in large solid regions of a painting.

 

Inkscape drawing
Inkscape, with extensions
The third primary application is Inkscape, a superb, free vector graphics editor, for which we have written an extension (a plugin) to control the WaterColorBot. Our extension provides fine grain control over exactly what will be painted, but more-or-less requires that you create the artwork within Inkscape to take full advantage of the features.

Above, the drawing used to make the Robo-painted thank you cards that we wrote about earlier this week.

Inkscape is also capable of importing artwork in PDF format (as well as tracing bitmap graphics to some extent), and saving as SVG graphics that can be used with RoboPaint. If you’ve ever used an Eggbot (and its Inkscape based driver) you might want to start here, before trying the other apps.

 
And if you like to code…
For developers (and people who just like to tinker with code), there are additional options:

- Rolling your own, starting with our examples. RoboPaint RT is written in Java/Processing, RoboPaint is written in JavaScript, and the Inkscape extensions are written in Python. These can provide a nice starting place, in a few different environments.

- Direct serial control. The “EBB” motor controller board used on the WaterColorBot can be independently controlled from any environment that can send serial data to your USB ports.  Its command set documentation is here.

- The RESTful API. RoboPaint includes the “CNCserver” API for WaterColorBot, documented here. You can use this interface to control the robot locally (from your computer) or remotely (from anywhere on the internet, if you enable the remote option within RoboPaint and tell the other computer what your IP address is). Currently this is a low-level API; we are working on a higher level version where you can simply send an SVG file for RoboPaint to process and paint.

 

WaterColorBot kits are shipping now, and we are still taking pre-orders for December shipment.