No Starch Press was kind enough to send us a review copy of their new book, LEGO Space: Building the Future, by Peter Reid and Tim Goddard. It’s a story book, a gallery book, and a building book, full of all-new space-themed LEGO models, big and small.
Joyce sent us this picture of her 2013 Lord of the Rings Pez dispenser LED menorah.
I thought I’d share my new menorah hack with you all. Friends even started asking about “this year’s theme” so I guess it’s now an official tradition.
We’re wrapping up this week’s updates on the WaterColorBot project with some notes about software and documentation.
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.
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.
There are, at present, three primary applications that you can use to control the WaterColorBot, each of which has unique advantages.
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.
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, 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:
- 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.
What goes into making a WaterColorBot? A lot, it turns out.
It all starts with a 4×8 foot sheet of Oregon-made maple-faced hardwood plywood. We mount the sheet on CNC router for a process that involves five tools (ranging from 0.086″ to .375″ in diameter) and about 2 1/2 hours of cutting time. We can fit 20 WaterColorBot frames, complete with their feet, on a single sheet of wood – efficiently tiled with very little waste. It’s also time efficient: Just under 8 minutes per frame.
The parts are held into the sheet by little tabs, so that they don’t go flying out during the machining process. We chisel them out of the sheet and inspect them prior to sanding. At this point the parts are carefully shaped and detailed but still rough to the touch around the edges.
Next up, sanding. Sanding removes the tabs and smooths the edges and surfaces to the touch. We use a combination of belt, disc, handheld power sander, and hand sanding for the various surfaces. All told, sanding all of the parts takes a little more than than twice as long as it does to cut them out of the sheet. (That might sound backwards until you watch how fast a CNC router moves compared to a human operating a sander.)
After sanding, the parts are clean and smooth, ready for engraving.
A special jig holds the four frame pieces in the laser for engraving. There are two passes, one for the primary markings, and one for the defocussed (blurry, dark) “WaterColorBot!” title text. We also engrave the back side of the top pieces (with a separate jig) with credits and the serial number.
Stacks and stacks of WaterColorBot frame parts, before and after engraving.
The surfaces of the WaterColorBot are covered with a number of stainless steel rivets — either bare or with a ball bearing –that guide the Spectra cord around the frame as pulleys. We individually press-fit them into place with a small 1/2 ton arbor press.
The arrays of the four frame pieces– CNC cut, sanded, laser-engraved, and with their rivets press-fit — are now ready for assembly.
We use another specialized jig to hold the four frame pieces rigidly in place while screwing them together with a torque-limited electric screwdriver.
There are two types of “feet” that get mounted to the frame. The two left feet (always a fun term to use!) have holes in them to route the motor wires, while the two right feet do not. The feet are attached with wood glue, with the help of (yet) another specialized jig.
After that, we mount the back-side cable guide support, and queue the frames up for having their motors attached and final inspection.
The lower-deck pieces (“spoilboards”) are cut from 3/8″ MDF on the CNC router, in a much, much simpler process. They too are sanded and laser engraved, prior to having their paper clips mounted and being queued for inspection and shipping.
Next up: The WaterColorBot carriage. The base of the carriage consists of six pieces of laser-cut 1/4″ plywood. We found a very fast process of attaching these together, which is to clamp the box together with two perpendicular sets of thumbscrews and thumb-nuts (color coded as you see), and to wick in cyanoacrylate (super glue) between the surfaces at a few key points. It takes only a minute to assemble one; much faster than we were able to do with fasteners or wood glue.
After mechanically drilling pilot holes to mount the servo motor, we assemble the rest of the carriage: Four bushings, two flexures that form the vertical linear stage, the servo motor, and the brush holder.
And then finally the 36″ servo extension cable and a laser-cut delrin cable guide, that prevents the cable from dragging on the paper. All neat and tidy.
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, which we’ll write about separately, if there’s interest.
In the kit, the winches come pre-wound with the appropriate length of 100 pound Spectra cord. We actually use an Eggbot as our tool to wind the cord. We mount the “spool” to one of the Eggbot stepper motors, and spin that motor (very quickly) for a set number of full revolutions to wind a fixed amount of cord onto each winch, using a modified version of the WaterColorBot software. Each winch is wound with about 125 inches of cord, in just nine seconds.
A box full of wound winches, ready to be added to our accessory bags.
The steel shafts that move the carriage came as 3 foot long rods, in a wooden crate the size of a coffin. We sent them to a local machine shop to be cut to length, after which they looked much neater.
We ended up purchasing four hundred sets of Crayola Washable Watercolors. After we received our giant drop shipment from Crayola– which was unreasonably fun, in a grade-school sort of a way –we stacked them all on the table to take a photo.
The paints, along with most of the other WaterColorBot accessories– wound winches, water dropper, velcro straps, power supply, and USB cable –get packed up in a pouch that will go in the shipping box.
Our “getting started” booklets — printed and stapled. (We’ll be talking more about documentation in our next update.)
Our shop cat, Zener, has not actually helped out with production whatsoever. She did, however, manage to get her tail caught in the output roller of our (warm and tall) laser printer a couple of days ago, leading to a little down time while printing those booklets. (Cat is OK, less some fur. The printer is still recovering.)
And then, there’s final inspection. All the parts come together (with a giant checklist) in a padded carrying case with a reinforced handle.
The carrying case has a silkscreened cover. The metallic silver printing ink that we used for the first two batches looks really cool, but becomes invisible at a certain angle. So, we’re switching to an aqua blue for the next batch.
The completed WaterColorBot kits go in an outer shipping box, that keeps the carrying case safe for transport. It’s surprising how much of a warehouse you can fill with stacks of boxes!
WaterColorBot kits are shipping now, and we are still taking pre-orders for December shipment.
We (the humans) were a little tired after just signing the insides of 75 cards— we can only imagine how exhausted the WaterColorBot must have been after painting the fronts and insides! They were actually painted in three passes: for the inside “Thank you” text, for the light-blue (extra-wet) background on the front, and for the flower subject on the front.
Of course, the real magic of robotics is that it is so reproducible, card after card. And yet, the real magic of watercolor as a medium is that it isn’t completely reproducible. Look at the subtle little variations caused by the amount of water either in the light blue background or in the flower subject. We see the same kinds of “organic” variation that we might expect from a human artist. Simply wonderful.
Would it be possible to post the assembly instructions for the solderless kit? (if there are any) I’m wondering if this kit would be suitable for somebody who has no electronics experience at all. Does it call out the row/col number for every resistor, jumper, etc?
Printed instructions do come with the kit, are very helpful, because there’s an actual size component bending guide on the page. We have also posted a pdf version on our documentation site. No prior knowledge of electronics is needed, and we call out the location for each component and provide clear diagrams to follow.
We recently acquired this beautiful Erector Rocket Launcher Set from 1958. While not quite complete, it is still tantalizing with its girders, nuts, bolts and motor. The printing on the metal box is beautiful.
The motor is labeled “Erector Electric Engine” and features a clever mechanical gear shifter.
While our set did not come with instructions, there are online resources for vintage building sets, and Girders & Gears has a thorough description and pictures of a more complete set. They also have instructions available for download, which include the following practical warning:
CAUTION: Be sure there is no one in front of the launcher when the rocket is fired.
Hanukkah comes remarkably early this year, starting on Thanksgiving day, November 28.
Today, just in the nick of time, we are releasing two new LED menorah kits for 2013 that complement our consistently popular Deluxe LED Menorah Soldering Kit.
The first kit, the Deluxe Electronic Breadboard Menorah Kit, is a response to two requests that we frequently receive: (1) for an LED menorah kit that doesn’t require soldering and (2) for a menorah kit with assorted multicolor LEDs— for that assorted-color candle look. (Nailed it!)
The kit includes a 6″ transparent breadboard, 10 mm LEDs in red, orange, yellow, green, blue and warm white, a control button, battery holder, and a pre-programmed microcontroller.
While the electronic components— the microcontroller, resistors, control switch, and LEDs —are essentially the same as in the Deluxe LED Menorah Kit, we’ve had to make quite a few changes to the layout and firmware to redesign the circuit to lay out so neatly on a breadboard. Additionally, as the perceived brightness of different LED colors can vary quite a bit, we’ve included a specific set of per-color resistors to even out the overall brightness levels.
The Deluxe Electronic Breadboard Menorah Kit is in stock now, and ready to make happy campers on some night(s) of Hanukkah this year.
For the second new kit, the multicolor Special Edition Deluxe LED Menorah Kit, we’ve brought the assorted multicolor LEDs back to our original Deluxe LED Menorah Soldering Kit. Because, why should breadboarders have all the fun?
And it even looks good with the lights off! The new Special Edition LED Menorah Kit is in stock and shipping now.