Sunday, November 16, 2014

Unboxing the Makeblock 3D Printer

I recently was sent a Makeblock Constructor 3D printer.

It’s version 1 of a clever and ambitious project by Makeblock, a Shenzhen-based OSHW startup that primarily manufactures a set of awesome beams. The beams are extruded aluminum, a variant of t-slot, with some great added features like threaded slots, threaded end-holes, and mounting holes along their length with the same spacing as Lego Technic beams.

What Makeblock did was add RepRap hardware (a RAMPS shield and LCD display) to a Makeblock chassis, calling it the Makeblock Constructor. It sounds like a great approach to get into the field of 3D printing!

The first thing you should know is that the Constructor is a kit; you’ll get two big boxes of aluminum beams, stepper motors, wires, and so on--400 parts total. The kit doesn’t have anything super challenging in terms of tool or skill use. Being able to drive screws and follow directions will get you through the kit. However, there is a lot of it. You could build it in a day if you worked hard at it.

So, I got my sample kit and opened it up to see what was inside:

In a future post I’ll describe actually building the kit.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Locksmith's Apprentice

I’ve been writing fiction forever, mostly for my own amusement and never shared with anyone. About three years ago, I finally decided that I wanted to write a fun and quick novel to publish, just to prove to myself that I could. So I wrote a book I wanted to read, which is a frequent suggestion of successful writers. Apparently I wanted to read an adventure with a plucky thief as the hero, a stalwart heart in a magical and perilous fantasy realm. Titled The Locksmith’s Apprentice, it’s story in the pulpy fantasy tradition of Michael Shea's Nifft the Lean, Fritz Leiber's Nehwon books, and Michael Moorcock's epic fantasies. It’s chock full of manipulative sorcerers, assassins, priests, plots, and duels.

I had help along the way. My wife Elise has always been super supportive of my writing, particularly of “non-earning” stuff like fiction. My friend Drew read a chapter a week, sometimes more, and this really encouraged me to keep going. My mom Barbara read the first draft, as did Adam, Jude, Xander, Cam, and Ned. My mom and Ned also supplied really valuable proofing.

I want to especially thank Cam Treeby, who drew up some cool concept art for The Locksmith’s Apprentice before I had even finished three-quarters of the book. It was very inspiring to see characters who had scenes yet to be written. Cam is a paratrooper-turned-illustrator with a very deft pen and ink style. You can see his work all around the Hack Factory, where he is an active volunteer. I strongly urge you to hire Cam to do art for you!

After thinking about it and looking for an agent, I decided to self-publish the book on Amazon, mostly because I didn’t have any contacts in the fiction publishing world. All of my books were technical up to this point: robots, Legos, microcontrollers. I just wanted to get it out there and move on to the next project. If it doesn’t sell, so be it!

That said (ahem) I’d really love it if you would buy my book on Amazon. I don’t have it anywhere else right now, but if you can read a Kindle book, you can get The Locksmith’s Apprentice.

Thanks to everyone who made this possible!

Friday, February 7, 2014

Lego Love at MAKE This Weekend

This weekend the MAKE Blog is saluting the new Lego Movie with some fun Lego content like an interview with awesome brickfilms creator David Pagano, an explanation of my Lego-Makeblock tankbot (above) and a whole lot more. Check it out!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Makeblock + Lego

Tomorrow I'm working on adding an Arduino, Bricktronics Shield, Lego Ultrasonic sensor and Lego bricks to my Makeblock tank! Hint: Makeblock cooly makes their aluminum beams compatible with Lego, making it a cinch to combine the two. Stay tuned....

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Computer Fan Buzzbot

I've been playing around with adding batteries to a computer fan to turn it into a buzzbot--a robot without wheels that moves around by vibrating. I used a normal computer fan with a couple of teeth knocked out to give it a wobble, powered by 4x AAA Energizer Ultimate Lithium cells, packing 1200 mAh each.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Building a Makeblock Tank

Yesterday I jumped feet first into building a robust tank robot out of Makeblock. If you haven't checked them out, Makeblock is an anodized aluminum building set with a very robust part assortment. For the tank bot I worked on, I really wanted to use Makeblock's tank treads, which are segmented and made of very durable rubber. You use small metal rods to add and remove links, and I was able to arrange the treads fairly well with idler wheels at the top and back, with robust 37mm DC motors moving the treads. The chassis itself was more or less created at random. I just wanted to get a starting point to add stuff to, and I'll refine the design later. Next up: I'll add an Arduino, motor control board, and maybe some sensors. How cool is robotics? Way cool.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Building the Makeblock Strong Robot Gripper

This morning I built this cool manipulator from Makeblock. Called the Strong Robot Gripper, it's built from laser-cut acrylic parts and uses a small DC motor with a threaded rotor that opens and closes the gripper. It's funny that it doesn't use a servo, but using a screw drive to close the gripper probably is slow enough that you don't have to worry about the hand getting damaged from the motor being turned too much. I still need to play around with it, but at least the gripper is built!