Archive for the ‘Engineering’ Category

I love watching Battlebots. As an engineer I really enjoy seeing the design and strategy of each bot. I was delighted to find a box from VEX at my front door recently. Luckily I opened it right away (I thought it might be parts for a FIRST team) and found a Minotaur set. Minotaur is one of my favorite bots in the show. This bot from Brazil and is a joy to watch. Its spinning drum eats through other bots. Follow me past the break to see what I thought of this building set.

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This year I ventured up to Dayton Hamvention and had my sights set on getting a new radio. I was able to purchase a Connect Systems CS800D dual band FM/DMR radio. I naturally removed the cover to get a peak under the hood as seen in the photo above. Once I was done understanding the basic layout of the PCB (note the UHF PA mounted to the back of the case, top of the image, and VHF PA at the front of the case, bottom of the image). I found it interesting how they fit so much radio into such a tiny package.

After some bench testing, I decided it was time to figure out how to mount it in my car. With a remote control head, I can simply mount it with the same setup as my Yaesu 7900R control head (which has since been sold). One problem, the remote control head mounter supplied with the radio does not match the mounting plate I have in my car. To fix this, I need to create a new mounting plate (or at least an interface plate). I started up Autodesk Inventor. Follow me after the break for more details or check out the part on Thingiverse!

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Back in November, I got a Phantom 3 Standard drone. The stock drone is a lot of fun, but it could use a couple upgrades. The first upgrade wanted was to replace the stock phone mount with a tablet mount. The larger screen on the table makes it easier to track objects. I got some really cool photos of an RC DC-3 flying around my drone at the local flying field, but following the small plane was difficult on the tablet, likely impossible on my phone.

The original phone mount is not very durable and after using it a few times, the plastic broke as you can see in the photo. DJI did send a replacement that was metal, but it would still limit me to my cell phone.

I found a tutorial on Phantom Help that used the DJI Inspire 1’s tablet mount. I initially decided to just screw the tablet mount into the plastic. I used some glue to add support. The upgrade was well worth it and it functioned well when out at the field flying.

However, within a week the mount broke. The plastic shell was fine, but the metal support broke. You can see the damage in the photo below. To be fair, this was after shipping my drone to my parent’s house for the holidays. While I packed the controller well, it appears some of the packing air bags broke in transit. I am still not quite sure how the plastic shell escaped damage (especially since it looks like the metal was crushed ).

Once I was home, I decided to order the metal insert. The threaded insert would allow me to remove the mount for shipping. To accommodate the new insert, I had to make the hole larger. I screwed the insert into the plastic and attached the nut. To make sure it stays secure, I used some hot glue. I also used hot glue to hold down wires that I had to reroute after the install.

The picture of the final install is below. I highly recommend this upgrade to anyone that got a DJI Phantom 3 Standard for the holidays! I also picked up a hard shell case for the drone and the accessories. For return shipping to Florida, I did remove the tablet mount and used the case. Both the controller and drone returned in perfect condition. I can’t wait to start flying again!

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One of the awesome projects at Maker Faire 2016 was creating a drone. Radio Shack had a free workshop using their DIY Drone Kits. Naturally I got a kit and quickly assembled it. However, my drone piloting skills are still developing and this quad has had more than a few rough landings. It wasn’t long before the original airframe needed to be replaced. A couple weeks of work later, I was successful and the replacement airframe can be found on Thingiverse! Follow me after the break and I’ll share all the details on my latest project! (more…)

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If you have launched EV3-G recently, you probably discovered that there is a new update! LEGO has released version 1.2.2 to address the “VM Program Instruction Break” bug. Be sure to update your software to the latest version. The bug did not affect the firmware on your EV3, just the compiler in EV3-G.

The Seshan Brothers, over at EV3Lessons.com, have an excellent overview of the bug.

You can download the latest versions of the LEGO MINDSTORMS programming software here!

As I mentioned last week, I want to share a really fun robot. Sorry for the delay in this post, but I needed to make a quick video of the footage for Youtube. The Maker movement is all about fusing different mediums to create something unique. For this ROBOT MAK3R, that means mixing 3D Printing, LEGO MINDSTORMS, Spider Wire, and a GoPro action camera.

Capturing events is always a challenge for me. While I am displaying, I am typically very busy answering questions and meeting everyone. I really wanted a way to document these awesome events that still allowed me to be social. Sounds like a robot to me! With some on-site programming I was able to achieve this goal! While the bot needed a bit of tuning, movement along its wire was smooth and pan and tilt controls worked as designed! Not bad for a quick build! Check out the footage from World Maker Faire 2016 and learn about this awesome bot after the break!

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This week I want to share a video of a presentation I made back in July on Digital Mobile Radio or DMR. DMR is a cool technology for commercial and amateur radio. It uses TDMA technology to enable two independent conversations on one frenquency at any given moment. Check out the video above for an overview of multiple digital voice options in amateur radio, as well as some in-depth discussion on DMR. Sorry the lighting on me is dim in the video. It was lowered to help the contrast for people attending live.

If you enjoyed this video, I will be hosting a live Introduction to Amateur Radio next week on Thursday! Stay tuned for more details and links to the live stream in a bonus blog post next week!

 

CoverNo Starch Press recently released a new book in the making space. This latest entry, titled Arduino Project Handbook by Mark Geddes, joins the many existing Arduino books on the market. Over the past few weeks I have been reading the book and making some of the projects. The book has a wealth of knowledge to share.

Overall, I really liked the book. I do want to get my one main complaint out of the way now. Based on the title and description, I was expecting a book of projects from start to finish. This book only goes as far as the breadboard. I was expecting projects to have enclosures and mounting of elections, a mixed-media problem faced by many new makers. However, none of the projects make it that far.

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Sample page, used with permission from No Starch Press.

Once I adjusted my expectations, I really got into the book. Most projects are presented with some pictures and then a wiring schematic. You can see that in the sample page to the right or below.  The wiring schematic uses symbols that closely match what the actual part looks like, instead of the traditional electronics schematic. This is really helpful for new makers. From both the wiring schematic and the pictures it is really easy to make sure you wired your project correctly.

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Sample page, used with permission from No Starch Press.

All of the projects, save the last few, use the Arduino Uno. The last few projects do not use the Uno, rather using the ATMEGA328 on a breadboard. While still using the Arduino firmware, this is a good way for makers to condense the number of boards in a project.

The projects are creative and fun, ranging from blinking lights to a weather station. Some projects require just a few parts while others are a bit more complex. Many of the individual skills are easily applied to other projects. For example, several projects use an LCD screen or servo motors, two of the most common devices in maker projects. Furthermore, the sample code is clearly commented and published in the book. This is huge as many publishers are moving this content online, making it harder to follow. I found this helpful when working on my desk when my internet went down. I was able to keep tinkering and following the instructions without having to worry about reaching the publisher’s website.

Overall this is another great Arduino book. Mark Geddes does a great job of showing how new makers can leverage an Arduino. I recommend the Arduino Project Handbook for any aspiring makers and those new to electronics! You can find the book on amazon for under $20. For that price, I think it would be a great addition to any maker’s library!

 

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These came in a while ago, but with all the travel this fall, I have been behind in my posting. I wanted to get share my review before the holiday season started as these are certainly must-haves for any LEGO Technic builder!

Before we dig into the books, let’s talk about the author, Yoshihito Isogawa. Yoshihito is one of the best Technic/MINDSTORMS builders out there. He hosts countless workshops in Japan and is always creating! What is so cool is that his creations can be used in so many different projects! They really are a great starting point. I highly recommend his LEGO MINDSTORMS EV3 Idea Book.

Now let’s talk about the LEGO Power Functions Idea Book Volume 1: Machines and Mechanisms. The first volume’s focus on machines is spot on! Many of the modules, for lack of a better term, are innovative ways to mount LEGO Power Functions motors and transfer power in a useful way.

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As you can see from the example page, there quick little projects provide lots of photos and a bill of materials. While the book does not give you step-by-step instructions, much of the design is easy to figure out. More on that later.

The various machines Yoshihito provide lots of attachment points. I spent a few hours building some of the mechanisms from his book. I learned some good building techniques and I can really see myself using them in upcoming projects.

LEGO Power Functions Idea Book Volume 2: Cars and Contraptions is probably the more useful book for me. Many of the robots I build move. Cars and Contraptions shows some really unique drivetrains. These ideas would be super useful for FIRST LEGO League teams.

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I rarely uses LEGO Power Functions in my drivetrains. These ideas will certainly change that. The beauty of LEGO Power Functions is that it super easy to integrate into a robot. While the motors are not encoded, they do provide a lot of power in a small package. These presents a unique design challenge and something that I am looking really forward to exploring.

My favorite part of this book is that it doesn’t give the entire design. So many of us are attached to building instructions. I love idea of just sharing pictures and letting others build off that idea. Yoshihito does exactly that. I found myself having to improvise when I couldn’t quite figure out how to make something or lacking a part. This was great fun and just added to the enjoyment from these books. The various models are simple enough that you get by with just photos, but yet also open ended so that is room to make your own take on everything! I would highly suggest this approach for anyone who feels that step-by-step instructions are too simple, but not quite ready to create from scratch.

Long story short, I would highly suggest both of these books and they should make it on to any holiday shopping list! Yoshihito is an amazing LEGO builder and it is truly a gift that he is sharing these ideas with the global LEGO community!

DSC_0830It’s hard to deny that “STEM” is the new buzzword in education. We need more STEM education! With the focus on this buzzword, schools are scrambling to figure out how to put STEM classes into their curriculum.

Robotics for me was the hook; it got me to explore, to question, to discover.

One of the most common ways schools are “adding STEM” is introducing robotics classes. I have seen countless schools that have introduced VEX IQ or LEGO MINDSTORMS as a way to address the need for STEM. These classes are “teaching” robotics, which as an engineer I don’t really understand.

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