Gian Pablo Villamil http:// Tech, toys and strategy Sat, 08 Feb 博雅彩彩票网址 12:18:09 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=5.4.1 What I’ve learned in 5 years of 3D printing http:///2019/08/what-ive-learned-in-5-years-of-3d-printing/ http:///2019/08/what-ive-learned-in-5-years-of-3d-printing/#respond Thu, 01 Aug 2019 15:44:11 +0000 http:///?p=1731 This is a re-post of something I wrote for another website in April 2016. I don’t do that much 3D printing anymore, but I certainly learned a lot during that time!

I’ve spent the past 5 years building 3D printers and using them to make things. In the process, I’ve found a new career, [...]]]> This is a re-post of something I wrote for another website in April 2016. I don’t do that much 3D printing anymore, but I certainly learned a lot during that time!


I’ve spent the past 5 years building 3D printers and using them to make things. In the process, I’ve found a new career, and learned a lot about what 3D printing can do, and what its potential is. I like to say that in this sense I’m living a few years in the future: 3D printing is working well enough for me that it is part of my day-to-day life. From my perspective living in the near future, I’d like to share some of the key things I’ve learned, and what it implies going forward.

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But first, here’s how I got here:

In 2008 I was living in New York, and a member of a hackerspace called NYC Resistor, which was founded by Bre Pettis, and was the birthplace of Makerbot. I saw the team working on the earliest Makerbots, and I found it really inspiring and exciting. I was struck by Bre’s emphasis on making 3D printing a personal tool, from the beginning he insisted that having such a capability available would be transformative. He’d made the same argument about buying a laser cutter for NYC Resistor. I had suggested that we rent time on laser cutters at other organizations in the neighborhood, but he was emphatic that we would use it differently by having it physically at the space, and always available. He was right: a lot of interesting things happened, including a memorable incident when a visitor from Chicago laser cut a fork to eat his noodles at 2am.

Anyway, that lasercutter had a lot of impact: looking for things to make with it led to the creation of Thingiverse, and that lasercutter was used to produce the first Makerbot kits.

Bre and his co-founders Zach and Adam were very familiar with the Open Source RepRap project, and had observed just how difficult it was to make one of those printers, sourcing parts from multiple places, and figuring out how to get 3D printed parts required from someone else in the community. Bre adamant that when you bought a Makerbot kit, everything you needed should be in the box.

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Early days: My Makerbot Cupcake printing away.

In 2010 I ordered and built a Makerbot Cupcake, one of the very first. It was not super reliable, but a lively online community quickly started sharing improvements and upgrades. I eventually got it to the point where it was working very reliably. It spent 2 years at a makerspace in San Francisco, where it produced parts for a whole range of interesting projects. However, at this point, you could really describe a 3D printer as more of a project than a tool.

However, I was attending many 3D printing meetups at this time, and I was struck that everyone would bring their “work in progress” printers, none of which were actually printing. My Cupcake, rudimentary as it was, was often the only machine actually printing something during the event.

My next 3D printer was another Makerbot, this time the Thing-O-Matic. This went through a range of upgrades too, though the process was much faster than with the first printer. The ToM is capable of producing very high quality output, comparable to much more expensive printers. For the first time in my experience, the objects I was printing looked as good as something professionally made.

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I used it for a number of practical applications, including scanning and printing a section of the Bay Bridge support cable for the Bay Lights project. This was used to show how the Bay Lights LEDs would attach to the cable, and it turned out to be such a useful presentation tool that we ended up making many copies of it. This is when 3D printing started to become more of a tool than a project, and when I began to understand the revolutionary potential of low cost 3D printing.

The gallery below shows some of the things I printed in the early stages of my 3D printing journey. While some of them are just interesting demos, some of these things are actually useful parts that I have used for years. Some of the most useful are my own designs, which are often the simplest. The knob below took me less than 1 hour from design to print, and it is a useful part which would otherwise be very difficult to buy.

Over the course of 2 years, I was able to double the resolution and the print speed of the printer, simply by updates to the software. This included changes to firmware in the printer, and also to the software that controls the printer. The change has been to more accurate modeling of the physical processes involved in printing – better control of acceleration of the moving parts, simulation of the molten plastic filament, etc. Going forward, I expect software and sensors to actually compensate for physical hardware issues. Computation is the secret sauce that makes 3D printing revolutionary, and it is getting much much cheaper. (Much like drones, which rely heavily on computation to make up for their complex aerodynamics)

In the early days Makerbots were open source, which allowed the user community to make easily make changes and improvements, and share them. Makerbot benefited heavily from this openness, and adopted many user-created upgrades.

Given my success so far, I then picked up a Makerbot Replicator 1 Dual. This printer had a much larger build area, and two extruders, allowing for printing with two colors at once. This machine worked well out of the box, and continues to do so.

By this point, I had two small children of my own, so I made a lot of toys! At this point 3D printing really became useful, professionally and personally. I started working at Autodesk, building on my experience with 3D printing.

I was much more comfortable with designing my own parts, and very confident in the capabilties of the printer. The process of solving problems by design and making 3D printed objects had become so straightforward that applications became my main focus.

Here are a series of more recent 3D printed objects, both my design and from others. It is worth pointing out that many of them are being used in practical applications, and are not just geegaws.

By now I have a few more printers. Some count as experiments, but I have at least 3 that are solidly productive, and capable of working with interesting new materials. 3D printing is one of those things that I routinely use to solve problems in my personal and professional life (and this includes keeping the kids entertained).

Here are some of the things I’ve learned about 3D printing, and what I think lies ahead.

For 3D printing to be useful, 3 barriers have to be overcome:

  1. It has to work – this is something the desktop 3D printing industry is still working on, but you have to get past it in order for it to be useful. I was able to get to this stage and beyond with most of my printers.
  2. You have to have a need – also essential, otherwise it stays a curiosity. As it happens, I have LOTS of ideas for things to make, and the more you learn, the more ideas you have.
  3. You have to be able to make your ideas real – this is probably the biggest outstanding hurdle, which has been obscured by the relative immaturity of the technology. Design tools need to be easier to use and cheaper.

In terms of the future, here’s what I think is significant. 3D printing has been around for a long time, but it is only recently that it has become so accessible and inexpensive. This is revolutionary, because it marks a move from 3D printing for prototyping, to manufacturing. Low cost printers are used mostly for end-use parts, not prototypes. An entire generation of students and engineers are growing up with the idea that the machine you use for design exploration is the same one that you will use for production. I almost always used parts directly from my printers – in only a handful of cases did I ever use a different process to manufacture parts that I had prototyped.

Existing applications for traditional 3D printing, such as industrial jigs and fixtures, and architectural models, can easily be served with the low cost printers. Moreover, much lower cost machines and 3D printing processes are enabling entirely new applications that were impractical with earlier 3D printers. Predicting what these are is equivalent to seeing an Apple ][ in 1979 and forecasting today’s massive deployment of cheap computers. I don’t know what these applications are, but I’m sure they’re out there. I’ve certainly made money with parts I’ve made on my own printers!

Much has been said about the relatively poor quality of 3D printed objects vs other techniques. However, I have found that even existing machines can generate output that is comparable to far more expensive 3D printers, and is approaching the quality of injection molding. The key is to consider “fitness for purpose”, and by this standard even the cheapest 3D printers can make useful parts. I have many 3D printed objects that have been in use for years, and at this point no-one really cares about their appearance.

Another key lesson learned is related to the story about Bre insisting that we have a laser cutter in the makerspace: tools are used differently if they are right next to you. I do not think I would have progressed as far as I did if I had been using a shared printer, or 3D printing service bureau. The ability to quickly make things on my own machine was transformative.

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Science Fiction as a tool for planning (the view from 20 years ago) http:///2019/08/science-fiction-as-a-tool-for-planning-the-view-from-20-years-ago/ http:///2019/08/science-fiction-as-a-tool-for-planning-the-view-from-20-years-ago/#respond Thu, 01 Aug 2019 15:18:23 +0000 http:///?p=1729 I originally wrote and published this article on June 4, 1999 on this very site, , more than 20 years ago. I’m reposting it as-is, including some very dated references.

This is an idea that is gaining a great deal of currency lately, as many business leaders and entrepreneurs point out the key role [...]]]> I originally wrote and published this article on June 4, 1999 on this very site, , more than 20 years ago. I’m reposting it as-is, including some very dated references.

This is an idea that is gaining a great deal of currency lately, as many business leaders and entrepreneurs point out the key role of science fiction books and media while they were growing up.

However, I did receive a very interesting comment on this and other pieces, which is worth highlighting. While traveling in India in 2001, I met a group of Spanish civil servants on vacation, and I shared a link to this piece in its original form. They read it, and their response has stayed with me: they basically said that I was clearly very passionate about the subject, but all my essays skewed towards pointing out the monetary value of things. If I enjoyed something, that is enough – I didn’t need to justify it by using it to make money.


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Image by David Revoy / Blender Foundation – Obra proprie, CC BY 3.0

Recently, my friend Nick attempted to describe my job: he said he thought of me as a sort of “arsey clerk”. After an awkward pause for reflection, it occurred to me that he had intended to compare me to Arthur C. Clarke, the science fiction writer who invented/predicted geostationary communications satellites. (For the sake of our friendship I’ll continue to assume this interpretation.)

By comparing me, a strategy consultant, to a science fiction writer Nick was making an interesting point: in many industries, science fiction (or the science fiction approach) is potentially an extremely valuable way to approach the challenge of planning for an uncertain future, and exploring possibilities which may uncover new opportunities.

It is important to understand what “proper” science fiction is, and how it differs from the rest of literature. The best science fiction has at its core a key idea, which is explored through the story. This idea is frequently expressed as a “what if”: what if computers became intelligent, what if computers had been available 100 years ago, what if people could no longer lie to each other, what if chopsticks carried animated advertising, etc… Characterization, description, plotting are secondary in all but the best. There are other books and films classified as science fiction that are simply conventional literary genres dressed up in spacesuits and rocketships. I would class these as fantasy.

The best science fiction builds our understanding of issues affecting us today: the writers of the 50’s and 60’s explored ideas around global government, space travel, and later on, psychedelic experimentation and the nature of consciousness. Robert Heinlein’s writing career spanned all these areas.

A new crop of writers is writing very good fiction around the growth of the internet, invasion of privacy, impact of market economics and how all this affects perceptions of life, society and reality. Neal Stephenson, Vernor Vinge, William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Ian Banks and a host of others are exemplars of the ‘net aware generation. Not coincidentally, the issues they deal with have far reaching consequences for managers in practically all industries today.

Often there is enormous value in the details of their books, not just the “big idea”: in ““, Bruce Sterling explores the impact of ageing population on medicine, arts, society and youth culture. However, the background of the book includes shareware distribution models applied to hardware, enhanced intelligence for pets, and a description of 21st century building techniques of considerable interest.

In “” by Neal Stephenson, the key theme of central vs. decentralized systems and their power is developed further through concepts of social organization, nanotechnology and cultural values. It also explores ecosystems, Confucian justice and the future of personal armaments. Also some interesting ideas on how to bring up children.

Should a manager today read science fiction? Absolutely yes! Trying to understand the business environment by reading about what has already happened in newspapers, magazines and the internet will never give the perspective that can be gained by speculative thinking about key trends. William Gibson coined the term “cyberspace” in “” in 1984, and tapped into the aesthetic of the Internet generation years before it surfaced. The virtual world of Stephenson’s “” has had enormous influence on the development of Internet communities like and . I have been involved in various future visioning and scenario planning projects, and the value of participation by a speculative thinker is enormous.

A key challenge for today’s business leaders is to tell a compelling story about the future, in order to persuade the customers, employees, suppliers and the markets that their organization will play a part in it. Many of those compelling stories are being written, and it behooves us to understand them in order to lead effectively.

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A visit to Dynamicland http:///2018/06/a-visit-to-dynamicland/ http:///2018/06/a-visit-to-dynamicland/#comments Fri, 01 Jun 2018 18:19:23 +0000 http:///?p=1668 I recently had the opportunity to visit Dynamicland, an extremely interesting project under way in the middle of Oakland.

Dynamicland describes itself as “a new computational medium, where people work together with real objects in physical space…” but what is it, really? In practice, it is an entire building that has been comprehensively equipped with [...]]]> I recently had the opportunity to visit , an extremely interesting project under way in the middle of Oakland.

Dynamicland describes itself as “a new computational medium, where people work together with real objects in physical space…” but what is it, really? In practice, it is an entire building that has been comprehensively equipped with computer vision cameras and projectors, with a software platform that integrates everything. Almost every flat surface (tables, floors) and wall can detect objects, and animate them. It is intended as an environment in which to build applications, and in fact all of Dynamicland is built and maintained using its own tools.

However, the most important thing about Dynamicland is not the technology, but rather how it enables (and leverages) very natural interactions in a collaborative way. By the end of the evening, visitors were explaining Dynamicland to each other, and trying out various experiments.

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Everything with a colored dot is a Dynamicland object.

There is a lot to unpack here. Over the course of 2 hours I had a chance to play with various demos, talk to the team there, and started to get a sense of the possibilities. I’ll describe what it was like, then share some thoughts on execution, philosophy and the future. Nothing compares to actually visiting and experiencing it for yourself, but I hope to pique your curiosity!

A visit to Dynamicland starts with a brief introduction to what it is, and how it works. Overhead cameras are looking for patterns of colored dots on objects and paper, and then projecting output on to them. Some of the objects have a projected “whisker”, a colored line that sticks out from the edge of the paper. Pointing a keyboard at any object lets you edit the code that runs it.

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Welcome博雅彩彩票网址 to Dynamicland!

Demos and applications

The first demos I played with were dynamic story books. By manipulating a physical cube, or by turning the pages of the book, images and videos were recalled which could be used to create a story.

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Story creation tools with a physical cube to manipulate them.

Another fascinating demo was a binder with a sample of wallpapers (really tessellation patterns). Next to the book was a projected frame that reflected the tiling area of whatever sample was being shown. You could place objects into this frame, and see the resulting pattern in the book. In this case, the overhead cameras were being used not just to detect objects, but to capture video from the table.

Later in the evening a friend of mine discovered that she could set it up so that the output of a graphics program could overlap the kaleidoscope frame, easily generating animated patterns.

A really interesting application was a table that showed how a group of middle school teachers had used Dynamicland to organize their findings about teaching methods, and used it to present their results. Their notes were physically laid out on a table, and some of the notes were linked to photos or videos. A neat trick is that you could use a “pointer” (really just a piece of paper with code associated) to select a content item, and send it to a projection on the wall. The “projector” object, the picture frame, etc. are all just Dynamicland objects.

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School teachers used Dynamicland to organize and present their findings

Here’s a video that shows how the pointer is used to present information on the wall.

One aspect of Dynamicland that is easy to overlook is that audio is incorporated throughout. Programs created on a table or wall can trigger audio playback on speakers in the vicinity. Here was an application that let you put together a simple player piano, letting you vary instrument sounds, tempo, scale etc. by manipulating pieces that represented these attributes.

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Melody, sounds, tempo, etc can be collaboratively combined

This demo allowed you to play with digital signal processing, combining and manipulating signal sources.

My friend found a booklet that, when opened, would cause sounds to be played. She found the page that played a nightingale song, and would announce herself by just opening the book to that page. At some point the Dynamicland staff needed the book, but they realized she liked this function, so they did something really striking: put the book on the table, pointed a keyboard at it, and pressed Ctrl-P (for print). Seconds later, an exact duplicate of that page came out of the printer, and she could walk around and use it to trigger the nightingale sample.

There were endlessly interesting applications. Here is an interactive mapping app. You could attach sheets to a main map to reveal different views.

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Add interactive features to a map

An interactive coding demo where you can control the program using a physical dial. The dial element was developed independently, and was integrated with the program with minimal effort. This is a key feature of Dynamicland, that code can be remixed and combined by literally placing paper on a table.

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A physical dial is used to control a program

Exploring historical data visualization. Over the course of the evening this app moved from a table to the floor, and then onto a wall, massively improving on a simple line graph to visualize different data points, of course, there will always be use for a quick line graph maker depending on the simplicity of the data being represented. (Most of the walls at Dynamicland are magnetic, so that papers and objects can be easily attached with tiny magnets.)

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Exploring data visualization

The director of the center showed me a project created by her daughter, an analog joystick. The cameras can detect a colored dot on the joystick, and establish its displacement with relation to the frame. Then a snippet of code sends out x and y values corresponding to the joystick position. It was incredibly easy to just pick up the joystick and attach it to other programs in the space, for example to pan over a map, or change values in an audio simulation. (Or even play games…)

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Analog joystick

How it works

Dynamicland is a combination of physical and software infrastructure. The first is the most obvious and visible, but the second is crucial and probably the most innovative aspect of the project.

The key physical infrastructure of Dynamicland is cameras that can detect marked objects, and projectors that can animate them. This is only the current state of the system, in the future it is intended that different sensors will be able to detect all kinds of objects, and various additional outputs will be possible. Audio output is also possible, and the walls of the building are prepared to allow things to be attached to them.

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A bunch of cameras and projectors up in the rafters

It is important to highlight how important this building-wide scale is to the Dynamicland proposition. There are other smart whiteboards & collaboration environments out there, but few (if any) have been built at the building scale. The nuts & bolts of the tech are less important than the scale at which they are deployed. It is (to some extent) this scale that really makes Dynamicland work for collaboration.

Dynamicland is at heart an environment for developing code collaboratively. Every object in the space has code associated with it, which can be edited by simply pointing a keyboard at it.

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Pointing the “whisker” on a keyboard at an object immediately exposes the code

The code that you manipulate is in a language called RealTalk, and it is the basis of the operating system on which all of Dynamicland is built (called RealTalkOS). The entire code repository is accessible using the Dynamicland system. These bulletin boards aren’t just the documentation for the system, they ARE the system. You can pick up these pages and edit them. (Version control is important!)

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The code that Dynamicland runs on.

The Realtalk language sounds interesting. I thought someone mentioned that it is based on but I could be wrong. Some code examples highlight a very interesting property of the language, wishes and claims. This suggests that a running program cannot just assert or command, but rather has to get consensus from other modules before things can happen.

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Claims and wishes in Realtalk

Reference manuals for Realtalk and Dynamicland are distributed throughout the space, in various 3 ring binders and notebooks. Of course, all the examples are tagged, and come to life. You can even edit the examples directly and see them run immediately.

There were several monitors throughout the space that showed a “system’s eye view” of what was going on. While they intended as a debugging display, it was interesting to refer to them for various keyboard shortcuts, and insight into what was going on. However, they are not needed in regular use of the space.

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What it means

There is a lot going on with Dynamicland: it is an ambient computing environment, a collaboration tool, a software development system, and an entire software environment. What is unique is that way that it has been pulled together, in a way that allows physical interactions to enable working together.

The following pictures show how this could manifest:

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With and without Dynamicland

In the first picture, people are together, using technology, but each one is focused on their own screen. Even though they are sharing space, there is a sense of isolation. In Dynamicland, everyone can see what others are working on. It is possible to build things easily by working together.

Currently, the guiding narrative for Dynamicland is that people are working together to build software systems. However, this is different from the way most people might think of programming. The goal is not build a marketable app, or develop a new operating system, etc. Dynamicland programming is about solving a problem in another domain, eg. making a presentation, teaching a class, exploring a data set – and making software much more accessible as a tool for this.

The vision of the future presented here is not just about an ambient computing environment, one that can sense and respond to objects, but also one that exposes programming as a tool that you can apply in the physical environment, in a really transparent way. There is a two-way flow here: bringing code into the physical environment, and applying physical gestures and interactions to coding.

In general, the idea of tying together the digital and physical worlds in this way is very powerful. By the end of the evening I was even starting to get annoyed with objects (eg coats, backpacks, etc) that were NOT visible to the system. It was very convenient to look for something, say a keyboard or a particular code fragment, and have the system tell you where it was (and highlight it where it was).

It is also a very different approach to the “Internet of Things”: rather than embedding computation and sensors into various objects, the sensors and computation are in the environment, and anything can be made “smart” – like pieces of paper, and bits of clay with colored balls. The programming model is maintained by the back-end infrastructure: you still treat every bit of paper and “stuff” as if it is programmable, and you don’t really think about the computers that really do the heavy lifting. I’d like to see how this model can be extended to incorporate devices that do have significant computing built in, such as drones, robots & phones.

However, even smart devices need to work with networked infrastructure, and Dynamicland’s RealtalkOS is breaking new ground into what that could look like. Its programming paradigm accepts “unpredictable” real world input, manages issues of consensus & collaboration, and enables interactions across a wide space.

I’ll be interested to see where this goes!

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Hands-on with Swift Playgrounds for educational robots http:///2017/10/hands-on-with-swift-playgrounds-for-educational-robots/ http:///2017/10/hands-on-with-swift-playgrounds-for-educational-robots/#comments Sat, 14 Oct 2017 23:58:10 +0000 http:///?p=1628 What if you could use a single programming environment to learn to code at an early age, then use that same environment to explore programming for robots, IoT, Augmented Reality, and then take those projects into a full-blown programming environment? Apple’s Swift Playgrounds is a free app that aspires to do all of these things. [...]]]> What if you could use a single programming environment to learn to code at an early age, then use that same environment to explore programming for robots, IoT, Augmented Reality, and then take those projects into a full-blown programming environment? Apple’s is a free app that aspires to do all of these things. I spent some time working with their new features for controlling educational robots, and here is what I found.

The programming language was introduced in 2014, along with a feature called , Apple’s main developer tool. The app for iPad was introduced in 2016 as a “learn to code” environment aimed at children, but it is very much real programming. This spring (2017) it received substantial updates, including the ability to program several educational robots,

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I spent some time using Swift Playgrounds with these robots:

Other robots are supported, including Parrot drones and Meebot, but I didn’t have a chance to test them.

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What I found is a VERY promising beginning. The core Swift Playgrounds tutorials (Learn to Code) are really solid, and provide for a seamless transition into robotics. The robotics support is good, even though the level of finish and polish is variable. The ability to bring projects into XCode (Apple’s IDE) is an important bonus, and opens the path to more sophisticated projects.

  • Lego Mindstorms is very polished, with a useful Live View, and very complete support for the API. Documentation is extremely thorough. You can do everything you can do with the Lego software. It feels like an advanced step for students used to the Lego apps.
  • Wonder Workshops Dash is also well designed, but it seems like the API support is limited. It feels like you can only use the robot to a fraction of its capabilities, it may benefit from further to maximize the capabilities of the API and robots communication. The tutorials are very easy, but without much of a growth path. It feels like an extension to basic Swift tutorials, instead of using this tool as a way to explore more advanced concepts.
  • The Sphero playgrounds are very solid, with complete API support, Live Views, and thorough documentation. Well structured Star Wars themed tutorials for the R2-D2 robot, and more general tutorials for the entire Sphero product line. This also feels like an advanced step past the native apps.

Keep reading for more detail on my experience.

In the Swift Playgrounds app, new Playgrounds can be added from scratch, or from a library. The robot programming setups are all in the Accessory tab. They often include a more structured tutorial as well as a blank template.

Authoring these tutorials is straightforward, including the addition of “dashboard” type elements for live control, images and video. Apple has published a full specification for creating your Playgrounds. (Interactive features are themselves coded in Swift, which is neat.)

In order to save typing, Playgrounds will autocomplete most of the robot API commands. You can get through the tutorials by pointing and clicking. When typing, Playgrounds has an interesting alternative keyboard layout that lets you add common coding constructs by swiping down on keys.

I tried Swift Playgrounds with some of the robots I have around the house, connecting and writing simple programs.

Lego Mindstorms EV3

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Swift Playgrounds for Mindstorms includes both a structured tutorial and a blank template.

The Lego Mindstorms tutorial is well constructed, with a narrative about creating animals and helping them survive. The set of lessons ramps up the difficulty level slowly, starting with tips on connecting the EV3 Brick and testing with a limited set of motors, and progressing to the construction of a moderately complex “turtle” bot.

A very attractive feature is a Live View that is active when a robot is connected, which displays real-time status of any connected motors and sensors. A Graph View page keeps track of values over the time. These can be logged and saved.

The implementation of the EV3 API (application programming interface) is extremely thorough. Every function available in Lego’s own software seems to be supported, including movement functions for robots with two motor drivetrains. The documentation is completely populated, with both the Glossary and pop-help features providing extremely detailed information, including assembly instructions for a sample robot that works with the tutorials.

The blank template includes the complete API, the Live View and the Graph View, but none of the structured tutorials.

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I found the Lego Mindstorms EV3 support in Swift Playground very thorough and easy to use, with real potential to build interesting apps. If you are already using Mindstorms, this will substantially expand your possibilities at no extra cost.

The one downside is that, unlike the native Lego apps, programs are not compiled and uploaded to the robot. The programs you write run on the iPad, and control the robot remotely. This means you need to keep an iPad connected while using the robot.

Wonder Workshop Dash

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Wonder Workshops seems to have taken a completely different tack.

The Dash robot is aimed at younger children, and the Swift Playgrounds support reflects that. The graphics and lessons are consistent with the Wonder Workshop apps. I’m not sure this is entirely a good idea: why not use the native apps to serve the younger audience, and use Swift Playgrounds to enable more sophisticated projects? The API support is very limited, with MoveForward() and TurnLeft() and TurnRight() functions like those in the beginning Swift tutorials (move a step, turn left or right 90 degrees), whereas the robot is capable of much more. The native apps have much better control of movement speed, turning on the various LEDs, etc.

The built-in documentation features in Swift Playgrounds are not used at all, which is frustrating. You have to rely on the AutoComplete features to figure out what commands are available.

In general, a child that has completed the first few Swift tutorials will easily understand this playground, but might get bored rather quickly. Given that this system requires much more reading and writing than the native apps, there seems a bit of a mismatch here.

I was surprised that a robot positioned for “learning to code” didn’t make more of the Swift Playgrounds opportunity – perhaps they are trying to steer users to their own apps. If you already have a Wonder Workshops Dash robot, Swift Playgrounds does not add much (if anything) beyond the native apps.

Like the others, there is both a structured tutorial and a blank template for programming.

Unlike Mindstorms, the Dash robots already rely on a tablet or phone for their programming, and that is the same with Swift.

Sphero R2-D2 and BB-8

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Sphero seems to have really jumped on the opportunity to do something interesting with their robot offering. The Playground templates include one specific to the newly released R2-D2 toy, with a series of detailed Star Wars themed challenges. Another template is called Sphero Arcade, and is more focused on Sphero’s original spherical robots (which are compatible with their BB-8 toy). Finally there is a blank template.

All the materials look good, with thorough documentation, full support of the API for R2-D2 and BB-8, a nice sensor view, and a dashboard built in Swift that allows manual driving of the robots.

The Sphero Playgrounds suffered from connection issues early on, but those appear to have been fixed with a recent IOS update. I was able to detect and connect to both R2-D2 and BB-8.

If you already have a Sphero robot, Swift Playgrounds is a good way to increase their possibilities. In particular, since some of the Spheros are marketed as toys, this is a way to gain some more educational value from them. Compared to the native apps (both the toy control and the Sphero EDU apps), you are able to write more complex programs.

博雅彩彩票网

Taking it further – connecting with XCode

One of the more intriguing features is that Swift Playgrounds are themselves built in Swift, and can be created and extended using XCode. Apple has provided format.

Playgrounds are saved in iCloud Drive, and can be directly opened in XCode on a Mac. Since everything is built in Swift, including the code to connect to robots, it is possible to take a project started on the iPad and convert it to a full-blown IOS app (with some work). I found it really interesting to browse the code for connecting to the different robots with Bluetooth, and to provide the Live View functionality. You can also build your own Playgrounds templates following Apple’s instructions and add support for new robots this way.

博雅彩彩票网

This is a very interesting development. Someone can learn to code from the most basic level, and progress on to controlling various different robots. It is possible to take code from a Playground and eventually use it to build a self-contained app for MacOS or IOS.

Conclusions

Swift Playgrounds is worth a look by anyone involved in educational robotics. It provides a seamless path from the very beginnings of programming all the way to a variety of robot platforms. For some of the supported platforms, Playgrounds is at least as good as the native apps supplied with the robots, with the benefit of being a real, generally applicable programming language. Many robot programming solutions are very specific to the world of robots, and transferring lessons learned to and from other systems is not easy. Swift makes this seamless.

The ability to examine the Playgrounds themselves, and borrow code from them to make real apps, is also interesting.

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10 ways to get more out of Lego Mindstorms http:///2017/09/10-ways-to-get-more-out-of-lego-mindstorms/ http:///2017/09/10-ways-to-get-more-out-of-lego-mindstorms/#comments Sun, 24 Sep 2017 17:17:38 +0000 http:///?p=1592 I’ve been spending some time making stuff with Lego Mindstorms EV3, and have learned some things that might be useful. Out of the box, the kit is extremely complete and most of the materials on-line and in print start with the assumption that ALL you have is the basic kit. However, with a bit of [...]]]> I’ve been spending some time making stuff with , and have learned some things that might be useful. Out of the box, the kit is extremely complete and most of the materials on-line and in print start with the assumption that ALL you have is the basic kit. However, with a bit of judicious spending, you significantly increase the range of things you can do. (Bear in mind that some of these extensions are not allowed in some competitive robotics leagues, like .)

博雅彩彩票网

Read on for a list of 10 ways to get the most out of your Mindstorms kit!

1. Tap into the endless possibilities of Bricklink

is like an eBay but only for Legos. It is full of individual sellers that stock pretty much every Lego part, at very reasonable prices. One of the most useful features is the Wishlist: you can build multiple lists of parts that you want, and then with a push of a button the system will search all sellers, and put together orders that will get you the parts you need at the lowest price and the smallest number of sellers. Mindstorms parts are Lego parts, so as you expand your set, this is a good place to go.

博雅彩彩票网

2. Upgrade your brainware with some good books

The Lego documentation that comes with Mindstorms is enough to get you started, but isincomplete. You should definitely invest in a couple of good books. I found “” pretty good (in spite of the black and white illustrations), it covers very useful design patterns for Lego, and has some useful lists of expansion parts. Also “” covers some of the same ground but with color illustrations.

3. Maximize your movement potential with an extra motor

The Lego Mindstorms EV3 “brain” has 4 sensor inputs and 4 motor outputs. However, the kit ships with only 3 motors: 2 “large” motors suitable for drive wheels, and 1 “medium” motor suitable for an effector. As a result, most books and online instructions jump through all sorts of hoops to achieve complex results. So go ahead and buy 1 more motor, I would recommend the medium one. This way you can build a motorized robot with an arm that goes up and down, and a claw that opens and closes (for example).

博雅彩彩票网

This robot uses 4 motors: 2 for drive, 1 for the arm, and 1 for the claw

4. Assert total control with an extra IR remote

The Mindstorms EV3 IR (infrared) control is interesting. It can be used as an infrared “beacon” that a robot will follow around, or as a remote control. However, it is quite limited in that, by default, it can only control two motors. However, it can be switched to any of 3 channels, which can control different motor outputs. By sticking together two remotes (using Technics pins), and setting them to different channels, you now have the ability to control 4 motors in two directions (or a total of 10 individual buttons). This will work perfectly with the built-in IR control features in the brain, so you can remotely operate quite complex robots without having to do any programming. Very useful for testing and debugging.

博雅彩彩票网

Two IR beacons held together with Technics pins

 

5. Transform the 博雅彩彩票 kit into the Education kit (or vice versa)

There are two versions of the Mindstorms EV3 kit: a 博雅彩彩票 version and an Education version. The MAJOR difference between the two kits is that the “博雅彩彩票网” version includes the IR sensor and the IR remote control. This is extremely useful for controlling a robot without a phone or tablet. The Education version does include a Gyro sensor and an Ultrasonic sensor instead – the Gyro is useful for . Education also includes a rechargeable battery. For maximum flexibility, start with the 博雅彩彩票 kit and add elements from the Education set as needed. You can easily . Here is a . The EV3 Laboratory book mentioned above also includes this chart, complete with Bricklink part numbers.

The bare minimum: if starting from the 博雅彩彩票 kit, add the Gyro sensor and the rechargeable battery. If starting from the Education set, add the IR Sensor and 2 IR beacons/remotes (see point 4 above).

6. Use the rechargeable battery to avoid unnecessary deconstruction

The batteries for the whole Lego Mindstorms EV3 system are stored in the brain brick, under a cover. The challenge is that in a lot of robots, the battery compartment is often inaccessible. The batteries don’t last that long, so you’ll find yourself taking apart the robot to change batteries. (Even some otherwise well thought out projects from books have this problem.) The rechargeable battery that comes with the Education set (and is available separately) helps a lot. Just make sure to leave a space for the charge cable, and you should be able recharge the robot batteries without disassembly.

7. Re-use and recycle useful modules

As you make stuff, you’ll discover that there are some modules that you end up using over and over. For example, I like the from Instructables, and the ball shooter assembly from the . Rather than taking them apart, I just get the parts from Bricklink for these modules so that I can keep them handy as I build new things.

博雅彩彩票网

A robot with a couple of extra modules: a vertical grabber and a ball shooter. These just plug in!

 

8. Mix it up with the rest of the Lego universe

The world of Lego is a complex universe, but almost all of the parts can work together. For example, Bionicles/Hero Factory parts are compatible with Lego Technics and Mindstorms, adding a number of useful ball joints and decorative parts. You can use the various Technic bricks to incorporate regular Legos into Mindstorms robots. (In fact regular Legos and Duplo interlock nicely – did you know that?) As you build projects, consider the possibilities to add parts from other Lego systems. (Note that some of these are disallowed in competition).

9. Brain transplant and sensor superpowers

Going forward, you may want to take advantage of the flexibility of the Mindstorms construction system, but add more advanced features like video streaming, computer vision, Internet control, etc. For these, a good option is to use alternative brains based on systems like the Raspberry Pi. This is a full Linux based computer that costs only $35. You do need an adapter board to connect to Mindstorms sensors and motors. Two good options are from and from . Check out the offerings on their site for additional sensors and upgrades. This is a terrific way to expand into advanced robotics while using a familiar building system.

10. Get organized!

As with regular Legos, it is really important to keep things organized! There are lots of little parts that are essential, so some form of compartmented storage is essential! The Education set comes with storage, but if you don’t have that, get some kind of organizer.

博雅彩彩票网

Only the beginning of a Lego organization strategy

If I were to summarize these tips, I’d say:

  • Add a motor
  • Add a second IR remote
  • If starting from the 博雅彩彩票 set, add the Gyro Sensor from the Education set
  • Add the rechargeable battery

Everything else is key, but you’ll realize their importance later.

I hope this list is useful: these are certainly all things I’d known about when I got started!

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The next 5 years in 3D printing http:///2017/06/the-next-5-years-in-3d-printing/ http:///2017/06/the-next-5-years-in-3d-printing/#respond Thu, 15 Jun 2017 20:13:38 +0000 http:///?p=1538 I’ve spent the past 7 years working extensively with 3D printing, everything from low-cost hobby level printers to very high end plastic and metal 3D printers. I’ve been exploring the elusive space in between, using low-cost printing to serve enterprise and volume production applications. I’ve experienced first-hand how the low cost and high quality of [...]]]> I’ve spent the past 7 years working extensively with 3D printing, everything from low-cost hobby level printers to very high end plastic and metal 3D printers. I’ve been exploring the elusive space in between, using low-cost printing to serve enterprise and volume production applications. I’ve experienced first-hand how the low cost and high quality of 3D printed parts can change the world.

Here’s my take on the next 5 years in 3D printing.

  • Innovation by newcomers to the industry will dramatically drive down costs, enabling the move to additive manufacturing
  • Cost reduction in machines and processes will enable systems capable of volume production
  • Dramatic innovation in process and materials will also broaden the application space
  • Existing applications will become cheaper and more accessible.
  • Entirely new applications will emerge to take advantage of these changes
  • 3D printing will start to encroach on other technologies for some use cases.

When assembling a 3D printer, it can cost companies a lot of money. Getting all of the essential materials and cutting them down to size can be costly. To cut the materials down to size, a water jet cutting device is normally used to ensure that the pieces of material are cut correctly and shaped perfectly. Companies looking to achieve the perfect sized materials for a 3D printer could always contact a company, like , if they required the services of a water jet cutter. Whilst this is normally a lengthy and costly process, the material prices decreasing is good for the overall cost of manufacturing 3D printers.

However, by far the most important change over the course of the next 5 years will be the decline in the cost of 3D printing. Moreover, this will be driven by newcomers to the industry, many of them coming from the low-cost segment of the industry. This dramatic reduction in cost will shift 3D printing from high value, high cost, low volume applications to low cost, high volume applications. Cost reductions will affect machines, labor cost and materials.

Let’s look at a specific example of cost reduction, comparing high-end “pro” machines using the FDM technology with some that come from the “desktop” space. In order to normalize for size, I’ve compared the price per cubic inch of build volume for various printers:

博雅彩彩票网

On the left, two generations of Stratasys 3D printers, the and , all with heated chambers and soluble support. In the middle, the Replicator2X and Z18 are 4th and 5th generation Makerbots. On the right, competitive low-cost printers built for robust applications. It is worth pointing out that that the has a build volume comparable to the Fortus 450mc, dual extruders and network control – for 1/40th of the price.

What factors are making costs drop so steeply? Here are some key factors:

  • Open intellectual property: Not only have some key patents expired, but a lot of innovation in 3D printing follows Open Source principles. This makes it easy for companies to get started without having to reinvent the entire process.
  • Competition: More companies are entering the market, in part because of the open IP mentioned above, but also because of growth expectations. Manufacturing is a much bigger market than prototyping!
  • Reduced cost of computation: 3D printing requires considerable application of computer power, from design all the way through printing. Significant improvements in performance can be achieved by advancing the software. Moore’s law and the consequent availability of more compute power allows for much much better software on inexpensive systems.
  • Crossover from other industries: A major factor is the reduction of cost in key components that are shared with other industries. For example, ARM microprocessors and sensors are used in cellphones, motors and motion control are used in desktop paper printers, and LCD imagers (for SLA machines) are used in cellphones. The volume of business in these other industries drives costs down.

Of course, you can argue that these systems are not comparable in many ways. Let’s unpack some of these arguments:

  • The more expensive machines achieve higher quality levels. This is no longer true. Prints from low-cost machines in equivalent materials perform and look the same (or better) than the expensive machines. In any case, quality can be defined as fitness for purpose, and this can certainly be achieved.
  • The more expensive machines are more reliable. No longer true – a survey of various organizations using low-cost printers in relatively high-volume applications showed near 95% successful job completion. Moreover, the lower cost machines allow for greater redundancy.
  • The expensive machines have a well developed dissolvable support system, so they can print complex geometries more easily. This is true, in terms of a polished workflow: however, even low-cost dual-extrusion machines can use soluble supports. Further, as low-cost machines become available, there is an incentive to adjust the geometry to the capability of the machines, removing the need for support altogether.
  • The more advanced machines have a heated build chamber that lets them work with materials such as ABS and ULTEM. ULTEM is probably out of reach for the low-cost machines, but ABS is certainly possible. The other interesting development is that low-cost machines are easier to use with new plastics that are not subject to warping, and hence don’t need the heated chamber at all. I have shifted to using almost exclusively, a filament made from Eastman Amphora that does not warp and has similar performance to ABS. It has too.
  • Finally, more expensive machines have been able to handle larger parts. This is partly because mechanisms don’t scale linearly, larger mechanical systems are proportionally more expensive if they need to maintain precision and accuracy. However, there are ways around this: gangs multiple low cost mechanisms to build large parts quickly, while the increasing use of closed loop control and positioning systems allows for high precision over large parts.

This example compares machines using technology, but massive cost reductions are occurring in other types of 3D printing:

  • Form Labs has announced the , a process that fuses nylon powder with a laser. At $9,999 ($19,999 with cleaning station) it costs 1/20th as much as a comparable printer from an established supplier.
  • , an 3D printer, using a process where exposure to UV light hardens a liquid resin. The D7 costs $528 and delivers incredibly good results. A key part of the cost saving is using technologies borrowed from the smartphone market (LCD screens) for the curing light source, instead of expensive lasers or DLP projectors.
  • and have both announced 3D printers capable of producing objects in various kinds of metal, both taking advantage of materials originally developed for Metal Injection Molding. These machines are between 1/10 and 1/20th of the cost of typical metal 3d printers.

博雅彩彩票网

Using soluble support on an inexpensive printer. ABS with HIPS support.

Cost reduction opens up more possibilities than doing the same things more cheaply. Since the machines are so much cheaper, it is possible to build a cluster of machines, and achieve 40x the throughput of a single machine. Labor costs are spread over a much larger number of parts, so business models change. Stratasys is working on this front with their , but so are other players like .

Robotic automation as a complement to 3D printing will also be a huge trend. Companies like Voodoo Manufacturing are at their facility, which houses 160 3D printers. 3D Systems showed off its . Form Labs has shown off its system, for managing multiple SLA printers.

For the implementation of industrial automation in manufacturing facilities and plants, you may want to take a look at the services offered by ICE Process Management; you can find them here at the .

Finally, we are seeing massive declines in material prices. Traditional 3D printing vendors have been able to charge very high prices for materials, in exchange for guaranteeing results and performance. However, these material prices, while acceptable for prototyping, are unacceptable for volume production. Most of the growth in printer sales are from machines that can use commodity filaments, which are subject to much greater competitive pressures. In addition, the development of polymers specifically designed for 3D printing makes it possible to make less expensive machines (ie by suppressing the need for a heated build chamber).

All three of the major cost factors in 3D printing are declining, by orders of magnitude: machine cost, labor, materials. It is possible to imagine a 100x reduction in cost per part in the near future.

But what does this mean for applications of 3D printing?

Traditionally 3D printing applications were very low volume and high value, such as prototyping or highly specialized manufacturing. Printers were complex and elaborate in order to avoid restricting designers, but also because there was very little cost pressure!

In the short term, the dramatic reduction in cost means that existing applications will become more widely accessible. This has already happened: small design & engineering shops have their own 3D printers and desktop 3D printers are ubiquitous at hardware startups. Other applications, such as industrial jigs and fixtures, are also quickly adopting low-cost 3D printing.

3D printing application landscape

博雅彩彩票网

The high value / low volume market segment cannot be considered a stronghold for traditional 3D printing companies. There is no reason that high value applications can’t be served by low cost processes: for example, doctors , and they used a $300 printer!

However, at the other extreme, injection molding dominates the market for low cost / high volume production. It is still very hard to beat for very high volumes, since the cost of tooling is spread over many parts. However, as volumes drop, 3D printing becomes more competitive. Some , 3D printing is already competitive.

However, there is still an unexplored market space: the “Great Unknown” in my chart above. These are applications of insufficiently high value to have been addressed by 3D printing so far, but with volumes not high enough to justify injection molding. Since they have not been feasible, no-one has explored them. However, the increasing prevalence of 3D printing in the design and startup worlds means that designers familiar with their capabilities will soon start coming up with ideas. Andreas Bastian of Autodesk .

What are the characteristics of these applications?

  • Low to medium volume: from 100s to 10,00s of parts
  • High variety: many different part variations, which would require expensive IM tooling
  • Highly customized: parts are customized individually
  • Specialized geometry: parts are shaped in ways which make them difficult to IM or machine

Here is a very small set of case studies that illustrates some of these ideas:

  • Hydrabarrier: This company makes water damage containment systems, which require an adapter to allow filling with a common garden hose. Total yearly volume of these adapters is in the 100s, which would not justify cutting a mold for injection molding. (The interior thread requires a complex mold). 3D printing allows demand to be met as needed.

博雅彩彩票网

  • Wall mount adapter for Eero WiFi: This new mesh networking system can be placed almost anywhere, but some users require a good way to attach them to walls or ceilings. (which I designed) fits the bill. Volumes are not high enough to justify mass production. However, distributed 3D printing (through 3D Hubs) works perfectly – and generates a surprising amount of revenue.

博雅彩彩票网

  • Goff Curtain Walls: This company makes industrial curtain walls. Many of their installations are customized, and require specialized parts. They have a very large catalog of parts, of which few are used in a given year. Injection molding was out of the question, and machining was extremely costly, but low-cost 3D printing turned out to be perfect. Parts were redesigned for 3D printing, which made them even more cost-effective and improved performance.

博雅彩彩票网

  • Architectural models for on-site use: Building models are expensive to make, and are generally used for client presentations. However, software like allows good quality models to be made inexpensively, which opens up a new application area: models for use at a building site to guide construction crews. All or part of the model can be 3D printed and sent to the job site.

博雅彩彩票网

Summary

To sum up – the major factor affecting 3D printing over the next 5 years will be reduction in cost. This is will change business models for the 3D printing industry itself, but also for users of 3D printing, who will see greatly expanded possibilities and opportunities.

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An Alchemists Wand for the 21st Century http:///2011/05/an-alchemists-wand-for-the-21st-century/ http:///2011/05/an-alchemists-wand-for-the-21st-century/#comments Wed, 04 May 2011 21:02:09 +0000 http:///?p=1167 I have been working on a project with Lynn Hershman, called Alchemists Wand for the 21st Century. This art piece incorporates a number of brooms that have been modified to detect toxic substances, registering this on LEDs embedded in the broom handle, and transmitting their readings to a screen that presents information on what to [...]]]> I have been working on a project with , called Alchemists Wand for the 21st Century. This art piece incorporates a number of brooms that have been modified to detect toxic substances, registering this on LEDs embedded in the broom handle, and transmitting their readings to a screen that presents information on what to do. Each broom detects a different substance, currently: alcohol, ammonia, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, natural gas and various solvents. The piece showed at gallery in New York, as part of a show called .

博雅彩彩票网Alchemists Wand for the 21st Century at Bitforms gallery

Alchemists Wand for the 21st Century at Bitforms gallery

The brief is simple: build a set of brooms that can detect toxic substances in the environment, and display their findings via lights on the broom itself, and on a connected screen. The initial concept design used a square janitor’s broom:

博雅彩彩票网First concept diagram

First concept diagram

Read on to see how this concept became reality…

The first challenge was to find sensors that could detect a number of substances, cheaply and reliably. At first, I looked at some fancy MEMS sensors that could pick up multiple substances at once, but this seemed unfeasibly bulky and expensive. Jonathan Foote, a colleague at Noisebridge, pointed me to this that seem to be able to do the job cheaply. They seem to be very similar to the sensors from Figaro sensors, and in fact are pin compatible.

博雅彩彩票网Alchemists wand test rig

Alchemists wand test rig

I built a test rig, that included an Arduino microcontroller, a sensor, LED indicators and later, a data radio. The test rig proved that the sensors were in fact very accurate and fast, and that batteries could power it for a reasonably long time. It also made it possible to move ahead with the developing the software for the device. I also realized that many of the online case studies of people who claimed to have used the sensors were wrong: they described circuits that really could not work.

博雅彩彩票网Corn broom for prototype

Corn broom for prototype

However, the most challenging part of the project was just beginning: getting all the electronics into the broom. Initially, I proposed either thickening the  broom handle, or adding a pod to contain the electronics. This would give the project a sort of steampunk industrial aesthetic. However, this did not fly, Lynn really wanted it to look like a broom. My first attempt at integrating the electronics was with a regular push broom. The plan would be to incorporate the electronics into the handle, with the sensor and batteries in the hollowed out head. The only radio which would fit easily was a Bluetooth radio, so I started working with a Bluesmirf transceiver.

博雅彩彩票网First try: broom electronics

First try: broom electronics

After considerable effort, I was able to fit the Arduino Pro Mini, the Bluetooth transmitter, the LEDs and a small buzzer into the broom handle. I built a jig that allowed me to slice it in half lengthwise, and then used a router to carve out hollows for the components. However, this was taking a long time – and it was not clear that the sensor would work well embedded into the broom head. Fortunately, Lynn proposed moving back to original idea of a square janitor’s broom, and enlarging the head with a box that would surround it. This provided ample space for the electronics and batteries.

Working with a skilled woodworker, a second prototype established the feasibility of housing everything in the broom head, and a new approach for embedding LEDs in the handle. We were also able to test a finish for the broom, covering it entirely in gold leaf. This was not quite what Lynn wanted, so for the final iteration we instead used a broom with metal bristles, electroplated first with copper and then gold.

博雅彩彩票网Final electronics layout

Final electronics layout

The final design of the electronics uses an Arduino Pro Mini and an XBee radio. The sensor is mounted in a module that incorporates a tiny fan, that draws air past the sensing element. Power is provided by 4 AAA batteries. I would have liked to have used AA batteries, for longer battery life, but space was very tight.  I spent a lot of time fabricating custom connectors and cables to fit the very compact space.  The brooms are also designed for easy maintenance: the sensors, LEDs and batteries are designed to unplug easily from the main board.

博雅彩彩票网(Almost) finished brooms

(Almost) finished brooms

The picture above shows three of the brooms, almost finished. The sensor module is the little thing with the tail. Note the gilded bristles! Below, a close-up of the broom head with the sensor nestled amongst the bristles.

博雅彩彩票网Sensor mounted in broom head

Sensor mounted in broom head

The software that drives the screen display was written in Processing (Java), and relies on another XBee module connected to the hosting computer. I designed a simple and very reliable protocol for connecting the brooms to the display computer, they will automatically connect when powered on.

I am pleased with how the project works artistically. It takes a mundane object, and makes it magical. The brooms react quickly and with great precision to invisible substances, and transmit their results to a remote screen with no apparent connection. The magical nature of the brooms is indicated with great subtlety: violet LEDs discretely embedded in the handle, and golden bristles. Lynn’s artistic guidance was essential to achieving this “magic”, her insistence on subtlety is what makes the project an artwork and not a demo.

Further development of this project might involve choreographing a performance around it, and perhaps capturing elements of time and space in the visualization. (Perhaps incorporate a Geiger counter?)

As with all projects that involve technology, there are lots of changes I would like to make:

  • Monitor battery voltage on the Arduino, so that it can send a low battery warning
  • Reduce the voltage sent to the fan: it doesn’t need to spin so fast, and it would reduce power consumption
  • Upgrade to lithium-polymer batteries
  • Enhancements to the host computer software to plot readings over time

I am very pleased to have worked with Lynn from conceptualization to realization. This was a technically challenging project, and I think it turned out well. I really appreciate the working relationship with Lynn: her insistence on certain key points, such as the appearance of the brooms, made this a much more “magical” project, making it more of an artwork than a technology demonstration.

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RAW/WAR at Sundance Film Festival http:///2011/03/rawwar-at-sundance-film-festival/ http:///2011/03/rawwar-at-sundance-film-festival/#respond Sun, 13 Mar 2011 03:07:40 +0000 http:///?p=1147 Since October of last year, I’ve been working on an exciting project with filmaker and artist Lynn Hershman Leeson, an interactive installation integrated with a web-based media database called RAW/WAR. The interactive installation is constantly updated with multimedia from a companion website at rawwar.org.

I’m going to describe some of the aspects that I worked [...]]]> Since October of last year, I’ve been working on an exciting project with filmaker and artist Lynn Hershman Leeson, an interactive installation integrated with a web-based media database called . The interactive installation is constantly updated with multimedia from a companion website at .

I’m going to describe some of the aspects that I worked on, especially in the area of physical interface design. We worked with extensively for the design and coding of the installation and website software.

The genesis of the project comes from the film ““, a documentary by Heshman about women in contemporary art, and how they created an entirely new, and parallel, body of work from the 1960’s onward. The film is based on over 40 years of interviews with contemporary women artists. However, Hershman realized that it was not possible to present all the stories she had gathered in a single documentary, let alone those of artists she had not been able to document. Therefore, she made available all her original material via an , and created a website, , that allowed anyone to upload documentation of their story.

For the Sundance Film Festival, Hershman was extremely interested in creating an interactive installation that would allow casual exploration of the RAW/WAR archive in an engaging manner. Starting from an observation about the film, that it was like exploring a dusty attic with a flashlight, we set about bringing this to life.

We explored a number of approaches to creating a “virtual flashlight” that would allow users to cast light on a projected room, and use it to trigger the display of images and videos. Initially we considered a system using a webcam and laser pointers – however, this required using a limited set of display technologies (front projection) and we could not limit ourselves to that option at an early stage.

It turns out that Wii videogame controllers are easily modifiable to be used with computers, and are a highly reliable and accurate pointing device. I first developed a simple proof of concept using , and very useful piece of software called .

This established that the Wii controllers worked reliably, and more importantly, that the illusion of casting a virtual spotlight was convincing, and interesting. We worked extensively with to develop the design further, and develop the software that would bring the installation to life.

Concept design

An initial concept introduced the idea of creating a sense of depth in the virtual room:

博雅彩彩票网Room with flashlight spot (concept by Alexandra Chowaniec)

Room with flashlight spot (concept by Alexandra Chowaniec)

Another iteration led to a more collage-like presentation of the media, proposed by Stacey Duda and Paul Paradiso. It explores a way of presenting a lot of media at the same time, and starts converging on design elements such as the ability to filter media by decades, and by category:

博雅彩彩票网WAR at Sundance concept, multi-screens and multi-user

WAR at Sundance concept, multi-screens and multi-user

Testing this at that studio suggested that we wanted to recapture the sense of depth, that it was an extension of the space that the viewer was in. We knew by this point that the installation at the Sundance Film Festival would have the screen in a corner, and we wanted to make use of that. Hence, the final concept looked like this:

博雅彩彩票网RAW/WAR final presentation

RAW/WAR final presentation

The final result looked almost identical to what was originally specified, and was aesthetically and functionally very effective. Kudos to Paradiso Projects for delivering such an outstanding result in such a short timeframe!

Physical interface

At the same time as the software for the installation was being developed, I worked on creating the physical interface. We wanted the controllers to look and behave just like real flashlights. We considered building a new flashlight-like housing for the controllers, but it seemed to make sense to try to retrofit an existing flashlight. Fortunately, the very first flashlights purchased turned out to be exactly the right size to house the guts of the Wii controller.

博雅彩彩票网Wii-based flashlight controller

Wii-based flashlight controller

Disassembling the Wii controller required the use of special security screwdrivers, which fortunately I had already. Once the external casing was removed, I needed to add a battery holder, since the Wii battery holder forms part of the external housing. I initially tried soldering a Radio Shack battery holder directly to the existing tabs on the Wii, but this did not work. Too much heat was required for a good solder joint, and this destroyed the wiring in the battery holder. A much better option was to solder the two wires from a 9V battery snap-on connector to the solder pads on the Wii controller, and then clip the battery holder into this.

博雅彩彩票网New battery holder for Wii flashlight

New battery holder for Wii flashlight

The interface for the installation was designed to work by pointing and hovering, so no access to the buttons on the Wii was necessary. I cleaned out everything in the flashlight, and found that the Wii electronics fit almost perfectly. I only had to do a little bit of machining to the reflector. The clear lens turned out to be transparent to infrared, which is necessary to allow the camera in the Wii controller to work effectively. I added a plastic disk that clipped onto the front of the Wii electronics in order to keep the camera centered and hold it in place.

博雅彩彩票网Plastic disk used to center the camera and secure electronics

Plastic disk used to center the camera and secure electronics

I also cut a notch in the disk that matched a guide tab, to ensure that the orientation of the Wii with respect to the flashlight was always maintained. This turned out to be unnecessary: the Wii always orients itself correctly.

博雅彩彩票网Finished Wii flashlight - camera sensor is centered

Finished Wii flashlight - camera sensor is centered

It was truly fortunate that we found flashlights that were the right size, could have the reflector easily machined, and had a lens that was transparent to infrared!

博雅彩彩票网Finished flashlight controllers

Finished flashlight controllers

A final step was to remove the branding on the flashlights, using black vinyl electrical tape.

Once on-site, we needed to install an LED bar that is used by the Wii controllers to establish their position with respect to the screen. Initially, I had used a small LED bar from Best Buy, that seemed to work well in the studio environment. However, once on site we realized that the LEDs were really not bright enough to provide a good experience. It was easy for the controllers to lose sight of the LEDs, and then the installation would become erratic or unresponsive. Replacing the LED bar with a much higher-powered one led to a huge improvement in performance. However, this turned out to be a weak link, since it tended to go through batteries really quickly. Going forward, a USB-powered LED bar seems to be a much better option.

In general, the Wii flashlights performed well. However, there were a a couple of rough spots. The first was that the scaling of the position returned by the Wiis needed to be scaled for each venue – the Wiis are designed to work with much smaller screens. The second issue had to do with establishing a connection between the computer that runs the installation, and the Wii controllers. Nintendo uses a proprietary system for doing this with the game console, whereas Osculator requires the connection to be established manually every time the installation runs. We were able to teach the volunteers from the Sundance organization how to do this, but it would be good to automate the process. This was by far the most complex part of keeping the piece running.

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Making a Makerbot (part 6) – printed replacement XY stage http:///2011/03/making-a-makerbot-part-6-printed-replacement-xy-stage/ http:///2011/03/making-a-makerbot-part-6-printed-replacement-xy-stage/#respond Sun, 13 Mar 2011 02:07:55 +0000 http:///?p=1140 One of the most interesting things about the Makerbot 3D printer is that it can be used to repair, or even upgrade, itself. After a substantial run of large prints, the bushings that hold the X & Y platform had started to wear out, and the print stage was becoming wobbly. This translated into unsightly [...]]]> One of the most interesting things about the 3D printer is that it can be used to repair, or even upgrade, itself. After a substantial run of large prints, the bushings that hold the X & Y platform had started to wear out, and the print stage was becoming wobbly. This translated into unsightly marks and loss of precision on printed parts.

Fortunately, someone on (a repository for uploaded fabrication files) had already developed a for the Makerbot, based on the , that uses bearings instead of bushings. I ordered the parts (nuts, bolts, bearings) and printed the 18 pieces that make up the replacement stage. The design for the new XY stage has gone through various iterations, with lots of useful changes proposed by the user community. Not only that, but there are even upgrades for the upgrade, as I will discuss later.

博雅彩彩票网Old vs. new XY stages

Old vs. new XY stages

The new XY stage, mostly printed on the Makerbot, uses bearings instead of bushings, and should experience a lot less friction while moving. The design is also much lower, and allows for more than 1cm increase in vertical travel.

As I was in the process of putting it together, I discovered yet another upgrade for the upgrade: a for the new XY stage. The print platform is normally held to the XY assembly by magnets, to allow for easy removal. While this makes sense in some circumstances, it can also lead to quite a bit of wobbling. I went ahead and printed two parts as well, and incorporated it to the build.

博雅彩彩票网Print in progress on the new XY stage

Print in progress on the new XY stage

Final results were great: the new XY stage is notably quieter, and the quick release system holds the platform much better than the magnets ever did. Print quality is much improved:

博雅彩彩票网Before and after

Before and after

The vase on the left was printed with the older stage, and shows a lot of “ringing” around vertical edges. This happens when the print platform changes direction rapidly, and the printed object shakes on the platform. The vase on the right was printed with the new platform and stage, and shows no signs of ringing at all.

博雅彩彩票网Tron-ified version of the Stanford bunny 3D model

Tron-ified version of the Stanford bunny 3D model

I am impressed with how easy it is to use the Makerbot to make substantial improvements to itself, due in great measure to the existence of a highly skilled and capable community of users who are willing to share their designs. Not only are there many upgrades available, people have even developed upgrades to the upgrades, in a vital process of continued improvement. It is the creation and management of this community that is Makerbot’s greatest strength, more than the technical design or engineering of the device itself. It is one more example of a product that thrives by being part of an ecosystem, rather than through technical excellence or aesthetics.

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Hacking Spykee the robot for increased range and power http:///2011/02/hacking-spykee-the-robot-for-increased-range-and-power/ http:///2011/02/hacking-spykee-the-robot-for-increased-range-and-power/#comments Sat, 19 Feb 2011 17:18:04 +0000 http:///?p=1133 I have had this Spykee robot for a while now, had encountered some issues, and decided to fix it.

Spykee is a “toy” robot that is suprisingly sophisticated. It has a video camera and microphone, and can be controlled remotely from a computer via local WiFi, or over the Internet. However, it has a design [...]]]> I have had this for a while now, had encountered some issues, and decided to fix it.

Spykee is a “toy” robot that is suprisingly sophisticated. It has a video camera and microphone, and can be controlled remotely from a computer via local WiFi, or over the Internet. However, it has a design flaw in the battery charging mechanism that overcharges and soon destroys the included battery, getting to the point where you can only operate the robot for 10 minutes. The built-in WiFi antenna is cheap – a piece of PCB with etched traces – so the range is very poor.

博雅彩彩票网Spykee with new WiFi antenna and external battery

Spykee with new WiFi antenna and external battery

I fixed both of these issues very quickly: for the WiFi range issue, I ordered an . This is a fancy wire that connects to the WiFi connection on the robot’s motherboard on one end, and to an external WiFi antenna on the other. I ordered . Disassembled the robot, unplugged the internal WiFi antenna, and plugged in the pigtail. Drilled a hole in the case, on the left side near the top, and threaded the RP-SMA connector through. The antenna, from a defunct D-Link router, just screwed on. You can probably use higher power antennas as well, as long as it has an RP-SMA connector.

For the power issue, I did a little research. It turns out that , not just the 9.6V battery that it ships with.  I had good experience with , that go up to a whopping 6800MaH (vs. 1600MaH at best for the factory battery). I use the same battery for from ebay, and set about adapting it to the robot.

博雅彩彩票网Spykee's new super battery

Spykee's new super battery

I wanted the mod to be as reversible and low-impact as possible, so I looked at the battery connector inside the robot (Tamiya style), cut the equivalent battery-side connector off a dead battery, and soldered it via some wires to a standard 2.1mm power jack from Radio Shack. I drilled a hole in the robot case to accomodate the jack, and plugged the other end into the robot’s existing battery connector. The battery attaches to the robot using Velcro adhesive strips. I can revert to the “factory” configuration by just unplugging the new cable, and plugging in the old battery.

One disadvantage of the LiPo pack is that you cannot use the existing charging dock, you have to connect the LiPo battery’s own charger. The robot has some nifty functionality for auto-docking, so this is a bit of a loss. Since the battery is connecting via the existing circuit path in the robot, it should be possible to adapt the LiPo charger to connect through the robot’s charging dock.  Haven’t gotten around to doing this yet. (Warning: LiPo batteries require a lot of care when charging. Use only the charger that comes with it. Don’t do this if you don’t know what you are doing.)

博雅彩彩票网Javier and the robot

Javier and the robot

Results of all this? The robot can now be run very actively for over two hours at a time, at high speed. WiFi range is roughly 25% better, the robot can now roam freely all over the apartment without losing the connection. It is now a far more practical proposition to use the robot to play with my son!

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