Monday, October 25, 2010

How round is your circle?

How Round Is Your Circle, by John Bryant and Chris Sangwin, is a book on how mathematics and engineering meet. I have yet to buy it, but they have an amazing website at with teaser articles and videos. Some of my favorite concepts are drilling a square hole, solids of constant width, and drawing straight lines.
(I can't add links to certain pages or embed videos from their site).

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Jumping robot from Chiba Institute of Technology, Japan

Interesting concept of mobility from the Chiba Institute of Technology, Japan. The slow motion, object tracking part of the video is especially interesting.

They posted a lot of other great things on Youtube a while ago, check out their channel.

Lego printer (like a 3D printer)

Found on Wired:

Very interesting and complex Lego printer, which manufactures Lego models piece by piece. The way it operates is similar to a 3D printer, which "prints" out ink layer by layer on top of itself to make a 3D object (the ink is thicker than normal printer ink, but industrial 3D printers are quite detailed). A low cost, economical, and community based 3D printer is the MakerBot, but normal industrial ones are very expensive and used for prototyping by large companies.

Notice how it rotates the "head" to grab the next piece.

Sketching device with audio pen manipulation

Original source:

A sketching device that moves a pen with two speakers. The sound waves/vibrations push the pen around. I wonder how the pen is made to move towards the speakers?

Wolfram Alpha new video

This is a very nice new video about Wolfram Alpha. It explains it well in layman's terms.

It can be found on their about page

Bending in a punch press

An innovative technique from Wilson Tool, a machining company that specializes in making industrial tools for forming sheet metal.

Normally the bending task is done in a press brake, which is a strong press of a sorts. But this technique eliminates that for small bends if the part is being worked on in a punch press, which basically makes holes or similar forms in parts.

LED Color Organ from Make:

Found on

A color organ basically translates sound into light. For example, taking digital music input and changing it into a technicolor light show with some simple electronics logic.
A pretty good electronics projects, but might take a while and still be a little too advanced.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

How Cars Work by Tom Newton

How Cars Work by Tom Newton

I got this automotive book a while ago and I greatly enjoy looking back into it.
This is a first rate book that has the perfect amount of information. It's easy to understand and talks about all the important parts in a car. It's sort of meant for the very basics in learning mechanics, but is excellent for the casual person who would just like to know about these things. I highly recommend it.

193lb nut and bolt used in Grand Coulee Dam

Look at that monster!

This is a 193lb nut and bolt used in the Grand Coulee Dam, which is on the Columbia River in Washington. It is one of 16 used to join sections of the generator shaft of a 75,000 kW generator. The picture is from 1942 and I found it somehow on Wikipedia.

 For reference, here's the dam:

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Dad sends video camera into space

Found on

A "Geeky Dad" sent a video camera into space with a weather balloon. Amazing video of what it recorded and how they did it.

"Concise Electronics" learning resource

Originally found on
Concise Electronics, by Michal Zalewski, is an online learning resource for studying and learning about electronics. It looks very good and interesting and aims to be what other sites have not. It's simply a long webpage organized similar to a textbook or a how-to. Aimed for hobbyists or enthusiasts who may just want to know how stuff works,  it looks very in depth at times, but this allows you to truly understand what's going on.

Here's the author's description:

There are quite a few primers on electronics on the Internet; sadly, almost all of the top hits resort to gross oversimplifications (e.g., hydraulic analogies), or convenient omission, when covering subtle but incredibly important topics such as the real-world behavior of semiconductors. There are some exceptions, to be sure - but they tend to suffer from another malady: regressions into mundane, academic rigor, complete with differential equations and complex number algebra in transient analysis - a trait that is highly unlikely to be accessible, or even useful, to hobbyists.
The goal of this guide is to bridge this gap; it should give you an anatomically correct insight into the underlying physical phenomena needed to accurately understand the behavior of semiconductors, capacitors, or inductors - but should be far more readable and way shorter than a typical academic textbook, and mostly stripped of useless trivia and other fluff. The target audience is people who want to meaningfully tinker with more complex electronic circuits, or perhaps understand how computers really work - but for whom getting there is not meant to be a full-time job.

Focus-of-vision-based laser pointer

I've had this idea for a while about something that would point a laser at whatever you were looking at. This is mainly an idea for applying to many people in a room and being able to see where people are looking, for example, during a presentation. This wouldn't be a practical purpose, just a study or an experiment. You'd likely see many people wandering their eyes and also many people looking at and reading the words on a presentation screen when the slide changes. I think it would be interesting to try out.

To make it, you could have a camera pointed at the persons eyes or one of their eyes. It would be mounted on a hat or helmet and positioned off to the side, essentially out of their main area of vision. It would track the pupil and calculate in what direction the person was looking. A laser, also attached to the hat, would point in the direction the person is looking. It would be moved by motors.

One of the issues would be trying to get the laser pointing in the exact spot the person is looking at. Because it is mounted off to the side or on top of the head, there would be an offset to the paths of vision and laser. Because of the person's focus and how far away the object is that they're looking at, the laser would not always be accurate. The side-side offset could be solved by mounting on the top of the head, or one could use a distance sensor (ultrasonic, etc) to try and find the distance to the object being looked at. Using a sensor wouldn't completely solve it, but it would help if the person was looking at a large object like their desk or the wall in front of them. The sensor might miss if they were looking at a smaller object like the presenter or a demonstration object.

Vibrating conveyor belts and feeders

Initially found on

I've seen these before when visiting a company that makes robotics assembly systems. They vibrate parts in a matter that moves them along. This concept is often used in round feeders that orient and sort small parts. The original poster on guesses that it employs slip stick motion, which uses the difference between static and sliding friction.

Here's a straight conveyor:

Here's a tablet feeder. Notice how incorrectly oriented parts are spilled over the edge into the middle of the feeder to randomly. At the company I visited (I can't remember the name), they also had ones with custom air-based orienting mechanisms for this specific part. A stream of air would be pointed at the parts as they move along (they had already been sorted into a straight line). If a part was upside down, the air would catch on a piece of the part and it would be blown off the line to start over. Acceptable parts did not have air-catching features and continued on.

Here's another application. This is used to sort different sized objects at a recycling plant. Smaller objects fall through holes as they continue along the belt, while larger objects move on over. This of course, could not be done with a belt. (However, maybe a belt with long strips down it lengthwise, or multiple thin belts? Larger objects would not fit through the gaps between the belts, but smaller objects would. The issue might be long and slender objects, like thin wood strips. They would still be able to fit through.)

Radially expanding and contracting table

Found on

From furniture designer David Fletcher, a table that expands and contracts its size. It can be operated by hand or, in a different version, moved by a motor. There are pie-piece parts that unlock and get positioned over and under each other (collapsed) or placed all adjacent to each other (expanded). Watching it move in the video is quite fascinating.

FIRST's vision of keeping it real world

FIRST has probably made a statement about this, but I've recently thought about how they are trying to guide the experience in the competition to the way things work in the real world. Specifically this can be applied to the control system.

The 2008 season was the last season FIRST used the old IFI control system. It was custom designed for FIRST and they used it for multiple years. For the 2009 season, however, they switched to a system based off National Instrument's CompactRIO industry controller. NI is one of the leaders in hardware control systems and provides products for the whole process, including their graphical programming language, LabVIEW. Some people complained about the switch, but many saw it as an opportunity to advance and learn more applicable things.

Then, in the 2010 season they switched a major part of the control system again: the driver station. In the 2009 season we got a new operator console, but this was a custom made blue box with inputs and outputs. For 2010, FIRST switched us to use a netbook computer, the ClassmatePC, to run a virtual software that would control operator control. The driver station input/output system was also changed, as this year if you wanted to include a custom switch or light, you would wire it up to a microcontroller that was programmed to convert the signal to USB for the netbook to understand. These driver station changes reflect that often programs are run on computers in the real world and that companies, hobbyists, and engineers don't always make a custom product for everything.

I appreciate this initiative of FIRST and I can definitely see how it enables teams to develop and advance more and see much more clearly how things work outside of the competition. Which is ultimately a major goal of FIRST.