Tag Archives: DIY

Just got Makey Makey, in search of a banana …

I just got this Makey Makey kit (which, by the way, is on sale at the link provided, at this moment).

A Makey Makey is a device that allows a do-it-yourselfer to create a closed loop electrical signal, that the Makey Makey device converts into a specific serial signal that is sent via USB to a computer. The signal is a keystroke or mouse event. So, you can hook the Makey Makey to, say, a banana and a laptop, then when you touch the banana the laptop gets a mouse button click or a space bar or something. The kit is designed to give easy access to the key signals most used in gaming, but I think it allows the full range of keystrokes, and it can also interface as a sensor to an Arduino or similar, so you can use a banana to control, say, your robot. Or whatever.

I’ve not used it yet, so this is not a review, just a note that I’ve got one. Do you have one? This should be fun.

OK, off to get the bananas.

An Excellent Robot Kit: Tenergy Odev Tomo 2-in-1

Tenergy is a company that you know well even if you don’t know them. They make a lot of the replacement batteries for everything, external power supplies, other electronic items. But recently they’ve added a few items to their line of products that reach out in an entirely different direction.

Tenergy Odev Tomo 2-in-1 Transformable DIY STEM Education Programmable Robot Kit is a robot kit that can be configured as a tricycle with two large wheels, or as a two-wheeled “bicycle” which operates like a Segway. Which is pretty amazing.

So far Tomo is my favorite out of the box Robot Build, and I highly recommend it. It is also very reasonably priced (see note on that below).

Tomo the robot has the usual sensors that come with such a device, including a line tracker and a distance sensor that resembles a pair of eyes. The yellow color of the framework and the overall configuration give Tomo a sort of Wall-E look, which is cute.

Assembly: Instructions are clear. Assembly involves Continue reading An Excellent Robot Kit: Tenergy Odev Tomo 2-in-1

An Excellent Robot Kit: Tenergy Odev Tomo 2-in-1

Tenergy is a company that you know well even if you don’t know them. They make a lot of the replacement batteries for everything, external power supplies, other electronic items. But recently they’ve added a few items to their line of products that reach out in an entirely different direction.

Tenergy Odev Tomo 2-in-1 Transformable DIY STEM Education Programmable Robot Kit is a robot kit that can be configured as a tricycle with two large wheels, or as a two-wheeled “bicycle” which operates like a Segway. Which is pretty amazing.

So far Tomo is my favorite out of the box Robot Build, and I highly recommend it. It is also very reasonably priced (see note on that below).

Tomo the robot has the usual sensors that come with such a device, including a line tracker and a distance sensor that resembles a pair of eyes. The yellow color of the framework and the overall configuration give Tomo a sort of Wall-E look, which is cute.

Assembly: Instructions are clear. Assembly involves the use of several different size bolts and nuts to piece together the various framework parts into the appropriate configuration, which differs depending on if you want the trike or bike. The parts are high quality ad perfectly machined. If you find yourself wondering why something does not make sense, that’s you, not the robot. Check to make sure you used the right size bolts and re-read the instructions. The number of steps required to put the machine together is, in my experience with several similar devices, on the low side, so assembly will be quicker than you might expect. The kit comes with two tools which are of high quality, not the cheap knockoff screwdriver that you can’t really use. (The screwdriver is actually very nice.) Note that the bolts use two different screwdriver bits, and the shaft of the screwdriver is reversible. When we did the initial assembly, Huxley, 7, did most of the work with me guiding and holding some parts while he used the bolts.

Tomo under construction
Hint: There are two steps to get the big wheels to stay on. Consider super-tightening the first step or they’ll eventually (like, in a few minutes) fall off. I’m considering scoring the motor shaft with my Dremel to help the screw bite better. This is not a problem with Tomo, this is a problem with all wheels on all shafts on all robots.

Hint: The line tracing sensor has an adjustable height. This is an excellent feature. Go ahead and play with it to get it just right, which is probably lower than you are initially comfortable with. I find that this line tracing sensor on this machine works far better than others I’ve tested, but I’m not sure if that is the adjust-ability, the sensor itself, or the software. All are likely important factors.

Operation: Operation is right out of the box excellent, using an app that runs on Android or Apple. I did not test the apple version. The app that controls the robot is easily deployed and well designed.

Programming: This may be the best feature of Tomo. The programming app is designed for Android or Apple devices and works great. The programability is flexible and powerful, and the Scratch-like programming interface is top quality. Every now and then the unexpected happens, but I think that has to do with Bluetooth connectivity issues. Hint: When programming keep the Android/Apple device and the robot right near each other. This may be just Huxley, but the programmable sounds and lights are of greater interest than the movement of the robot, ad least for the first hour or so!

Guts: The processor board is based on Audrino architecture. I’ve not hacked it but it should be totally hackable. The processor is hooked to the other bits with Rj11 male-to-male cables. Our cat ate one of them and we were able to easily find replacements.

NOTE ON PRICE: At this time, the Tenergy Odev Tomo 2-in-1 Transformable DIY STEM Education Programmable Robot Kit is about $30 cheaper than any similar robot, but also comes with a number of other deals including 10% off a second robot, and discounts on various other products (see the link, click on the “buy one get a discount…” link.

Arduino Inventor’s Guide

First, a word about Arduino and why you should care. An Arduino is what is called a “prototyping micro-controller” aka “really fun electronic gizmo toy.”

Micro-controllers are everywhere. When you “turn on” a machine in your house, chances are there was already a micro-controller sitting there, running on a minute bit of juice from a built in battery, waiting for you to push a button. Then, you turned a dial or selected an option on your dishwasher, or changed the setting on your thermostat, or picked some alternative mode on your coffee pot, or shifted into a different gear using a “gear shift” in your fly-by-wire Prius, or you opened up the birthday card and cats meowed out “Happy Birthday.”

All of those events involved a micro-controller, which consists of thee parts. There is a brain inside it, there is a set of sensors or actuators (a thing that detects that the greeting card has been opened, and an actuator that is the thing that makes the meowing sound by playing an WAV or MP3 file), and some software. The software gets in there by hooking an in production version of the micro-controller, likely once in its life, to a regular computer via a COM port (the same kind of interface used by your mouse, or a USB connection, etc.), and stuffing the software in there.

The Arduino Uno is a micro-controller that is very generalized, very large (a bit larger than a credit card), has a well behaved power supply, lots of connectors for either sensor or actuators, and a pretty fancy brain for a micro-controller, with lots of room for code written in a very powerful and fairly easy to use language similar to objective C. You can hook the Arduino up to most computers, using freely available software to communicate with it and compile your code. For the most part, you don’t have to actually write code, it is provided by the developers of projects you are poaching, but if you want, you can go to town with it.

There are hundreds and hundreds of sensors and actuators, from thermostats to motors, gyroscopes to myriad things that light up, available for the Arduino, and in fact, anything that runs on low voltage can be hooked one way or another to it (if you know what you are doing). High voltage uses (like shifting a car or opening or closing a garage door) are done, of course, by using relays that are switches operated by a micro-controller but that pass any voltage level you want, if you get the right one.

The Arduino and its associated equipment can thus be used to replicate, design, and experiment with pretty much any thing a micro-controller can do. After “prototyping” it is trivial, for an expert, to rebuild the circuit using a less capable but perfectly adequate bunch of parts, and solder instead of just sticking things together (called “breadboarding”) and so on. But no one really does that with Arduino. With Arduino you may leave the final product at it is (like the robot we built a few weeks ago) or, as in the case of the projects in an introductory book on how to use and have fun with an Arduino, you may just take the thing you built apart and build another thing.

So, this new book, The Arduino Inventor’s Guide: Learn Electronics by Making 10 Awesome Projects, is sitting on my workbench ready to go to work.

Of all the intro Arduino books I’ve seen, this one is unique in a way I’ll explain below.

The book gives detailed, understandable, and learning-oriented instructions for a home stoplight (helpful with toddlers in the house), a reaction time garme, a balance beam game, a diminutive greenhouse, an small piano, and a handful of other projects.

The coolest project might be a living breathing Logo turtle. Logo is a computer programming environment developed years ago to serve several functions including helping kids get interesting in coding. Logo is actually one of the oldest computer languages still in use (dates to the late 60s) and it is a general programming language, but it is mainly adapted to running the Logo turtle. The turtle is a curser that is moved around on the screen, and instructed here and there to drop a specific pen (it can have several different pens) so as it moves along it draws.

This project, from The Arduino Inventor’s Guide: Learn Electronics by Making 10 Awesome Projects, is a physical turtle that draws on your rug! Or, hopefully, a big piece of drawing paper you put down for it.

I mentioned above that this book is unique. Here’s how. I’ve looked at a Lot of Audrino project books, and there are no introductory books that provide detailed information on how to make interesting project enclosures and cases. The projects in this book rely heavily on the stuff you built the electronic into. The project enclosures are generally made of simple corrugated cardboard that you can get from an old box, or, if you want, from a craft store (for more interesting colors, better quality materials, less cat hair, etc.)

You can build all the projects in this book with parts you have acquired in the usual manner, but the book suggests you get the Sparkfun Inventor’s Kit for Arduino, which is about 75 bucks. Note: This book is produced by No Starch Press and Spark Fun, so of course they suggest the Sparkfun Inventor’s Kit for Arduino as a way of getting all the parts. But, by the time you add up an Uno or equivalent micro controller for 19 bucks, LCD display for nine bucks, fancy breadboard holder for 9 bucks , a shift register for 8 bucks, and miscellaneous other parts, you might be over $75 anyway. Or maybe not. You’ll have to check around.

There is plenty of preliminary information to get a total novice started, and each project is rich in detail and very fully and expertly, clearly and helpfully, described.

This is an absolutely excellent choice, perhaps my favorite at the moment (and totally up to date) Arduino starter book.

Lego Technic Builder’s Guide

The Unofficial LEGO Technic Builder’s Guide by Pawet “Sariel” Kmiec (Second Edition) tells you how to build machines, models, robots, etc. that will work.

screen-shot-2016-11-25-at-5-46-11-pmYou need to construct these things in a way that ensures they won’t easily fall apart, and that requires a certain amount of engineering. There are some fairly expensive and specialized Lego Technic pieces that you may not have on hand, and this book can help you emulate them. How do you matcha motor or servo to a specific task? You need to know some stuff to make that decision sensibly. How do you make a transmission? Or an independent suspension?

And, very importantly, how do you manage the backlash that is “the gaps between mating components.” That seems important.

From the publisher:

This thoroughly updated second edition of the best-selling Unofficial LEGO Technic Builder’s Guide is filled with tips for building strong yet elegant machines and mechanisms with the LEGO Technic system. World-renowned builder Pawe? “Sariel” Kmiec covers the foundations of LEGO Technic building, from the concepts that underlie simple machines, like gears and linkages, to advanced mechanics, like differentials and steering systems. This edition adds 13 new building instructions and 4 completely new chapters on wheels, the RC system, planetary gearing, and 3D printing.

screen-shot-2016-11-25-at-5-45-47-pmYou’ll get a hands-on introduction to fundamental mechanical concepts like torque, friction, and traction, as well as basic engineering principles like weight distribution, efficiency, and power transmission—all with the help of ­Technic pieces. You’ll even learn how Sariel builds his amazing tanks, trucks, and cars to scale.

This beautifully illustrated, full-color book will inspire you with ideas for building amazing machines like tanks with suspended treads, supercars, cranes, bulldozers, and much more. What better way to learn engineering principles than to experience them hands-on with LEGO Technic?

New in this edition: 13 new building instructions, 13 updated chapters, and 4 brand-new chapters!

We’re only starting to mess around with techincs but there is a lot of hope for it. People are starting to combine arduino and traditional robotics, Lego and robotics, and arduino and LEGO Technic. Pretty soon, someone will be combining Arduino controllers, Raspberry Pi computers, LEGO technics, and the Cyberdyne Systems hardware, and we’ll all be history…

But in the meantime, The Unofficial LEGO Technic Builder’s Guide will be our guide for the immediate future.

Electronics for Kids: Great new book for kids and their adults

The simplest project in the new book Electronics for Kids: Play with Simple Circuits and Experiment with Electricity! by Øyvind Nydal Dahl is the one where you lean a small light bulb against the two terminals of a nine volt battery in order to make the light bulb turn on.

The first several projects in the book involve making electricity, or using it to make light bulbs shine or to run an electromagnet.
The first several projects in the book involve making electricity, or using it to make light bulbs shine or to run an electromagnet.
The most complicated projects are the ones where you make interactive games using LED lights and buzzers.

Electronics for Kids: Play with Simple Circuits and Experiment with Electricity! does almost no electricity theory. Thankfully. It simply delves in to messing around with electricity (and in so doing, provides basic theory, of course).

This is a book about how to play with electricity, not how to get a Masters Degree in electricity. In other words, any kid, the ones who seem destine for a career in electronic engineering and the ones who don’t, can get along in this book because it does not assume itself to be a building brick to a greater career. Yet the projects are interesting and informative and educational, and any kid who does a dozen of these projects is going to learn.

This kind of activity, which should involve parents for most kids, is the cure for the sense of depression you feel when you go to the toy store and look at the “science” section and everything you see is crap. Just get this book, order 50 bucks worth of parts, and get to work-fun. Then order some more parts, probably.

No kids' book on electronics would be complete without a batter made from something you get in the produce section.
No kids’ book on electronics would be complete without a batter made from something you get in the produce section.
This book for kids is very kid oriented, as it should be. One of the first practical projects you build is an alarm system to keep your parents the heck out of your room. You can make a noisy musical instrument. You can make a device that makes sounds some humans can hear (the kids, likely) and some can’t (parents).

Although soldering is done, it is minimal and, frankly, can probably be avoided by using alternative techniques. But really, it is not that hard and one should not be too afraid of it.

A lot of the projects use and develop logic circuits. Kids actually love logic circuits, I think because they end up rethinking a bit about how tho think about simple relationships. And, it is good to know this stuff.

Unlike many electronic kits you can buy (which can be quite fun and educational in their own right) this approach does not rely on ICs (integrated circuits) that produce magical results with poorly described inputs and hookups. There are some basic ICs, including gates, an inverter, flip flops, and a timer. These are very straight forward circuits that are mostly (except the timer) really just very fancy switches.

The web site that goes with Electronics for Kids: Play with Simple Circuits and Experiment with Electricity! gives you a list of all the parts used in the book, with enough information to find them easily on line or at a hardware or electronics store. The book suggests a multimeter, which is probably the most expensive thing on the list. (this one is perfectly good and is about 35 bucks.) Other tools include a soldering iron and related bits, a wire cutter, some scissors, tape, etc.

Many of the parts, including a breadboard, LEDs, hook up wires of various kinds, and pretty much all the resistors, capacitors, etc. etc. can also be used with the more sophisticated Arduino projects, should you end up going in that direction.

This is a really fun book. If you have a kid of the right age (maybe from six to 12, with 100% adult involvement under 10 years) get it now, secretly, get some parts, and work your way through several of the projects. Then, make it (and the parts) a holiday present. Then look really smart.

This chapter-end section give you an idea of the level of the projects.  There is a lot of stuff in here. All doable, but it will take a while to get through it all.
This chapter-end section give you an idea of the level of the projects. There is a lot of stuff in here. All doable, but it will take a while to get through it all.
Here is the overview table of contents (the book is much more detailed than suggested by this top level TOC):

PART 1: Playing with Electricity
Chapter 1: What Is Electricity?
Chapter 2: Making Things Move with Electricity and Magnets
Chapter 3: How to Generate Electricity

PART 2: Building Circuits
Chapter 4: Creating Light with LEDs
Chapter 5: Blinking a Light for the First Time
Chapter 6: Let’s Solder!
Chapter 7: Controlling Things with Circuits
Chapter 8: Building a Musical Instrument

PART 3: Digital Electronics
Chapter 9: How Circuits Understand Ones and Zeros
Chapter 10: Circuits That Make Choices
Chapter 11: Circuits That Remember Information
Chapter 12: Let’s Make a Game!

Appendix: Handy Resources

DIY drinking tips, personal jet pack, custom fit earbuds, and a pocket theremin

… the perfect gaming chair, converting a Roomba into a security robot, removing a stripped screw with a rubber band, making a radio out of spare parts from your junk drawer, building your own lie detector machine, making a Steampunk Laptop, using the back of your monitor as a desktop, tricking out your bike, and making a ping pong table that will allow only YOU to win to matter how good your opponent may be.

Obviously, I’m talking about The Big Book of Hacks: 264 Amazing DIY Tech Projects, which is just now available, just in time for Christmas.

Pro gift giving tip: Bundle this book with a nice new soldering iron, or some other tool mentioned and used in the book.

I tried to give a good overview of the vast range of hacks presented in this book, but that is almost impossible. They are divided into categories: Geek Toys, Home Improvements, Gadget Upgrades, and Things That Go. The book starts out with some basics (such as how to solder) and then jumps right into beer brewing and drinking booze from a watermelon. One of the coolest things ins a mod for your toaster that lets it make special toast. Like, with a happy face, or a picture of Jesus, or whatever. There are a lot of hacks involving fire and minor explosions, or that involve propelling things great distances. I suppose one could argue that one learns a lot of physics and chemistry and stuff while working through these various DIY project ideas. Whatever. Just keep the first aid kit handy and make sure you know where your cell phone is. Hack #163 is a solar charger for your cell phone.

Did you know that there is such a thing as a “touchscreen overlay” that you can put on any screen to make it a touchscreen? DID YOU?

It goes on and on. I love this book. I’ll probably never do any of the things in it, but what is true of most porn is just as true of DIY porn.