Archive for category projects

Autonomous Sailboat Racing

TL;DR Do you want to race autonomous model sailboats against other hackerspaces?
An autonomous model sailboat race. In September, think|haus would sponsor a race on Hamilton Harbour. Each hackerspace would enter a boat. If your space is extremely enthusiastic, maybe enter more than one. The rules would be simple: boats no more than 2m in length, must be powered by the wind only. 3 buoys would be placed in the Harbour setting out a triangular course. Teams would be provided the GPS co-ordinates of the 3 buoys. Boats must make it around the course without any remote control – telemetry & video links would be permitted, but no control links. Attacking other boats would not be permitted (though that may be an idea for another side competition – robot wars, boat edition).
think|haus would provide a chase boat to go out & retrieve any model sailboat that got into trouble. We’d also host a BBQ party afterwards.
Well, I like sailing, and it’s my idea, so there’s that. But also, the project has roles for the electronics types, the software types, and the mechanical types who would have to all work together on a common fun project. It would likely involve laser cutting, 3D printing, woodworking, sewing, microcontroller programming, and maybe vacuum forming, fiberglass work, etc. so there would be lots of opportunity to get everyone involved regardless of skill level. It can be as simple or as complicated as you want – stick a dowel with sail made from a plastic bag  in a big hunk of foam, or meticulously model a rigid wing carbon fiber hydrofoiling catamaran – it depends on what your team wants to do.
The main reason why, though, is to have fun working on a project together over the summer, learn new things, and have a good day outdoors followed by food & beverage.
So: interested? Ideas? Suggestions? Please let us know what you think.

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Plasma, the fourth state of matter

Plasma cutter. Cut 3/8″ sheet aluminum. Cut steel. Cut stainless. Be like the laser cutter, but for metal. That is the goal. But baby steps before we get to the whole thing though. Have to use the tools at hand to make the setup. As Think|Haus has 3D printers and laser cutters, making metal is a little different. The X and Y are done, now the Z. Here it is modeled on OnShape. It is a free, in-browser CAD software so that anyone at ThinkHaus can get it. If someone needs a key, ask, or look on the website. I am thinking of running a course on how to use OnShape soon. Website is here


Next, getting the metal. Must say, the selection that I have scavenged from the University is not that good and we don’t have a chop saw. Took a bit to cut two blocks from it.


Next I turned the blocks to size. Turned? Yes, we don’t have the collets for the mill yet. Turned. Worked quite well to be honest. Would be better if we had a 4 jaw chuck though.


Bored out the holes and made a cut on the one side. Cleaned that up with a file. Afterwards I cut it with the hack saw again.


Then put it all together and see how it looks.


Next I need to make the mounts for the linear bearings. Will follow the same process again and hopefully won’t take a whole afternoon. I know it will though. All in the name of plasma.

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What is that thing?

You may have noticed, or may have been present when a thing entered ThinkHaus last week. It is a pile of metal. Well, yes, it is, but it has some really neat capabilities.


The machine was designed to accurately place fluid into test tubes. A gantry moved across the top and eight individual arms lowered to a different height. The test tube would then dispense liquid into a vial and continue on. There are fiber optics that were used to measure the meniscus of the tube, there is a 40″ and a 20″ long encoder. There are massive motors. There are 8 precision fluid injectors. There are lots of capabilites that can be made from this.

The most solid idea so far? A plasma cutter.

Zeeshan has a plasma cutter at home he bought to use for cutting metal to add to his arsenal of home built CNC machines. With this, Think|Haus could cut metal. It requires 20A220V, so it would need a new setup akin to the kiln. Debates are still up in the air about how to do this, but there is an idea.

As well, I did mention 40″ and 20″ encoders. There are also 8 rotary encoders. There is more than enough here to turn the mill lathe into CNC.


In other news, I have been working on my own design of 3D printer. It has an environmental chamber to keep the temperature of the parts constant during printing.


Also found this. This is a neat little thing that was part of the big machine above. It has hot/cold plates that can accurately set the temperature of test tubes or the test plate to 4-65C. It cools and heats depending on what you want! This will likely be given to a makerspace with biological use unless there is a keen reason to keep it here. The plugs on it must have been worth a fair amount.



Finally, someone asked about a parasitic pump. If you need one, I can get it. Laboratory grade too.

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A Kiln In Our Midst


There is a kiln. Now, if it was a normal kiln, it would be working and would cost a lot. This one is not working, was picked up for free, (and will cost a little).

What can we do with it? Heating things up to 1000C. What happens when you heat things to 1000C? Well, you can bake clay pots, but more interesting, aluminum melts at 660C. However, we can make lost wax parts on the 3D printers or carve them from Styrofoam, put them in sand, and cast! There are many many tutorials about how to make these moulds online.


Back to the machine. I have been digging around and found a Omron E5CX. This is the temperature controller that will turn on the relay, measure temperature, and do the heating. This is being donated. (New one would cost ~$70). This turns on a zero-crossing circuit. This circuit turns on a triac when the AC voltage is zero. That way the triac does not have a power surge through it.

I almost got the wrong one too. I am using a MOC3043M for 240V instead of a  MOC3033M for 120V.

The triac is a standard 40A triac. A simple circuit with awesome power.

Ideas are floating around about where to mount this thing. It takes 220-240V 16amps. That means we need a 20A single phase. Also WE DO NOT WANT TO CAST INSIDE ON A WOODEN FLOOR! As a result, it is thought that the kiln could stay outside and a small casting area could be built outside. It would only have the kiln, a box of sand, a socket, and other standard tools as needed.

The machine will be wired to a NEMA 6-20 plug with a covered socket. This will cost ~$100 for the plug and socket. The socket will need to be linked up to the breaker, but we know where all the wires are to do so. Other things needed are two new 4 ohm heating coils. I have contacted Pottery Supply House to see if we can get some new ones.


If anyone wants to help, there is work needed on the power source (wiring of socket), getting the new heating coils ($39), getting a Type K thermocouple to measure the temperature($22), and figuring out what is needed to turn this into a casting machine.



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Digitigrade Stilts nearing completion

Questions have been asked about these stilt things. They are digitigrade stilts. They change the walking motion so that it is akin to me walking on my tip toes…. but also stilts.


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They are based off of a design I found online. I did make the design online and the current design is Mk.2. I did not email the creator of the design online, but his old design has a factor of safety of 0.8-0.9 or so. Really dangerous. I did a bunch of CAD, structural analysis and FEA to make sure that these will take the load. Using my engineering degree for something, I guess.


FEA tests. Note: full weight on one linkage.


And as for why I am making it? Because it is clear cut, straight foward, and should look good at the end. Webbing, testing, refinement, and a few small machining tasks to go!


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The Benefits of a HackerSpace

Some of the really great things about having a HackerSpace, and being a member of it,  are that you get access to some really cool tools, like lasers cutters, and thinks that people have brought into the space, like the kit from MakerBeam from their successful KickStarter campaign, as well as the ideas of the members.  And having access to great Open Source Hardware ideas like the Nautilus Gears by MishaT ( can lead to some interesting works in progress.


I took the initial .dxf file included in the Nautilus Gears and expanded it 375% to get something that was about as large as the laser cutter could handle. But that left me to figure out the best spacing for the gears.  For that I constructed a small frame using the Aluminium extrusions, along with assorted other parts, that we got as part of the MakerBeam KickStarter campaign, which allowed me to easily adjust the spacing to find the best distance between the hubs of the gears.  With this I was able to easily move the center points back and forth and to know that they would not move otherwise.   I had also needed to make a small part on the laser to attach the gears but that was easy using a few small scraps.


Some of the ideas that were discussed with various members also expanded the potential of the original design and gave me more ideas on where to look at making the original gears even more assume.  The original gears were really interesting to begin with but expanding them makes them even better.  It is really interesting to watch as they rotate.

This test rig has allowed me to try a few things and to ensure that further progress will indeed work.  And it is all possible by being a member of a HackerSpace and having access to the things within it.


Now to make it even better.



Lazzor upgrade

Long time since an update, so I might as well talk about two recent laser upgrades. First I converted an unused exit sign box into a big hey-don’t-forget-laser-station-is-on indicator light. A couple of times we (/I) have forgotten to turn it off and have left the computer + pump + vent fan running. Not horrible, except that the pump runs quite warm and that ain’t good. Plus, I’d been thinking of ways of making turning on the laser more awesome, so this was a good opportunity. Read on after the break!

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2x success!

So I’ve been experimenting with a new feature I’m adding to the Inkscape plugin – basically it allows for assisted double-sided cutting with the laser. You can run the laser at less power (or higher speed) by cutting halfway through one side, flipping over the material, and cutting through the other half. Read the rest of this entry »

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Unusual Storage Contest

So here it is, an official announcement for our opening party hacking contest.

There is no pre-reg for this contest, it is more in the fashion of con badgehacking where your entry is presenting your creation at the time of contest closing.

The When:
The contest will cover a 2 day time span. It will commence on Dec 10. The contest building will continue until 11:30pm of Dec 11th. Demos and judging will start immediately after this deadline. Once all entries have been presented by the contestants the results and prize(s) (not yet figured out, but will be announced when they are) will be announced.

The Objective:
As the title states “Ùnusual storage“, meaning to find unorthoox ways to store data. Using traditional sd, eeprom, flash, ram, fram, rom, etc… is so very boring,so lets come up with something different. This can include repurposing an alternate storage medium to store data on ie. using an audio device to store encoded data for a microcontroller. Alternately the storage medium can be some completely asinine inefficient electromechanical device that the host controller can write and read data back off of.

The Rules:
1) The host controller (microcontroller, computer, plc, cyborg) can not store any data within its own devices. The host controller can be any type of device you choose. The host controller must only store data by means of communicating to whatever method of interfacing you choose to communicate with the storage device.
2) Since mechanical devices can get very large the minimum data capacity for the device must be at least 32 bits, less will still be allowed, but please no 1 or 2 bit machines. This rule applies as well if removable storage media is by design, the single removable media should meet this minimum.
Note: this is not a size matters contest so most storage capable will not necessarily score you more points.
3) Volatile data or non Volatile data? Doesn’t really matter.
4) Planning and component gathering (even prep) can be done in the time leading up to this contest but all implementation of the storage system must happen during the contest.
5) Contest entries can be individuals or teams. For sake of putting a number to teams the max is 5 people per team. There is no restriction on external help.
6) No materials or methods will be barred from this competition, I would hate to discourage outrageousness, silliness or otherwise potentially hazardous implementations.
7) Rules can be challenged during contest times and will be governed through feats of strength.

– Judging will begin at 11:30pm on December 11th.
– The judging will be done by myself, and some other undetermined individual.
– If your entry is not ready by the time others contestants have finished presenting, your entry will be judged as is. Extra build time may be achieved by means of alcohol delivery to the judges and waiting contestants.

Good Luck!

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HOWTO turn a cheap Chinese laser engraver into a pretty good laser cutter

…using only a computer, LinuxCNC, and lots of scrap cardboard.

Every hackerspace needs a laser cutter. Unfortunately, they can be very expensive. Deals like the one got don’t happen very often. However, there are factories in China turning out laser engravers and selling them on eBay for relatively cheap. We found a local distributor that appears to buy them directly from China, make sure they work, and resell them.

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