January 2006


Build a Mousebot!

Here's a cool project to do with kids: make a small robot using an old mouse. The Mousebot was published in Volume 2 of Make Magazine. The "Instructables" website has step by step assembly instructions for building the small robot. The robot is based on BEAM (Biology, Electronics, Aesthetics, and Mechanics) technology created by Mark Tilden (creator of RoboSapien and RoboRaptor). The concept of BEAM based robots is to create analog circuits that allow the autonomous machine to move within its environment. The Mousebot uses a LM386 as the main processor component for moving the small machine. With science fair season kicking off, this project is perfect for discussing and demonstrating robotics technology. Enjoy!!!


Self Replicating Robot Video

Self-replication is the process by which some things make copies of themselves. Cornel University has built a robot that can make copies of its self. The video shows the basic machine in action. This is just the first step in creating machines that can make other machines. Ira Flatow of NPR's Talk of the Nation Science Friday interviewed Hod Lipson: Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Cornel University. The show was presented on NPR May 15, 2005. The podcast can be downloaded for you and your sci-tech kids hearing pleasure. The Cornel University has additional information on Hod Lipson and the other researchers at the Computational Synthesis Lab. Enjoy!!!



Online Database of LEGO Kit Assembly Instructions

I've recently came across an online database of LEGO Kit Assembly Instructions. Currently the website has a 2389 LEGO sets scanned and stored on the database. The idea of publishing and maintaining such an information storage system is quite mind boggling as well as appreciated. The LEGO sets assembly date back as far as the late 60's. The instruction set that really intrigues me is the R2-D2 kit since I'm a robo gadget head! This website is truly great for sharing with your kids who might be looking for missing assembly instructions of their LEGO sets. It's also a great resource of the LEGO collector who wants to include the assembly document with their collection. It is truly a welcome resource for the sci-tech enthusiast as well as the LEGO aficionado. Enjoy!!!



Creating Your Own Experimental Evaluation Board:

The technique I'm about to describe was inspired from a project I'm currently working on for my day job. The task is to take an existing wireless remote for a ceiling fan an mod the unit to include LEDs for the lights & fan ON operation. To accomplish this design change is to open up an existing remote and with the aid of the circuit schematic identify where the two LEDs can be added. A new circuit schematic was created and the changes implemented on a solderless breadboard. The 9V battery is attached and the modification tested. If circuit schematic is not available, then reverse engineering methods will have to be used to carry out the product hack.

Then the Eureka moment came, I've just created and Homebrew Experimental Evaluation Board! Semiconductor Suppliers create Evaluation Boards so engineers can test the company's key product or component easily. If it's a microcontroller product, the software drivers are provided along with reference and user manuals. These boards also expedite the product development phase because all of the supporting hardware & software has been created by the supplier. Simple tweaks is all that is required by the engineer for incorporating the core building blocks into the his/her new product creation. By attaching wires to key parts of the circuit, I was able to evaluate this simple remote ON/OFF indicator function. Therefore, any discarded electronics product can be converted into an evaluation board for product improvements or experimentation. Enjoy!!!!


How To Make A Microchip:

Applied Materials is a manufacturer of equipment used to make microchips. The flash video on their website is quite interesting and provides a wealth of information about how transistors are made and wired on silicon wafers to make ICs (integrated circuits) and microchips. The information presented would enhance the presentation for Science Fair projects or used in chemistry and physical science instruction. Kids that are really interested in building smart devices using analog, digital, or microcontrollers should find this video helpful as it explains how the chips they used in the projects are made. Sci-tech enthusiasts are encouraged to see the video as well. Enjoy!!!!

MythBusters Lost Experiments:

Every Wednesday, if possible, I'm glued to the tube watching the MythBusters on the Discovery Channel. The tools and gadgets they build to bust Urban Legends is a combination of Art & Science. Some devices would make Rube Goldberg proud. In filming each episode due to time constraints some experiments are edited out. So for your sci-tech viewing pleasure here are the missing experiments from some of the popular episodes of the MythBusters. Enjoy!!!!



Getting Girls Excited About Technology: Switch Website!

Mom and Dad if you have girls that are curious about technology or are interested in building sci-tech gadgets, the Switch website is for them. This educational website which started in Dec. 2005 is dedicated to showing girls how technology is fun via hands on electronic projects. The key to keeping girls interested in technology is by using fashion as the educational tool of instruction. Currently, there is a 2 part video showing how to build a talking picture frame. Also, Alison (the Host and Founder of the Website) discusses consumer electronic products for girls at CES (Consumer Electronics Show) 2006. My daughter Tiana has a little interest in science and technology because of the robo gadgets I've built for her to experiment (Ex. CameraBOT). I believe once she sees that technology can be glamorous maybe she want to tinker more. I'll keep you posted on her reaction to the videos. Go check it out with you girls and boys are welcome to watch as well.



Exploring NanoTechnology Website

The University of Wisconsin-Madison(UW-Madison) has a Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC) Interdisciplinary Education Group (IEG) that explores the field of nano-technology. To bring this information to college students and the public a website full of curriculum material, experiments, and a Video Lab Manual has been established. According to UW-Madison:

"Nano means one billionth. Nanotechnology is the study and design of systems at the nanometer scale - the scale of atoms and molecules. The ability to manipulate materials on the nanoscale could revolutionize the way that almost everything is designed and made. The objective of this website is to introduce you to the tools that let us "see" atoms, manipulate them, and create nano-architectural wonders."

The objectives of this passionate group of educators and researchers are:

bulletUse examples of nanotechnology and advance materials to explore science and engineering concepts at the college level.
bulletBrings the "wow" and potential of nanotechnology and advanced materials to the public.

Their website is a potpourri of simple, intermediate, and advanced nano-scale projects for the sci-tech enthusiast. Projects range from creating Organic Light Emitting Diodes, Synthesis of Colloidal Gold, and Disassembly of a Liquid Crystal Watch. I found the Disassembly of a Liquid Crystal Watch to be interesting because of my interest in solid-state electronics. Also, this project could be automated using a Handy Cricket or LEGO RCX.  MSREC website has Video Lab Manuals which are in the QuickTime format for showing instructional steps in conducting the projects & experiments. There is also a Print Version of the projects on their site as well. Enjoy!!!!


A Web Resource for Electronic Component Datatsheets

When building electronic circuits for sci-tech projects, occasionally one is confronted with identifying part numbers for a specific IC (integrated circuit) or electronic component. This happens quite often when reviewing I'm circuit schematics or identifying components on salvaged pcbs (printed circuit boards). I found a web resource that has an extensive database of electronic component datasheets. ALL DATASHEET has a web server dedicated to storing datasheets of existing electronic components as well as vintage or out of stock devices as well. I use the website for work (ceiling fan electronic controls development) as well as my sci-tech robo projects.

The website is very easy to use whereby typing the name of the component is the only required piece of information. If you have children who are sci-tech makers, this is a great website resource them to obtain information on electronic components. They can also provide research assistance support by having them locate datasheets for the weekend family sci-tech project. Talk about a user-friendly tool folks!

Upon finding the target electronics component's datasheet, ALL DATASHEET will list all of the manufacturers that make the part as well. Therefore, if you are interested in a particular manufacturers component (and they make the part) you'll be able to download the datasheet for FREE! That's right, ALL DATASHEET's information is free which makes it convenient if you're developing sci-tech projects on a shoe string budget (and who isn't these days!). Go to the website and try it out. It's free, easy to use, and becomes a value resource tool for sci-tech projects and good old fashion electronics hardware hacking. Enjoy!!!

Build an Electrostatic Motor

I came across a posted blog on today's Makezine website whereby, a hobbyist has posted instructions on how to build an electrostatic motor. An electrostatic motor is an electromechanical machine that operates using the attraction and repulsion of an electric charge. The source of energy for this machine is not a battery or dc power supply but plain electric static. The author of this posted blog has color assembly instructions on "instructables." According to the author (Kiteman), "Think of it as gigantic nanotechnology as well, because this is how the microscopic motors of nanobots work." What a terrific evening or weekend family sci-tech project! Once my family and I are settled in our house in TN, I'm definitely having my kids (D'Vonn, Tiana, and D'Mar) try it. I provide an entry with pics on the evaluation of this unique motor of a future blog posting. If readers to this blog has built this simple and interesting machine, provide feedback on your experiences in assembly and testing of electrostatic motor. Enjoy!!!



A Blast From the Past-Old Science Magazine Covers

MakeZine is a terrific website that has a lot of hands-on projects for makers and sci-tech enthusiasts. The Make magazine is a quarterly publication that has 194 pages of "Maker" projects. Makezine's daily blogs have lots of material submitted by makers, geeks, and hobbyists on projects ranging from robots to book binding. Today's entry is a look at old Popular Mechanix's magazine covers. The artwork of these vintage publications are colorful and very artistic. Building robo-gadgets is part science as well as art. The colors on this science magazine covers are superb. In observing this historic science mag covers, see if any sci-tech project ideas materialize. Inspiration can be found anywhere with a little imagination. Enjoy!!!



Chapter 5 of Handy Cricket Book is Available For Downloading!

I've just completed Chapter 5 of the Handy Cricket Robo Hacks book. The time table has shifted because of the move to Nashville and the holidays. This chapter explains how to build a simple telerobot and to control it with the Robo Eyes Sensor circuit discussed on this blog. Also, the assembly of the cardboard ring filler and CameraBOT is discussed as well. Remember, the username and password is "public" in order to download the chapter.



The LEGO Mindstorms NXT is Coming!

At the 2006 CES (Consumer Electronics Show) the LEGO Company demonstrated the next revolution of Mindstorms robotics product called "NXT". The product is a complete redesigned of the Robotics Invention System (RIS) since its introduction in 1998 to the public. The NXT unit is a about the same size as the existing yellow programmable brick but that's were the similarities end. Here is product spec highlights of the new Mindstorms product.

bulletAn off white finish control unit
bullet4 control buttons providing left, right, select, and escape menu functions
bulletSeven I/O (input/output) ports - 3 outputs and 4 inputs: for sensor and electromechanical device interfacing
bulletNo "studs" on the iPod looking control unit with a central LCD display
bulletA 32 bit processor will be used instead of the 16 bit CPU embedded inside of the yellow programmable brick

The programming language of choice for the Mindstorms NXT is National Instruments "LabVIEW" as to the RCX code used in the existing RIS product. To download the LabVIEW program to the NXT based bot, the amateur roboticist can use a Bluetooth® enabled computing device. Using  Bluetooth wireless technology allows the ability of controlling the NXT bot using a Pocket PC, PDA, or a mobile phone. If one is not available, the standard USB 2.0 cable interface can be used for downloading programs. To keep the LEGO Mindstorms enthusiast update on the NXT developments a blog has been created by the LEGO company. As new developments unfold, I continue to keep the sci-tech hobbyist inform of such activities. A NXT video is available to review this new robot product created by the LEGO Company.