Last fall, while looking for new projects to work on, I was inspired to build a kinetic sculpture of a horse. After many prototypes, several months of procrastination and what seems like hours of watching horse videos, it is finally finished.
It proved to be quite a challenge to reproduce the fluid motion of a galloping horse. I designed the system for the legs early on, but I really wanted to capture some of the other subtle movements involved as well. Like the slight rocking of the body, the forward thrust of the head and a little flick of the tail. All of that motion is driven through a single axle in the base, which can be cranked by hand or via a motor.
It is fairly mesmerizing to watch and as an added bonus even sounds a little like a galloping horse.
A few weeks ago my local LEGO User Group (ParLUGment), set up a display at the Ottawa Train Expo. I was challenged by one of the other members to build a self-guided vehicle to drive itself through the layout, modeled after the Faller Car System. The Faller system is a common system used in traditional model layouts. It uses a magnet attached to the steering system of the vehicle to follow a wire embedded in the roads of the layout.
The concept is actually quite simple, and adapting it to a LEGO vehicle was pretty straight forward in principle. In the end there were a few issues that I encountered, which I will discuss below. Be sure to watch the video to see it in action.
Being based in Ottawa, the obvious choice for vehicle was an OC Transpo bus. I ended up building two buses, based on the ones currently in service: an Invero D40i and an Orion VII Hybrid.
As I mentioned in the video, both buses were built on a common frame, which you can find instructions for here:
There are a few important things to note about the frame.
1. I found it was critical to only provide power to one of the rear wheels. When I was powering a single drive axle connected to both wheels the bus was predisposed to drive in a straight line (due to not having a differential). This caused a lot of problems with the steering, either continuing straight when going into a turn or over steering (jackknifing the steering system) while it was in a turn.
2. The frame can only turn sharp enough to go around LEGO road curves in one direction. The magnet is attached to one side of the steering system and as a result the left and right turning radius are significantly different.
3. The magnet holder has to be oriented with the stud facing down, otherwise it will catch on the seams between road plates. Of course if you are willing to damage your parts, you can just file down the top and bottom of the magnet holder to avoid any problems.
I built this frame with a design goal of using stock LEGO components, but if you are willing to modify parts, or use other materials, then you can otherwise overcome some of these issues.
Road Plates and Wire
The wire I’m using is just some picture hanging wire I had around the house. It’s basic steel wire, about 1 mm thick. Here’s a picture of the underside of a couple of the road plates. It was pretty straight forward to tape the wire underneath.
I found it was helpful to tape the seams where the road plates met with clear tape. This helps prevent the magnet from getting stuck on the seams where they don’t quite meet at the same height. You can see some of these pieces of tape in the video.
Also keep in mind that if you are running a vehicle for an extended period of time (like, many hours) the magnet sliding along the road plates will eventually start to wear through the paint. I found that covering the magnet with clear tape minimized this issue. If you are overly concerned about wear you could tape the entire line on the road plates where the magnet runs. This way the magnet will only be running on the tape and not the road plate surface itself.
In the controlled environment of my nice flat build table the performance of this system is 100%. In the field this may vary, especially if the road loop spans multiple tables that aren’t quite level, or the tables aren’t perfectly flat (cheap plastic tables). For our show at the Ottawa Train Expo it did require some attention (thanks Jeff!) when it occasionally ‘jumped the wire’. At least this failure scenario isn’t catastrophic. The vehicles don’t have enough power to drive over the studded parts of the baseplates, so they won’t go flying off the tables.
This is my latest alternate model, a steampunk walker I call the Lazarus. It is an alternate model of LEGO set 31019 Forest Animals. I’m really digging these new LEGO Creator sets. They seem to have a good variety of useful parts in a uniform colour palette. For this one I wanted to try and design something completely different than the subject matter of the original set. I think I achieved my goal! I also had some fun making a retro style commercial for it…
This is Kristal’s latest model, a micro scale abandoned city on the sea.
I wanted to try something a bit different with this model, and digitally insert us into one of the photos. We ended up being pretty small, just because of the scale of the city, but you can see us below.
And here’s another angle of the main model, which also gives a better view of the technique we used to make the ocean waves.
This is a fully functional computer keyboard built using LEGO parts. Details can be seen in the video, more info below.
I actually built the first prototype for this project all the way back in 2005! You can see a picture of that original prototype in the images below. I shelved the project for a number of reasons. Mostly because I was trying to build it onto the membrane of a Microsoft Natural keyboard, and working around the various angles of the keyboard was giving me a lot of trouble.
Last year I stumbled upon an old keyboard someone was getting rid of on the side of the road (nothing like doing a little free-cycling!). My interest was piqued again and after testing that the keyboard still worked I resurrected the project.
The biggest challenge was creating a frame that allowed the keys to be precisely spaced above the membrane. As I show in the video this was accomplished with a grid of Technic connectors and axles.
The second biggest challenge was finding appropriate printed tiles for all the symbols on a keyboard. Thankfully The LEGO Group has released all the main characters, numbers, and even a few special symbols over the years. I had to get creative with some of the keys though, which was actually quite fun. Still, there a few keys that could use some improvement.
Thankfully it is extremely easy to replace keys, so as I get inspired, or as The LEGO Group releases new printed tiles, I can easily upgrade the keys. It would also be quite easy to customize the layout, or add custom symbols to make a gaming specific layout.
The performance of the keyboard is quite good. There is a bit of flex in the Technic frame as you are using it, but this doesn’t seem to affect the performance at all. I can type just as well with this keyboard as with any other, as you can see during the introduction to the video.
I was talking with my brother about potential LEGO projects and Da Vinci machines inevitably came up. By all accounts Leonardo Da Vinci was a genius, excelling in many fields of art, engineering and science. I was particularly interested in the work he did in engineering, and decided to build a flying machine inspired by his many sketches on the idea of human powered flight.
As far as we know he never tried to build any of his flying machine concepts, and even though they would not have worked they still capture our imagination today.
I have submitted this project to LEGO’s CUUSOO site. Please check out the project here and add your support if you would like to see it potentially become an official LEGO set.
This model can be powered manually using the crank at the side of the base or with a motor. The instructions show how to power it using a Power Functions M motor, but it can be just as easily powered using an old 9V motor.
This is a micro research colony play set, built as an alternate model for LEGO set 75001 AT-RT. All of the piece needed to build it come in that set. I built it for Rebrickable’s December MOC challenge.
It contains a research station, mobile outpost, a couple of vehicles and a dropship. The dropship can pick up and deploy the vehicles and outpost, as shown in the video.