LEGO Particle Accelerator

The idea to build this started out as a joke. I was going to make a gag video where I start describing how I built some completely ridiculous and unbelievable thing (ie, a working particle accelerator) out of LEGO bricks. At some point the video would be interrupted by something completely inane, and hilarity would ensue. Clearly that video hasn’t happened yet, and the more I thought about it the more I figured that, you know what, I’m actually going to build a particle accelerator.

In the end it turned out to be not completely ridiculous or unbelievable. In fact the propulsion system is quite simple. More info and pics after the cheesy video my 10 year old self would be proud of.

I did round the speeds stated in the video up or down to make them more narrative friendly, but they are pretty accurate. By stepping through video frames I was able to determine how long it took the ball to travel around the ring at each power level. The ring has a circumference of around 264 studs and at maximum speed the ball travels around it approximately once every 0.6 seconds. That works out to about 440 studs per second, which is the equivalent of just over 12.5 km/hr.

The particle is a LEGO soccer ball, recently re-introduced in a few of the LEGO Friends sets. To accelerate it I’m just using a pair of LEGO wheels, one of which rotates at high speed, powered by a Power Functions M motor through a simple set of gears (see image below). The other wheel is left to spin freely. As the ball passes between them it is accelerated out into the ring.

I have tried powering both wheels, and it does make the ball go faster, but the additional gearing introduces more vibration into the system. Not to mention the ball is already a bit unpredictable at its current high speed. It will occasionally start bouncing around and come flying out. It only runs completely reliably at about half of the maximum speed.

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Inside the Mind of a LEGO Artist

This is Kristal’s latest LEGO model, entitled ‘The Artist’. It is a kinetic sculpture of a human head that opens up to reveal a wonderful world of pure imagination.

She’s had this idea for almost a year now, and has been working on it off and on since the spring. During that time there has been much discussion about what exactly should go inside. In the end she decided to borrow parts of her yellow Dr. Suess castle  to use as the centerpiece, and surround it with an assortment of fantastical scenes.

Watch the video to see it in action and how it works. Pictures can be found below.

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Ent Sculpture

10236 Ewok VillageWhen I picked up the awesome LEGO Ewok Village (set 10236) one of the first things that came to my mind was that you could probably build a pretty awesome Ent from the parts in it. That was almost a year ago, and last month I finally sat down to tackle the project.

It quickly became clear that I wasn’t going to be able to build a fully articulated model at the scale I was aiming for.  There just weren’t enough suitable hinge pieces to build really strong joint connections. Using some counterweight trickery I was able to overcome this limitation in the upper body, and Technic friction pins ended up being strong enough to create some reasonably pose-able arms.

For the legs I eventually resigned myself to firmly attaching them to the base of the model. I was determined to make them a little more interesting than just sticking straight down into the ground though, and eventually worked out a solid design to have the model posed in mid stride.

Step by step building instructions, showcase video and photos can all be found below.

Building Instructions

PDF File

Digital Model Files

LDraw File

Additional Resources

Parts List

Rebrickable

 

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1984 vs 2014

A re-envisioning of the classic 1984 Apple Macintosh commercial to perhaps reflect on how some things may have changed since then.

1984 vs 2014

“Today, we celebrate the first glorious anniversary of the Information Purification Directives. We have created, for the first time in all history, a garden of pure ideology—where each worker may bloom, secure from the pests purveying contradictory truths. Our Unification of Thoughts is more powerful a weapon than any fleet or army on earth. We are one people, with one will, one resolve, one cause. Our enemies shall talk themselves to death, and we will bury them with their own confusion. We shall prevail!”

 

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Galloping Horse Kinetic Sculpture

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.

Shadowfax

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Self-Guided LEGO Vehicles

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.

OC Transpo Buses

Vehicle Frame

As I mentioned in the video, both buses were built on a common frame, which you can find instructions for here:

Building Instructions

PDF File

Digital Model Files

LDraw File

Additional Resources

Parts List

Rebrickable

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.

Wired Baseplates

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.

General Performance

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.

 

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Lazarus Steampunk Walker

Building Instructions

PDF File

Digital Model Files

LDraw File

Additional Resources

Parts List

Rebrickable

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…

 

 

Lazarus Walker

 

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Abandoned Sea City

This is Kristal’s latest model, a micro scale abandoned city on the sea.

Sea City

 

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.

Sea City People

 

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.

Sea City Back

 

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LEGO Computer Keyboard

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.

Computer Keyboard

 

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