Skating Penguin

This is Kristal’s latest model, a kinetic sculpture of a cute little penguin skating on an iceberg.

It uses a pretty ancient mechanical device, called a Trammel of Archimedes, to achieve the motion. In recent times variations of this mechanism have been sold as toys and novelty items, often labeled as ‘Do Nothing Machines’, but it can actually be used as a drawing device to create perfect ellipse shapes.

I have put together instructions for building the penguin and the Trammel of Archimedes, which you can find below.

Skating Penguin

Penguin Instructions

Building Guide

PDF File

Digital Model Files

LDraw FileLDD File

Additional Resources

Parts List

Rebrickable

Trammel of Archimedes Instructions

Building Guide

PDF File

Digital Model Files

LDraw FileLDD File

Additional Resources

Parts List

Rebrickable

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EV3 Cookie Icing Machine

After returning from my trip to Qatar for the Word Robot Olympiad, I was super psyched to build another LEGO Mindstorms machine. Kristal suggested that we build a cookie icing machine for the upcoming holiday season, and so, we present to you, the EV Icer!

EV Icer

I have put together building instructions for the EV Icer, along with the program file for running it, but be sure to read the operation notes below! The icing results can vary drastically depending on many factors. When everything goes according to plan it actually works quite well. All of the cookies in the picture at the end of the post were iced using the machine. To build the EV Icer you only need the LEGO Mindstorms retail set number 31313.

Instructions

Building Guide

PDF File

Digital Model Files

LDraw File

The motors should be connected to the ports as follows:
Port A – the medium motor for the cookie turntable
Port B – the large motor for the squeeze roller
Port C – the large motor that pushes and pulls the turntable assembly

The most important factor to successfully icing a cookie is the consistency of the icing. If it is too runny you will get a blobby mess. If it is too thick you won’t get a complete design. It’s hard to describe the ideal consistency, but it’s probably about the same as you would want if you were icing the cookies by hand. You may have to experiment to find the right balance. Don’t expect it to work perfectly the first time you try it.

You will probably get icing everywhere, especially if it is too runny. Be sure to adjust the height of the ‘ice stopper’ so that it blocks the end of the icing tip when it’s not icing. For smooth operation of the squeeze roller it is best to fold the sides of the icing bag in on itself as you drape it over the squeeze plate, before securing it in the back.

We are using a Wilton brand decorating tip (#4 Round) with a Wilton brand Coupler, which fits snugly in the bracket I have designed (see picture below). I don’t know if other brands of icing tips/couplers are much different, but if they are you will need to improvise to keep the icing tip secure. We are just using a generic icing bag.

The height of the icing tip should be adjusted (by sliding the entire squeeze roller/plate assembly up or down) so that it is just above the top of the cookie.

The patterns are designed to work with cookies that are 9 LEGO studs in diameter. Any larger and the cookie will get caught up in the frame. If they are much smaller the icing will be placed off the edge of the cookie.

Feel free to delve into the program file to adjust some of the variables. Manually adjusting the power applied to the motors is one way to accommodate icing of different consistencies.

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Sisyphus Kinetic Sculpture

A couple of months ago someone pointed me to this fascinating video from Disney Research – Computational Design of Mechanical Characters. It’s full of some amazing character models featuring realistic motion, all achieved using mechanical links and gears.  Of course I was immediately inspired to build my own version of the Sisyphus model out of LEGO parts. I definitely wanted to add my own touch to it though and, in addition to tweaking the geometry a little, I decided to add a boulder and extend the motion to it as well.

You can see the results in the video below, where I also discuss the details of the mechanics.

I have put together building instructions for both the full model and just the core, if you are only interested in building the main mechanism.

Full Model Instructions

Building Guide

PDF File

Digital Model Files

LDraw File

Additional Resources

Parts List

Rebrickable

Core Model Instructions

Building Guide

PDF File

Digital Model Files

LDraw File

Additional Resources

Parts List

Rebrickable

Depending on the relative orientation of the two crank shafts when you connect the chain, the motion of the legs and the body/boulder may not be in sync. It’s quite easy to adjust this after the fact – just slide the 12 tooth double bevel gear (the black one on the main drive shaft) to disengage the leg crank shaft, orient the two crank shafts as they are depicted in the instructions, then reengage the gear.

Sisyphus

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World Robot Olympiad 2015

I just got back from one of the most amazing LEGO related trips I have ever been on. Along with 14 other LEGO Mindstorms builders, I was in Doha, Qatar for the 2015 World Robot Olympiad finals. We were there as ‘Mindstorms Experts’, to inspire and entertain the attendees with our own LEGO robots. Now, having only ever built two EV3 models, I don’t consider myself anything even remotely close to an expert, but Marc-Andre was still kind enough to invite me along for the ride.

Mindstorms Experts

The venue was enormous, and we were set up in some stalls in the yellow section of the picture below, modeled after a traditional souq (marketplace).

WRO2015 Venue

I didn’t actually get much of a chance to take in the event myself, as we were swamped with people the entire time, but there were over 1000 students in 450 teams from all over the world testing their robots in various competitions. The highlight of the event for me was meeting all of the other builders I was with, most of whom I only knew beforehand through their online presence. I didn’t get a chance to take pictures of all of them with their robots, but here are a few.

WRO Experts

It was definitely the most impressive display of Mindstorms creations I have ever seen in one place. Just check out this list: Michael and Michelle with the Cubestormer 3 and 6-axis Robot Arm; Mark and his parents with ELFi; Marc-Andre’s R2-D2 and 3D Printer; Anika’s Fish Hunting Shark and NXT Lab; Andreas and Henning’s Paper Cube Factory; and too many robots to mention from the legendary Yoshihito and Vassilis (Nextstorm).

As for my own creations, a lot of the kids were pretty excited about trying to beat the black box in real life, and I think Bricasso printed almost 100 mosaics over the course of the three days.

My Table

Aside from the event itself, many of us were there for a couple of extra days, and made as much of them as we could. We had so much fun bashing through dunes, riding camels, sampling Arabic coffee, wandering through Souq Waqif, admiring the architecture, visiting the Museum of Islamic Art and eating like Persian Royalty.

Doha Adventures 1

Doha Adventures 2

If you ever find yourself in that part of the world all of the above are highly recommended.

I’m not sure when I’ll have the opportunity to go on an adventure like this again, but if I do I already can’t wait for it to begin!

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Working Combination Safe

A couple of weeks ago I stumbled upon some videos explaining how combination locks work and immediately headed to my LEGO collection to see if I could build one of my own.  I decided to build a typical 3 number combination lock and incorporate it into a LEGO safe. Check out the video to see exactly how it works. Step by step building instructions can be found below.

Instructions

Building Guide

PDF File

Digital Model Files

LDraw FileLDD File

Additional Resources

Parts List

Rebrickable

Some notes on the construction.

For the ‘numbered’ dial I’m using the printed dish from set 4488 Mini Mellennium Falcon, which was released way back in 2003.  There are a couple of other printed dishes that might work, but none of them are all that readily available. I would recommend just custom decorating a regular dish.

Be sure you actually know the combination before fully assembling and locking the safe! I designed this safe so that you can’t just take it apart normally. If you have to break into it you might have to physically break some pieces.

You can actually change the combination by changing where the ‘tabs’ are located on the discs. Using the axles like I have done only really gives you a few options of where to put them, but you can use other parts to create the tabs as well.

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The Heist

The minifigs are after my gold!  I thought I would have some fun with my latest project, a working LEGO combination safe, and put together this fun little video. I’ll be posting instructions for how to build the safe next week, along with a showcase video explaining how it works. Meanwhile, enjoy the action!

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NCS Aries-K

If you’re not active in the online LEGO community, you may not be familiar with SHIPtember, wherein participants are challenged to build a large spaceship during the month of September. More specifically, the challenge is to build a spaceSHIP (Seriously Huge Investment in Parts) that must be at least 100 LEGO studs long. My friend Michael and I have long wanted to participate in this building challenge, but neither of us has been willing to commit the time and effort to it… until now.

One of the things that dissuaded us from participating in past years is that building a SHIP in a month typically means saying goodbye to all of your free time for that month. Michael suggested we tighten the timeline, turning it into a 24 hour marathon, and join forces with Kristal and Lucie, with the goal of building a SHIP over 200 LEGO studs long.

We started at 9:00 am Saturday morning, with the intention of building for a full 24 hours. Unfortunately, by the wee hours of the next morning it was clear our abilities were becoming severely hampered. Case in point, the core and exterior of the rotating habitat rings (my responsibility) have a bit of an unfinished look to them, and I would have loved to have spent the last few hours fleshing out the details of those areas. It just wasn’t happening though. We decided to call it a wrap after 21.5 hours and here is the result, the NCS Aries-K, serving all your Minifig’s needs on their trips to Mars!

NCS Aries-K Builders

It was a wonderful building experience, with a lot of fun, excitement and collaboration. Would I do it again? Probably not for 24 hours, but the idea of marathon building intrigues me. It really forces you to get to it, without spending hours agonizing over the little details.

If you are interested in seeing more of this ship and how it came together, I put together a couple of videos of the event. Here is one documenting the build session.

And an overview of the finished ship.

If you’d like to see the raw time lapse videos, Michael has posted them on his channel at brick dimensions.

Camera 1 – Camera 2

We broke down the building responsibilities roughly around our various areas of expertise, and this is how it worked out:

Michael – hanger bays, bridge and electrical engineering
Me – habitat rings and mechanical engineering
Kristal – engine and interiors
Lucie – interiors and crew

And here are the final specs of the ship:

– Dimensions – 237 x 90 x 90 studs (over 6 feet long!)
– Rotating habitat arcs powered by 2 Power Functions XL motors, with fully detailed interiors.
– Rotating crew accommodation ring powered by 2 Power Functions M motors.
– Rotating engine core powered by 1 Power Function M motor and illuminated by 3 RGB LED lights
– 2 forward hangar bay decks for receiving small spacecraft.
– 27 blinking navigation lights across the entire ship, including red/green port/starboard markers, white/red fore/aft lights on the arcs and white/red strobe navigation lights.

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Walking Ship on Exhibit

In the spring I was contacted by the Peabody Essex Museum, in Salem, Massachusetts, about displaying my LEGO Walking Ship as part of an exhibit – Strandbeest: The Dream Machines of Theo Jansen. The exhibit focuses on the incredible kinetic sculptures Theo has designed and built, but also features derivative works by other artists. I was a little concerned about shipping the model, since it is a fairly intricate, but I was really excited for the opportunity to display one of my models in a museum setting.

Land Ship

Since I was traveling for the summer, shipping would have to wait until I got back in September, just a couple of weeks before the exhibit’s opening. Once I returned home I securely packed up the model (or so I thought) and somewhat apprehensively left it in Fed Ex’s hands. Of course this is how it arrived at the museum.

Too Many Pieces

Needless to say I was a little disappointed. Of course it is all just LEGO, and no pieces actually seemed to be damaged, so there was still some hope. I suggested a Skype rebuild session to try and salvage the model, and a few days later spent the morning with Suzanne directing some LEGO triage. It actually worked out surprisingly well. Some of the internal structure was a bit of a mystery (it has been years since I built the model) but it was obvious where all of the large components were supposed to go. Suzanne turned out to be an enthusiastic and competent LEGO builder and, despite the finicky nature of many of the smaller details, she managed to bring the model back to life. Thanks again Suzanne!

Rebuilt

I definitely wouldn’t classify the experience as ‘fun’. Trying to explain which pieces go where, over an intermittent quality Skype connection, is a pretty good test of one’s patience. But I actually got to video chat with Theo Jansen himself! He wandered over at some point to see what was going on and we had a good conversation about my model and his work. Here’s a picture of Theo chatting with me (via the iPad on the floor) while Suzanne takes a break from the rebuild.

Meeting Theo

Photo: Chip Van Dyke

And here is the model on display.

On Display

The exhibit actually opens this weekend, so if you happen to be in the Boston area you can check it out until January. The exhibit will also travel to two other museums over the next year.  I’m not sure if the walking ship can handle another round of shipping, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. Here’s the full schedule for the exhibit:

Peabody Essex Museum, September 19, 2015 to January 3, 2016

Chicago Cultural Center, February 6 to May 1, 2016

The Exploratorium, San Francisco, CA, May 25 to September 5, 2016

 

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Motorized Micro AT-TE

I recently designed a six legged walking frame for another project and one of the first things that popped into my mind after designing it was that I could probably build a reasonable All Terrain Tactical Enforcer (AT-TE) from the Star Wars universe around it.

AT-TE

It’s built to a pretty small scale, maybe around 1/2 the size of a minifigure, but it’s still fully motorized, with a Power Functions IR receiver, AAA battery box and one M-motor crammed into it.  The basic frame I’m using for the AT-TE can only walk in a straight line, but as I demonstrate in the video below it can be extended to include 2 M-motors to achieve tank-style steering.

I also put together building instructions for the basic walking frame, which you can find here.

Instructions

Building Guide

PDF File

Digital Model Files

LDraw File

Additional Resources

Parts List

Rebrickable

 

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Micro Scale English Village

Kristal actually started building this micro scale English village as a backdrop for another project. It quickly took on a life of its own and now stands alone as a fantastic LEGO model in its own right.

English Village

We were discussing potential video ideas around the same time she was finishing it. She suggested it might be interesting to try to make a video fly through like you often see with drones these days. This was the result…

 

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