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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LEGO Mosaic Printer

Over the last couple of months I’ve been working on an ambitious project – to build a LEGO Mindstorms EV3 machine that can scan an image and then print out a LEGO mosaic of it. Here’s a video of the final model printing out the LEGO logo.

It is built entirely using LEGO parts. It first uses the EV3 colour sensor to scan the source image and save the data on the Mindstorms unit.  It can then print multiple copies from the saved image data. The 1×1 plates used for ‘printing’ the mosaic are supplied using a gravity feed system and the printing head is simply a 1×1 round plate that can pick up and place the 1×1 plates.

I created a series of videos documenting my progress as I built it, so if you are interested in seeing how this project evolved be sure to check them out here. I also explain and demonstrate in more detail how many of the components of it work in these videos.

I had originally hoped to be able to scan any type of image and have the program pixelate it based on the colours of the plates in the supply. Unfortunately the EV3 colour sensor is no where near precise enough to be able to do this. I resigned myself to require pre-pixelated images to be scanned.

LEGO Mosaic Printer

 

Perhaps in the future I will expand this project into the realm of 3D LEGO printing. Stay tuned!

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Walking Animals

Deep in a YouTube session one night, I stumbled across some  traditional wooden walking toys and immediately added them to my list of potential LEGO projects. After several prototypes and many tweaks I finally finished these cute little guys.  A duck and kangaroo that waddle/hop down an incline.  The mechanics are extremely simple, and to me they are reminiscent of the escapement on a gravity powered clock, controlling the power of gravity by channeling it into discrete steps.

Instructions are provided below. If they don’t seem to be walking very well there are some hints below for getting them to behave.

Hopping Kangaroo Instructions

Building Guide

PDF File

Digital Model Files

LDraw FileLDD File

Additional Resources

Parts List

Rebrickable

Waddling Duck Instructions

Building Guide

PDF File

Digital Model Files

LDraw FileLDD File

Additional Resources

Parts List

Rebrickable

They only work on an incline of a specific angle.  Too steep and they will get stuck on their front feet, not steep enough and they will get stuck on their back feet.  Adjust the incline until you find the sweet spot (note the optimal angle for the duck and kangaroo are slightly different).

There is very little friction between LEGO and cardboard, which is why I’m using felt ramps in the video. I’ve found you can also put a bit of masking tape on the feet give their surface a bit more friction. I’ve tried them on wooden ramps as well with some success. Note that the friction is very important. If the feet slip at all, even a tiny amount, they will lose a lot of energy and not walk as effectively.

For the duck, make sure that the sides of the body aren’t pushed too tightly together. The rear leg needs to be able to swing freely, and if the gap is even a little too tight this won’t be the case. You can just pull the sides apart a bit to make sure the gap is a little wider than the leg. The kangaroo doesn’t have this problem since the legs are on the outside of the body.

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Red Viper

I was away traveling for most of the last month, trying to escape the winter.  Unfortunately that also meant I was away from my LEGO collection.  Of course the awesome thing about LEGO is that you don’t really need that much to have fun with it.  I picked up one of the new small creator sets (31032 Red Creatures) to see what I could build with it.  I find these creator sets are a really great value – they have instructions for 3 different models and usually come with a great selection of parts for designing something cool yourself.

I decided to build a space ship and ended up with a cool little Vic Viper style fighter, although after playing with it a bit I decided it could also be used as a utility vehicle.  The front prongs kind of remind me of a fork lift and I can definitely see using them haul around cargo.

Video, photos and building instructions can all be found below.  Enjoy!

Instructions

Building Guide

PDF File

Digital Model Files

LDraw FileLDD File

Additional Resources

Parts List

Rebrickable

 

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Ballista

Since posting my LEGO trebuchet, I received several requests to try and build a working LEGO ballista. For those unfamiliar with ballistas, they were ancient weapons used for probably well over 1000 years, from the time of the ancient Greeks all the way up to the middle ages. They used the energy stored in torsion springs, created by twisting loops of rope, to fire a projectile.

I finally took some time a few weeks ago to tackle the project, and here is the result.  It is quite a bit smaller than my trebuchet, but still packs a punch.  It can launch a 2×4 brick up to 15 feet!  Check out the video to see how it works.

If you are interested in building one yourself you can find the instructions below.  The frame itself is very simple to build, but threading and tensioning the strings is a bit more complicated.  Hopefully the instructions are clear enough in this regard.  I also briefly show how to thread and tighten the springs in the video.

Instructions

Building Guide

PDF File

Digital Model Files

LDraw File

Additional Resources

Parts List

Rebrickable

It’s important that both strings be twisted to have about the same amount of tension.  If they are too unbalanced, then one arm will be much ‘stronger’ than the other and it will not operate properly.  If you encounter this case, just unwind the ‘weaker’ spring and re-insert the piece at the base of the arm from a different direction (front/side/back) so that you can twist the string another 1/4 or 1/2 a revolution to match the other one.

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LEGO Ballista Teaser Video

Here is a short video teaser for my upcoming LEGO ballista.  The flying elephant was built by Kristal for a different project, but I couldn’t resist using it here.  I’ll be posting instructions and a showcase video for the ballista in a couple of weeks.  In the meantime enjoy the action!

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Construction Site

A few months ago I was challenged to build an alternate model of the latest LEGO Fire Station, set number 60004.  The goal was to design an alternate model that would fit within the LEGO City theme, and target the same age range as the original set (ages 8-12).  I don’t build a lot of LEGO City themed models, or even minifig scale models for that matter, so the biggest challenge for me was coming up with an idea of what to build.  It was hard to imagine re-purposing all those large wall bricks and windows into something other than a building!

Upon seeing all the windows, Kristal suggested I build a glass factory.  That got me thinking about building construction, and I eventually decided to tackle a tower crane and construction site.  I tried to incorporate a lot of play features into this model, making do with the limited number of Technic parts from the original set.  The tower crane is quite functional, with a really quick and easy mechanism for raising and lower it’s payload.

I built several baskets for the crane, each designed to carry a different part.  Each basket also has a simple inset frame on the bottom, which allows them to securely fit onto the truck bed or trailer.

You can find building instructions for this model below, along with a video showing all of the play features in action and some photos of the details.

Instructions

Building Guide

PDF File

Digital Model Files

LDraw File

Additional Resources

Parts List

Rebrickable

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