Robot Knife Fight Development Day (4/1/2012 10am-6pm)

SWiT here. Ted and I have been working on a game we call “Robot Knife Fight”.  It’s 2-4 identical autonomous Arduino powered robots in a 6’x8′ arena.  Their power switches are held in place by a balloon and they have a sharp pointy thing on the other end.  Four robots enter one robot leaves.  All the files concerning the robots will be available on github soon.  We could use help with getting OpenCV in Python (or C) to process images from the camera above the arena.  Robot positions will then be reported to all robots via radio.  This Sunday Ted and I are sitting down with our 2 arenas, 2-4 robots, and as many pots of coffee necessary to make this happen. Stop by if you are curious, want to help, or if you want to compete. We will be at i3Detroit either developing or testing the new arena code from 10am until 6pm Sunday April 1st. Soon after competitors will write code for a randomly chosen robot and see how it does in the arena against the others. If you have questions email me at

Remember games with physical pieces? You can download those too.

(Or, ‘You sunk my Monopoly!’)

Hackerspaces/makerspaces tend to accumulate certain types of stuff. One major category, measured by both money and square footage, is rapid prototyping. In concrete terms, this means things like CNC mills and lathes, 3d printers, laser cutters, and such. While many of these are a bit expensive for everyone to own just yet, that’s why we exist.

There’s a lot written on the subject of rapid prototyping, but it’s relevant to everyday people because it means a change in the way we think about products. As do-it-yourself gets faster and easier, it starts to displace traditional manufacturing in ever more situations.

When I explain the CNC area to guests, I compare it to a mechanical typewriter and a word processor. With a traditional machine, once you’ve made your first part, making a second one is almost as time-consuming. It’s like typing a whole second copy of a document, versus just clicking “print” again. With the machines here, you can “print” physical objects (though the setup is sometimes a bit more complicated than loading paper). This also means that certain design features, like curves and generated shapes that might be hard to do by hand, are easy to include in your digital design.

But the other cool thing about digital designs is that, just like documents, you can share them! Email a copy to a friend around the world, or post them online for anyone to download. That’s what Thingiverse is about — some of the people behind the Makerbot project started a website just for sharing digital designs for rapid-prototypable objects.

So when I spent a few hours last Thursday designing a simple laser-cuttable Battleshots board, I didn’t want that work to be spent on making just the single game I needed. With a few clicks to export the files in a Thingiverse-approved format, and a few minutes to upload them and write the description, I created my first Thing. Now anyone can download it, visit their friendly local laser cutter, and make a copy! A custom-made drinking game, the product of personal production.

Fun With The Laser Cutter

Did we mention we have a big awesome laser cutter? Probably! We always mention that. Enjoy this little video Matt threw together while laser cutting himself a laptop stand. Complete with corny Antiques Roadshow-esque jazz music.

Do you want to cut your own laptop stand? Head on over to Thingiverse! Have your own idea? Come on in and we’ll teach you how to use this beast!

And now for something completely different!

Q: What’s an electronics nerd do for his dad for Christmas?

A: Refinish some furniture!

This stout old walnut desk literally sat in a barn for years before my dad adopted it as his office desk. The finish on the top was utterly destroyed, so he always kept it covered with clutter (that’s the logic I’m using, anyway), and nobody thought too much about it.

After having seen another member totally transform a beat-up tabletop a few months ago, I hatched a plan. While my folks were out of town for the holidays, I snuck in, absconded with the desktop, took it to i3, and proceeded to apply copious amounts of elbow grease. After planing the old varnish off (with the help of a slightly-overkill dust collector) and sanding the surface, I applied some new stain, and then went on to relearn everything I’d forgotten about polyurethane.

Four coats later, plus a day to dry, the desktop is back in place, back in use, and pleasantly less cluttered. I still spend most of my time at i3 in the electronics room, but perhaps I should avail myself of the other facilities more often!

Arduino meetup Thursday 12/8. Featured: The Chronotune’s guts

We’re kicking off i3 Detroit’s new Arduino meetup series with a show-and-tell project that’s near and dear to our hearts: The Chronotune, (as previously covered all over the freakin’ place).

For those following along at home: The Chronotune’s user interface is a rotary encoder, read by the Arduino. Year is indicated on 7-segment displays, and audio files are handled by a uMP3 board. (That’s what we had sitting around. If we had it to do again, we’d use an mp3 shield.) The speaker is driven by an LM386. The dial is moved by a stepper motor from an inkjet printer, with an EasyDriver.

Anyone tinkering with the Arduino experimenter’s platform is welcome to attend, as are those who are curious but don’t know where to begin. We’ll also have a look at the Arduino-LabVIEW bundle recently offered by Sparkfun. Things get under-way this Thursday (12/8) at 7pm.