Kill It!

For all of you snake lovers out there, I apologize for the title, but frankly, this thing terrifies me. However, I do think it’s awesome, and it would be great to have around for all those occasions when you feel the need to scare the living daylights out of close family and friends. You can learn more here.

2011 Maker Faire Spotlight: The Drawing Machine

Well, I hope some of you got the chance to check out this year’s Maker Faire – as always, there were a bunch of really interesting projects and people to see.  This week, I wanted to follow up on my previous post and highlight my favorite exhibit from this year’s show.  It is a project that does a great job of illustrating some of the best things about the Faire and mechatronics in general: creativity, execution and the synthesis of fields like computer science and mechanical engineering.

The Drawing Machine is a project by Harvey Moon that makes awesome drawings based on photographs.  There are two parts of the system: (1) a mechanical drawing module and (2) image processing and control software.

The mechanical part of the system consists of a drawing module with a pen and several servo motors which hold the pen either against or away from the drawing surface.  This assembly is suspended in front of the drawing surface via two belts being driven by stepper motors (see picture).  By driving the motors, the pen can move in both axes of the drawing (think of an Etch-a-Sketch where the knobs are computer controlled).

The software component of the system is responsible for processing the input photograph, deciding how to draw the sketch, and controlling the pen module.  The most interesting part of the system to me is that the software algorithm is non-deterministic – it makes decisions as it moves and creates a unique drawing each time, even if it gets the same input photograph multiple times.

Seeing the system in action at the Faire was really cool and the artwork that is created looks fantastic.  This is a great example of a sophisticated and well-designed mechatronic system being used to do something really creative and I’m glad I got to see it!

Mechatronic Warehouse

I recently came across a company called Kiva Systems that specializes in automated warehouses. Their clients include Zappos and Staples inc. After doing some digging around the site I realized it was co-founded by my senior year design project professor Raffael D’Andrea which was pretty cool. Anyway, here is a video of the warehouse in action:


I saw this video a few months back and enjoyed it – a great way to show that cool robotic systems need not use hyper-specialized or expensive components.

I thought it was an opportune time to share this since the Bay Area Maker Faire is coming up on May 21-22 at the San Mateo County Event Center. The Maker Faire is the best showcase I’ve seen for DIY projects, from mechatronics to art to clothing and beyond. It is a diverse collection of creative, interesting and cool projects, many made on a hobbyist basis, by some of the smartest people you’ll find anywhere.

I was originally going to describe some of my favorite sights from previous years but quickly realized the list was too long. Suffice to say, every year I go I am surprised anew at the passion and cleverness of the participants. It is well worth checking out and hopefully I will see some of you there.