Friday, August 8, 2008

Brake down

In planning my robot army it became clear that I'd benefit from some kind of box-pan brake to manufacture the aluminium components that will make said robots invincible. I've had a good look around for a supplier in the UK and until recently found only small standard sheet metal bending brakes or bone crushing behemoth CNC monsters. A box-pan brake is more useful than a standard sheet metal bending brake as it has a number of configurable 'fingers' that allow the bending of more intricate 'box' and 'pan' like shapes that a regular brake cannot.

Searching for brakes is not actually easy. First you have to make sure that you're talking about a brake - not a break. Then you have to understand that they're also called 'hand brakes' - which leads to lots of car related Google results. Until recently I kept coming across the more common 'regular scale' brakes that deal with large pieces of sheet metal - metres in length. These are just too big (and too expensive). However, I finally came across this a little unit from a UK engineering firm when browsing on eBay. While I don't currently have the space or funds for such a thing - it's good to know that there's a tool for the job out there.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

NAO humanoid robot - IEEE publication

Quick note of congratulations to my friend Chris Kilner at Aldebaran Robotics who has recently appeared as a co-author on a paper published by the IEEE transactions on Robotics. The paper describes the Aldebaran humanoid NAO robot that will compete in RoboCup events. Hopefully I'll get to see one in 2009 at Graz (Ryanair does cheap flights and Emma wants to go walking in the mountains). Prior to working with Aldebaran, Chris did some pretty cool .Net SLAM experiments as documented on his blog...

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

LumenLabs CNC

I was really interested to see the CNC based projects underway at LumenLabs. Traditionally LumenLabs supplied LCD projector kits - yes kits - for the hobbyist. But BrainChild - LumenLabs founder - is now branching into creating CNC robot kits.

The results so far are quite impressive with a miniature CNC gantry style robot available in kit form quite soon. This looks about the size of a Roland MX-15 but one quarter of the price. It doesn't look like you'd get much of a spindle on there though so I'm not sure it'd be up to cutting sheet aluminium - which is what I'd like.

But it's BrainChild's current project that really appeals - the much larger RoGR. This looks like a very cool CNC tool with lots of applications - I particularly like that BrainChild notes 'Chess partner' as a possible use case. Some of the kit parts are already available but I'd be very interested to see the completed plans. Expected price is around $2000 which would seem to be extremely good value if you don't mind putting it together yourself.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Make envy

I had planned to make a hobbyist robot arm based clock but it looks as though someone has beaten me to it. There are lots of examples out there that used commercial arms but I found few that used the cheaper variety such as my Lynxmotion 5-DOF arm.

That's the problem with getting something new on Make - it's terrifically difficult to come up with something new, and when you do you have to hurry!

Thankfully I still have my XXXXXXXXXXXXXX idea that doesn't even produce any hits on Google. I guess that now I should really go and order some Arduino boards and get soldering...


Jeff Atwood tells me that I have to keep the posts coming if I am to obtain anything from this writing process. It doesn't matter if they're good or bad - the posts must be written - sorry! He writes the excellent blog 'Coding Horror'. There's a lot of good stuff for coders in there as well as some nice humour. But it's the variety of topics that impresses me and keeps reminding me that I have to branch out a bit - perhaps.

Anyway, I'm currently looking into the possibility of taking on some kind of part time engineering course at a local community college to hone my practical machining skill's while I don't have any workshop of my own. I did find that the Thames Gateway College provides the C&G course that I have talked about before on a part time basis. However, they don't mention what 'part time' means in terms of timetable specifics. It might just mean 'three days a week' which wouldn't really work for me. I've put in an application anyway so we'll see what happens. I also got accepted on a Welding Course at Newham College but I'm not going to take it on now as I'd really like to crack on with some machining. Oddly Newham don't understand the concept of part time evening courses either. The classes are in the evenings but the enrollment is scheduled for 10:00am on a Tuesday? Work anyone?

Oh well, I could write more but the bus is pulling into Victoria now so it'll have to wait until my return journey. Should I re-title the blog: 'Elliot's banal bus blog'?

Monday, July 28, 2008

Signs of UK Co-operative and Open-Access workshops

I have been a little quiet lately but that doesn't mean that I haven't been productive in my research.

I located a pay-as-you go workshop in London. Based in Acton, 'MakingRoom' looks rather good. The website gallery depicts and large and modern carpentry workshop that is available for use at prices starting from £90 per day. The bias certainly seems to be towards wood working and hence I don't think there is any opportunity for the milling of metal, welding, 3D printing etc. Furthermore the price is quite steep for casual non-commercial users. However it is promising that such endeavours have already sprouted on this side of the Atlantic.

With these discoveries in mind I thought it worth continuing my exploration of London based workshop facilities. I recently returned to the message boards and posted requests for information regarding UK based co-operative and open-access workshop facilities to both dorkbotlondon and Makezine forums. From the start I haven't expected the Makezine post to yield much information as it is - as you would expect - US centric. And why not, I'm rather impressed with the organization of the US Maker movement.

However, I hoped that dorkbotlondon has it's collective finger on the pulse of London and so far it hasn't been a total disappointment. A couple of members have responded to me and one made me aware of the SomethingLabs studio in Bethnal Green. Along with desk rental the space includes an 'occasional use' workshop. I have sent along an inquiry to find out whether they'd be supportive of projects with an engineering and workshop bias. Interestingly one of SomethingLabs residents is - a European distributor of the Arduino platform.

On a related note I'd like to see the UK circulation statistics for Make magazine in UK regions to get an idea on the size and distribution of the UK Maker community. Last time I looked, Make was on sale in WHSmiths, so along with 'Canal Boat' it's apparently gone mainstream in England - another good sign for UK Makers. Incidentally - I do like canals and canal boats although I have never bought the publication ;-)

My next steps will be to check out what kind of workshop spaces are available to rent in London although I'm quite certain they'll be out of this individuals price range...

Monday, July 21, 2008

Fame on StreetView

This weekend I was enjoying a nice stroll along the New river walk in Islington. When I came to the eastern end of the path at St. Pauls Road I decided to take in the view of the street by peering over the railings. As I did this, to my surprise, the Google Street view car dashed past before disappearing down a road on the right hand side. The cars roof top cluster - that contains many cameras, laser range scanners, and presumably GPS antennas - had lots of LEDs blipping away which leads me to hope that my visage was captured and will shortly make it onto the UK version of Street View - albeit blurred. Watch this space...