September 29, 2014
September 17, 2014
1,200 watts of throbbing LED power. These are going to be used in a strobe unit to freeze falling water drops, or depending on the frequency, to make them (seem to) flow in reverse. While 1.2KW sounds impressive, and it is, note that these will have a very low duty cycle. In other words, 99.9% of the time they’ll be off, so the apparent brightness will be pretty reasonable, and no heatsinks will be required. The very brief ‘on’ time is required to solidly freeze the motion of the drops, kind of like a fast shutter speed on your camera.

1,200 watts of throbbing LED power. These are going to be used in a strobe unit to freeze falling water drops, or depending on the frequency, to make them (seem to) flow in reverse. While 1.2KW sounds impressive, and it is, note that these will have a very low duty cycle. In other words, 99.9% of the time they’ll be off, so the apparent brightness will be pretty reasonable, and no heatsinks will be required. The very brief ‘on’ time is required to solidly freeze the motion of the drops, kind of like a fast shutter speed on your camera.

September 11, 2014

TESLA COIL ACTION!

This tesla couil is OVER 8 feet tall…. I’m talking just the part at the tip top making the sparks. In other words, FREAKING HUGE. But this is a special kind of tesla coil on top of being enormous. It’s a singing Tesla Coil. You can play it like a piano! No joke. It’s got MIDI in. Built by Matt Faulkner and David Brown here at the shop (with the occasional Kontraptionist consultation and wiring assistance) it’s powered off a 750 volt 3 phase circuit, and driven my MOSFET transistors each the size of a jelly donut, which is amazing because on the other end of the spectrum, Intel brags about how many BILLIONS of transistors they can fit on a wafer the size of your finger nail. I’d like to see your Pentium jump a 10 foot spark!

Anyway, were going to be exhibiting this at the STEAM carnival here in LA (among other amazing things) on October 25th and 26th at the port of Los Angeles. And if you want to see it, buy some tickets at http://2bc.io/tickets and use the promo code “STAFF” to save 20% and get an RFID bracelet for special perks. 

Water drops, frozen in space!

Well… Not really. More like very regularly produced droplets illuminated with a stroboscopic bank of LEDs. This is for a little project here at the shop, but it’s also going to go to the STEAM carnival (end of October) for the public to appreciate. The water is actually moving - 100% normal, physical phenomena, it’s just that the pump that I used is specially configured to introduce very regular (computer controlled) pressure variations in the water flow to make the water drops come out so consistently. Couple that with a flashing bank of LEDs running off the same system clock, and all of a sudden, your water drops seem to sit still in space, or in this case, move down OR up depending on the difference between the pump and light frequency, and for icing on the cake, I added an IR remote control to adjust ALL the parameters (pump frequency, pump duty cycle, lamp frequency offset, lamp duty cycle, phase control)

This will be shown IN THE FLESH at the STEAM carnival, so if you want to see it in person, get tickets at http://2bc.io/tickets and don’t forget to use the promo code STAFF for 20% off

September 10, 2014

Look! I made some whales!

Actually, I did not make these whales, but rather designed and fabricated the gearing and drive system to make them leap out of the “water” for a display for the American Museum of Natural History. All the gears were 3D printed and then fitted with head-press hardware for secure attachment of bolts, bushings, and bearings. As much as I’ve hated on 3D printers in the past, there are some pretty great uses for them, and this kind of low power custom one-off thing was one of them. 

The display is featured in a travelling exhibit called “Mythic Creatures” and illustrates how a family of simultaneously breaching whales might be mistaken for a giant snake in the water by sailors of long ago.

PS - Get your STEAM carnival tickets at http://2bc.io/tickets and use promo code STAFF for 20% off and an RFID bracelet for SUPER POWERS!

If you like robots, fire, lasers, games and science… 

GET TICKETS TO THE STEAM CARNIVAL! 

October 25 & 26, at the port of Los Angeles. Finally see the kind of stuff the Kontraptionist has been working on for the past year and a half!

Use the promo code STAFF to get 20% off all ticket and score a super-power RFID bracelet that lets you do special stuff at the carnival.  

So… What is the STEAM carnival? Well, we’ve all been hearing “STEM” education a lot. Science, Tech, Engineering, Math. Boring. We added ART. And fun. Hence STEAM, and awesome. The whole point is to re-imagine the carnival to inspire young inventors in STEM + Art. It’s kind of like a a modern traveling carnival but unlike any you’ve ever seen. We’ve been building high-tech games for years… completely re-imagining amusement with things like lasers, robots, and electricity. And we’re bringing it ALL to the port of Los Angeles. (Then to SF in the spring) We have a state-of-the-art big tent affair, complete with contests, prizes, tasty food, live entertainment, and a mid-way loaded with games that use the latest technology to provide an interactive and physical experience for the entire family. Also, there’s an entire BEER GARDEN. In case you’re afraid it’s going to be too much cotton candy and baby strollers. I said the ENTIRE FAMILY. Even drunk uncle Rob.

Here’s the bigger picture though…STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math, and unsurprisingly, We as a culture are doing a REALLY BAD JOB at kids interested in it. As professional inventors we rely on STEAM every day and we want to share our excitement about STEAM with kids young and old, And there is no better way to get kids into STEAM than to show them an amazing time. 

Get your tickets at http://2bc.io/tickets and don’t forget to use the promo code STAFF for 20% off! Use the CODE! It’s good for you!

August 27, 2014
SO…. Many of you (almost 41,000 of you!!) have probably wondered what happened to the Kontraptionist Lab? Well… I had a baby. That’s what happened. And I also relocated to Los Angeles. And this is her, wearing the Oculus Rift at the shop in LA.  The shop in Brooklyn is still pretty much intact and being run by my friend Jon, so you can still get stuff routed and machined, but the Kontraptionist is in Los Angeles, and I’ve been busy not only with the baby, but also with Two Bit Circus. They’re buddies of mine originally from Burning Man, and the highly evolved descendants of “Syyn Labs”  (of the famous OK GO videos) which means that they’re an awesome bunch of dudes, and we pretty much literally PLAY all day long. We make games. Games that are fun and inspiring, and dare I drop the buzz word EDUCATIONAL. The Two Bit mission involves a thing we call STEAM education. Kind of like STEM (Science Tech Engineering Math) but with art. That’s the A part, and also the part that makes it ACTUALLY fun.  It has nothing to do with Steam Punk, although maybe it’s because nobody has made a game with that particular artistic aesthetic…. yet.  We work with everybody and their mother here in the city and beyond to promote STEM (and STEAM) education. And by beyond. Brent and Eric were guests at the White House last month. Yep, it’s kind of serious. And on that note, every so often the boys (and girls) showcase all the games and exhibits we’ve been building at a thing called the “The Steam Carnival” which is happening in LA this October 25th and 26th. That’s a weekend.  Tickets are $20, but since you’re my friend, you should use the discount code of STAFF to save 25%. Just use STAFF. It’s OK. It’s not going to get printed on your badge (I made sure of that) You also get an awesome RFID bracelet to give you magical super powers at the carnival and that you can hack the living daylights out of after the event. 
Get tickets at http://2bc.io/tickets and use the STAFF discount code unless you’re a chump. Also, it SAYS the tickets are timed, but they’re not. Just buy one for any time and don’t sweat it. 
Also, you’ll find out why the following objects are on my desk…
quadcopter
automatic NERF dart launcher
small mountain of gyroscopes
high voltage power supply
superball
small bottle of sulfuric acid

SO…. Many of you (almost 41,000 of you!!) have probably wondered what happened to the Kontraptionist Lab? Well… I had a baby. That’s what happened. And I also relocated to Los Angeles. And this is her, wearing the Oculus Rift at the shop in LA.  The shop in Brooklyn is still pretty much intact and being run by my friend Jon, so you can still get stuff routed and machined, but the Kontraptionist is in Los Angeles, and I’ve been busy not only with the baby, but also with Two Bit Circus. They’re buddies of mine originally from Burning Man, and the highly evolved descendants of “Syyn Labs”  (of the famous OK GO videos) which means that they’re an awesome bunch of dudes, and we pretty much literally PLAY all day long. We make games. Games that are fun and inspiring, and dare I drop the buzz word EDUCATIONAL. The Two Bit mission involves a thing we call STEAM education. Kind of like STEM (Science Tech Engineering Math) but with art. That’s the A part, and also the part that makes it ACTUALLY fun.  It has nothing to do with Steam Punk, although maybe it’s because nobody has made a game with that particular artistic aesthetic…. yet.  We work with everybody and their mother here in the city and beyond to promote STEM (and STEAM) education. And by beyond. Brent and Eric were guests at the White House last month. Yep, it’s kind of serious. And on that note, every so often the boys (and girls) showcase all the games and exhibits we’ve been building at a thing called the “The Steam Carnival” which is happening in LA this October 25th and 26th. That’s a weekend.  Tickets are $20, but since you’re my friend, you should use the discount code of STAFF to save 25%. Just use STAFF. It’s OK. It’s not going to get printed on your badge (I made sure of that) You also get an awesome RFID bracelet to give you magical super powers at the carnival and that you can hack the living daylights out of after the event. 

Get tickets at http://2bc.io/tickets and use the STAFF discount code unless you’re a chump. Also, it SAYS the tickets are timed, but they’re not. Just buy one for any time and don’t sweat it. 

Also, you’ll find out why the following objects are on my desk…

  • quadcopter
  • automatic NERF dart launcher
  • small mountain of gyroscopes
  • high voltage power supply
  • superball
  • small bottle of sulfuric acid
August 16, 2014

They named it “Coup de Foudre” and this is the type of stuff being built at the shop in Los Angeles… just not by me personally. My only involvement in this project was lending these guys my oscilloscope, which, by some miracle, is still alive. This is a “solid state” Tesla coil - Meaning no weirdness with spark gaps and neon sign transformers, just pure hockey puck size transistors.. Actually, not transistors per se, but something known as an IGBT, which stands for Insulated Gate Bipolar Transistor. These are the most bad-ass semiconductor switches currently available, and they enable this Tesla coil to vary it’s output frequency and duty cycle, which is all fine and good from a technical standpoint, but when you realize that you can use it as an absurdly dangerous MIDI instrument…Watch out. That’s RIGHT! Plug this bad  boy in to your CASIO keyboard and play it like a lightning piano, or anything with a MIDI output. 

The power supply for this monster is also quite impressive - 600V three phase, 15KVA, which comes up to around 700+ volts after rectification to DC. When it’s all said and done, the final output is about (at last guess) TWO MILLION VOLTS. 

And of course they’re taking it to Burning Man to sing Karaoke out of it. 

July 16, 2014

So I got this 3D printer. From a machine design standpoint, it’s one of the best hobby-grade ones out there, but still leaves a bit to be desired… but not bad, plus it hauls ass. It’s called a QuBd. The company has quite a bit of trouble shipping hardware in any reasonable amount of time (this one took about 8 months) but they’re cheaper than a Makerbot and probably more reliable…. except that they maybe glue a few more things than they should.

March 11, 2014

Behold the Pizza-Copter. This is version 2 of the original Pizzacopter flying pizza box, featuring more powerful motors and better flight software (which still needs to be tuned, as you can see, but you get the picture)

Also, this video is special, because it features the Kontraptionist, in the flesh. I’ve largely remained a man shrouded in MYSTERY up until this point….and I have to just give the disclaimer that I’ve let the beard go a little more than I ought to… and my hair…. and I could probably use to ditch the Crocs and take a shower…. but that’s not the point. You get to see a flying pizza box! It’s powered by a small lithium polymer battery feeding in to four high power brushless motors. It has a pretty short flight time, maybe only 2-3 minutes, owing to it’s terrible aerodynamic properties and the fact that I more or less have to “firewall” the throttles to get it to pop up off the ground as it’s quite heavy, but over-all I’m satisfied with its performance, especially given that it’s a FLYING PIZZA BOX!

February 28, 2014

I spent this past October and first half of November rebuilding the mechanics of this amazing piece for the American Museum of Natural History. It’s been around for about 10 years, and has seen it’s share of hacks, kluges and “there, I fixed it!” moments. It was about to head off to Singapore when the museum decided it needed a Kontraptionist tune-up. New bearings, new linear slides, a new motor, and countless cleanups, helicoils, bushings, shoulder bolts and more were added to bring this monster back to life once again. Enjoy the video. I have some other more pro footage I shot which I’ll try to upload soon as well - Photos of the innards are also on their way.

February 27, 2014

Here are the guts of the Zoetrope I got to work on this summer for the American Museum of Natural History. In it’s initial form, it used to feature a giant 1 HP AC gear motor. Needless to say, it was loud, and got HOT. Also, it was absolute overkill for this application. After all, it was turning a disk with dinosaurs. But the reasoning, perhaps, was that they needed very steady speed because there was no actual strobe sync going on, just two pots for duty cycle adjustment…. This combo was subject to clock drift and of course, the need for readjustment whenever it traveled between countries that used 50hz or 60hz electrical grids, since that would change the speed that the motor operated at. Also, let’s not forget the converter transformer for 220V operation. We decided to put an end to all that nonsense. First order of business was to put a new motor in. One that was a little more appropriate. I chose a brushless DC motor because I could always be sure that it would get the right amount of juice, and because of the high reliability of brushless designs. Next up, a universal power supply was used, which could take 110 or 220V power at whatever frequency and automatically convert it to the required 24V DC for the motor and the LED strip. This eliminated the risk and work in setting up the exhibit for international locations. Also added was an optical sensor to precisely measure the speed of the motor (the motor controller had a tach output, but the Arduino Uno only had one 16-bit hardware timer, and the jitter was too high to feed in to be useful in an 8 bit timer) The optical sensor simply read a black mark on the disk, which was used to set the period in the Arduino’s 16-bit timer. Read: No matter what speed the motor was turning at, the computer could always adjust the speed of the strobe to match the rotation. The result was a set of perfectly locked in place dinosaurs. The only setup required (or not required) was to set the speed to whatever the curator thought would work best for their visitors. Of course I had some fun with the startup sequence. Part of the magic of this exhibit is the technical end of what goes in to pulling it off. I made sure that as the motor spun up that the LEDs were on constantly, so the visitor could see what was going on, then once the final speed was reached, the duty cycle (percentage of on-time to off-time of the LEDs) was reduced, and the dinosaurs would morph from a blur of spinning bodies to a perfectly animated family of sauropods walking. 

February 26, 2014

This past summer, I had the pleasure of rebuilding this stroboscopic zoetrope for the American Museum of Natural History.  The device features a 2 foot diameter disk with twenty four 3D printed sauropods and a precision optical tachometer feeding in to an Arduino, which controls the strobe frequency of the beefiest LED tape I could buy. The results are amazing. The camera (and it’s shutter crawl) do it no justice.  More on the internals and how it was done to follow. Let’s just say lots of low level Arduino timer functions were used. 

February 25, 2014
Here’s a fun Kontraption, and very clever if I might say so myself. We needed a curved track for a giant touch screen to ride on. THK makes bearings that are perfect for this, but they cost THOUSANDS of dollars and only come in a few different sizes. And take MONTHS to show up.. So? We made our own. What’s more, we had to be able to track the position of the carriage on the track. An encoder is the obvious choice for this job, but the mechanics of hooking a conventional encoder up to a curved track are not trivial. The solution was to make the track itself an encoder! Gray code (that funky tree-like pattern in black) was applied to the track, and an 8 channel optical sensor read it back in to an Arduino, where it was converted to it’s integer value of 0-255, then sent out to the computer over a USB serial connection to control the visuals. We made our own absolute encoder! Very fun stuff. Unfortunately, we can’t show the final finished product, but if you happen to be at the auto show in Geneva, Switzerland next week, stop by the TESLA booth. 

Here’s a fun Kontraption, and very clever if I might say so myself. We needed a curved track for a giant touch screen to ride on. THK makes bearings that are perfect for this, but they cost THOUSANDS of dollars and only come in a few different sizes. And take MONTHS to show up.. So? We made our own. What’s more, we had to be able to track the position of the carriage on the track. An encoder is the obvious choice for this job, but the mechanics of hooking a conventional encoder up to a curved track are not trivial. The solution was to make the track itself an encoder! Gray code (that funky tree-like pattern in black) was applied to the track, and an 8 channel optical sensor read it back in to an Arduino, where it was converted to it’s integer value of 0-255, then sent out to the computer over a USB serial connection to control the visuals. We made our own absolute encoder! Very fun stuff. Unfortunately, we can’t show the final finished product, but if you happen to be at the auto show in Geneva, Switzerland next week, stop by the TESLA booth.