Robot Army : Brains!

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Ok, I feel warm and fluffy right now… in a nostalgic sense. Our brain boards just came in the mail this morning from OSH Park. This was one of the last big checklist items that we were waiting on. The box contained over 300 little hexagons and deceptively weighed more than I was expecting. As I opened it and laid the sheets of royal purple and gold across the table I relived the memory of sitting at SYN Shop sometime last summer when I drew this :

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This was the first brain sketch. It would be the fourth board I ever designed in Eagle, and the very first I would ever send away to have professionally fabricated :

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Since then Mark, with all of his engineering prowess, has taken over the task and made an even better brain for the deltas. It’s taken us five revisions to get it just right…

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Along the way during fulfillment of our Kickstarter, we’ve made friends with the awesome people who fabricate our boards. The gang at OSH Park are makers like us fueled with geek-genius. They offer a service that goes above and beyond what any other like theirs has ever been willing to do. They’ve simply figured it out, and as a result produce excellent boards with the quickest turn around time available to hobbyists like Mark and I. This is important because their having created a faster more affordable service is ultimately enabling us to do what otherwise would have been too expensive a decade ago (Mark tells me that five revisions would have been upward of 500 dollars in the not-so-distant past).

Working with other businesses established by fellow makers is resulting in an amalgamation of awesome. With the power of these new resources combined, everyone can become a little factory, no longer at the mercy of the big and scary prospect of handling production overseas alone.

I’m so very excited and pleased to show off these works of art. So much has gone into them and even more will come out once we get this project to its lofty apex. =]

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Robot Army : Production Mode + Lime Light

Mark and I are FACTORY

Now that the hype and excitement of Maker Faire has passed, we’ve buckled down and gone headlong into Fulfillment mode. Last week we started bagging things, like steel balls and hardware :

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The acrylic base pieces are in a cue to be fabricated, and our Rev. E brain boards will be sent in sometime this week once we verify that these- yes THESE are the final rendition to be included in the kit. Our friend Andrew from SYN Shop is also helping us mass produce our parts on his fleet of 3D printers.

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The production of the robot parts is what will potentially push shipment back the most. Luckily though, Andrew also taught us how to make use of our second extruder so that we can print the same amount of parts in half the time. Since we’re getting twice as many parts in a day as we were before, we might just make up some time!

Oh yeah, 930 servos… O_O

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Making 250 kits ourselves isn’t too much stress. We can handle doing mostly everything on our own and as a result have complete control over the whole process to assure quality. (behold Mark’s adorable kitting notes) :

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Sadly though since we’re going to be busy putting stuff together, we won’t have much time to build any more of our own robots or work on development of our installation for a bit. The kids will have to hold tight just a little longer before we get them doing the cool stuff they were meant to do. Hopefully seeing us ship their siblings away in boxes doesn’t traumatize them too much.

In some less than spectacular news, it looks like we more than likely won’t be showing Light Play off at DefCon this year. This might just be a blessing in disguise, so I’m not too poopie-faced about it. On the bright side, we think we’ll be making another Silicon Valley pilgrimage with the deltas in November for “Hackers”, which is supposed to be a weekend-long retreat in the hills where a small amount of tech-savvy avant-garde meet for a con that has the show-and-tell aspects of Maker Faire with the mystique of DefCon. Mark and his friend Tsutomu have gone many times. They both say I’ll love it, so hopefully it works out that I’m able to make this year my first. I’m dying to discover the elite maker-innovator mecca…!

Down Town Podcast

So it’s been a couple of months since the kickstarter ended and we’re starting to get a little bit of press at last! Upon returning from Maker Faire, Mark and I were featured on the Downtown Podcast which showcases local hardware startups and other cool things going on in Las Vegas. We had a blast joking around with a beer in hand on camera. Our interview turned our pretty good. I’m happy to say we’re getting the swing of explaining our project on the fly! This appearance also lead to another write-up the following week…

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#VegasTech wrote probably the most detailed, organized, and properly cited article anyone has done about our project yet : Robot Army. I’m happy to know that they’ll also be doing a writeup on SYN Shop too in the near future! Our Hackerspace needs the push right now!

Robot Army : Family Photos

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While waiting for parts and components to funnel our way, Mark and I got around to taking some promotional photos of our brood. We have these 30 cool robots and soon enough we hope to start displaying them around town. Getting the word out about them is a must, and nothing conveys the idea of a dancing field of light wielding minions better than long exposure shots like these!

I can’t wait until all 200 of them are built and dancing. ^.^

To see the whole album visit here : Long Exposure Shoot

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Maybe we’ll try getting them to spell out words… =o

Robot Army : Maker Faire

Mark and I rolled into Vegas yesterday right before the sun started to bow out of the sky. We stopped at Chipotle and picked up some over-stuffed puppy bags to push into our faces with beer upon finally returning to the house we left in pieces a week earlier. It felt like we had survived the apocalypse. After that ice-cold Carona we untethered everything from the clump in the back of Mark’s Kia and began dragging things into the house where they belonged. Once all three pallets of robots made it onto the table we both collapsed on the couch and giggled in delirious exhaustion.

Maker Faire was exactly like it was last year; bursting with stimuli. The visuals were nonstop, even being trapped in our booth the whole time… which was right next to the bleeding stage Arc Attack performs on. I don’t care for tesla coils. They’re cool, but I don’t trust the continuity of physics enough to be so close to man-made lightning. I even told the Arc Attack guy that, not realizing he was the Arc Attack guy. Oops. In any case… none of our kids got zapped. The show didn’t interfere with our installation. I didn’t die. So I guess I’m over my phobia. Heh.

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The faire in itself was grueling. It had all of the monotony of booth duty at a trade show compounded with the claustrophobic *loud* nature of a rock concert. We had to invest in hearing protection just to get through the hourly performances, which was really just an excuse to buy cool yellow and grey Ryobi earphones. These came in handy for sneaking a sample of what people were whispering to one another around our booth. The headphones canceled out loud sound yet amplified near-by speech with the tiny microphones mounted on their front; great for ease dropping.

I’m ecstatic to report that setup went smoothly and we had no major failures. I had to get over the idea of other people controlling my babies… and again like at the Mini Maker Faire in Vegas, the small children couldn’t help from waving their hands around like seizuring addicts to see the robots whip around at neck-braking speed. In spite of all the jarring back and forth, they held up just fine, and by the second day I stopped being an obsessive mother and finally just let go.

Make posted a nice little article about the installation on their main page right before the show… I even got interviewed real quick by one of their editors which resulted in a video. Sweet!

After the lights turned back on at the end of the day we got to mingle with the other makers at the show. Mark and I met fellow inventors as well as some people who we’ve been in contact with through email since the launch of our Kickstarter. We finally got to hob-knob with the OSH Park crew, who we exchanged swag with and were promoting like hell in our booth for all the fantastic work they’ve done fabricating our boards. I saw some people I met from last year’s “bring a hack” dinner who were exhibiting with a laser shooting gallery. I also met a fellow kinetic artist whose area of interest is in drawing machines, the like of which I’ve been fascinated with since my early days in tech. I found a video this morning featuring Dan and his super sharp “Makelangelo” here :

All and all this was an amazing experience. We learned a lot and will likely change the format of our presentation as a result. The army will keep growing and the installation will naturally evolve over time.

Mark and I agreed not to set foot inside the war room until Monday… maybe even Tuesday… so until then I think I’m going to indulge in some frivolous Team Fortress 2. For those who we met this weekend, it was a pleasure making all these awesome memories with you. I hope to see you all soon enough (maybe at Defcon).

Robot Army : Less Than a Week Away

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So the video above condenses a whole weekends worth of work into ten minutes. In the beginning we don’t have anything flashed or calibrated… and the arms aren’t even installed yet on the newer robots. By Sunday night all three pallets worth are working in sync and are ready to be fine tuned.

As it’s Monday, I’m straightening out kinks now so that we have as smooth a time as possible once we arrive in San Mateo. Mark is required to work at Blue Man all week up until we leave, so he had to grind out the majority of the code/networking related stuff over the past three days so it’d all be done by now.

We’re still flashing them with tweaks to the delta math which effect their range of motion… still working on a solution for the LED cables being a hair too short… still trying to get answers from MAKE in regard to our booth. Time for a bloody Marry. I wonder if I can put a taco in my bloody…. like eight layer dip but with vodka drizzled on top then sucked through a straw. Why does that sound appealing?… my god.

I’m not quite sure how so much got pushed back to the end like this. At any rate… WE’RE SHOWING OFF STUFF AT MAKER FAIRE! WOOOOOOO!!!! I totally never expected to be doing all this so soon. This past year has yielded a ton of experience. =] I remember walking past this massive white colonnade in the lobby of an abandoned building every morning when I lived in Chicago, imagining my installation of dancing light flowers inhabiting the space. That was back in 2011!!! Through all distractions and detours, I am finally getting to show off this idea. <3 <3 <3 The army of dancing lights is sitting next to me as I type and all the stress and work is completely worth it!

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Here’s our KS update from last week BTW :

Like our Facebook page too!

Robot Army : Las Vegas Mini Maker Faire

I started composing an update a week ago… and never finished it. Now Mini Maker Faire is over. Oh well.

In any case… back then everything felt like it was falling apart. I wrote venting about how terrified, annoyed and disappointed I was that things wouldn’t just go the way they were suppose to. As we encountered one complication after another, each bump yielded an even better solution than what we were originally planning.

Long story short, all is going great again. Better in fact. We had an excellent Mini Maker Faire on Saturday. All of our friends and local backers came to see our kids perform and talk to us about our maniacal future schemes. Though we brought a soldering station and work lamp just in case an all systems failure occurred… nothing went wrong. Everything just worked…. the whole time (aside from the stupid Processing app crashing every now and then).

I could break it down in words and give you a play by play, but we decided to film it instead. So here’s a video to sum it all up :

Now that that’s over, time to start getting things ready for the real deal in San Mateo next month. We had originally planned on bringing 60 deltas with us to display (six pallets worth), but after experiencing the set up for just one with all the work it took to maintain them… Mark and I decided to lower that number to 30. This amount will fit in his Kia! So no mess with trailers and the like! We can’t wait! =]

Oh yeah… we ordered ALL of our servo motors today… for the kits and our installation. That’s 1000 servos….. =O Also, the largest purchase I’ve ever made in my life. Fun times. It’s happening!! The yellow onslaught is coming!

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Robot Army : Printing + Drinking

Nitrogen Capsules = LED Diffusers

Here’s a St. Patricks Day story for those of you who are into that sort of thing. As you might have gathered, Mark and I like to drink beer while we work. Lately our brew of choice has been Guinness. We’ve been so busy now that we’re in fulfillment mode that we’ve neglected to haul our empty beer cans from the past two or three weeks to the curb. There is a mound of them piled in the corner of the kitchen waiting to be tripped over.

In short, we haven’t had any luck finding a more reasonably priced lens to go over the LED of our robots. The one we had found, though perfect in size and shape is freakishly expensive (We’re talking several times more than the amount we allocated for that part on our BOM). We had given up on finding a replacement for now, when this Monday on St. Patty’s Day Mark was making bacon and needed a place to pour off the grease. No doubt, an empty Guinness can was in reach… so he chopped one in half to use. Inside of the can was the little nitrogen pellet-ball thing that releases the gas once the can is opened. Would you believe that this stupid little white ball when cut in half at its seam is the EXACT size, shape and thickness we need for our lens? It even has holes on the sides for mounting. The best part of this discovery is that we already have 9075629081863587 empty Guinness cans lying around with little capsules inside waiting to be harvested. I hope some of you out there can appreciate how hilarious and awesome this is. How’s that for hacking and being environmentally friendly?

Like pulling pearls from an oyster :

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We aren’t sure if we’ll actually end up using them, but we figured since the universe handed us this coincidence, we’d give it a shot and see how they look with an LED inside. I’ll post pictures once I have one on a delta.

One-Million Yellow Arms

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In other news, I’ve printed more yellow arms than I can count. We just received our money from Kickstarter today (over two weeks since the end of the campaign), so the first order of business was to buy more filament. We’re well on our way to producing all the parts we’ll need… but this first batch will be used for our own installation coming up in April.

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Hexagons. They’re everywhere.

The Mini Maker Faire here in Vegas will be a test run for all the various elements in our installation. Jeff helped me cut the first wooden platform on the ShopBot last Monday which will house the deltas at a safe distance from one another so they don’t clash :

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If the design works out nicely we’ll need to make six of these total before the big Maker Faire in May. I’m thinking the design will need to be revised a little, but this is a good start! The hexagon design is quite fetching :

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This week we sanded and primed the base for its fancy paint job :

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We sprayed the finished piece a flat 50% grey. I plan on painting the hex ring bits that hold the robots in place a slightly lighter shade, and the edges will be a darker grey to give the base extra depth :

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Since I’ve adopted the honeycomb pattern… I started seeing it everywhere. Mark and I spotted this while running errands :

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It might seem like my yellow robots in their massive numbers nested on a hexagonal grid is a metaphor for bees. Hmmmm…. This occurred to me a couple of days ago while I was sitting outside having a glass of wine when a bee decided to land on the lip of my glass and take a dive. Mark scooped the bee out and set him on the ground to dry off. He was stained pink and rather uncomfortable seeing as he was soaked in stinging alcohol. He hobbled around while rubbing his little face with his bee hands… so Mark and I talked to him until he dried off and finally sobered up enough to fly away. We made a new friend.

This week I’ve been switching out all the old parts of my original prototype deltas for the new generation of parts that will be included in our kit. Once everything has the latest and greatest hardware we’ll see how the kids performs at their first live recital at the Mini Maker Faire. =] Delta Do!

Again, if you haven’t liked our Facebook page, you should!

And if you happen to make robots yourself- get on our forum and brag about what you’ve done. Now. <3

Oh, I’ll leave you all with this… So! It was my birthday this week and the night before I had an interesting dream. Now, I haven’t played WoW in years, but for some reason I dreamt that there was an event for my birthday which was causing people to get a delta robot as a pet in game. While I ran around as my paladin, everyone had tiny delta robots hopping behind them everywhere they went. It amused me. I may have to animate this…

Robot Army : Entering Phase 3

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Fremont Street Procession

To celebrate our first successful Kickstarter campaign, Mark and I threw a soiree at SYN Shop with our close friends. Much to our surprise, everyone brought liquor! Nerds drink? Heh. Once good and numb they toted me down Fremont Street with one of my robots in a royal procession on our friend Bill’s newly crafted dolly. I can’t believe this happened… the experience was surreal (Thank you guys for making me feel special!). The video explains the night better than I can :

The War Room

No one can mastermind a scheme for world domination without a proper war room to do it all in. During this first week since the end of our Kickstarter, we’ve transformed Mark’s workspace into a factory. We fashioned a 4′ x 8′ sheet of wood into a painted, polished table complete with central two tier hutch and power outlets (oh, and speakers of course… you can’t take over the world without listening to Rush). This is going to be where the remainder of our prototyping, manufacturing, and construction will happen as we dive head on into fulfillment mode! Which reminds me… in addition to building kits, we have a disgusting amount to do in the next two months ::quivers::

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We Are Doing Maker Faire

…not just Mini Maker Faire in Las Vegas on April 5th, but the full blown big kid Maker Faire in San Mateo on May 17th and 18th- which means in addition to compiling kits, we need to have several pallets worth of deltas built and functioning with a proper show demo in a little less than ten weeks!?!!!1 zomg. Can’t slip up now. I’ve been dreaming about showing my field of light in the Bay Area now for the past year, ever since I walked into their dark room with Jeff and thought to myself ‘I will own this one day‘. Little did I expect I’d have my chance so soon! While I’m pleased to announce that Mark and I will be there… my test starts now.

So, 2400 yellows…

Mark and I will be assembling a grand total of 215 kits for our backers (you guys rock!). We also need to build an additional 150-200 deltas for our own devices. At six yellow arms per unit that puts us at a nauseating 2400ish pieces we’ll need to produce. Sadly, we didn’t quite hit our mark to get big kid injection molds tooled. The method of 3D printing the parts will take more printers than we have access to in order to get things made before Maker Faire. The solution to this issue is to cast our arms. I was really apprehensive about considering this as an alternative, however Mark has made me some rather sound samples and it’s starting to look like the way to go. If our test parts hold up to a good long torture run- we’ll likely be pouring molds for the arm pieces and dying the resin neon yellow. This will take a little bit of tuning and set up, but on the bright side… once we’re ready we’ll get ALL of our arms made in a few days, rather than months (SWEET).

We’d be making several big molds of ten to twelve arms each. This was our test mold/cast :

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We’ll continue testing different resins throughout the week, while trying to match the color! Wish us luck!

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The Lone Delta

In other sorta sad, but good news…. Mattias has been running nonstop in the window at SYN Shop for the past week  WITHOUT FAIL. Looks like we have a winner. It’s still there as I write this, bobbing and wiggling in its tweaky way. We know you miss us but you’ve made mommy and daddy very proud, and you’ll always have something all the other little deltas won’t. Experience. <3

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If you are a part of this project or want to be, join our brand new forum and start talking about stuff robot related! You can also like our facebook page- because why not?

Robot Army : From Tupperware to 3D Printing

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When I moved back home from art school in Chicago, one of the biggest drags was no longer having access to the beefy machine shop that was down the street from my apartment. I went from playing with a room-sized lathe and mill to having little more than a $20 soldering iron and dremel at my disposal. It seemed my metal-cutting days were going to end as soon as they started… well enough, this didn’t stop me from making the things I wanted to. I just had to use plastic now instead. Luckily for me, plastic was in abundance at my parent’s house. My mom hordes take-out containers and tupperware, so I had a bottomless stash to carve up.

Still pursuing my vision of creating the field of robotic flowers, I was trying to refine the design of my ‘steam’ into something a bit more controllable. At some point I ran across a video of a small delta robot someone had made on the internet. As I watched it bob up and down in that special twitchy, impatient way… I fell in love. From that moment on I became obsessed with building my own!

Long story short… Everything became a potential shape. I-beams. They’re everywhere :

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I used a lot of crappy plastic hangers. They made great paddles to connect onto the servo horn like you see below :

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In the beginning, mechanical joints mystified me. I didn’t quite understand what was going on with how a delta robot moved, so this prevented me from being particularly inventive with what I used to connect all the piece together. I read on a forum someplace that you could use 4-40 swivel ball links, which you can get from a hobby store… so I bought myself a set to try out. The thing is, they work great but they cost way more than any piece of plastic should (like… $18.00 for 12 of them. Just enough for one robot). ALSO, they require tiny spacers on either side of the ball. This helps give the rod a breadth of motion without smacking into the plastic piece its rotating in. The sucky part is that the pack of 12 joints form the hobby store only comes with half the number you’ll need (for a delta you need one on each side). The links are the pieces at the end of these 4-40 rods :

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In order to make a whole field worth like I was planning, I’d need to find a cheaper alternative that was less hardware dependent. For now though, these worked. I attached my paddles made of hanger bits to these arms :

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The next step was figuring out how to mount the delta robot. I realized that the servo motors would have to be elevated so that the paddles could swing below the angle of the table top. I didn’t have anything fancy to use at the time, so I took a pasta togo box from the cupboard and cut into it with my dremel to get some nice clearance slots :

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The next thing to figure out was how on earth I was going to mount the actual motors onto my base. A normal person would have used L-brackets of some sort, so I did precisely that… except again, mine were made from strips of plastic cut from togo boxes. >.<

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As you’ve guessed… the end effector was also eventually made from cut pieces of plastic. My first working prototype was practically a togo box with motors :

This was a great feat making my first functioning delta robot. I was proud of its frumpiness because though it wasn’t mechanically solid like a robot made of metal, it still worked. Of course, I wasn’t going to make a whole field of delta robots out of togo containers (although I probably could have because my mom surely had enough to do so). The next step was to shrink the design and refine the method so it could be repeated with ease.

My next prototype was still made of plastic, but I got classy and went to the Container Store and invested in some nice cylindrical boxes. These would become the new bases for my robots :

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I repeated the same steps, cutting the clearance slots for the paddles and making small L-brackets to mount the motors to the base. The base the motors were connects to was actually the lid of the container so you could remove it and use the bottom part as an enclosure for the board running it (clever!) :

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I had aspirations of building three of this particular prototype… to see if they could all be networked together and potentially all run at once :

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The two-dollar micro servos I bought from some nondescript hobby store (imported from China) were terrible quality. Though my second prototype worked, it moved like it had Parkinson’s disease. =/

I wasn’t really happy with this… but two dollars a motor was all I could afford at the time (I was still living at home with the folks). Eager to try again when I could invest in some more quality materials… I started rethinking the entire design.

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For the rest of the summer I meditated on what I had learned. The little blue servos from China stripped in a matter of days while I was testing out code… So I was left with nothing more than a delta shell.

One extremely fateful day I met the people of SYN Shop at an art faire downtown. The hackerspace was just a glimmer in someone’s eye at the time and was run out of the garage of the man who is now my collaborator (Mark Koch). They invited me to stop by some time and show off whatever I was working on. Eesh. Even though I was embarrassed and apprehensive, I brought the mangled corpse of my second delta prototype to show to people. In spite of its appearance, my gimpy child got a lot of attention for the mere fact that I managed to pull off making a delta robot from garbage. Mark had always wanted to build his own pick and place machine, so seeing my creation urged him to get off his butt and make one of his own.

This is when the discovery of 3D printing changed my life. Mark suggested that I design my delta’s parts in CAD and of all things…print them. I was familiar with 3D printers, however the one my art school had was huge and they charged an insulting amount just to produce tiny things with it. Up until then, I had no clue that desktop 3D printers even existed, so my mind was blown when I saw his Replicator for the first time. The usefulness of this tool was revolutionary. I could continue building my robots in plastic like I had been, but I wouldn’t have to machine my parts as if they were metal. How easy!

I spent the rest of the year learning Sketchup. This is a free piece of software that I highly recommend to beginners. It isn’t as powerful as Maya or Solidworks, but its intuitive so you can start making things with it immediately. You basically draw 2D shapes like you would in Illustrator and then extrude them upward to make basic geometrical objects. You can edit things from there of course. If you’re looking to design mechanical parts, this tool is a wet dream, but be patient because it has it’s irritating quirks and limitations.

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One day during CES in 2013, Mark came onto something rather brilliant while we were discussing our designs over margaritas. The solution for those expensive and convoluted swivel ball links (that I had been stuck using) was to use some sort of U-joint that could compress onto ball bearings and twist freely in all directions. The idea was simple and genius :

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This was an important quality because now we could completely divorced ourselves from having to source out any hobby parts. This means aside from some hardware, we no longer had to buy link joints, or cut rod in order to make the robot work. Everything was designed in CAD. Everything was 3D printed. My cost went down significantly, and at last I had the perfect model which I could realistically expect to afford building in mass… and all I had to do was hit ‘print’.

Once we mastered this technicality, it was a matter of implementing it throughout our designs. My personal delta robot went through many…….. many revisions before it became the thing it is now :

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It was at some point last spring that our robots reached their pinnacle. My first complete and polished delta made from 3D printed parts was named Jeden (after the Polish word for one), and Mark’s hanging delta robot was named Amber (after an inside joke Mark and I had at the time). This was the revision of Jeden right before I got my neon yellow filament in the mail :

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We had been working so hard that our collaboration was getting noticed by the others in our community and our friends from SYN Shop decided to interview us about our ‘rivalry’ for their first podcast :

We hadn’t really thought of one another as collaborators (or rivals for that matter) until that point in time. Once it was brought to our attention however we took off like rockets loaded with beer and nitrous. We’ve been working together ever since and within a year brought a delta robot kit to market… which is the thing I’m promoting so heavily right now on Kickstarter.

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This campaign is not only getting us our funding to build that elusive art installation I’ve been wanting to create, it’s also the introduction of our new company to the maker community. Mark and I don’t expect this will be our last kit. We’re sort of hooked on this process now and already have plans for what’s next. We are Robot Army LLC and it looks like we’re here to stay =]

It’s been a fantastic journey. I’m getting to strike a couple of goals off my bucket list. I started this blog two years ago to prove to the world (and myself) that anyone with a little bit of drive and passion can bring something from their dreams into reality… even coming from a position where you lack experience or expertise. There is a wealth of open knowledge and support out there to be drawn upon. If you choose to use it, anything is possible.