Noodle Puberty

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Sometime in April, Noodle started to change. He stopped hiding in his blankets and began spending his nights surfing through hardware catalogues alone in the darkness. He became curious about linkages, pivot joints, self lubricating thrust bearings and among other things, the prospect of being made of something harder. Noodle started dreaming of becoming metal.

As I mentioned in my previous post, just as I was about to tackle the conundrum of mechanical drooling… I went to JPL this June and met the mechanism that inspired Noodle’s gripping toes in person:

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The LEMUR probe has easily a billion toes… all agile, long and barbed. You know by looking at them, that if it reaches for you, you aren’t getting away. I returned home feeling a tad inadequate. Noodle’s current apparatus with its 8 lonely toes did in fact look pretty sparse.

In the period of a weekend I managed to tweak my current design a tad and come up with this little wonder… which has exactly 16 toe filaments (that’s twice the toes!):

IMG_8715.jpgIn order to attach that density of toe tendons to the toe-ring, I had to eliminate the use of hardware (which was kind of a relief). As improvisation, I threaded some 3mm rubber hose through the loops of the toe tendons to hold everything in place.

Of course, after I built the improved, maxed-out hyper toe apparatus… I’d have to once again install a servo motor and some gears to make sure I could in fact still drive the thing… (now that there is twice as much material making surface contact)

It took some stronger springs, but it for the most part *does* still work. The stronger springs insure that the toes retract back into the sheath quickly enough not to hook onto the rim and get stuck on their way back in.

I finally had produced a solid working assembly towards the end of June. I invested in some light gray and white filament, as well as the appropriate red for use on accent pieces and Noodle’s tiny toe-zies. The thing I had been working on was finally starting to look like what it was suppose to be, and Noodle liked this:

IMG_8805.jpgWith one complete proof-of-concept to show, I set everything down and allowed myself to become very distracted with a whole slew of things (which is good). My life exploded momentarily and when everything settled back down about a month ago, I found myself looking at an opportunity to travel to Linz, Austria to exhibit something of mine at the ARS Electronica festival [!]

I’ve been wanting to venture to Europe for this festival my entire adult life, and wasn’t going to pass up the chance to bring my spawn with me to have a part in it. Even if he is weak and unprepared as an art exhibit, his presence was what mattered. With no time to stall, I made the executive decision to begin producing another 3 prototypes in order to complete a set of 4 tasting feet. I had a week and a half to do it; print close to sixty or so parts, make any needed design changes, assemble, test, and tweak code. bLAH. Looking back, I’m shocked I even attempted such a shit-storm of preparation when there was no wiggle room for the unexpected:

BUT… in that week and a half crunch, a lot of things got pushed through to completion. Nothing like a deadline to assist progress. (and) Luckily there were no surprises…

IMG_9541.jpgI’m grateful I had Mark and Tony to help wherever I needed aide picking up the slack. One glass of wine at a time, and one task after another, the new feet took shape and were installed on Noodle (mere hours before I would need to disassemble him completely for his long flight over to Linz in my suitcase).

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The festival, ARS Electronica, was amazing. There is so very much I could say in regard to its content and scale- but to do so would fail to provide an appropriate picture. You should go yourself to experience it. If the median between science, technology, and art is your thing… you have nothing to lose. Not to mention, the city of Linz is a wonderful place to visit in itself!

For four days I left NoodleFeet alone at the mercy of families, Germanic engineers and machinists, to be poked and probed and boggled over as an oddity, robot, and art piece:

IMG_9672.jpgDuring this gauntlet he held his own, but Noodle did blow out a servo motor. Just as I was returning to my exhibit area to check in on Mark (who would periodically drop by to watch over the young one while I was away), I saw a nice white plume of smoke streaming forth from Noodle’s foot. Apparently they can’t quite handle hours of continuous use- so the toes are just that chafey.

But other than the initial matter of smokey toes, he didn’t catch fire, fall off the table, or get stolen. =] That for me was a success…

Now that it’s October… I can focus on the important matter of drooling. Drooling, leaking, salivating, moisture making… and the challenge of producing that special suck sound that has come to be synonymous with the NoodleBeast. The growing pains aren’t over Noodle. Be strong. Your day is coming ❤

 

Noodle’s Gripping Toes

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For the past year, the four tawny stalks that NoodleFeet balances upon have remained common pool floaties, 2.5 inches in diameter, hollow, providing nothing more than the obvious support needed to function as legs… but Noodle longs for something greater.

GRIPPING TOES

When Noodle feels threatened, there is little he can do to defend himself. He can beep and perhaps canter away at a slow speed… but he is passive and therefore vulnerable. He isn’t equipped to handle the harrowing task of world domination::cough:: I mean, daily life. To fix this, I decided to add another layer of complexity to Noodle’s most important characteristic: RETRACTABLE GRIPPING TOES for his feet.

A while back, I came across a video of a rock drilling probe concept by JPL. This neat claw attaches itself to a surface by splaying out a hundred or so mini grappling hooks in all directions, which catch on the rock and help anchor the central cylindrical drill in place. I saw this and thought to myself… Noodle needs four of these, as shoes.

Like a good mother, I started brainstorming how to create said shoes. Originally I designed long claw-like toes that rotated out and back, sort of like switch-blades:

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They fit into Noodle’s original 2.5″ diameter noodle material, and even added stability… but there wasn’t enough area to actually install any motors to actuate things.

With a little bit of trial and error I rethought the whole design and came up with a solution that made use of 3D printed plastic’s flexibility. This new concept worked more like a cat’s retractable claw, and was similar to the drill from the video that had inspired me.

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Each individual toe (in red) would be forced through a curved internal channel and out the side via two thin bendable “tendons”:

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How The “Tendons” Work

An individual toe has two strands of tendon attached to the back. When the tendons are pulled in opposite directions, it causes the toe to torque upwards or downwards.

Why Do the Toes Need to Tilt Back and Forth?

If the toe goes straight back into the sheath the way it came out, it won’t unhook from whatever its currently gripping. Also, the tip of the toe will likely snag on the edge of the sheath on its way back in. To properly “detach”, the toe should arc upwards slightly as it retracts.

My first prototypes were designed to fit inside the 2.5” diameter noodle material. I was able to make it work, but it didn’t leave much room for the other future functions of his feet (his tongue):

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In the end I really needed more space to fit moving parts and hardware. Luckily I have a noodle fairy living with me (Mark) who harvested a larger piece of noodle stock from a pile in his garage. It is 4” in diameter and offers me much more room to play around with! Plus, fatter feet will give Noodle more stability!

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4″ PRO-TOE-TYPE 1.0

I tweaked my design for the new 4” material and printed my first prototype with a set of eight twinkling magenta toes (I haven’t ordered red filament yet).

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The reason for the tendons being slightly different in length is so that when they are fixed next to one another, it creates the needed outward/upward tilt:

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(so, this is what a toe flower looks like):

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I originally planned to connect both tendons of each toe to a common ring piece (above). When the ring is pushed downward towards the sheath, it would force all of the toes through their channels and outward at the same time. I also added a spring and guide rod (a long screw) below the ring to push it up again once downward force is removed:

The first complete 4″ prototype worked more or less… It certainly passed the “carpet snagging” test:

I learned right away that I couldn’t actually connect both tendons to the same ring and run it through the inside of the sheath without it binding (which now seems pretty obvious). The only way I could get the above demonstration to work was if I left the longer set of tendons sticking out freely, attached to nothing… so that the toe has no preset angle bias as it attempts to travel through the channel:

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However, in order to make it work at this point, all the little purple pieces sticking out had to be pressed down together at the same time first, or else everything would bind up and destroy itself.

4″ PRO-TOE-TYPE 2.0

Each tendon should be attached to its own independent ring…

…so that when the ring attached to the inner set of tendons is pressed downward, it causes the toes to tilt upward first as they begin to move down through the channels. Then the top ring hits the second ring below it which the outer tendons are attached to, and then the two travel together pushing the toes outward the rest of the way while maintaining the slight upward torque. This allows the toes to torque gradually as they travel through the channels, without binding up:

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This second prototype (above) is more or less final. I’m going to fine tune it from here, but something very much like this will end up as Noodle’s toe-feet.

The greatest part about this design is that I have nearly 36mm wide of space in the middle to fit his secondary foot function! … ( ? ) … Which is tasting if you didn’t know!

Stay tuned for my next post on the development of Noodle’s TASTING FEET; small silicon wedges that will salivate and lick:

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As I typed that it just occurred to me that I’m pretty much making a tube that can grip onto something while licking and drooling on it. -heh- He’ll have four of these devices. Noodle will be feared by other robots his age.

The only downside to these new complex feet is that I’ll likely have to learn to knit him a pair of custom socks for Christmas. (and I think I actually will) ❤

Read about my past progress on NoodleFeet on my website!

More to come soon!

Eye of Toast

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I would like you to meet my toaster. The toaster is an old character of mine who has survived through subtle reference in the things I draw and build. Nothing I make is about the toaster, but the toaster is about everything I make. He’s my chrome totem.

While I was in college abroad, I bought an actual physical model from the early 30s off eBay which looked pretty much identical to the one from my doodles (still works too!). I had big plans for this little toaster, but at some point we got separated during my move back to Las Vegas.
The toaster got packed in one of my friend’s moving boxes and it wasn’t until this summer that we finally remembered to unearth him for me to take home. After three years of waiting, toaster is now happily sitting next to me on my bench…

It’s wonderful to be reunited, but admittedly it feels weird talking to him during the day without a set of eyes to look into. So… I decided to fix this.

Not just any eyes will do either. They have to be capable of showing a multitude of expressions, particularly the sly and judgmental sort. Instead of using an LED matrix to form shapes, I thought it’d be a bit cooler to make my own modified segment display. Once turned on their side, a standard twelve segment display is capable of showing not only numbers, but all of the expressions a toaster might make too!

CUSTOM BOARD MAKE!

Again I took to Eagle CAD and prepared a board which I’ve called, “EYE OF TOAST”. You can see where the segments are- and where the LEDs will be installed.

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3D PRINTED EYE FIXTURES

While these boards were off being fabricated with OSH Park, I worked on designing the fixture piece that the board would sit inside of. It would need to be as thin as possible, yet also able to defuse the two point sources of light in each segment… this took a few revisions.

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My first prototype was a dual extrusion piece (the two-tone ones). These worked alright, but the white obviously stands out a bit too much when the segments aren’t in use.

I printed another solid gray fixture with a seamless .5mm layer on top, so that the light can pass through just fine, but when the LED is off, it disappears (bottom left). This was our winner.

THE MANY EMOTIONS OF TOAST

Additionally, while I waited for the boards to arrive in the mail, I brainstormed what the actual emotions would look like. I printed out a sheet of paper filled with pairs of segmented eyes and started coloring them in, just like an assignment in kindergarten. It was amazing how many different expressions I was able to muster from these 24 lines!

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Once my happy purple envelope arrived, I got busy soldering all the tiny bits in their proper place. Since there have been a lot of ATMEGA328s floating around my life lately, this was the chip I decided to use for this project. So, I’ll be programming in the Arduino environment also.

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PROGRAMMING ARRAYS!

I learned all about arrays for this project… which Mark held my hand through (and at times told me to step aside so he could just get things working).

Once I made ints for all of the expression I drew up on my toast ‘homework’ sheet, I could then call them easily in my sketch without having to type a bunch of numbers each time. The function I’m adding to the toaster is that he cycle through expressions every time you pull down on his lever. So, we added a switch to the code as a toggle button.

TOASTER SURGERY

After the code was tested and finally working correctly, the next step was to install everything on the actual toaster itself… which is where things got a little scary for me. I decided that this wasn’t the time and place to cut into toaster’s pristine shiny casing in order to permanently install the eye fixtures. Instead, I’d be attaching them onto the surface of the casing. Less cool, but less risk.

  • This meant I was going to need to run wires from the eyes on the surface into the guts of the toaster wherever the power supply was going to live. I decided on using a USB rechargeable 5V battery; one that is flat, slim, and can easily slide into the toasting chamber like bread.
  • I would also need to install the limit switch somewhere along the moving parts of the lever, yet preferably in a place that isn’t visible from the outside.

For the internal installments, I prepped a soft and well lit area for toaster’s opening and began my descent into century old crumbs and rust.

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The first layer of defense wasn’t too hard to break through… it was held on by some screws:

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Once the “crumb guard” was off, I was able to remove the plastic ring around the bottom of the casing:

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At this point I already found a possible location to install my limit switch. It was near this lever bit in the middle that had some motion, yet not so much motion that the switch may be missed completely or dislodged.

I designed and printed a little bracket to clamp in place between the two bread slots:

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Here it is installed. The lever actuates just enough to press it:

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I could have been done at this point… but some part of me wanted to get the rest of the toaster dismantled just because. ANNOYINGLY there were a few things in the way which were preventing me from removing the chrome outer shell from the heating element inside. One of those things was the toaster’s plastic lever arm, the other was his twist knob. They were effectively pinning the casing to the guts within.

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The plastic arm on the lever was easy enough to detach as it was held on with a set-screw. The twisty bit however appeared to be press-fit in place and impossible to remove… which was bad pizza. It took an hour of careful twisting, pulling, and fondling before the age-old grime crumbled loose and we discovered there was a pin on the end of the knob that could unscrew. Once we finally figure this out the case slid off with ease (and allowed a bunch of others piece to fall out of place-heh):

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From this point on, toaster got to watch me perform a deep cleaning on the rest of his insides, which were caked in rust and chunks of buttery, burnt bread crumbs.

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I took care to save all of these crumbs that I removed in a little plastic baggy… as I believe if you are a hundred-year-old toaster, your bread crumbs are kinda like your soul. Besides, I’d have felt bad discarding crumbs that have survived in this world three times longer than I have.

After a nice cleaning, I put everything back together… which was A LOT harder than taking it apart. Nothing wanted to slide into place quite right and there were also these long steel pins that came dislodged from the inside, which I had to re-thread with a pair of players and a flashlight. =/ In the end though, I got him back in one piece with the wires to his new augmentations ready for hookup:

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The last step was to measure, cut, and solder these wires to their appropriate pins on the eye PCBs. Afterwards, I added little squares of double-sided silicon tap to the back of the eyes and stuck them onto the casing:

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I carefully added a thin ribbon of gaff tape along the seam where the eye fixture meets the chrome as to seal off any light from leaking out:

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TOASTER has never looked so happy or sarcastic! I was relieved to see that everything worked as expected once he was plugged in. The switch I installed functions perfectly and the expressions have just the right effect.

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I’VE COME TO REALIZE

Toasters are complicated little machines! I’ve seen toasters on sale for under ten dollars in ‘dorm essential’ sections of stores, and this feels shocking to me now. It’s true, they seem so basic and primitive… you press the lever, bread goes down, some heat happens, and then the bread goes up again. They aren’t channeling the entirety of human necessity like smart phones, and for that they are easily taken for granted. HOWEVER, there was a lot of engineering involved in the creation of these little mechanical devices that serve to warm our shitty bread without fail time and time again- and they haven’t changed much over the years. I believe there is a whole movie about this! WAIT- Yes. It’s called The Brave Little Toaster. I think I shall go watch it now for nostalgia’s sake.

As a child, that movie gave me my love of all inanimate objects. Once I saw it for the first time, everything on earth was alive. Cheers to that old seed…

AND hug your toaster next time you see it. It’s a work of art.

IF I WERE TO DO IT AGAIN…

…I would likely buy a new toaster that was designed to look vintage and permanently install the eyes in the casing itself instead of just adhering them on the outside. I’m willing to bet that a newer model would be made of a thinner metal, thus easier to alter, unlike my classic toaster’s blasting shield of a chassis.

There was also the idea of cutting micro holes for the light to pass through on the surface of the case so that the LED fixtures could be mounted inside. This would make the toaster look completely unaltered when the LEDs are off, and when in use the chrome would appear to illuminate like magic (or the charge light on your Macbook).

IN THE END

Alas! Another physical manifestation of a creature from the graphite dimension! If you wish to know the back story of toaster, NoodleFeet, and all of the other things I build, check out my webcomic GravityRoad; ideas begin in 2D.

Maker Faire 2015

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I’ve been home for almost two weeks now from our Bay Area pilgrimage and life has pretty much reset. I rewarded myself by binge playing Starbound all weekend and partaking in other mindless immersive activities I’ve been too busy to enjoy so far this year. It was a nice break.

But back to work! I’m going to close this chapter by recapping our big adventure:

Over all, Maker Faire went firkin awesome! Last year = shitty location + loud tesla coils + high maintenance demo + no place to escape for peace and quiet. Since we had ample time to plan, we eliminated all these stress points!

TRANSPORTATION

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Our project this year was three times bigger than before at 84 individual nodes, so smashing them in the back of Mark’s Kia wasn’t an option. We didn’t quite have the money to spend on buying our own permanent trailer either, so for this trip we rented one from Uhaul. Quite snugly, three stacks of four delta pallets fit like Tetris inside with the rest of our props and support material wedged around the edges. Add in a crap load of the giant plastic wrap and everything was tethered solidly in place. No sweat.

I had a drink before opening the trailer once we arrived because the freeway up the central valley was more or less one unending pothole from hell. Happily, in spite of the violent rattling, everything arrived just as it was stowed. (Stress test for the babies as well as mommy too!)

…And nothing melted either. We traveled on a cool rainy day… which was lucky because one of my fears was that the heat inside the trailer would exceed the low melting point of PLA and we’d have nothing but piles of yellow sticks upon arriving. >.<

SET-UP

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With more to show, I figured it was worth requesting a larger central location away from the chaos of the tesla stage… OH, and barriers. We were pleased to have been assigned an excellent spot in the middle of the dark room that had ideal visibility. On top of that, we sorta lucked out because Arc Attack wasn’t even there this year… which means I didn’t have to wear my Ryobi headphones to keep my brain from melting.

From the get go… we engineered our installation to function as a fort capable of fitting two people comfortably inside. So when you look at these pictures, imagine me sitting on a stack of moving blankets with a table, fridge and laptop around me. That’s right, we made a DELTA ROBOT IGLOO. And it was the coolest part about our installation this year…

THE SHOW

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Due to the fact that our installation was automated rather than interactive (and completely caged in by barriers), Mark and I didn’t have to babysit the deltas and actually got to walk the rest of the show!

Here is Mark’s tour of all of the neat stuff in the dark room this year:

Instead of having our robots run slave to a Kinect, which has only been grounds for trouble in the past… Mark figured out how to control all of the robots as light fixtures in a pieces of DMX software called QLC+. This enabled us to orchestrate ‘shows’ consisting of preset motion and light patterns that the robots would circle through all on their own.

As for feedback, who wouldn’t like a mountain of dancing robots with twinkling light? Our display went over pretty well with the attendees… and we had a couple of fun moments in the limelight getting interviewed by press and the like.

TEARDOWN

Once everything was said and done, we loaded the pallets up onto a pushcart, four at a time, and walked them out to the trailer in the parking lot (which expedited the deconstruction part). I was sad to see our nest get dismantled, but eager to get to the Bringahack dinner and have another drink.

This trip was infinitely less stressful thanks to some better planning and all the help we had from our friends. (Thank you!!!) I have great memories to immortalize through illustration over the next few weeks. I’ll also be posting about the fate of Noodle soon.

❤ Thank you for being with me on the summit of my shit mountain. It’s taken a lot of support and sacrifice from the world to pull this into reality for which I am extremely grateful.