Champaign-Urbana Community Fab Lab
Champaign-Urbana Community Fab Lab

Author Archive

Nametag – iteration with arduino sensors!

I settled on iterating my nametag because it seemed the most flexible project to adapt what I’d learned! I really liked the arduino sensor projects, so I tried coming up with ideas that I could use sensors for. There were a few options, like having a nametag that lights up according to sensor input, but I eventually went with a fusion of the sensor project I did previously and the nametag.

My original nametag was pretty simple in design. For this project, I wanted to keep some of the simplicity of the laser-cut wood, but add a flair with the arduino sensors. I also made the design similar, keeping the font and giraffe! My arduino sensor project involved a microphone and a buzzer, so when the mic detected a loud noise, the buzzer would buzz. I thought I could adapt this to a nametag — envisioning a sort of name placard on a desk that would display my name when someone wanted my attention or comes into my office or whatnot. Originally I wanted to make my name float on some sort of balloon, with height controlled by an arduino, but that was a bit too ambitious. What ended up making more sense (and was something I could picture much better!) was a name tag that would flip up bits of wood or plastic to display my name.

I used servos from the pom-pom project and the microphone code from the sensor project to make this happen. Now the nametag collapses into a flat piece, and when needed it opens up to reveal my name and some little designs I like. I think this is an improvement over the original, in terms of creativity, but it definitely performs the nametag function worse (by not always having my name visible). I’d like to think of this as a prototype of sorts. Maybe the next model will have the nametag built into a desk, and when I’m sitting at the desk the nametag will be visible, but when I’m gone there’s nothing but a desk (as the nametag would fold flat in the same way). Overall, it was fun to unite the arduino and sensors with a nametag, but the bulkiness of the sensors limit its use as a functional nametag. It definitely still works as a nametag, but it is much more stationary and fragile than the first version. The code also bugs out a bit for unknown reasons, causing the name to be displayed very briefly (rendering it not very useful as a nametag…). 


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Moving Pom-Pom Bot

Initial Concept

At first I thought I’d make a pom-pom bot that moved by wiggling a tail, like a snake. It would have a long tail and a short face, that I’d decorate with the pom-poms and fabric. I knew I’d use popsicle sticks for the frame of the tail and to hold the motors, and I’d hoped to use pom-poms as the “feet” to propel my snake/worm thing forwards. This idea didn’t quite have an inspiration. I was coming up with methods of movement (like a knee joint to walk with), and the snake was the second one I came up with. I liked it because it didn’t seem like a traditional method of movement!

The first prototype didn’t move forward at all. It wagged back and forth, but didn’t go anywhere! This was due to a few things. By putting pom-poms on the “feet”, everything needed to balance rather than just rest on the feet. That meant each section of the tail I’d built would tilt back and forth, as well as not have enough contact with the ground due to the pom-pom’s slide-y nature. I also had issues with the physical design for the tail movement joint. Connecting the two servos and having one be mounted on the surfacer the other moved proved to be tricky: the connection was weak and prone to falling apart and also didn’t provide enough weight downwards to make the servos move the bot. For the redesign, I decided to  1) not have pom-poms in contact with the ground and 2) to use a different method of locomotion since I couldn’t figure out how to connect the servos better.

Updated Prototype

For the redesign I decided on another method of movement inspired by nature: a crab walk. The code was pretty similar, but the physical bot would be quite different. I constructed a bench-like mount for the servos, with pom-poms on the bottom so that it could slide, and built little windshield wipers for the servos. My idea was that the wipers would go in sync and sort of push the bot up and forwards to walk, and the bot as a whole would resemble a crab. This design also failed. I was unable to securely mount the servos at an angle, which was needed to get the upwards and forwards motion. I tried working with everything horizontal, which made my robot dance in place! I didn’t do much decorating on this version, since I was experimenting with a totally different physical design. To improve it, I thought I would take each leg of the “crab” and mount them on opposite sides, and maybe get a side-to-side motion that slowly moved forwards.

Final Design

I attempted to simply move the legs of the crab bot around, but encountered two issues: weight distribution (it wasn’t squarely on the feet, so the whole bot would slide around on the pom-poms and not get anywhere), and bad servo mounting. I ended up mounting the servos vertically, rather than horizontally, which gave me a great side-to-side swaying motion as well as allowing the feet to get enough purchase on the ground to move forwards. I also added a long tail for balance, which has a knob of glue on the end to keep the bot steady as it moves. I added much of the decoration before seeing how it moved, which was much more snake-like than I anticipated! I was still aiming for a sort of crab motion, but accidentally ended up with the motion I wanted originally.

I was somewhat surprised at how difficult it was to build working mechanics out of simple materials like the popsicle sticks. Hot glue bonds failed, things were more flexible than I envisioned, and nothing weighed enough to give the effect I wanted! Designing with light and flexible materials is definitely challenging; it’s very different from how I picture things moving in my mind. If I were to do this again, I would think a bit more about how I’ll build the movement mechanism, rather than what movement mechanism I’ll build. If I had spent more time thinking about popsicle sticks and how to make the connections I wanted I would have been saved some headaches in the 1st and 2nd prototype stage.

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Arduino Sensors!

At first, I was inspired to create a triangulation system, mostly because I saw knock sensors and thought it’d be really cool to have a robot that figures out where a sound is coming from and navigates to it. I had planned to create the first step in that, simply detecting sound and locating the source. However, there were some issues. The knock sensors weren’t sensitive enough for my needs! I turned to microphones, but discovered that millisecond timing wasn’t going to be good enough to triangulate sound. I ran into a bunch of headaches with the math as well, but I need a longer distance between the mics to get that to work! (Following pictures show mic circuit, along with the sample output of the program. Program was letting me know which mics heard a noise + the time at which they heard it.)

That’s when I was struck with new inspiration, partly from a video I watched of cameras people had installed to watch their pets inside their homes. I thought I could make a sensor setup that detected sound, and would alert you if there was a loud noise. This could work to notify you if your pet does something crazy at home (like knock over a fancy vase). It could also work to alert you if you’re making too much noise, say, around a sleeping baby. (Note: I had some trouble with a storyboard, couldn’t figure out how to draw a microphone unambiguously!)

The code came together pretty quickly with this new idea. I’ve also made good headway on code for triangulation, so I may revisit that problem as a future project! I would also like to revisit this project with multiple arduinos, or somehow connecting the arduino to the internet. That way, the buzzer (the “alert” part of the setup) would be mobile, so it could actually alert you to sounds elsewhere. The way this is now, it only warns you of noise in your immediate area. 

Some major pitfalls I encountered with the sensors: the knock sensors have weird wiring diagrams. I found one online that seemed correct, but didn’t work until I reversed the signal and ground wires! The knock sensors as a whole were not great, requiring me to shake the whole sensor to record a knock. The microphones were a godsend in comparison. They even come with potentiometers so that you can vary how sensitive they are! I would definitely use those again.

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Soft Circuits – Platonic Solids

For this project I was inspired to make a dice bag. I’ve seen bags people have made out of canvas, with some light embroidery and a drawstring, and wanted to try making one. For my embroidery, I was inspired by the shapes of common dice, which also happen to be Platonic solids! The connection to Platonic solids was interesting to me. In my research of the solids, I discovered that each one corresponds to a different element, so I chose my colors for each solid by the element the shape represents. I also included the Greek word for each particular element below. I wanted to make the bag vertical, but it didn’t appear that would work with the digital aspect. For the digital part of the project, I used LEDs to light up my two favorite shapes on the bag — the icosahedron and the tetrahedron. If I were to do the sewing part again, I would maybe use a different color fabric so that the conductive thread is more hidden on the final design, so the LEDs blend into the fabric better.

One major problem I ran into was how to go about making a small bag. With a small bag, I had a small zipper, and thus it was even harder to invert the bag once sewn. This problem was made worse by two choices I made during the design process. The first choice was to use a liner fabric that wasn’t strong enough. I grabbed some nice red patterned fabric and used some scraps to check that it was study enough to sew before using. What I didn’t count on was the fraying the fabric experienced after cutting. And since the bag was so small, the frayed edges got some unavoidable stitches in them. These held for a bit, but on inverting the bag, they all came undone and I was left with an unsewn interior. The second problem I had, which would be good to keep in mind in the future, was with the decision to use some batting to make my bag sort of plush on the interior. I didn’t leave enough give in the fabric to do this! And, since the bag was already so small, the batting made the space even smaller. This caused rips to develop and generally was a huge pain. If I use batting again, I will 1) use much, MUCH less and 2) give myself way more extra fabric to work with than I think I need. I would also try and make a different sort of bag; I think making very small bags with the method we learned in class isn’t the best way to do it. And I’d really like a small, personalized bag to hold dice!



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3D Scan + Print


My original inspiration for this project was a combination of the storyboarding exercise we did in class and this image found online of a Bob Ross chia pet.

The picture had me wondering about a few things. I wanted to know how this idea was pitched to the makers of chia pets, because it was genius. I started thinking about creating busts of other popular figures with distinctive hair and what sorts of plants could give people that hairdo. It seemed like the best solution to that would be to diverge from the chia pet model, where the plant grows on the hair, and instead allow the plant/flowers to become the hair. I also thought that someone trying to sell this idea to stores was pretty amusing. It doesn’t really solve a particular problem, it’s just a nice concept! It’s sort of a 3D portrait of someone who means a lot to you, combined with the loving care that accompanies taking care of a plant. It might create a deeper connection between you and the person you made the bust of, as you gaze at their face each day as you tenderly care for the flowers planted inside them. It also provides an interesting thing to look at, as it combines rigid human features with organic nature. Your friend’s hair is constantly changing with each day.

I learned a lot of tricky tools in Meshmixer! To create this, I had to do a lot of work beyond simply repairing holes. I needed to divide my object in half, create a 3D shell out of the head, and open up the head in a way that made sense for a planter. There’s also a lot of subtlety involved with rejoining the two halves of the object when exporting the file and eventually printing. This is something big to watch out on similar projects. After dividing my model in half, I found I was able to only export one half at a time. I wanted to two halves to be lined up and rejoined, so that everything is aligned when printing. I tried a few things in Meshmixer, but none of them appeared correct in other programs (TinkerCAD or Cura). I didn’t manage to solve the problem, and I’ve no idea what the proper solution is. It definitely affected my final print. If I were to design this again, I would explore making planters out of other rigid objects that aren’t found in nature. For example, this time I used a human bust, I could also make geometrical objects with hard lines that aren’t found in nature. I would also be interested in exploring how well different 3D-printed plastics hold soil and water; is this a feasible way of making planters?

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Copper Tape Origami

Here’s my quote-inspired LED circuit: (“I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness for it shows me the stars.” The sun and the moon light up on my card!)

I tried to achieve a starry night effect on the left by poking holes through black construction paper and letting a white LED shine through, but the effect didn’t come out the way I’d hoped. Next time I’ll use a thinner paper, or splatter white paint onto the black paper to create stars! Too many issues with poking holes and getting rid of excess with the construction paper. 


For the 3D part of the assignment, I was inspired to create light-up origami! At first I wanted to create a flower, specifically a tulip, that would light up! Once I had a test model folded, I realized there might not be enough space to put the lights and battery inside. I talked to Dot and Maxx about the problem I was having, and brainstorming with them gave me new inspiration! I remembered there’s a particular type of origami that some satellites use to fold up their solar panels. One kind is called the Miura fold, and it looked awesome. It folds and unfolds just by pulling on two corners! I really, really wanted to make this. The hardest part is folding the paper into an odd number of even sections (like into 5ths). It’s really difficult to eyeball!

Once I created a prototype, I realized I was stuck. I didn’t know what design I wanted to put on the paper to light up! I decided to go with a nice picture of clouds being lit from behind. I love this sort of effect, and I thought it would lend itself well to being lit up with LEDs.

Final product: (it’s hard to tell from the photo, but there are 4 yellow LEDs and 1 red LED lit up under the paper to create a sun.)

If I’d had more time, I would have liked to experiment a bit more with designs to place on top. I think I limited myself a bit with a flat piece of origami, which made it hard to choose a design. I’m not satisfied with the design I ended up with, which was primarily due to time constraints. Had I started a bit earlier with it, I would have been able to use more LEDs and try other designs. I ran into a bunch of issues with the LEDs as well, which proved impossible to solve in the time I had. I first tried to use the flat LEDs to create a sort of sun behind the clouds, since their flat profile would make it easier to bend the design. I wasn’t satisfied with the effect I could achieve with those LEDs, so I tried again with the normal kind. While I was able to get the sun effect I wanted when the paper was flat, it was impossible to fold. And, after I tried to fold it up, I inadvertently broke the circuit, so now not all the LEDs will remain lit. These are things I would like to sort out if I did another piece of light-up, rigid, origami. 

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Vinyl Stickers!! (Harrison Davis)

I made three stickers — a griffin, a logo, and a multi-layered sticker.

For the griffin I was inspired by two of my favorite creatures, the giraffe and the octopus. I knew putting a tentacled creature on the long neck and legs of a giraffe would look pretty amusing, so I decided to accentuate the tentacles by using a squid silhouette instead of an octopus. Designing it in InkScape involved working with the node editing tools, which were interesting. It seems there’s several types of nodes, some even have secondary control nodes which affect the curves. I plan on going back later to mess around with those and understand how the nodes generate the curves more. 

Here’s the final griffin, a giraffe/squid hybrid!

For my second sticker, I wanted a logo that looked nice and that I could put somewhere, like on my waterbottle. I chose the National Park Service logo, since it’s got great color and contrast and I love the National Parks system. I grabbed an image of the logo online and broke it apart into layers based on color in InkScape. I ended up discarding all but 3 of the layers, since I wanted the sticker to be more minimal, and also got rid of the white background to make parts of the sticker see-through.

I also altered the sticker slightly to give the green tree in the foreground a bit of a shadow, since I thought that looked nice. There was a lot of node fixing work to be done on the curves that made up the boarder, buffalo, and mountain on the sticker. Each were complicated objects, and I had to go one-by-one to get the nodes to align in the way I wanted.

Once I cut the stickers out and began assembling the layers, I realized a major problem with the design. The dark brown layer has a very thin boarder that needs to surround the lighter brown layer. This was fine on paper, but was a nightmare to transfer! The thin strip of sticker wanted to warp and stick in all the wrong places. Another problem with the design was the plethora of small features that proved difficult to transfer and eventually stick on my bottle, such as the details of the buffalo and mountain. If I were to do this again, I’d simplify the design further, and discard many of the small details. I’m quite happy with how the colors pair and contrast though! I also like how the see-through parts of the sticker came out, it’s a nice effect and one I will try and use in the future. 

For my final sticker, I made a 6-layered Windows ’95 logo. Right off the bat, I was worried about how I would transfer and align all of the small squares that trail behind the window in the logo. I managed to simplify it a little bit by removing the squares from layers that would eventually be covered.

Even more so than the National Park Service sticker, there was lots of editing to be done. It seemed like each layer of color was slightly offset from the other layers, which was really annoying to fix. I wonder if there’s a way to get InkScape to separate the color layers better?

When I put the sticker together, I had two issues. One, air bubbles. I didn’t have a problem with the second sticker, since the layers were smaller, but this one had lots of bubbles that needed to be smoothed out. Also, I realized how easy it is to make a mistake with the transfer tape. I put on two of the red boxes upside down by accident, and once they were on the vinyl beneath, they were stuck fast. Next time I’ll be more careful with aligning things!

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Name tag – Harrison Davis

I wanted to make my name tag a flag. I chose the general style to be somewhat similar to the flags at the end of Mario levels, since I love those games! I’m also a big fan of the look of pennant flags. Going in, I had only the idea to make a flag/flagpole shape styled after the end-of-level Mario flags, but I worried about what I would put on the flag. 

Designing the flag in Inkscape was a bit harder than I thought. At first I tried creating a swallowtailed flag by putting together triangles and rectangles and adjusting them to get the look right. The problem that led me to the pennant design was that Inkscape loves to snap corners of shapes together, which really screwed up my flag design when it was made out of multiple shapes. I eventually figured out how to disable this, and I would do that first if I needed to make a complicated shape again.


While designing the flag, I decided it would look nice to have a rastered boarder around the edge of the name tag. This was another source of confusion for me. My flag + flagpole shape was built out of several different triangles, rectangles, and circles, so I couldn’t just tell the program to raster the boarder of each shape. I figured out that you can group the objects together and use the Union function to treat them all as one. This let me make one unified boarder for the name tag out of a complicated base shape!

I was inspired to make this primarily from the end-of-level Mario flags, but I also drew some inspiration for the flag graphic from joke T-shirts and images that use the “Ascent of Man” image. If I had more time, I could have improved this by removing the burn marks from the wood using the abrasive soap technique we looked at in lab. I also didn’t pay enough attention to the dimensions of my piece, so some parts are quite thin and it’s a bit small to use as a name tag.


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