- Focus more on iteration during the making process
- Learn how to use Amazon Web Services (AWS, the service for interacting with Alexa devices)
- Get more comfortable with CAD modeling and 3D printing
- Learn how to mill custom circuit boards (PCBs) using the CNC milling machines
For this assignment, we had to take a look back at what we’ve done so far in the class, and improve upon something we’ve made. Iteration is a key portion of the making process for multiple reason. For one, it’s very rare that a final product will come out perfect right off the bat, and there will almost certainly be miscalculations or bad measurements. Another reason is that during the development of the product, it’s almost natural to come up with improvements, and depending on the severity it may be necessary to start from scratch. In both of these scenarios, the process contributes to learning, which is itself another key portion of the making process.
For my project I decided to improve upon my name tag from the first week of class. My initial design, while comparatively advanced with respect to what was expected of us, was rather simple in my opinion – the only “wow” factor was a couple RGB LEDs.
Since the time that I finished that project, I was considering making a newer, better one. I still wanted it to have the same intent (i.e. wear it to career fairs), though. Whether it was making a cleaner end product since I’m now more familiar with the processes, or a different design since the original one was kind of eclectic, or more advanced/complicated features to evoke more emotion, I didn’t know for sure. I just knew for sure I wanted a better name tag.
I decided to do all three.
My main inspiration was seeing my friend at a career fair type event, and he had an Arduino powered “name tag”. I kind of hesitate to call it a name tag, because it was really just an Arduino and an LCD wrapped in note cards and Scotch tape, affixed around his neck with some string. I got the most inspired by the Arduino/LCD, and knew I wanted to include something like that in my name tag.
Since a full size Arduino is comparatively really large for use in a name tag, I wanted to use a smaller microcontroller. Luckily, the Fab Lab had a couple Adafruit Trinkets in stock that I could use. This was almost exactly what I wanted – very small, doesn’t use a lot of power, and easily programmable. Why do I say almost exactly what I wanted? Stay tuned!
So now that I determined I wanted an LCD, I decided to take it to the next level and add buttons to have it be an interactive name tag. Using the buttons, you can navigate between different information that would be present on my resume like a menu. I figured this would be really fun to implement, and it would make for a really cool name tag. I got to work on the circuitry before starting anything else, because I knew that would place the most constraints on my physical design.
This is where the pitfalls of the Trinket really became apparent. The biggest one is how limited its functionality is. Obviously, for this project I don’t need anything OTT since all I’m doing is displaying things on an LCD and getting button input, but the ATtiny85 (the microcontroller on the Trinket) is devastatingly underpowered, with how limited the program memory and IO pins are. Ultimately, this only allowed me to have less than one third the total information on my nametag, and I had to do some finessing with the software to get the functionality of four buttons in three inputs. In the end, I was still able to get something to work!
In terms of design, I really liked the way that the brushed steel acrylic ended up looking, especially having it behind the transparent acrylic and having accents on the front, so I decided to stick with that. I was originally planning on going with the same color scheme that I used on my first name tag – transparent light blue with the brushed steel. As I was brainstorming ideas, I decided I wanted to have brushed steel surrounding both the LCD and the buttons, and that I wanted the buttons to be on both sides of the LCD.
While coming up with the design, I realized that, with the brushed steel surrounding the LCD and the buttons, the name tag will end up looking kinda 1950’s style. I then realized that, with the greenish glow from the LCD, it would make sense to have the transparent acrylic be green, so that I can have a Fallout inspired name tag (for clarification, Fallout is a video game series that takes place in an alternate America in the 2200’s that got stuck in the 1950’s until a nuclear war wiped everything out, so everything is very 1950’s themed and “nuclear looking”). Once I made this realization, I got very excited to see what the end result would look like.
Now that all the prep is done, it’s time to get to work!
First order of business was to cut all the components out of cardboard to see what the finished product would look like, as well as to test spacing and measurements to see if it’s all mostly okay. While working on my first name tag project, there were a couple times that I didn’t think something through all the way and didn’t realize that until it was too late, so this time I was extra cautious – measure twice, cut once (though I made cuts a lot of times, just not in the final materials).
This ended up being a very good idea, because I found that the space at the bottom of the LCD was just small enough to fit under (what would be) the brushed steel bezel, and that the button holes were a little off. In addition, I realized that the buttons were a little shorter than I expected, and as such I would need to design another layer to go behind the buttons to provide support.
After resizing, it was on to cutting the pieces from the actual material. The last element I had neglected to take care of was my name – I wanted to make sure my name was in a nice 1950’s styled font. I spent a fairly long time picking out a good font, and at the end of the day found something that was almost perfect. The imperfections in the font were very minor though, and easily fixed with a bit of vector manipulation in Inkscape.
I think the end result looks pretty damn sexy, and definitely worth the extra effort.
During the test fit, I realized that there’s low key a lot of room inside the name tag and that it’s nowhere near as thick as I was expecting it would be…more on that later!
I then glued together the individual pieces of each half, and got to thinking about that extra space.
I figured I wanted to do a removable backplate, which would make it really cool looking if you can see the electrical wiring behind the scenes. I bounced ideas with James at the Fab Lab and he suggested the idea of magnets to hold the backplate in place, so I quickly whipped up a quick backplate made of green transparent acrylic.
I realized I would need to drill some holes in the existing “button support plate”, no big deal. I marked out the holes using the backplate as a guide and went to the drill press to slowly start making the holes, being careful not to crack the acrylic. Well…
I guess even if you’re incredibly careful, things still can go the opposite way that you want them to. Even though I almost lost my mind and passed out when this happened, a silver lining opened up. When the acrylic cracked, it broke the glue joint between the two pieces of acrylic, and I was able to cleanly remove the button plate. I had just enough material to make a backup one, so I quickly made a replacement with the holes pre-cut, so I didn’t run into the same situation.
Once that mess was taken care of, I decided to make use of the extra space by having “external” electrical components. I decided I wanted a physical switch to provide power, as well as a barrel jack connector so that changing batteries is easy. I initially tried to drill a hole for the switch, which worked for a little bit, but ultimately the acrylic cracked once the drill bit got too wide. I just made the cut out using a Dremel, and it turned out that I would’ve had to do that anyway since the switch was too wide otherwise. I also made a cutout for the barrel connector for the external battery, and mounted the switches inside using double sided tape (later securing with hot glue).
Now came the fun part – electronics!. The way that the LCD and the controller were connected by default ended up being a bit too tall and would not fit in the name tag as they were, so I had to remove the controller from the LCD, as well as the potentiometer (the little turny-knob thing). This ended up being a bit of a pain, since de-soldering all 16 of the connections from the LCD was very tedious, and the unleaded solder that was used would not stay hot for long, but ultimately I got everything separated as I wanted it to be.
The real pain was soldering everything back up together. I figured that since there are 16 connections between the LCD and the controller it would make the most sense to use ribbon cable, since that’s what you use ribbon cable for. Well, it turns out that the ribbon cable at the Fab Lab is very weak, and probably not meant for soldering, seeing how many times I had wires break on me during the soldering of the LCD and the controller (it happened about 4-5 times). This was probably the most stressful part of the whole project, since any single wire not being properly connected would make the whole thing not work. But, I still got it all done.
I don’t have any more pictures of the process since I was racing to finish before class, but the rest of the wiring/installation was fairly straightforward. Not like there was anything incredibly interesting to document anyway.
Anyway, here’s the finished product!
In the end, I’m very pleased with my project. I’m very glad I had an extra week to work on it, because even though it was still rushed I was able to be more meticulous with it. I definitely got a lot out of prototyping (or “iterating”) with the cardboard, so I didn’t run into any surprises with respect to the physical design of the name tag. The electronics were fairly easy since I’ve been doing electronics since middle school, bar the fact that. I’m a little disappointed at how weak the processor on the Trinket is, since I’ve been doing Arduino since middle school and know how much a regular Arduino is capable of. Either way, it came out very well, so that’s enough for me.
Comparing to my initial name tag:
I think it’s pretty clear that this was an improvement over my previous name tag, in all aspects.
Overall, this is definitely, by far, my favorite project in the class. I wasn’t boxed in to doing what I was “supposed to”, and could actually have fun and explore my creativity to endless depths. I definitely want to revisit this project on my own time, and make it even better than I made it this time (maybe having integrated batteries, better microcontroller, better interface, larger screen…the possibilities are endless!!).
For this assignment, we were tasked with creating some sort of soft-circuit or e-textiles project. Up until now I had only learned how to hand-sew, so being exposed to a sewing machine was really an incredible experience (I have a lot of pants that I’ve been meaning to fix and now I can!). In addition, I’ve always wanted to do some custom embroidery on some of my knitted hats and scarves so I can “brand” them as my own, so seeing how easy that was definitely inspired me to get going on that.
For all the projects I’ve done in this class, I’ve wanted to make them as practical as possible (I wore the name tag to Career Fair, I put the stickers on my laptop, etc.). With this in mind, I wanted this project to be a gift for my girlfriend, which explains why I’m so incredibly meticulous with everything throughout the duration of this project. I figured that she could use a pencil case since I’ve never seen her with one, and adding the soft-circuit would make it really unique in that regard.
First things first, I wanted to get a color scheme working. My girlfriend’s favorite color is blue, so I wanted to make something with at least a strong, pronounced blue as the main color. I found this piece of darker blue and beige striped woven fabric that I thought would work perfectly (but gave Duncan severe headaches due to the pattern, sorry!), and I also found some navy blue lining-type material which I figured would make a nice lining. To tie it all together, I chose an off-white zipper which complemented the beige-ish stripes on the outer fabric.
The zipper I wanted to use was woefully too long, so I had to shorten it down using some heavy duty embroidery thread and a needle.
Now came time to think of what to do for the embroidery. My girlfriend’s catch-phrase (I guess is how you can call it) is “I love you to the moon and back”, so I decided I wanted to put a cute lil moon on the front of this pencil case. Putting the soft-circuit behind the moon was a no-brainer, so I just took the idea and ran with it.
I tried to find colors that would match the outside very well, but unfortunately I could not get a 100% match but I think it still looked well in the end. Either way, onto the embroidery!
This was probably the most stressful part of this entire project, and took well more than half the time that I spent on the project. It seemed that no matter what I did, I just ran into issue after issue after issue.
On the initial go-around the needle broke. Not that big of a deal, right? Well, kinda, if it wasn’t for the fact that now the fabric was all stretched out and misaligned. Oh well, we move forward.
Afterwards, as I was doing the outline on the moon, I made the stitches too narrow and the machine didn’t have enough time to keep up, so yet another needle broke. This time it was a result of the under-sew being automatically set and putting too much tension on the needle, which was too much for embroidering a 1mm wide outline using the satin stitch.
Once that car-wreck was over, Duncan suggested we make some adjustments to the outline (i.e. widen the outline to 2mm) and try to go over the failed outline. Which worked pretty well, except the needle kept catching and the embroidery was overall very uneven and unappealing.
The progressive fill stitch used for the middle part of the moon did not come out all that well (too dense and the angle was too steep), and the outline ended up being three layers thick and very…ugly, for lack of a better term. I didn’t have a lot of material to use for the outer lining, so I was getting incredibly nervous at how bad this process was going. Nevertheless, we move on!
I tried to redo the embroidery on a different section of the fabric, naturally. I changed the embroidery to have a 2mm wide outline, hoping that would fix at least one of my issues. I also switched the fill-stitch to a radial fill stitch because I figured that would be visually appealing and still not boring, and it looked like it would work out safely. So far so good, right?
Wrong! The machine made some issue somewhere with the radial stitch calculations, and missed the whole second half of the moon by over 3mm. At this point I was fully convinced that this was going to fail miserably and I wouldn’t have anything to show for my efforts. Luckily, Duncan had the idea of just using a regular fill stitch to cover up the botched embroidery, which ended up working okay.
Over all, definitely not the look I was going for, but beggars can’t be choosers and it was starting to get very late at the Fab Lab.
Since this bag was a gift for my girlfriend and I wanted it to be as perfect as possible, I cut out a template from cardboard which I used to trace out my material. Not entirely necessary but I wanted everything to line up as well as possible, and that was only possible by making a stencil, since the pattern on the fabric made it (surprisingly) very difficult to measure out rectangles.
Next it was time for the actual circuitry component. I decided to keep it as minimal as possible and use only a single LED (I know I was supposed to use two but at this point my morale was at an all time low and I just wanted to get something done).
I sewed everything onto a single piece of felt, and then used hot glue to attach the circuitry to the main bag. I wanted the electronics to be as discreet as possible, which is why I kept the LED behind the fabric and did not use any additional thread to secure the electronics.
Now came time for the sewing part. This was probably the second most anxiety inducing part of this assignment, right behind the embroidery. This time it wasn’t because the machine was failing me, it was more because I wanted it perfect to the millimeter. I must’ve restarted each zipper stitch at least three or four times before I was content with the alignment of the zipper on the fabric.
I wasn’t terribly worried too much about the way that the stitches would look on the inner lining of the material (since I doubt many people keep their bags inside out for extended periods of time), but it was still important to keep everything relatively far from the middle so that the stitches weren’t 100% visible on the other side.
Then came time for stitching the outer lining. This is where I experienced the most stress in this project, due to how critical it was for me to have everything lined up. Fortunately (or unfortunately) I decided to skimp out on photographs, so all you get to experience is that I was ultimately able to line everything up properly and get it to look nice.
At this point, it was 1 in the morning at the Fab Lab, and I could tell that I had well overstayed my welcome, so I resigned myself to coming in slightly before class the next day (or the same day technically since it was past midnight) to wrap up my project.
Finally, I was able to finish up the bag. All these grueling hours led up to this.
Over all, I’m very content with this bag. It appears that this project was just another case of me biting off a bit more than I could chew, especially considering the fact that I self-designated this to be a present for my girlfriend. She was very happy to receive this present though, and I’m glad I was able to get her something this meaningful. There isn’t terribly much that I would change about this project since I made sure that everything was about as close to perfect as I could get it (there’s one or two areas that the stitching got a little messed up but that’s minor), the only thing I wish I could’ve changed was that I had more time to work on this so I wouldn’t have to pull an 8 hour shift in the Fab Lab the night before the assignment is due. I would say that I got a lot out of this project (UPDATE: I convinced my mom that we should get a sewing machine for home once she saw how easy it was!), and I’ve already started to think of embroidery ideas for morale patches for my backpack. All in all, great experience – top 3 projects in terms of how much I learned from this, bottom 3 projects in terms of the amount of stress I was in (AKA the same old song as every other project of mine!).Continue Reading
For this assignment, we were tasked with creating 3D models three different ways, and then ultimately printing something out with a 3D printer. I’ve known about 3D printing for…well pretty much since the beginning. I remember watching Bre Pettis YouTube videos in 2010(ish) and seeing him announce the Makerbot, the “first” 3D printer meant for the general public. Since then I’ve been very interested in it, but have always been unable to explore it due to a lack of resources and time. Until now that is, since I’m in a class where I have to actually use a 3D printer!
The first form of 3D modeling we explored as part of the class was “organic” modeling with Sculptris. It’s “organic” modeling because there’s no strict geometry to anything – you start off with a (seemingly infinite) ball of clay and you just mold it to whichever shape you want, using a variety of tools. I saw one of the prompts was to make silverware using one of the 3D modeling tools, and I figured a handmade-but-computer-created spoon would look pretty cool. I struggled with the controls in Sculptris for a little bit as well as how all the different tools work, but after a long time of…questionable looking…3D models, I was finally able to make something that resembled a spoon! I had a lot of fun with Sculptris, and I knew I wanted to return to it for my final.
The second form of 3D modeling we were introduced to was CAD modeling via Tinkercad. I’ve worked with CAD tools a little bit before in the past, so I had a general idea of what to expect. Unfortunately, Tinkercad wasn’t quite the experience I had hoped for. I felt that the controls were a little clunky and unintuitive, compared to other programs I’ve used in the past (but at the same time it’s free so I guess there’s always a tradeoff). In addition I wasn’t very artistically inspired by it; I can almost compare it to Minecraft Creative Mode (back when I used to play). I would look around and see people building very nice looking buildings and sculptures, meanwhile I was just messing around trying to see how everything worked. The main thing that I really enjoyed about Tinkercad was the community models section. I thought it was just going to be a bunch of “junk” (like you’d see on a Minecraft server), but most of it was very interesting and useful. I found the “metric thread” piece to be one of the most interesting, since it’s very customizable and I can definitely see how it’d be more convenient to just do a one-off print of a screw than either scrounge for one that fits or overpay for one. But at the end of the day, Tinkercad just wasn’t my cup of tea.
The final method of 3D modeling we got to play around with was 3D scanning. I thought this was cool because it uses nothing more than an XBox Kinect to do the 3D scans. I remember when the Kinect first came out, people were using them in drones and stuff, however I didn’t know that anything “cool” came out for people to use in general. I mean, the company that I currently work for basically got started with a Kinect. I can definitely see the appeal in taking 3D scans of things, especially when it’s a component you want to create a replacement of and it’s a little too complicated to model. Do I see myself doing it in the future? Probably, but I don’t think I’ll be doing it with the Kinect. When we went and visited Beckman and saw their 3D scanning tools, they had a lot finer accuracy than what the Kinect has to offer (granted, the equipment probably costs a small fortune more than just a Kinect), and for my purposes I’d be scanning small things where accuracy really matters.
After I got my 3D scan done, I almost immediately figured out my idea…
To move forward with my “MeTensils”, I decided to cut up my 3D model to extract my face. This was a little difficult since my 3D model had a big hole in the top of my head, and the software attempted to correct that by creating an internel shell to “wrap around” the hole. Removing that shell was probably the most frustrating thing about this assignment, since I could never select/delete the planes that I wanted. But anyway, I isolated my face, yay.
I then exported my face as an OBJ file and imported that into my spoon file. This was also a very stressful part of the process because:
- My face (and therefore the scan) isn’t symmetrical, so I had difficulty getting things to line up when working without symmetry in Sculptris.
- Importing my face resulted in two “copies” of my face, which I had to push as close as possible to get them to resemble a face.
- Sculptris doesn’t allow you to combine objects, so when trying to smooth it out my face would not behave the way I wanted it to.
In addition, since the 3D model was pretty “bumpy” (for lack of a better word), attempting to smooth out my face just got rid of the details as well, and as such it’s hardly recognizable as a face, let alone mine. Not to mention that when trying to blend together the face and the spoon, the brush would sometimes go HAM on the face, leading to me having to stretch out my face to make it fit.
One major issue I had (which I forgot to document) was that I could not find a way to get the three meshes (spoon and two faces) to merge together. It was bothering me that I couldn’t get a good blending between the face and the spoon, and I even went as far as trying to use other tools like Meshmixer but for whatever reason the meshes wouldn’t combine. I went and printed out the piece at the BIF Makerlab, since they have like 20 printers and I didn’t want to run the risk of a printer being unavailable to me when I needed to print. This worked out perfectly because I had an exam that took up most of my day, so was able to send in the model to the lab in the morning and pick it up once I got out of my exam.
The piece came out fairly well over all. I’m well aware of the limitations of 3D printing, and taking these into consideration I’m pretty satisfied with my print. To my relief the fact that the meshes were disjoint didn’t affect the end print for the most part, but there is clearly some “ridging” around the face and I can’t help but think that having the three meshes combined would alleviate that. The only thing I was a little upset with how firmly planted the support structure is to the model – I was hardly able to get any of it off.
(Note: I was able to get the supports off by picking at the structure with my box cutter, which is not ideal since I’m working with a small object and the blade is very sharp)
This was over all a very fun experience. I definitely want to revisit this at some point, especially now that I’ve gotten the hang of Sculptris I want to make something more intricate. There were definitely a bunch of details that I wish I had gotten on the spoon (the handle is very unsatisfactory, and the spoon itself is very shallow) and I think that if I had more time I would’ve definitely been able to improve on that. Another thing I wish I would’ve done is made a revision – as it is now the handle to the spoon is almost comically small and not very interesting, and I didn’t really make that realization until after I had printed it. Last but not least, the face: I really wish I could’ve figured out a way to affix the face to the spoon and blended it better, so that I wouldn’t have runaway brushes mess up my face. I really liked that we got to chose what modeling software we used. I found Sculptris to be very fun, and I don’t think I would’ve enjoyed this project had I been shoehorned into using Tinkercad. All in all, I’d say this was definitely a fun project, comparable to the name tag and the stickers (though I wish could’ve devoted more time to it…but that’s a common theme to almost all my projects!).
For this project we were tasked with making some type of “light-up paper thing” using a paper circuit. Paper circuits entail the use of copper tape to make electronic connections on a sheet of paper to connect LEDs to coin cell batteries. My inspiration for this project was to do something a little more than just draw on a sheet of paper and have LEDs behind the drawing – instead, I decided to do an origami swan that lights up. I was a huge origami geek in elementary and middle school, so I learned how to make a swan a long time ago.
I decided to have LEDs in the wings because I couldn’t think of a better place for them, and I decided to store the batteries in the middle part. As a “switch”, I decided to put copper tape along two “ridges” on the underside of the swan. This made it easy to pinch that spot and show that it actually lights up.
Once I got everything marked, I unfolded the swan to start drawing out my circuit. This was a little difficult because I had to take into consideration the folds and contours of the paper.
Now, it was time to build the circuit itself. Working with the copper tape was a little annoying because it kept bending and sticking to things I didn’t want it to, but (obviously) I managed.
I planned on using the “paper” LEDs because it would’ve made life easier, however unfortunately the LEDs would’ve been upside down if I used them, and I wouldn’t see any light. So, I opted for using “traditional” LEDs.
This was a pretty fun/whimsical project. It was interesting having to think about the design decisions I was making, but over all this was a pretty easy project. I didn’t run into any major issues with the execution of this project, as it wasn’t terribly complicated. As an Electrical Engineering major, I have a decent enough knowledge of circuits that I didn’t need to worry about the construction of the circuit. I’d say this project was definitely the easiest to date (compared to the laser name tag and the stickers), which was good because this week was very tough for me and I didn’t have much time for doing anything over the top. All in all, pretty enjoyable.Continue Reading
For this assignment, we were tasked with making two types of stickers: the first being a logo of whatever kind, and the second being a multi-layered sticker with at least three layers. The stickers were designed in Inkscape by tracing bitmap images to convert them into vector form, and then separated by color to create the layers. Afterwards, they were imported into Silhouette Studio and cut out using a Silhouette Portrait cutting machine.
For my logo, I decided to use the logo for the IEEE honors society, Eta Kappa Nu (HKN). I am a member of this society, and I was disappointed to find out that our chapter hasn’t been diligent with swag/stickers, so I decided to make my own. It seemed simple enough as well, since it’s only two colors.
For my “multilayer” sticker, I decided to create a sticker with the logo of U of I’s Polish Club. I am on the executive board for the club, and over the summer we tossed around the idea of making stickers at the Fab Lab, but nothing came out of it. So, I decided to make one as a proof of concept!
Now, even though this sticker had three colors, I was a little paranoid that it may not count as three layers, since there’s only ever two colors layered on top of each other. So, I decided to make a quick little sticker of a honey jar that I found online. The reason I chose a honey jar was because I call my girlfriend “honey”, and I wanted the sticker to also be a gift for her. I made sure that there were three actual layers for this sticker to ease my paranoia.
Over all, I really enjoyed this project! It was a lot less stressful than my name tag (probably because I kept my stickers within reason), and I had a lot of fun making stickers for things that I care about. There is one thing that I would do differently though, and that’s remove the “outline” from my layers. I put them there to ensure that I was lining everything up properly, but at the end of the day they were too sticky and made the process very difficult over all. But apart from that, I had a blast making these stickers!Continue Reading
My inspiration for this project was to have a cool name tag that I could wear to career fairs to (potentially) impress employers. I bounced through maybe 5 design ideas before I finally settled on my final design. I decided to have my name, major/minor, and graduation date on my name tag (which is most of the info that recruiters care about). As an electrical engineering major, minoring in computer science, I decided to have my name written to look like a computer prompt to emphasize my programming background. I rastered on an image of a cat and an image of a ball of yarn with knitting needles to emphasize two of my favorite things – knitting and cats. Finally, to emphasize that I’m an electrical engineering major, I decided to include a set of 8 RGB LEDs on my name tag to light up whenever a button is pushed (which looks really cool honestly).
In terms of material, I really liked the way that the translucent blue acrylic looked with the “stainless steel” two tone acrylic behind it.
All in all I really enjoyed this project. There were a lot of things that I know I did “wrong” (i.e. not cutting out a recess for the button, spilling acrylic solvent all over the name tag, etc). I feel like in the future I’m going to 1. Not be as overly ambitious with my projects, and 2. Not wait until the last minute to start working on them. I definitely know that I want to return to this project and be more delicate and meticulous with it, because I really like the general idea and (most of) the execution.Continue Reading