Using an Arduino to Light a Grounded F-16


Arduino boards and military hardware don’t generally go together. For a piece of hardware that is no longer in use and will be on display, however, it makes a great method for lighting control. In this case, the lights go to an F-16, beautifully restored for the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History. Although he’s not completely sure, author Craig Hollabaugh thinks that this is the first non-moving F-16 on display with working lights.

The project itself started with a question of how hard it would be to get the lights working again. Craig had little doubt that this could be done, and, rather than fool with a lot of soldering, decided to design and buy a shield for this purpose. I’m not a fan of melting metal unless it’s absolutely necessary, so I definitely like his style.


Even with a nicely designed shield, installation still took several days, and it looks like there was actually quite a bit of soldering involved. The controller was hidden in the F-16’s empty Gatling gun bay.

Once things were finished, and the plane was revealed, two senators, dignitaries, and a brigadier general showed up to watch. Although it took longer than Craig was expecting, he really enjoyed the experience of meeting those people as well as museum volunteers for the project. Be sure to check out the lights in action in the videos below.

The Robotic Workbench You Wish You Had

woodworking-benchIf you’ve been looking to add or upgrade your workbench, this fully automated model by “Dirk the Engineer” could give you some inspiration. Made out of Baltic birch, maple, and walnut, it appears quite well-made on first inspection. Look a little further, and you’ll find a general-purpose vise built in, as well as an end vise. The table is finished with linseed oil, which makes for easy cleaning and repair.

As nice as it is, if you watch the video below, you’ll find  even more excellent features. The most unusual of these is that the table can move up and down on its own by a system of motors and chains. Control is accomplished with a remote control that interfaces with the Arduino controlling the system. Dirk outfitted it with an Arduino Mega (with a “mega” number of IO points) so that the table could be upgraded later to include more features. A display that tells the user how far the workbench surface is from the ground is envisioned, but who knows what else will be implemented?

If you’re looking to move workspaces any time soon, at 800 pounds, it might not be the best choice. On the other hand, having a “robotic woodworking workbench” would give you some serious bragging rights!

PieceMaker Factory: A Glimpse Into The Future of Toys?


Late Friday night I saw what may be the future of toys, or at least something completely unique at my local Toys’R’Us. Additive manufacturing, often referred as 3D printing, has become common place in the maker movement. However, there is hardly a day that goes by where I don’t meet someone who has no idea what it is, or what it does. Well that’s about to change thanks to PieceMaker and Toys’R’Us.

Our mission at PieceMaker is to empower all people to personalize the world around them. To do this, we have created the PieceMaker Factory, the first and only system to deliver custom 3D printed inventory on-demand to retail stores. The PieceMaker Factory leverages cutting-edge, open-source 3D printing technology, custom robotics automation and proprietary software created specifically for retail to offer shoppers an unlimited range of personalized products, made on-demand and at the point of sale.


Even my daughter was impressed to see a 3D printer in a toy store, and she built her own from a kit at the age of nine. However, once she saw the interactive kiosk where you can select a model, customize it’s color, and add a name, she was totally hooked. Now she wants that kiosk at home, hooked up to her own printer.


All the items are designed by PieceMaker so they are guaranteed to print well, and in under 30 minutes. They all cost about $10, which seems to be a fair price for a customized toy that’s printed on demand. The overall process from design to print was really easy and went without any hiccups. While we were waiting for our first print, I was able to ask a few questions about the machine. First and foremost, “Who makes the printer, and what’s inside?” The short answer is, they make the machines themselves in-house, and it’s powered by Arduino.


We ended up with the ever-popular whistle, and a slight migraine from the concert played on the car ride home. But more importantly we left with a renewed enthusiasm for designing and making our own stuff. What will we make next? I don’t think it really matters too much. I’m just happy that the notion of making has once again become more important than TV, texting, or just surfing the Internet.


If you happen to live near Totowa New Jersey, or Cranberry Township Pennsylvania, stop on by the local Toys’R’Us and check out what may be the future of toys. I’m really looking forward to the day we can pick up an affordable printer at the local toy store, not just the prints. Any thoughts on how long until that happens? What does everyone think of toys-on-demand?

IcosaLEDron: 20-Sided LED Ball


Bored with playing games with a non-glowing ball? Why not build your own IcosaLEDron, a programmable, LED-enabled glowing contraption about the size of a baseball.

This ball, as seen on Instructables, features 20 sides that light up as different colors depending on the situation. An ATmega328p board, which is Arduino-compatible, provides the brains for this spherical light display, and twenty WS2812B RGB (red, green, blue) LEDs light up the sections.

In the default mode, an accelerometer causes the top section to continuously be on, and when dropped the ball lights up in a rainbow pattern. Since it is Arduino-compatible, this should allow people to copy this design, and simply modify or make up new code if more functionality is desired.

The frame and translucent sections are 3D printed, which allowed for the creators to design and easily prototype several designs. These were then iterated as necessary to provide the glowing blue sphere you see in these pictures. If you’d like to build your own, the files are available on Thingiverse.

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The possibilities for something like this are limited, I suppose, only to one’s immagination. I, probably not that creatively, would think this would make an interesting gaming die, especially if it the size could eventually be reduced!

Eric Huebsch’s Humorous Blinking Rock Sculpture

It’s amazing how a simple thing, like adding a pair of blinking eyes to an otherwise inanimate object, can really personify it. Then set the mood with a powerful love song, like Cher’s “If I Could Turn Back Time,” and this blinking rock sculpture by artist Eric Huebsch just can’t help but look a little bit sentimental.

I was so amused by Huebsch’s sculpture that I got in touch with him to ask exactly how he made it and how it worked. He kindly informed me that the “rocks” were made from foam that he covered in an epoxy paste before he painted them. The large rock is hollow and contains the Arduino-controlled eye mechanism, which is triggered by a motion detector.

While I was working on the placement of the eyes inside the rock that Cher song came through my iPod shuffle and I started cracking up as the rock was staring and blinking up at me.

There’s just something delightful about seeing a rock look so affected by listening to rock music.

[via Lustik]

The Light Blue Bean Goes Mobile

The iOS Bean Loader with the Light Blue Bean

The iOS Bean Loader with the Light Blue Bean

We’ve taken a couple of looks at Punch Through Design’s Light Blue Bean, including getting hands on back when the Bean started shipping to pre-order customers.

One of the features that really made the Bean stand out when it was announced was that it was going to have the ability to write, and then upload, code directly from your iPad (or iPhone) over Bluetooth LE.

But the first version of the Punch Through’s app didn’t support that, and the company took a lot of criticism—both for that, and the late arrival of cross-platform support for Windows and Android. However, they promised that the next release of their app would include support for compiling and loading sketches from iOS, with support for Android and Windows 8 following closely after that.

The iOS Bean Loader application

Today Punch Through announced the release of their new Bean Loader application which will let you write and upload code from a Bluetooth LE capable iOS device—with both iPad and iPhone supported—making it the first Arduino board to support a mobile platform and allowing you to write code without your laptop.

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The app has a syntax highlighting editor, and a modified keyboard allowing you easy access to the symbols you’ll commonly need when writing sketches. You can either store these sketches locally on your device, or link the app to your Dropbox and store the sketches there—which also gives you an easy way to synchronise code between desktop and mobile devices.

Uploading Code

Uploading a sketch to the Light Blue Bean using the iOS Bean Loader app.

I’m really pleased to say that, unlike the problems I had with the desktop Bean Loader software on OS X during the Bean’s pre-release, I didn’t have any problems with their new Bean Loader application on iOS—it worked out of the box.

That makes the Bean unique. Right now it’s the only Arduino-compatible board, that I know about, that has support for writing, compiling, and then uploading a sketch directly from any sort of mobile platform.

I’ve used the Bean in several of my own projects since getting hold of them back in June, and I’ve been generally impressed with the board—the hardware architecture is well thought out, and the Bean library for the Arduino is similarly impressive.

While I’m sure others are looking forward to the promised cross-platform support for Windows and Android, for me at least, the arrival of the Bean Loader for iOS has moved the Bean from being only promising, to being a stand out product.

To celebrate the launch of their Bean Loader app Punch Through is having a 10% sale, and not to miss out on a good thing, we’re doing the same. If you want to pick up a Bean use the promo code BEANBLE on checkout at the MakerShed to get 10% off until Wednesday 26th November.


Building a hackable robotic arm

BannerThis post is coming to you live from the Elephant & Castle Mini Maker Faire being held today at the London College of Communication.

The #meArm—a pocket sized robot arm.

The #meArm—a pocket sized robot arm.

The MeArm is a small hackable robot arm by Ben Gray and Jack Howard. The arm was designed from the ground up to be low cost and easy to put together—with only a small number of relatively cheap parts. Built with just four hobby servos and out of no more than an A4 piece of acrylic (just over the size of a sheet of US Letter).

The #meArm in action

I talked to Ben Gray about his robotic arm and why he brought it along to maker faire today.

An interview with Ben Gray

All of the instructionspart templates, and source code for the arm are available online if you want to build your own.

The Elephant & Castle Mini Maker Faire is being held at the London College of Communication from 10am till 6pm. Entry is free to children (under 16) and students, tickets are £5 otherwise and available on the door.

BITalino (r)evolution: Circuits for Quantified Self and More

We first met Hugo Silva last year when he introduced us to Bitalino, an Arduino-compatible electronics toolkit designed for exploring the various physiological signals that the human body gives off. The latest iteration of the platform, BITalino (r)evolution, is more affordable and capable than ever, but the team still needs backers to get off the ground. From their Kickstarter:

Body signals have hundreds of applications; assistive technologies for people with disabilities, biofeedback for stroke and muscle disorders rehabilitation, or self-management of psychological disorders (e.g. anxiety, depression, PTSD, ADHD) are just a few examples. Still, BITalino is an unique DiY toolkit, which can be used by virtually anyone interested in creating projects ranging from muscle activated air drones to heart-rate monitoring bicycle handlebars, smart / enchanted objects, interactive installations, or affordable medical devices and personal diagnostics apps. By supporting our Kickstarter campaign, you can potentially be contributing to revolutionise healthcare and biomedical engineering around the world. BITalino has grown to become the platform of choice for hundreds of people worldwide already, but it wasn’t designed with financial profits in mind, hence the reason we need your help now.

If exploring biosignals sounds interesting to you, there’s still an early-bird deal for your choice of application-specific sensor kits for $79 with a projected shipping date of May 2015. These application-specific kits come in variants for sensing heart rate, muscle activity, arousal, and motion. Of course, they also offer kits that include sensors for all of the above.

3D Printed Paper Airplane Launching Gun

Nutty tinkerer and the inside of the A6 v.1.0.

Nutty tinkerer and the inside of the A6 v.1.0.


What’s cooler than a paintball gun? How about a gun that fires the most lethal of all 21st Century weapons- paper airplanes. That’s right folks, feast your eyes on the paper airplane gun!

One tinkerer is very serious about his paper airplane game. So serious, in fact, that he developed a gun that actually takes standard 8.5 x 11 in computer paper and folks it into quality paper airplanes that soar through the air, neutralizing every enemy within two feet.

The gun itself is about the size of rocket launcher. It was built using a series of store-bought and 3D-printed parts. The inside of the gun features a number of rollers and grooves, which fold flat pieces of paper to make them strategically aerodynamic. The outside of the gun is possibly made from flat sheets of metal and marked “A6 v1.0,” for the airplane gun, version 1.0, of course.

The maker behind the project is keeping his lips sealed, but a video featuring the gun in action is currently available on YouTube. The gun can fold and fire paper airplanes in about two sections a pop, so watch out backyard gamers – these are dangerous patches of grass.

To see more of the nutty tinkerer’s work, head over to his papierfliegerei website but be forewarned, it’s entirely in German.


An Arduino-Based Computer


While most of us think of Arduino boards as something to be programmed by a computer, there’s really nothing that says you can’t use an Arduino-style microcontroller as one. It could be argued that the Arduino is already a computer, but in the case of the DemUino, a small display is embedded into an old PS/2 keyboard. It might not be what a person is used to, but someone not familiar with what a “microcontroller” is would more readily, on some level, recognize this as a computer.



The software configuration is quite involved, including the author, “DemeterArt,” writing his own BASIC language. This “only” took around 2200 lines of code. The wiring also looks quite involved from the diagram provided.

Wow, a lot of work. Check out the demonstration below.

As noted by the original source, “The project had to be a minimum-cost-endeavor given the abundance of junk lying around in my home lab and my financial situation.” This sounds like the introduction to many interesting projects. If one had enough money, he or she might just boringly buy another toy to play with.

Personally, if I had an extremely abundant amount of money, I’d be tempted to hire my own staff of engineers and technicians to build more of the ideas that I come up with than I’m able to make myself!