Friday, September 14, 2012

Generate Your Own QR Codes

Quick and easy QR code generation.  Choose the URL, the message, the Contact vCard or the map you want to link to!  Then choose the colors you want and hit generate.  Check it out:

Here is one we generated for our main site.  Download a QR code reader app on your smart phone and scan it!


Thingy: Arduino Enclosure

One of us just uploaded an Arduino mountable enclosure to thingiverse.  The lid of the enclosure slides onto the enclosure body along a grooved track and locks in place once the tabbed wings on each side clear rectangular holes in the enclosure body (see assembly drawings).  To remove the lid, pinch the tabbed wings and slide the lid off using the ridge at the front of the lid for traction.

You can check it out and download the files here.



Below are a few pictures of the design.

Image 1: Assembly drawing with lid slightly removed

Image 2: Assembly drawing with lid in closed position

Image 3: Part drawing of lid

Image 4: Part drawing of enclosure

Friday, July 27, 2012

Educate to Innovate

"...we can inspire kids..."  

The following is a short video from the White House's website on the Educate to Innovate initiative which is designed to promote STEM education.  Engineers / Dreamers / World Changers / Role Models.

Video 1: Educate to Innovate  

Get on board.

Monday, July 23, 2012


This is an inspirational short about Caine and his arcade.  If only the world's CEOs had Caine's imagination and creativity...

Sunday, July 22, 2012

DIY Metal Brake (continued 2)

STEP 4: Fini!
You are now finished and can start bending aluminum stock at will to create the worlds meanest brackets to hold your Arduino or whatever else you need to secure. Just don't use it for evil. Unless its only slightly evil, then it's probably OK.

To make a bend:
1) Loosen the wing-nuts and slide the metal between the flat plate and part D and then tighten down the wing-nuts (image 17).

Image 17: Aluminum inserted and wing-nuts tightened
2) Grab part A and rotate it towards part B (image 18).

Image 18:  Start the bend by rotating part A towards part B

3) Rotate it to the appropriate angle you are trying to achieve, in my case 90 degrees (image 19).

Image 19:  Stop bending when you achieve the desired angle

4) Return part A to its initial position once the bend is made (image 20).

Image 20: Bend completed

5) Loosen the wing-nuts and remove your newly bent metal (image 21).

Image 21: Newly bent metal removed from brake by loosening wing-nuts

That's it. Set forth and conquer.

DIY Metal Brake (continued 1)

STEP 3: Ahhhh, Screw it!
Let's assemble the parts now.

Using four #8-32 x 3/8" machine screws along with lock washers and hex nuts, attach the hinges to part C as shown in image 9.
Image 9: Hinges attached to part C

Again, note that the rounded part of the hinge should be flush with the L bend in part C. Now attach part D to the hinges using another four #8-32 x 3/8" machine screws, lock washers and hex nuts. You should now be able to bend the hinge with parts C and D attached. You can create an X configuration (image 10) or a T configuration (image 11, looking at the top of the T) based on how it is bent.

Image 10: X Configuration of parts C and D

Image 11:  T Configuration of parts C and D

Image 12 shows all of the parts left to be attached to one another in roughly the positions they will be attached. Attach part A to part C (upper right in image 12) using the one hole left in each part along with one #8-32 x 3/8" machine screw, lock washer and hex nut. Image 13 shows part A connected to part C (left side) as well as part B connected to part D (right side). When you connect part B to part D you will want to use one of your long #8-32 x 1" machine screws and do not put a lock washer or hex nut on it. I also inserted a hex nut between parts B and D to reduce the parts from rattling around when the tool is not in use, however, this is not necessary (image 14).

Image 12:  Rough positioning of parts left to be assembled

Image 13:  Parts A, B, C and D attached

Image 14: Hex nut inserted between parts B and D

Once you have everything looking like image 13, flip the tool over (image 15), and insert the other long #8-32 x 1" machine screw through the final hole in part D.

Image 15:  Tool awaiting second 1" machine screw

Then, place the flat steel plate on the two long machine screws and place two wing-nuts on the screws (images 16 and 17).

Image 16:  Flat steel plated placed on long screws, wing-nuts in place

Image 17:  Wing-nuts holding flat steel plate on part D

DIY Metal Brake

Here is the full build tutorial for the metal bending tool (aka: a metal brake). We hope this tutorial is helpful. Happy Making.


This project may not seem extremely exciting but it is very useful and satisfying to create other parts with once it is finished. It IS exciting, get EXCITED! If you are a true Maker, you are already teeming with excitement over the fact that you are reading another tutorial and expanding your mind's quiver.

Recently, I needed 90 degree bends in aluminum stock to create brackets for a project I have going. I grabbed $25, ran to Home Depot and after a few hours created my own metal bending tool. Quick, dirty, simple and cheap.

Movie 1: Using the brake to create a 90 degree bend in aluminum

A Few Quick Notes:
The symbol " denotes inches.
Quantities come before descriptions of materials and are followed by an "x".
I used button head machine screws but in retrospect, it would be better to use flat head screws and countersink them.
Everything you need can easily be purchased at Home Depot or similar.

1) 1x 2" width by 1/8" thick flat steel stock
(I bought 36" of this for $6.97)

2) 1x 6" lengths of 1" Steel L bracket
(I bought 36" of this for $6.47)

3) 9x #8-32 x 3/8" machine screws (preferably flat head)
(I bought a box of 100 button heads for $5.80)

4) 2x #8-32 x 1" machine screws
(I bought a 4 pack for $1.18)

5) 2x #8-32 wing-nuts
(I bought a 6 pack for $1.18)

6) 9x #8 lock washers
(I bought a 30 pack for $1.18)

7) 10x #8-32 hex nuts
(I bought a 100 pack for $3.92)

8) 2x 1/2" hinges
(I bought a 2 pack of 1.5" loose pin zinc hinges for $2.27)

This all adds up to just under $29 but if you skip the 100 and 30 packs of screws and washers and just get what you need, you should be able to get it down to $25.

1) Metal saw
(I got by with a hacksaw with a metal cutting blade)

2) Power Drill

3) 5/32" drill bit for metal
(just big enough diameter to get a #8 screw through with a little coaxing from a screwdriver)

4) 5/16" drill bit for metal
(not a must have but useful for cleaning up the edges on the smaller holes you drill)

5) Screwdriver
(whichever type that corresponds to the machine screws you buy)

6) Pliers
(For holding nuts while you tighten machine screws)

Cost: < $25 (not including tools)

Time: ~2 hours

Drink: Coffee.

STEP 1: Cut Metal to Length
First things first, take the steel L bracket and steel flat stock you have and cut it to length. You will need the following lengths:

1) 4x 6" lengths of steel L bracket (see image 1).
2) 1x 6" length of steel flat stock (see image 2).

Image 1:  Steel L bracket

Image 2:  Flat steel plate

I cut these lengths the hard way using my hacksaw with a metal cutting blade attached. If you do not have any way of cutting metal you can pick up a hacksaw for cheap and get by. If you have a chop saw or band saw you can get through this stuff with, even better.

Note: Disregard the holes in the metal on the images above. We will take care of those in the next step.

STEP 2: Drill a few holes!
Take your four lengths of L bracket and individually label them parts A, B, C and D. From here on we will take about each length in this way.

In retrospect I should have purchased flat head #8 machine screws and countersunk them as that would make the tool all that much sexier, as well as alleviate some of the issues I had with the screw heads interfering with the hinges fully closing. Thus, if you can, find a large drill bit you can use to drill countersinks after drilling the initial holes and use flat head machine screws.

Part A:
Take the length of L bracket you labeled part "A" and drill one hole on the center line of one flange 1/2 inch from the end of the part (see image 3).

Image 3: Part "A"
Part B:
Take the length of L bracket you labeled part "B" and drill one hole on the center line of one flange 1/2 inch from the end of the part (see image 4). Note the difference in location of the hole between part A and part B.

Image 4: Part "B"

Note: The hinges mount to parts C and D and thus, the hole placement is critical and will differ by what hinges you use. The critical elements are placing the holes appropriately so that the round part of the hinge is flush with the edge of the L bracket (see image 5) and mounting the hinges close to the ends of parts C and D.

Image 5: Note positioning of hinges on L bracket

Part C:
Take the length of L bracket you labeled part "C" and drill four holes on one flange to mount your hinges to (see image 6). These four holes are for your hinges and it is critical that they are placed appropriately. Make sure you line the rounded edge of the hinge up with the edge of the L bracket when defining your hole placement.

On the opposite flange of part C drill one hole along the center line of the flange 1/2 inch from the end (see image 6).

Image 6: Part "C"
Part D:
Create part D just as you did part C but this time place two holes (one at each end, 1/2 inch from the end) on the opposite flange from the flange the hinges will mount to (see image 7).

Image 7: Part "D"

Finally, take the 6 inch piece of flat steel stock and drill two holes as seen in image 8. The holes should be placed 1/2 inch from the end edges and 1/2 inch from the top edge.

Image 8: Flat steel stock with holes

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

PIR Sensor Wheelchair Cyclops!

Ever seen a wheelchair bound cyclops stuck in a reverse loop? Behold... PIR Cyclops!  The Cyclops detects motion using the PIR sensor (his eyeball) and once it is detected, he wheels backwards for a short time (using a continuous servo).

Video 1:  The PIR Cyclops in action.

This guy was built using an Arduino, PIR sensor and a continuous servo.  All readily available from  Full on instructions for creating this little guy will be posted to the blog and also the instructables website soon.  The Arduino code is posted below.  Also, here are a few pictures (no specific order) of the build:

Image 1: Wiring for the PIR sensor is routed through the Cyclops' neck.

Image 2: Arms and hands are painted and connected.

Image 3: Foam is spackled and sanded to create the pieces of the Cyclops' body.

Image 4: The rough shape of the Cyclops is cut from a foam block.  The PIR sensor is inserted into the Cyclops' head.

Image 5: Rubber bands hold shut the trap door in the bottom of the wheelchair where the Arduino connects to the PIR sensor, continuous servo and power source (9V battery).

Image 6:  The armless Cyclops waits for a few final parts.

Image 7: The continuous servo is attached to one of the wheels on the wheelchair.

Image 8: The finished product sits motionless waiting to detect movement.

Arduino CODE:

// Servo driven by PIR Sensor
// Whim of ImagineN4tion
// 5.21.2012

#include <Servo.h>
Servo myservo;  // create servo object to control a servo 
                // a maximum of eight servo objects can be created 

int PIR = 2;      //Define what pin the PIR sensor is on
int PIRval = 0;    //Define variable that will store the PIR reading, set to 0 for now
int servo = 9;    //Define what pin the servo is on

void setup(){
  //Serial.begin(9600);  //Start the serial port
  pinMode(PIR, INPUT);
  pinMode(servo, OUTPUT);
    myservo.attach(servo);  // attaches the servo on pin 9 to the servo object 

void loop(){
  PIRval = digitalRead(PIR);    //Read the PIR sensor on pin 2 and store the value to 'PIRval'
  //Serial.println("sensor reading =");
  //Serial.println(PIRval);    //Print the value stored in PIR to the serial port
  //Note the servo being used here is a continuous rotation servo calibrated so that
  //the servo is stopped at a write value of 90.  Forward = 180, reverse = 0. 
  if(PIRval == LOW){    //If there is no movement do nothing
  else{                  // Else if there is movement drive servo forward

Monday, July 2, 2012

Shapeways and Blender

Used Blender to create a simple water-tight 3d object and overlayed an image map to it.  Ship those files over to Shapeways and in 12 days you got yourself something tangible...  custom bobbleheads anyone!?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Virtual Machine Shops and Scalable Manufacturing

A common problem across the making world is the lack of ability to quickly scale product/part manufacturing at a reasonable cost.  Having your products' CAD files parked at multiple virtual machine shops can help you pump out products on a whim.  Here are a few resources that might help you navigate spikes in order volume.

Whether you are looking to have parts made on a very small scale or very large scale you are in luck.  Virtual machine shops are popping up left and right allowing anyone with a computer and some free CAD software to play Mr(s). Engineer.

Start here:
Ponoko is a great place to start as they provide links to CAD software you can use to design new parts as well as offering a service to fabricate said part.

Shapeways is another great starting place for having your parts created.  You can find them at:

Swing through here: 
Have you pumped out a few prototypes and are now looking to sweeten the deal by scaling up your quantities and minimizing your manufacturing costs?  Check out

ImagineN4tion spoke with a representative from recently about the viability of small to medium scale operations having their products produced through the platform. confirmed that their service is not only for the big fish in the sea but also the small fish, aka: Makers attempting to scale up their product manufacturing capability.  Here are the tips we received for small fish maximizing the value in their platform:

1)  Submit RFQs (Request For Quotes) for multiple products at the same time.  This helps the manufacturers realize you are a serious potential client that did not simply make one product and only need three of them manufactured.

2)  Do not send out RFQs left and right unless you are seriously looking at having something created.  Forcing manufacturers to spend their time pricing quotes repeatedly and then never placing an order does not reflect well on you.  Thus, use RFQs with products you are serious about scaling up.

3)  Use your account representative as an information resource.  When you create an account with you will be contacted by one of their account representatives.  These account representatives are very helpful and can help you navigate the landscape of the manufacturing world.  They are a valuable resource.  Make use of them!

End here:
Sell all your widgets and booyah, Profit.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Open Source Hardware - OSHW

Open Source what, Open Under Ware who... ?

OSHW, What is it?
What is Open Source Hardware, or OSHW?  What exactly does OSHW mean?  Even though Dave here is an electrical engineer and generally they are nothing but trouble, we will lend him our ears as he does a great job explaining OSHW on his video blog:

Why is OSHW Significant?
Lets take this to the next level and better understand how OSHW has been evolving and dancing with innovation and the entrepreneurial community.  Remo Giovanni Abbondandolo investigates entrepreneurial opportunities for OSHW users in his Master Thesis which can be found online here:

Where do we go from here?
So, what are your thoughts on the subject?  Let us hear your opinion.

1)  How do we better foster entrepreneurial activity in the OSHW/Maker/Hacker/Social Building community?

2)  How do we promote more collaboration on projects spanning multiple skill sets?

3)  What virtual and physical resources are crucial in helping the community monetize their ideas and builds?

Friday, April 27, 2012

Thermoelectric (Peltier) Wine Cooler

Have you ever bought a wine cooler?  They are huge, bulky and ri-donck-u-louse looking.  First off, it does not make any sense to design a wine cooler as a cube.  The main goal should be to minimize the surface area of the enclosure as that is where heat transfer occurs and thus is a large dictator of how much energy you must feed the system.  Wine bottles naturally stack in a triangle and in this fashion they are packed the tightest.  So, why not design a triangle shaped enclosure that minimizes how much heat we must pump out of the enclosure and thus how much energy we are using?  Seems reasonable, right? Here is a first pass at doing so.

First off, some initial calculations to get a feel for how much heat we gotta pump outta this thing.  We will shoot for a cooler roughly sized to hold three wine bottles or a sixer of Busch Light, yum.  We will only consider conductive heat transfer for the time being.  The amount of energy we need to pump out of the cooler through the TEC (Qpump) is then equal to the amount of heat weaseling its way through our insulation (Qin) and the amount of power we are feeding to the TEC (Qjoule).  Qjoule will not actually be the amount of power we are feeding the TEC but we can use it as a worst case scenario.

Image 1:  Initial thoughts on size and heat transfer involved

 Based on some proposed dimensions for the cooler, an estimate of the k value of our insulation (the k value just quantifies how good or bad insulation is), and the desired temperature of our wine (55*F) relative to normal room temp (75*F) we can calculate Qin.  I doubled the Qin value as originally calculated it was the absolute minimum amount of heat needed to be pumped to retain desired temperature if all else were to remain constant.  As there will also be some small amount of conductive and radiative heat transfer taking place we will need a little more heat pumping capacity.  We also might run into different environments where it is necessary to pump more heat, aka: if room temp is greater than 75*F.

 Image 2:  Solving for conductive heat transfer and power added by TEC

 Here is an ugly looking diagram of how the components will all be connected.  I will post later exactly what was used to create the cooler once I fine tune it along with a cleaner diagram.

 Image 3: Component diagram

Note: a wine bottle at room temperature that is put in a wine cooler holds latent heat that also needs to be pumped out of the enclosure.  This was not included in the initial sizing of the TEC due to the fact that if you can pump more heat out than is entering from the outside surroundings (Qin) this latent heat will eventually be pumped out as well... it just might take awhile.

So as it stands, with some Busch League All-Star (definition: bad, crappy, swagged, horribly awesome) code I slapped together here is what it looks like and how it is functioning.

Something has gone horribly wrong with uploading this video so here is the link to how the user interface is currently functioning (can't embed vimeo :(  ): 

 Image 4:  Outside of enclosure, wiring yet to be subdued

Image 5: Looking in the side hatch, foam insulation visible

More to come on this project...

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Dirt Cheap Microcontroller Project

Here is a great introductory project to microcontrollers and more specifically the MSP430 by Texas Instruments.  This is a fantastic way to get your feet wet in the world of microcontrollers.  Its very cheap and can be reproduced for only around $25.  The battery pack shown in Image 1 is unnecessary as you could power the LCD from the MSP430 development board.

Image 1: An MSP430 displays characters on an LCD screen

Here is all you will need to reproduce what you see above:


LCD - $9.95

MSP430 Launchpad (Microcontroller and development board)- $4.30
(Note: you will also need an IDE, Integrated Development Environment, to write code that will control your microcontroller.  This can be found on the TI website above as well.  There are two different ones you can download, either Code Composer Studio or IAR Embedded Workbench)

Breadboard Wiring Bundle - $6.00

Breadboard - $5.00

Helpful Tutorial Resource

This blog will walk you through everything you need to know about the MSP430, the IDE, and running an LCD screen.  It even has code examples you can grab.  There is plenty of other useful information here as well.  The tutorial specifically on LCDs is #14a and can be found in the September of 2011 archive.

OpenIdeo: Web Entrepreneurship

OpenIdeo is hosting a challenge to help spur web entrepreneurship.  Take a peak at our concept and add one of your own!

Friday, April 6, 2012

BrainBlox: Get your H-Bridge on

Want to enforce total control over that DC motor that has been bad mouthing you for the past week?  Build yourself an H-Bridge (motor controller) and dominate.  With a little time and not too much money you can do just that.  Here is a great tutorial:

Here is an H-Bridge one of us made.  An Arduino is controlling a small DC motor through an H-bridge.  The analog signal (pulse width modulation) being sent to the motor is also output on the LCD screen and is controlled via a potentiometer (variable resistor).  When the potentiometer is rotated the analog signal changes between 0 - 255, is output on the screen and dictates how fast the motor spins.


Saturday, March 24, 2012

BrainBlox: Nitinol and Flexinol

Nitinol and Flexinol aka: Muscle Wire, Memory Wire, Smart Wire

A movie's worth a jabillion words.  Here the failed cousin of Q from James Bond gives you an overview on this material's characterstics.

Q's Cousin on Nitinol

NOVA has a great video on the subject as well.


You can buy it HERE.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Gonzo Build: Soap Box Derby Car

See the one and only Hanz created by team Brain Fart of ImagineN4tion.  The link below explains it all.  True Gonzo.

Image 1: Hanz rolls down the start ramp

Thursday, March 15, 2012

BrainBlox: HD44780 LCDs

Here are the best resources we have found for learning how to use HD44780 LCDs (standard small LCD screens).

This article is REAL OLD AND CRUSTY but REAL APPLICABLE AND CRUSTY.  Definitely a good read just to get you understanding how these LCDs actually function.  Note: with an Arduino you will not actually have to bang the bits but this is what's happening behind the scenes.

From there you can put one to use by snapping it up on Adafruit and following the tutorial.

Buy it at the link above and then following the tutorial.