Category Archives: science

The Raspberry Pi Super Computer (With Legos)

The Raspberry Pi is a $35 single board computer.

If you network a lot of computers together you can use them like one giant computer. If you’re 6 you can hold them all together with Legos. Check out Professor Simon Cox’s group at Southampton University; they put Legos and Rasberry Pis together to form a supercomputer and documented the process so you can make one yourself (2-64+ nodes).

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A Guide For Defeating Procrastination by Alex Vermeer

Open source revolves around The Project.

Without projects, there wouldn’t be an open source movement. If there’s no project then there’s nothing to be open about in the first place. Additionally, the projects are usually something new and interesting. That’s great for producing the motivation to finish, but a lot of the time “new and interesting” leads directly to the unknown. A learning curve, or a delay, can turn a promising project into something permanently on the back burner.

Alex Vermeer has put together a beautifully simple poster that is based on The Procrastination Equation. Basically, expectancy and value are good, impulsiveness and delay are bad, and the poster has a ton of different strategies for increasing the good and decreasing the bad.

Here’s what it looks like…

And here’s where you can download your own copy. Vermeer released it under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 license for Canada.

You can also buy a physical poster here.

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3D Printing Doesn’t Produce Toxic Fumes

It’s reasonable to wonder if heating up plastic until it melts releases fumes that aren’t safe to be around.

Taulman designed the 2BEIGH3, a 3D printer that converts into a 2D CNC machine. Part of his work involved printing in nylon, rather than ABS or PLA. One potential source of nylon filament are the cables that weed wackers use to chop down plants. When questioned about whether or not the process was safe to be around in an enclosed space, he designed a test procedure to find out how much, if any, hydrogen cyanide (HCN) was released by the 3D printing process.

The entire process is documented on Instructables. The short of it is that he tested several different types of ABS, and several different types of nylon, and found that the only plastic that produced any HCN was weed whacker line, and even that was only 0.1ppm (parts per million) which is significantly lower than the OSHA/NIOSH/ACGIH standard of 4.7ppm.

So, if you accept his results, there’s nothing to worry about. Taulman also has instructions for cold-rolling an oiler needle down to 0.32mm for high resolution extrusions, printable ball bearings races, and a permanent nylon coffee filter.

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Science Enabled By Open Source Hardware

Science is a good match for the open source philosophy.

Because…

  • it tries to do things for little-to-no money
  • it doesn’t care if equipment is pretty
  • it is only focused on results
  • it needs things that are very specific that no one else in the world needs
  • it is often motivated by something other than profit

Joshua Pearce of Michigan Tech’s Open Sustainability Technology Lab is an example of where the rubber meets the road. He has nearly two dozen Thingiverse things, and most of them are awesome tools for scientists. His work has been profiled in Mighigan Tech News and Popular Mechanics. You can also read the transcript of an interview with Science Magazine Podcast here (pdf). Pearce has a paper called Building Research Equipment with Free, Open-Source Hardware in Science Magazine, but it’s behind a paywall. The summary is here.

More after the jump.

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RepRap 3D Printer Color Mixing Nozzle by James Corbett

If you’ve done any desktop 3D printing and, lets be honest, who hasn’t, right, then you’re aware of the limitation imposed on your creativity by the color of the plastic you’re printing in. Makerbot has sort of addressed the issue with their dual extruder, but it’s really only a tease. Being able to switch from one color of plastic to another only highlights the fact that you can’t print in any of the colors in between.

At first people tried to solve the problem by coloring white ABS filament with markers just before it entered the extruder. This approach worked. For example, the Filament Colorizer by cyclone holds two sharpies and makes your prints new colors. Dry erase markers also work, as demonstrated by scocioba. Also RyGuy. As an alternative, James Corbett has developed an extruder that mechanically mixes different colors of plastic. The idea is that you could have a roll of plastic in basic colors (like CMYK and black) that you just push into the mixing chamber in different proportions to create the full color wheel.

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Testing the marker thing was pretty straight forward. People just rubbed a marker on the plastic filament and it did pretty much what you’d expect. Testing the mechanical mixer was an entirely different story. Corbett went through several passive and active designs before he found one that successfully mixed the plastic. Follow the jump to read the conclusion and way ahead from his paper on the subject.

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White Rabbit Solution – Open Source Distributed Timing Standard

Open source hardware isn’t just a cute little idea that some scruffy hobbyists and smarmy entrepreneurs are pushing for their own reasons. Real live scientist-types are using it to solve important problems.

For example…

Imagine you have a something happening in one place and you want to measure how long the effects take to get to another place 10km away (light, sound, the Higgs boson, whatever). Well, it turns out you are going to have a pretty tough time figuring out exactly how long it took for the effect to travel from one place to another. Timing is kind of a really really important issue and getting it right requires specifically designed systems.

White Rabbit is what CERN came up with to measure things at exactly the same time even when they’re really far apart. It is being used mainly for physics projects, but they carefully designed the system to be generic and open so that it could be used for pretty much anything.

The WR project “provides deterministic data and timing (sub-ns accuracy and ps jitter) to around 1,000 stations [and] automatically compensates for fiber lengths in the order of 10km.” It is also, “completely open.”

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Flexibity Open Source Wireless Internet-Connected Sensors

Flexibity is the brain-child of Maxim Osipov. It’s a standard for open source sensors, each of which connects to a standard wireless router and has its own IPv6 address. With the combined hardware and software standards anyone can create an application or a sensor. Since the system connects to the internet you can use the information anywhere.

The idea was good enough to win the Oxford Entrepreneurs – TATA Idea Idol 2011 competition.

If you want to check out the source files, here ya go.

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US Gov Jumps on 3D Printing Bandwagon with National Network for Manufacturing Innovation

Well 3D printing has officially sold out. The Pentagon is going to fund a new program called the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI). It will be 15 institutes which will each serve as a hub for “manufacturing excellence.” It will be managed by the Department of Defense (DoD), Department of Energy (DOE), Department of Commerce’s NIST, the National Science Foundation, and friends.

Wanna read President Obama’s speech on the subject? Of course you don’t, so here are the important bits:

I’m laying out my plans for a new National Network of Manufacturing Innovation –- and these are going to be institutes of manufacturing excellence where some of our most advanced engineering schools and our most innovative manufacturers collaborate on new ideas, new technology, new methods, new processes…To do that, we need Congress to act.  Hmm.  (Laughter and applause.)  It’s true.  (Laughter.)  But that doesn’t mean we have to hold our breath.  We’re not going to wait — we’re going to go ahead on our own.  Later this year, we’re going to choose the winner of a competition for a pilot institute for manufacturing innovation — help them get started…And sparking this network of innovation across the country – it will create jobs and it will keep America in the manufacturing game.  Of course, there’s more we can do to seize this moment of opportunity to create new jobs and manufacturing here in America.

An interesting note from the Request for Information is that, “Each Institute will have a clear focus area that does not overlap with those of the other Institutes. The focus area could be an advanced material, a manufacturing process, an enabling technology, or an industry sector. The federal government does not intend to create or provide a complete list of focus areas for the NNMI. The NNMI solicitation will invite applicants to propose such areas.” The RFI offers additive manufacturing as the first example of a potential focus area.

This whole thing will be overseen by the brand new Advanced Manufacturing National Program Office which will be hosted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).  The FY13 budget (pdf) “makes available” $1 billion to help the NNMI establish an “ecosystem” of manufacturing activity.

Hopefully this endeavor will manufacture more than just acronyms.

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