Searching LEONARDO At Linda Hall – Day 26

2.16.2009 (Monday) – Day 26 –

Searching Linda Hall Library Online

Searching Linda Hall Library Online

It is amazing how much information I can find by searching the Internet. As I mentioned yesterday some topics are harder to find. When I need to find some kind of scientific or engineering related technical information, I turn to the Linda Hall Library’s LEONARDO Catalog. My Internet research provided me with a couple of titles to interesting books, “Mechanics of Composite Materials” and “Composites Engineering Handbook”.

Linda Hall Library - Composites Engineering

Linda Hall Library - Composites Engineering

The Linda Hall Library is the top library in the country if not the world for Science, Engineering and Technology Information. My search with LEONARDO paid off and both books were checked in and on the shelf. Luckily, the library is only a few miles away surrounded by the University of Missouri, Kansas City (UMKC) campus. The Linda Hall Library is not part of UMKC but has a special relationship there.

I didn’t have very much time today to look throught the books. The titles I searched for had some interesting information but still wasn’t quite what I wanted. The “Composites Engineering Handbook” did provide some helpful information, a new search term, “Sandwich Laminates”.

I did end up checking out a book titled “Plastics And Resin Compositions”. There is information in this book about paper impregnated with phenolic resin. Our labyrinth platform needs holes for the soccer ball to fall through and our original intent is to use concrete column forms to close out these holes. The forms are made of approximately 1/8″ cardboard. Bob has been talking about soaking the cardboard in a phenolic resin or other similar mixtures. I think we still need some way of fabricating a collar around both ends of the concrete form.

Read on, check out: Day[27] = 2.17.2009
Yesterday, check out: Day[25] = 2.15.2009
Or start from the beginning: Day[0] = 1.21.2009

About SomeoneKnows

Game Platform Considerations – Day 25

2.15.2009 (Sunday) – Day 25 –

When we decided to build Science City’s 10′ by 12′ Robotic Labyrinth using a center pivot point it became obvious that we needed a game table that could remain rigid across the surface and still be light weight. That Balancing Act was described previously by using an aluminum skinned composite with an extruded polystyrene foam core.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been searching for information about aluminum composite panels and other variations of this general search criteria. Most of the hits seem to be related to insulated building panels with wooden skins while others discuss composite materials like carbon fiber and fiberglass materials.

Finally I came across the Bluebird Electric Bodywork web page that offered some clues into the relationships within their composite design. Of particular interest is the effect the thickness of materials have on stiffness. The site provides some interesting general engineering information about the design and core material types but it left me wanting to find more proof of the claims.

The Aluminum Panels

The desired size of our game platform halves are 6 foot by 10 foot panels designed to fit through doorways. We can easily order 4 foot by 10 foot sheets of aluminum which leaves us with a seam formed by a 2 foot by 10 foot section. Welding aluminum without seriously warping and distorting the sheet is beyond my current skill level. This is a big reason we are pursuing the 3M Aerospace Adhesive engineers to find their best adhesive for the job. The product they suggest is Scotch-Weld Epoxy Adhesive 2216 in the Gray compound.

A couple of years ago I stopped in a West Marine store in Miami and found their book section. I like books about building things and found the book titled “Aluminum Boat Building” by Ernest Sims which I bought. I pulled that book out tonight and noticed Appendix 2 is about adhesives for marine applications. It was Appendix 1 that really caught my attention. That section is about a relatively new process called Friction Stir Welding (FSW) developed in the UK by “The Welding Institute”. This process uses heat generated by a rotating tool which only heats the aluminum up to a plasticized state staying below the melting point. I don’t know of any companies in the Kansas City area yet that offer this process. I did some searching on the Internet and found the Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla is doing research on this process.

Read on, check out: Day[26] = 2.16.2009
Yesterday, check out: Day[24] = 2.14.2009
Or start from the beginning: Day[0] = 1.21.2009

About SomeoneKnows

Build A Minty Boost For Your Sweetheart – Day 24

2.14.2009 (Saturday) – Day 24 –

Minty Boost Workshop

Minty Boost Workshop. (photo courtesy Tom Collins)

Tom has been working on getting our Robotic Labyrinth base designed and built through the Sheet Metal Labor Union training facility. Today he took the day off and brought his daughter in for my soldering workshop at the HMS Beagle Science Store. Since it’s Valentines Day the store wanted to offer a session to build a Minty Boost for your sweetheart.

Soldering the Minty Boost kits.

Soldering the Minty Boost kits. (photos courtesy Tom Collins)

I enjoy teaching these workshops particularly when we have kids wanting to learn about building things and electronics soldering is a great skill to have. Often the participants in these workshops have never soldered anything electronic before. The Minty Boost kit is an ideal first time project because its easy to build and the supporting documentation on the LadyAda web site is fantastic. This site contains all kinds of information about the tools you need and tutorials on soldering. The step by step instructions are easy enough to build one on your own. Most electronic kits end about there with some DIY instructions but LadyAda takes this experience much further.

One of the best things about the Minty Boost support site is the level of detail she reveals about the process of designing these kits. Anyone who is interested in becoming an engineer should examine what decisions were involved as she designed this product. You can even download the design files for the electronic printed circuit board schematics and layout in EagleCAD format.

Minty Boost finished and working.

Minty Boost finished and working. (photos courtesy Tom Collins)

The whole process of building the Minty Boost is well designed. I do, however, make one change to the assembly of the case. Instead of cutting the Altoids Tin as she describes I use a different approach. I like to bring some of my tools in from workshops where we build robots from scratch and the drill press is one of my favorite tools. Often, this has been the first exposure to using a drill press for kids and adults both. I feel that fabrication is an important part of learning to build robots.

Altoids Tin Modification

Altoids Tin Modification

For my Altoids tins I like to mark a line just below the lid with the tin closed. That marks the upper limit of the slit for the USB connector to stick through. I like to drill holes to form the ends of the slit. If you measure the height of the USB connector it is around 1/4″ so a corresponding (or slightly larger) drill bit will be used. Be sure to mark the center where each drilled hole will be. Once marked, use a center punch (not shown) to put a dimple where the drill bit will go to keep it from wandering around as you try drilling the hole. After the two holes are drilled I use the small snippers to cut between the holes forming the slit. This method leaves the upper lip of the Altoids tin intact without any sharp edges inside.

Read on, check out: Day[25] = 2.15.2009
Yesterday, check out: Day[23] = 2.13.2009
Or start from the beginning: Day[0] = 1.21.2009

About SomeoneKnows

Making It To The Party – Day 23

2.13.2009 (Friday) –  Day 23  –

The Party Game That Rocks…

HackDC Party

HackDC Party

Our original wooden labyrinth spent last weekend in Washington DC with Bill (@hevnsnt). The HackDC group threw a party and Bill picked a prime location for this party game. Bill posted more pictures on his flickr account.

Behind the scenes…

Reports were all great from the SchmooCon and HackDC party where everyone seemed to love the labywiinth party game. The behind the scenes activities leading up to the party reveal some hectic challenges to get everything working.

The decision to take it to DC was made just a couple of days before Bill flew out. He was going to operate the game from his own computer and we didn’t have time to test anything out before he left. As usual, demo mode kicked into effect and things weren’t working. Jestin has an interesting chronicle of events on his web site titled Remote Robot Debugging.

Bill said he put the labyrinth in a protective box buried deep in his checked luggage. I though he should take the game as carry on instead. It would have been interesting hearing his explaination to TSA about this device with a timer thingy, motors, and wires hanging off.

Read on, check out: Day[24] = 2.14.2009
Yesterday, check out: Day[22] = 2.12.2009
Or start from the beginning: Day[0] = 1.21.2009

About SomeoneKnows

The Labyrinth Of Others Revealed – Day 22

2.12.2009 (Thursday) –  Day 22 –

John Bergins video From Inside

John Bergin's video From Inside

A couple of months ago I taught a Lego Robotics workshop at the HMS Beagle Science Store. This was a half day session during the week between Christmas and New Year holidays. I am always encouraging kids to create their own robotics lab at home and part of my discussion is to encourage a partnership with their parents. It helps to keep parents involved particularly when you may need a credit card for robot parts or tools and things like that. I like to invite parents to stay and participate in the workshops so several parents stayed as we built robots, had fun, and learned some programming. That was the first time I met John Bergin and his son Henry. You may remember Henry from my blog post on Day 10 as “Henry’s Design“.

Since then John and Henry have been to our Kansas City Robotics Society (KCRS) and Cowtown Computer Congress (CCCKC) meetings. They also built a MintyBoost at the CCCKC Soldering Workshop. It seems I learn just a little more about them each time we meet. John has offered some assistance with the Robotic Labyrinth for Science City and has initiated some other interesting opportunities.

Recently in one of his emails John revealed this interesting bit of information. A friend of his wrote in Boing Boing describing his award winning feature-length movie, “From Inside“. From the movie’s web site I learned about his web site Grinder Tool & Die which is a labyrinth itself rich with art, videos, music, talent, and more.

Read on, check out: Day[23] = 2.13.2009
Yesterday, check out: Day[21] = 2.11.2009
Or start from the beginning: Day[0] = 1.21.2009

About SomeoneKnows

Curing Concrete In KC Winters – Day 21

2.11.2009 (Wednesday) –  Day 21 –

The self leveling topping poured yesterday still looks like it is going to work without curling. Our next concern is how to assemble our labyrinth platform and get the adhesives to cure properly. According to the 3M engineer Bob talked with, we want the temperatures for proper curing of the adhesives bonding everything together to be in the 120 to 150 degree Fahrenheit range. Our warehouse space is unheated in Kansas City in the winter time. This time of year we could see a temperature range outside from 0 degrees to 70 degrees. Maintaining 150 degrees will take some work.

First thoughts are building a small structure around the curing assembly. We should be able to heat a small space using incandecent or infrared lights. The biggest concern is from the concrete floor pulling heat out from the bottom.



Bob has been on the phone with David Naylor, inventor and President of PowerBlanket. These blankets are designed for curing concrete in cold or sub freezing temperatures. Because we are concerned about heat being pulled out through the floor I was worried about the weight being placed upon the blanket. Bob found out that Mr. Naylor leaves these blankets in his driveway to melt snow and parks vehicles on top of them. Our use of the blankets should be very minor compared to using them on a driveway this way.

Read on, check out: Day[22] = 2.12.2009
Yesterday, check out: Day[20] = 2.10.2009
Or start from the beginning: Day[0] = 1.21.2009

About SomeoneKnows

Test Pour Self Leveling Surface- Day 20

2.10.2009 (Tuesday) –  Day 20 –

Self Leveling Compound

Self Leveling Compound

Bob made it back after his trip to the World of Concrete trade show and his session working with the self leveling compond (Day 14). Since we are planning on building the composite game platform in Maria’s donated warehouse space we need to protect the floors so we can clean everything up when finished.

Bob’s plan is to put down a protective plastic sheeting on the floor before pouring the concrete like mixture. The material we’re using here is Floor-Top STG Standard-Grade, Self-Leveling Topping/Underlayment produced by the W.R. Meadows Company. The concern raised from Todd Duewel, their  product representative, is whether this Floor-Top will curl when cured because of the plastic sheet between the topping and the floor.

We mixed the concrete like slurry according to the instructions on the bag. We created a shallow reservoir to contain the mixture by laying the plastic sheeting on the floor then draping it across square metal tubing to act as a dam to hold back the contents. We want the Floor-Top mixture to be about one inch thick so we calculated an area about 30 inches by 40 inches as our reservoir’s containment area.

After curing for several hours the mixture dried nicely and we aren’t seeing any evidence of the slab curling yet. We’ll continue to monitor the slab over then next few days.

Read on, check out: Day[21] = 2.11.2009
Yesterday, check out: Day[19] = 2.9.2009
Or start from the beginning: Day[0] = 1.21.2009

About SomeoneKnows

Out On A Limb – Day 19

2.9.2009 (Monday) –  Day 19 –

Going out on a limb”. This is more than a figure of speech that any kid who’s climbed in trees can explain. The further out you go; the more a tree’s limb bends or breaks.  Either way, if you keep going you’re bound to fall.

The labyrinth game requires a surface for the marble to roll around on. With the Science City’s labyrinth game we’re designing it to support a #5 soccer ball. This ball only weighs about 1 pound so it is not very heavy, it is easy to handle and you can carry it around all day without much effort. But if you hold the ball in your hand and  outstretch your arm it won’t take long before your arm begins aching.

If you imagine standing in the center of our 10′ x 12′ game platform and reach out to one of the far corners you would be stretching almost 8 feet. How much effort will it take to hold the ball up that far away? Our first problem is how do we extend our arm that far? What kind of materials can we find that will stay flat for a distance of 8 feet without sagging and letting our soccer ball fall to the floor? If we use an 8′ long wooden 2×4 it will support the soccer ball but it adds almost 13 pounds that we now have to lift along with the 1 pound soccer ball.

A Balancing Act

We are designing the labyrinth game to be supported from a single point at the center of the game platform. This requires a large surface that is self supporting across its entire surface. If it sags toward the outer edges it will cause the ball to roll away unexpectedly.

What kind of materials can we find that will provide a flat surface that doesn’t bend (much)? If we use 1/4″ steel plate it probably wouldn’t bend but if we use it for the entire surface it would weigh around 1,225 pounds. That would take some very large motors to make the game move.

We could try plywood in the 4′x8′ sheets. They weigh about 25 pounds per 1/4″ thickness but plywood that thin will sag toward the edges unless thicker sheets are used. If we tried building up a 2″ thick platform it would weigh about 750 pounds. This would be easier to move than the steel plate but it would still take larger motors than we want to use.

If while browsing the lumber yard looking for plywood you look another isle or two over you may find sheets of building insulation foam. A couple of similar products are the Owens Corning pink boards or Dow Chemical Company’s blue extruded polystyrene foam boards.When you pick up one of these boards up they are fairly stiff and very light weight. The 1/2″ insulation boards will sag toward the edges but if you try one of the 2″ thick boards it remains rigid across the boards length and width and at about 9 pounds it is much lighter than other building material options. If we could increase the thickness to 4″ the entire platform would weigh approximately 135 pounds. This could get us into motor sizes we’re more comfortable with.

We still have a problem when using the foam as our platform. It is not as durable as plywood or steel and pieces will begin breaking off. Inspiration for the game’s platform can be found in an office supply or art store when you buy foam core boards. These are sheets of cardboard laminated to both sides of a foam center. They make sturdy signs and art displays which are light weight. Cardboard is still not durable enough for our labyrinth platform but using outer skins of thin aluminum will give us a durable surface and relatively light

For more information about the Owens Corning Foamular brand check out this product information.

Read on, check out: Day[20] = 2.10.2009
Yesterday, check out: Day[18] = 2.8.2009
Or start from the beginning: Day[0] = 1.21.2009

About SomeoneKnows

Science City’s Robotic Labyrinth Project

We are three weeks into designing the interactive Robotic Labyrinth Game for Science City This ten foot by twelve foot (10′ x 12′) game is being built by volunteers with donations from our growing list of sponsors.

Science City is host to over 30,000 school kids and 170,000 family members per year. It is located inside Kansas City’s historic Union Station which sees approximately 2 Million visitors per year.

Twists and Turns

Twists and Turns

Who would have thought a little wooden labyrinth game could take us in so many directions. What started out as an idea to modify this toy into a party game is turning into an educational journey. This simple game modification is an inexpensive way of introducing kids to concepts used in robotics. The game is controlled by standing on a Nintendo WiiFit balance board. A computer is used to interpret your movements when you shift your weight around. The computer sends commands to the popular Arduino microcontroller that tells servo motors how much to turn the knobs on the game. The Arduino is a great way to introduce kids and adults to the world of microcontroller programming for their own inventions. If you haven’t already seen it, this video on YouTube shows how the game works.

The video helped launch us into even more directions. The Kansas City Robotics Society (KCRS) donates interactive displays to Science City and we suggested including a robotic labyrinth game. Science City’s director liked this idea and suggested we scale it up to 12 feet. He wanted to use something kids are familiar with like a soccer ball to simulate the marble.

This project has us tackling some real world problems like building lighter weight structures. We are designing an aluminum skinned composite using rigid foam core just like the pink building insulation you get at the lumber yard. To build this game table we are working with Materials Science issues ranging from the selection of materials to finding ways of bonding them together at the molecular level. Key to this project is advice from 3M Engineers in their Aerospace Adhesive division about techniques needed to glue together our aluminum composite game table.

Henrys Design

Henry's Design

One of the best examples of why we’re doing this comes from 12 year old Henry who submitted ideas on how we can put the table into motion using pneumatic cylinders. Hopefully this project will help stimulate the imagination and creativity of other young inventors, future scientists, and engineers.

We now have programmers curious about creating web applications so people from around the world can play the game over the Internet from their own home. Not satisfied with stopping there, we wondered, could we add a webcam and use motion detection to get a computer playing the game for us? So, we’ve also started an OpenCV Study Group to learn about image processing hoping to find a way to make this happen too.

Our completion date for the basic game was chosen to coincide with the March 2-7, 2009 opening of a new group called the Cowtown Computer Congress (CCCKC). This group is a grassroots organization of tinkerers, hackers, explorers, artists, inventors and technology enthusiasts in the Kansas City area.

Since the video hit, people who hear about this project are asking – “how can I help”? This project is made possible by donations of time, materials, workspace, expertise, and money from volunteers and sponsors. We are entering our building phase and still need materials to build with. For more information you can check the blog chronicling daily progress of the Robotic Labyrinth starting here.

If you would like to help you can contact us at:

Science City and CCCKC are non-profit organizations.

Sponsor Organizations

ClayCo Electric

Clayco Electric

ClayCo Electrical Contractors

Sheet Metal Workers Local Union 2 – The apprentice and journeyman training

Sheet Metal Workers Local Union 2

The apprentice and journeyman training

Barclay-Moore Piggyback & Warehousing

Barclay-Moore Piggyback & Warehousing

W. R. Meadows

W. R. Meadows

W. R. Meadows

About SomeoneKnows

Learning Alibre CAD – Day 18

2.8.2009 (Sunday) –  Day 18 –

It’s A Dual Monitor Day

Today is a day for using two computer screens at the same time as I work through tutorials on Alibre. At our Robotic Labyrinth builder’s meeting Saturday, Richard Brull showed me a 3D part model that he designed using the Alibre Design System and suggested I give it a try. I have been dreading drawing the plans out with my usual Computer Aided Design (CAD) tools.

This is an exciting tool! Normally I avoid time locked demo versions of software but Alibre gives me a full version for 30 days then allows me to run the Alibre Design Xpress forever. At least the time I invest now learning their product is not all lost when the evaluation mode expires. I do have to hurry though, my favorite feature is part of their Professional Version upgrade.

Over the last year I’ve tried using QCad and an older version of AutoSketch I bought at a garage sale to lay out my sheet metal projects. They work and have improved my accuracy and precision when building small projects. I don’t have CNC milling machines but instead build using simpler tools like a drill press and band saw. My projects have come out fitting together pretty well because of the templates and patterns I’ve made using CAD.

I have fallen in love with Alibre’s SheetMetal workspace feature. This is going to be great for laying out the aluminum sheets for our labyrinth game platform’s top and bottom skins. We can model the foam core of the composite and design the close out end pieces to fit right into place. The close out pieces are dependent on the exact thickness of the foam and Alibre’s parametric design feature can easily adjust our design if the actual thickness of the material we receive is different from what was planned. Each of the pieces can be modeled separately then brought together as an assembly.

The metal bending feature takes care of the additional length needed just as the real bends are made.  The designs can then be unfolded as a flat pattern used for cutting and drilling holes. Better yet, this can go directly to CNC equipment like a water jet for a precision fit.

Robotics Summer Camp For Kids

Robotics workshop mini-sumos built from scratch

Robotics workshop mini-sumo's built from scratch

Last year I created a summer camp for kids session at the Kansas City Metropolitan Community College’s Blue River campus. The kids ranged in age from about 12 to 16 years old. We built mini sumo robots from scratch including cutting, drilling, and folding our chassis and then etched and soldered our own circuit boards. The best compliment I heard from the kids was:

“I thought this would be some lame class where the instructor sets down a kit then goes off for coffee and comes back about an hour later. This class is exactly what I wanted”.

Mini sumo robot

Mini sumo robot

The complement was from a kid who’s hydrogen experiment blew up his basement. This was a fun session for me too.

Many possibilities for incorporating Alibre into these sessions include:

  • Creating a digital model of our robot
  • Design our chassis and digitally folding the sheet metal.
  • Unfold the design to reveal our construction plans
  • Model our jig assembly used to bend the chassis

A Reflection Of My Identity

People tend to identify who we are by what we do for a living. Throughout the last 20 years I was an independent contractor writing custom software for clients using MicroStation CAD systems. So my first choice in CAD was Bentley System’s MicroStation, simply because I’ve used it for so long and know it best. As Bentley’s Corporate policies changed, the markets began closing for resellers of MicroStation so my clients began going out of business one by one. Then Bentley began shipping programming opportunities overseas. Their licensing for software developers evolved into a fee of over $2,000 per year until I couldn’t justify that expense any longer. Clients stopped calling, my software license expired, traveling stopped, billing stopped, coding programs stopped, cell phone service stopped and one of the hardest things to come to terms with, it seemed my identity stopped too.

Last Monday with the donation of warehouse space I realized the responsibility of being accessible for this project. Even though I’m unemployed and volunteering my time, I borrowed some money to have a cell phone while spending so much time away from the house. I have lost a few slips of paper I was keeping notes on so I spent more money than I should on refill pages for my Franklin Planner. Then today working through the Alibre tutorials I had a brief sense of who I once was triggered by a phone,  a planner, and a CAD system. Even if the cell phone doesn’t work after the end of the month and the CAD program looses its nice features in 30 days it was a nice moment reflecting on who I once was. I feel for the thousands of people who are loosing their jobs now and ultimately the identity they’ve become to know too.

Read on, check out: Day[19] = 2.09.2009
Yesterday, check out: Day[17] = 2.7.2009
Or start from the beginning: Day[0] = 1.21.2009

About SomeoneKnows


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.