Project Roster – Autumn 2020

Here are the variety of projects I have in mind to work on next. Their purposes vary in their degrees of practicality, potential monetization, and skills learning. The reason why there are multiple projects is to avoid stagnation, and this is based on one of the major learnings from Robot Missions Bowie v1. The project roster will be updated each season. Projects that are no longer of use will be replaced with new ones, and the ones that stay will be updated. Also, the list does not mean every single one of these projects has to be accomplished for that season.

My hypothesis is that this time limit will encourage working on different projects if they are no longer serving a purpose or no longer show any resemblance to future success. Each project has objectives, learning goals, and users & applications (hypothetically) sections. Here I’ll share the first two sections, which will give an outline of what the projects are. Updates will be shared as progress logs – though currently unsure about the proper location for each. All the updates will be syndicated at my Patreon page. Thanks to my Patreon patrons who are helping to support this work!


 

Terra Pulse

Objective:

  • Display data from environmental and conservation IoT devices, like robots or the buoys on a map
  • Have a ‘league’ feature where the devices can ‘battle’ each other, and we will see which category ‘wins’ for that week
  • Server side, log the data to a text file or some sort of store
  • Version of the buoy that connects via cellular and sends data to the map
  • Come up with a different name (Terra Pulse is already taken)

Learning Goals:

  • AWS
  • MQTT
  • Web app, Javascript development
  • Involving people with other devices to be part of the platform
  • Involving people who could find the platform useful to test it

 


 

Mobile Brachiation Robot

Objective:

  • Mainly an outlandish project to be used as a platform for learning
  • Learn inverse kinematics
  • Learn control systems
  • Keep iterating on it

Learning Goals:

  • Control systems
  • Inverse kinematics

 


 

In-Situ Terram Ignota

Objective:

  • Detect natural and non-natural objects on the ground
  • Generate a report / count and with locations of the objects
  • Be battery operated and withstand significant vibrations

Learning Goals:

  • Tensorflow Object Detection
  • NVIDIA Jetson hardware
  • Light strobing / flashing to capture sharp images

 


 

Underwater Sampler and Fish Traffic Monitor

Objective:

  • Develop a submersible ‘buoy’ to record footage underwater
  • Obtain a water sample from underwater
  • Detect fish on board
  • Determine what illumination settings work best for visibility
  • Train a model to detect fish
  • Operate in colder temperatures
  • Have a bubbler to protect the water sampler intake
  • Simplify and minify the release mechanism
  • Art with the interaction of water and lights (just for fun)

Learning Goals:

  • Tensorflow Object Detection
  • Lighting underwater
  • Underwater sampling
  • Valve for not letting the sampled water escape

 


 

Terrestrial Rover Improvements

Objective:

  • Improve the sub-systems of Bowie v1.0 to be better
  • Make the sub-systems be an educational kit to sell in the store

Learning Goals:

  • Enhancing knowledge about circuit board design
  • Motor power function and formulas
  • Programming and quality assurance process for making small batch products
  • Preparing products to sell on store
  • Generating revenue

 


 

Knowledge Sharing & Documentation

Objective:

  • Document and share the pieces of tech that I developed for Bowie v1.0 that have not been shared yet
  • For example: the augmented reality navigation, and the system architecture
  • Share what I have learned, so it can be helpful to other robot builders

Learning Goals:

  • Communicating complex technical parts of a project
  • Video placement setup when I’m speaking

 


 

Zangroves

Objective:

  • Structure in the water to hold water above it (like a water tank), outer walls are a rigid structure holding plants – like a mangrove
  • Model the idea with custom simulations and maze generators
  • Figure out how the idea would be constructed with concrete 3D printing
  • Illustrate the idea with renderings and artworks
  • Understand the path that it would need to be fully realised

Learning Goals:

  • Maze generator
  • Particle simulation
  • Conditions required for mangrove plants
  • Concrete 3D printing
  • Best types of concrete
  • Building mega-structures for harsh conditions and forces

 


 

Defeat “should”s with the Frivolous Project Matrix

Defeat “should”s with the Frivolous Project Matrix

Sometimes there are moments in my personal projects when all across the board it is (what I call) ‘boring’ work. A task is considered boring when it does not involve any creativity, technical, or learning. This type of work does not help keep my soul alive. The problem is that the activation energy to accomplish boring tasks is significantly more. This is relevant when working on long-term projects which require pacing to endure throughout all the work that needs to get done. Also, I should mention, this probably only applies to projects that you aren’t making a wage from yet. I think a lot of things change when it goes from a project to a paying role, it becomes more important and you are (finally) being rewarded for years of work and training. One can dream, I guess. Until that dream is achieved, here’s a solution I’m going to try.

Weekend recharging for me (after sleep is covered) means engaging in boundless curiosity and … MAKING STUFF! Make whatever! Learn something new while making! Try making different things! What happens if this attaches to this and does that? Who knows, just try it! For me, this is much more fun and inspiring than, say, consuming more content and videogames, as well as being forced into social situations because that’s what society expects you to do to have fun. Bah! No way!

Wait! There’s a caveat: Even if you’re MAKING STUFF, you’ll still be confused about what project to make, and most importantly you’ll be haunted with the “should be doing XYZ” thoughts. The “should” thoughts are not very productive because they discount the entire purpose – to recharge. Here’s a way I’m going to combat this, and I call it:

THE FRIVOLOUS PROJECT MATRIX

As the name suggests, the frivolous project matrix is comprised of a set of criteria to grade a project idea on, and 3 project ideas. If you have more project ideas going in to the weekend, then you need to cut it down to just 3. Then it is time to figure out the criteria. For me, this is the criteria list and the description as a prompt:

CriteriaDescription
Costcan i use supplies already available for this? or are new components needed for it?
Unstructuredis there any structure needed to complete the project? does this project have elements that are ‘out of the box’?
Unlockabilitywould doing this project make some other future project ideas possible?
Playfulnessis there an element of unknown in this project that will involve seeing how a part turns out, and then building on that result? seeing how things change if something different is added to the mix? eg, just playing!
Adventurousdoes this touch on a different area? is it new? will it give a different perspective?
Creativityare there artistic elements involved? eg, interactivity, positioning shapes in different ways, colours, blinking leds, sounds, re-arranging blocks, etc.
Challengingis this project technically challenging? new frontiers of my skillset?
Achievabilityis this project an easy win? will feel good from accomplishing it? is this project achievable? (it’s ok if not, sometimes the end goal isn’t the purpose for trying)
Learning new skillwill there be learning involved?
Content creationcould there be a piece created from this? eg, a video, tutorial, or blog post
Monetizationcould it lead to something that could be a product, offering, or service?
Timeis it achievable within the finite time of a weekend? (*note, if it still sounds interesting but is not, could investigate slicing the problem down even more)

The criteria is derived from immediate aspects in the project idea, and from possible future outcomes from the project. The weighting of the criteria can change, each week or whatever periodicity you want. That’s the fun and adaptable part, sometimes the weight of each of these may change depending on what’s on my mind. With the weights, it can capture this with regards to each project idea.

After that, it’s time to rate the projects and see the scores. The scores don’t make the decision of course – they are a number that can assist you in making the final choice on whether or not to embark on the project or not. Finally, once complete, go forth and MAKE STUFF and recharge! The Frivolous Project Matrix assists in defeating the “should”s that usually flood one’s mind when taking a break.

Any pre-requisites or post-requisites for frivolous projects? At the start: closing all existing browser tabs (bookmark if need be) to start with a fresh computer view. At the end: document and blog what was learned! Tidy up workbench and organize tools & parts. Close everything to start the week with a fresh computer view. And remember, during the whole frivolous project there is no pressure to succeed at all, and if there is any portion of it that is boring for more than 5 mins, then move on to something else!

Alright, that’s all for now. Anyway, thanks to the frivolous project matrix, it’s time to go MAKE STUFF!

Glowing Space Egg

Glowing Space Egg

Side project to experiment diffusing addressable rgb leds with 3D prints. The shell was 1.5mm thick, from translucent PLA material. If you curve the strip of leds opposite to the profile created by the shell, it helps diffuse it a bit better since it’s further away, and the curvature can make some of the elements closer / farther apart – this way it doesn’t look like a straight line. No interactivity in this project, it’s just the lights. Played and learned about ways to position the leds to cause minimal shadow effects, and diffusing evenly (as possible).

Here’s what it looks like glowing!

Two halves are joined by an inner disk. The inner disk holds two pieces that form the interior shape for the led strips. The microcontroller sits in between. The power cable exits through a slot in the back. There are two mounting points at the top where fishing line is strung to hang it up.

This is the interior shape

Another way of going about it could have been making a pillar in the centre, and wrapping the led strip around it (like a candy cane).

Another approach may also be to have two shells to diffuse the light. The inner shell could be a thin wall (0.4mm) with a variety of faces to make an interesting light pattern. The outer shell would then be a bit thicker, and help to evenly diffuse the light across the shape.

This was a very easy project with a fun result!

Start: DIY Project 1000 x 1000 (Rotary jet spinning)

Start: DIY Project 1000 x 1000 (Rotary jet spinning)

There is a project happening by the Prakash Lab called Project 1000 x 1000. The idea is distributed manufacturing of N95 mask filter material. It’s called this name because using this approach of medium scale manufacturing (enough fibre for 10,000 masks per day), then if 1000 Fab Labs / makers / small biz replicate this, it could be enough material for 1-10 million masks per day. Hence, 1000 x 1000. By the way, current manufacturing can’t scale beyond 1 or 2 million masks / day per factory. This is an alternate method.

Examples of the fibre produced through rotary jet spinning. Source: Project 1000 x 1000 by Prakash Lab COVID-19 Response Group

I first heard about this project through the Fab Lab update video. It blew my mind – making fibres by spinning? Except for cotton candy, didn’t even realise this was possible! There’s more info about electro-spinning here. Seeing the Project 1000 x 1000 “Anyone can join, help or replicate these efforts elsewhere.”, I want to try it out too. The first step is reading this document. Here are some highlights:

Source: Project 1000 x 1000 by Prakash Lab COVID-19 Response Group

As hospitals run out of N95 masks (critical protective gear necessary to capture 95% of particles at 0.3um or greater) and the supply chain isn’t yet able to keep up with the escalating demand, we have been looking for alternative means to produce similarly-performing filter materials. The fabrication of micro- and nanofibers to produce N95-equivalent filters is currently done via a melt-blow based extrusion process which requires extensive tooling of the head (too complex to be scaled up in a short period of time). At a smaller scale though, other methods such as electro-spinning, and rotary jet spinning can be used to make nanofibers. Our own calculations and literature review, we find that rotary jet spinning (RJS) has the capacity to meet the demand of medium-scale production of N95 grade nano-fiber material and seems to be the one that would be most applicable in this scenario[1]. RJS can produce nanofibers about 50x faster than electrospinning and does not involve the danger of high voltage [2] and is very simple to set up.

[…]

We propose to use waste styrofoam – commonly available everywhere – as a raw material to convert it into N95 grade nano-fiber material which provides the key ingredient needed for making high grade PPE masks necessary for health care workers.

Source: Project 1000 x 1000 by Prakash Lab COVID-19 Response Group

They posted 3D print files for the cup that spins on the dremel. However, these designs rely on a 24 gauge needle. My hunch as to why this is is perhaps they were using the metal for electro spinning, rather than just rotary jet spinning (without the high voltage). It can also be tricky to get that amount of precision on a print.

We don’t have the needle heads on hand, but a quick search online shows its diameter is 0.55mm. Later learned that the inner diameter is smaller, at 0.311mm.

There were a few different methods I thought about. Could use the precision mill on some single sided copper clad to make the exit hole and attach that to the print. Might be prone to leakage though. Or, by orienting the print properly and cutting it in half, make it that way at 0.1mm layer height. Here’s the test:

The process for this is, cut the model in half and 3D print the halves. Sand the top layer down to be flat. There are channels outside of the ‘nozzle’ area, these are for hot glue. Apply the hot glue in the channels for one of the halves. Attach both halves together, apply more glue to the outer perimeter.

A quick water test showed no leakage when the exit hole was blocked. Water flowed fine when the exit hole was uncovered.

After seeing the test worked, now it’s time to move on to the cup. There will be 6 ‘nozzles’. Here’s what the design looks like:

The pieces are 3D printing now. The next steps are:

  • Once the prints finish, post processing, then checking tolerances and little modifications if necessary
  • Figuring out a mount for the dremel
  • Testing the dispensing with water + food colouring, covered by a translucent box
Ancient 3D printer tech here

Questions and thoughts on my mind:

  • What if the fluid ‘adheres’ to the plastic via surface tension, and what if the centrifugal force isn’t enough to fling it away from the piece? Is that one of the reasons why needle heads were used? If this happens, what can be ways of fixing it?
  • How does the distance of the exit holes from the axel of the dremel impact the formation of the fibres?
  • This might work with drone motors (BLDC) too. Will it work? This could be an interesting way to scale it with drones having 4 (or more!) motors.
  • What is the ratio between styrofoam and acetone needed?
  • Is my dremel fast enough?
  • How will I set up an area to test in my room?
  • What else can we make by recycling materials in this way? What else will these fibres be good for (besides pillows etc)?
  • Remember to stay healthy and not project overwhelm

Welcome to the blog

Welcome. This will be updated periodically with cool things I’m working on, observations from adventures that inspire me, and notes from learnings of various topics. This will serve as a place to put these thoughts that is less ephemeral and more in depth than currently popular alternatives.