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We always think that crossing the Atlantic in a blimp would be very serene — at least once they put heaters on board. The Hindenburg, the R-101, and the Shenandoah put an end to the age of the airship, at least for commercial passenger travel. But you can still fly your own with a helium balloon and some electronics. One notable project — the Blimpduino — has evolved into the Blimpduino 2. The open-source software is on GitHub. We couldn’t find the PCB layout, so we aren’t sure if it is or will be open. The 3D printed parts are available, though.

The PCB is the heart of the matter, a four-layer board with an ARM M0 processor, an ESP8266 WiFi module, four motor outputs, two motor outputs, a 9-axis inertial navigation system, an altimeter, and a forward object detection system. There’s also a battery charger onboard.

The standard set up uses three props: two for thrust and one for altitude. There’s a smartphone app and apparently, you can even have a copilot with a second phone. The lifting body is a mylar balloon with helium and they say the control is suitable even for a very large balloon. The altimeter data is from a time-of-flight sensor and there’s also a pressure transducer with temperature sensor if you want to measure higher altitudes.

We couldn’t embed the video, but there’s one of people flying the things through hoops on the website. You can, however, see a promotional video, below. As you might expect, payload capability is very low and so 3D printed parts have low infill and the board is made to be light.

Of course, our own [Sophi Kravitz] has been building her drone blimp army for some time and we are waiting for her attempt at world domination any day now. If you are in the mood for something lower tech, you can always rip apart a toy car and add your own balloon.


It isn’t a unique idea, but we liked [Eric Wiemers’s] take on the classic animated skull for Halloween. In addition to showing you the code and the wiring, the video spends some time discussing what the audio looks like and what has to happen to get it into a format suitable for the Arduino. You can see the spooky video, below.

Of course, this is also a 3D printing project, although the skull is off-the-shelf. We wondered if he felt like a brain surgeon taking the Dremel to the poor skull. To fix the two parts of the device, he used brass threaded inserts that are heat set, something we’ve seen before, but are always surprised we don’t see more often.

Of course, the project uses a servo. We may have missed it but other than freezing the video, we didn’t see the Arduino source code online. It isn’t much code, though, so typing it from the video is an option. The schematic is a little easier to read when you realize the top part is the schematic and the bottom part is the “as built” layout.

We are glad this skull doesn’t taunt us with our time remaining like some we’ve seen. We’ve seen this done with fewer parts, by the way, and you can compare the videos to see how different the circuits respond.

We’ve been seeing an influx of repurposed 3D printers recently. Thrifty hackers have been leveraging cheap 3D printers as a way to bootstrap their builds, on everything from laser engravers to pick and place machines. There’s nothing wrong with that, and honestly when you can get a cheap 3D printer for less than the cost of the components separately thanks to the economies of scale, you’d be foolish not to.

But there’s still something to be said for the classic RepRap mentality of building things using printed parts and smooth rods. Case in point, the largely 3D printed plotter that [darth vader] sent in for our viewing pleasure. This isn’t somebody sicking a pen on the extruder of their open box Monoprice special, this is a purpose built plotter and it shows. In the video after the break you can see not only how well it draws, but also how large of a work area it has compared to a modified 3D printer.

If you know your way around a 3D printer, most of it should look pretty familiar to you. Using the same GT2 belts, steppers, end stop switches, and linear bearings which are ubiquitous in 3D printers, it shouldn’t be difficult to source the parts to build your own. It even uses a Mega 2560 with RAMPS 1.4 running Marlin 1.1.9 for control.

The biggest difference is the physical layout. Since there’s no heavy hotend or extruder assembly to move around, the plotter has a cantilever design which gives it far greater reach. As it only needs to sightly lift the pen off the paper, there’s no need for a complex Z axis with leadscrews either; a simple servo mounted to the end of the arm is used to raise and lift the pen. We especially like the use of a tape measure as strain relief for his wiring, a fantastic tip that we (and many of you) fell in love with last year.

While it’s hard to beat just tossing a pen onto the business end of your desktop 3D printer in terms of convenience, we think it’s pretty clear from this build that the results don’t quite compare. If you want a real plotter, build a real plotter.

There’s an interesting side effect of creating a popular piece of science fiction: if you wait long enough, say 30 or 40 years, there’s a good chance that somebody will manage to knock that pesky “fiction” bit off the end. That’s how we got flip phones that looked like the communicators from Star Trek, and rockets that come in for a landing on a tail of flame. Admittedly it’s a trick that doesn’t always work, but we’re not in the business of betting against sufficiently obsessed nerds either.

Coming in right on schedule 32 years after the release of Metroid on the Nintendo Entertainment System, we now have a functional laser arm cannon as used by the game’s protagonist Samus Aran, courtesy of [Hyper_Ion]. It’s not quite as capable as its video game counterpart, but if your particular corner of the solar system is under assault from black balloons you should be in good shape. Incidentally no word yet on a DIY Power Suit that folds the wearer up into a tiny ball, but no rush on that one.

Modeled after the version of the weapon Samus carried in 2002’s iconic Metroid Prime, [Hyper_Ion] 3D printed the cannon in a number of pieces that screw together in order to achieve the impressive final dimensions. He printed it at 0.3 mm layers to speed up the process, but as you can probably imagine, printing life-size designs like this is not for the faint of heart or short of time. While the use of printed threads does make the design a bit more complex, the fact that the cannon isn’t glued together and can be broken down for maintenance or storage is a huge advantage.

Ever popular NeoPixel strips give the cannon a bit of flash, and a speaker driven by a 2N2222 transistor on an Arduino Nano’s digital pin allows for some rudimentary sound effects with nothing more than a PWM signal. In the video after the break you can see how the lights and sounds serve as a warning system for the laser itself, as the cannon can be seen “charging up” for a few seconds before emitting a beam.

Of course, this is the part of the project that might have some readers recoiling in horror. To provide some real-world punch, [Hyper_Ion] has equipped his arm cannon with a 2.5W 450nm laser module intended for desktop engraving machines. To say this thing is dangerous is probably an understatement, so we wouldn’t blame you if you decided to leave the laser module off your own version. But it certainly looks cool, and as long as you’ve got some proper eye protection there’s (probably) more dangerous things you can do in the privacy of your own home.

Shame this kind of technology wasn’t really practical back when [Ryan Fitzpatrick] made this fantastic Power Suit helmet for a Metroid fan production.

Those just starting out in 3D printing often believe that their next major purchase after the printer will be a 3D scanner. If you’re going to get something that can print a three dimensional model, why not get something that can create said models from real-world objects? But the reality is that only a small percentage ever follow through with buying the scanner; primarily because they are notoriously expensive, but also because the scanned models often require a lot of cleanup work to be usable anyway.

While this project by [Travis Antoniello] won’t make it any easier to utilize scanned 3D models, it definitely makes them cheaper to acquire. So at least that’s half the battle. Consisting primarily of a stepper motor, an Arduino, and a EasyDriver controller, this is a project you might be able to assemble from the parts bin. Assuming you’ve got a pretty decent camera in there, anyway…

The general idea is to place a platform on the stepper motor, and have the Arduino rotate it 10 degrees at a time in front of a camera on a tripod. The camera is triggered by an IR LED on one of the Arduino’s digital pins, so that it takes a picture each time the platform rotates. There are configurable values to give the object time to settle down after rotation, and a delay to give the camera time to take the picture and get ready for the next one.

Once all the pictures have been taken, they are loaded into special software to perform what’s known as photogrammetry. By compiling all of the images together, the software is able to generate a fairly accurate 3D image. It might not have the resolution to make a 1:1 copy of a broken part, but it can help shave some modeling time when working with complex objects.

We’ve previously covered the use of photogrammetry to design 3D printed accessories, as well as a slightly different take on an automated turntable a few years ago. The process is still not too common, but the barriers to giving it a try on your own are at least getting lower.

The scientific community cannot always agree on how much water a person needs in a day, and since we are not Fremen, we should give it more thought than we do. For many people, remembering to take a sip now and then is all we need and the H2gO is built to remind [Angeliki Beyko] when to reach for the water bottle. A kitchen timer would probably get the job done, but we can assure you, that is not how we do things around here.

A cast silicone droplet lights up to show how much water you have drunk and pressing the center of the device means you have taken a drink. Under the hood, you find a twelve-node NeoPixel ring, a twelve millimeter momentary switch, and an Arduino Pro Mini holding it all together. A GitHub repo is linked in the article where you can find Arduino code, the droplet model, and links to all the parts. I do not think we will need a device to remind us when to use the bathroom after all this water.

Another intrepid hacker seeks to measure a person’s intake while another measures output.

We’re all familiar with the experience of buying hobby servos. The market is awash with cheap clones which have inflated specs and poor performance. Even branded servos often fail to deliver, and sometimes you just can’t get the required torque or speed from the small form factor of the typical hobby servo.

Enter [James Bruton] and his DIY RC servo from a windscreen wiper motor. Windscreen wiper motors are cheap as chips, and a classic salvage. The motor shaft is connected to a potentiometer via a pulley and some string, providing the necessary closed-loop feedback. Instead of using the traditional analog circuitry found inside a servo, an Arduino provides the brains. This means PID control can be implemented on the ‘duino, and tuned to get the best response from different load characteristics. There’s also the choice of different interfacing options: though [James]’ Arduino code accepts PWM signals for a drop-in R/C servo replacement, the addition of a microcontroller means many other input signal types and protocols are available. In fact, we recently wrote about serial bus servos and their numerous advantages.

We particularly love this because of the price barrier of industrial servomotors; sure, this kind of solution doesn’t have the precision or torque that off-the-shelf products provide, but would be sufficient for many hacks. Incidentally, this is what inspired one of our favourite open source projects: ODrive, which focuses on harnessing the power of cheap brushless motors for industrial use.

As if we didn’t have enough to worry about in regards to the coming robot uprising, [Ali Aslam] of Potent Printables has recently wrapped up work on a 3D printed robot that can flatten itself down to the point it can fit under doors and other tight spaces. Based on research done at UC Berkeley, this robot is built entirely from printed parts and off the shelf hardware, so anyone can have their own little slice of Skynet.

On display at East Coast RepRap Festival

The key to the design are the folding “wings” which allow the robot to raise and lower itself on command. This not only helps it navigate tight spaces, but also gives it considerable all-terrain capability when it’s riding high. Rather than wheels or tracks, the design uses six rotors which look more like propellers than something you’d expect to find on a ground vehicle. These rotors work at the extreme angles necessary when the robot has lowered itself, and allow it to “step” over obstructions when they’re vertical.

For the electronics, things are about what you’d expect. An Arduino Pro Mini combined with tiny Pololu motor controllers is enough to get the bot rolling, and a Flysky FS-X6B receiver is onboard so the whole thing can be operated with a standard RC transmitter. The design could easily be adapted for WiFi or Bluetooth control if you’d rather not use RC gear for whatever reason.

Want to build your own? All of the STL files, as well as a complete Bill of Materials, are available on the Thingiverse page. [Ali] even has a series of videos on YouTube videos walking through the design and construction of the bot to help you along. Outside of the electronics, you’ll need a handful of screws and rods to complement the 50+ printed parts. Better start warming up the printer now.

As an interesting aside, we got a chance to see this little critter first hand at the recent East Coast RepRap Festival in Maryland, along with a number of other engineering marvels.

We know we’ve told you this already, but you should really keep a close eye on your 3D printer. The cheaper import machines are starting to display a worrying tendency to go up in flames, either due to cheap components or design flaws. The fact that it happens is, sadly, no longer up for debate. The best thing we can do now is figure out ways to mitigate the risk for all the printers that are already deployed in the field.

At the risk of making a generalization, most 3D printer fires seem to be due to overheating components. Not a huge surprise, of course, as parts of a 3D printer heat up to hundreds of degrees and must remain there for hours and hours on end. Accordingly, [Bin Sun] has created a very slick device that keeps a close eye on the printer’s temperature at various locations, and cuts power if anything goes out of acceptable range.

The device is powered by an Arduino Nano and uses a 1602 serial LCD and KY040 rotary encoder to provide the user interface. The user can set the shutdown temperature with the encoder knob, and the 16×2 character LCD will give a real-time display of current temperature and power status.

Once the user-defined temperature is met or exceeded, the device cuts power to the printer with an optocoupler relay. It will also sound an alarm for one minute so anyone in the area will know the printer needs some immediate attention.

We’ve recently covered a similar device that minimizes the amount of time the printer is powered on, but checking temperature and acting on it in real-time seems a better bet. No matter what, we’d still suggest adding a smoke detector and fire extinguisher to your list of essential 3D printer accessories.

While 3D printing has been a great thing all by itself, it has also made electromechanical hardware a commodity item. Instead of raiding an old printer for motors and rods of unknown provenance, you can now buy everything very inexpensively due to the economy of scale and offshore manufacturing.

[Mr. Innovation] proves this point with his recent paper cutting machine which feeds and slices paper strips with user-selected width and quantity. He did steal one roller assembly from an old printer, but most of it is straight out of a 3D printer build. There’s NEMA stepper motors, modular motor driver boards, smooth rods, belts, and pulleys.

The blade of the cutter is just a standard snap off box cutter blade. It is angled so it doesn’t drag when the motor pulls it back to the home position after a cut. Honestly, we might have made the paper mechanism retract the paper a bit at that point, but that would be simple to add to the device’s firmware.

You might think an automated paper cutter is a bit lazy, but we could see if you were cutting up flyers for a hackerspace event, or cutting paper insulators to fit in an enclosure for a kit you were selling in small quantities.

The biggest issue we saw was that the machine is open loop. It would have been interesting to put an optical sensor between the roller and the blade. When the paper covered the sensor you’d know the position of the edge and could then move the paper a precise amount, assuming it didn’t slip. Another idea would be to put the sensor after the blade in such a way that it could be moved so that the cut would happen once the paper covered the sensor. You could probably do the same thing with a microswitch or some other sensor.

Still, this looks like a simple but useful project for some leftover 3D printer parts. Just be careful with the open blade.

We couldn’t help but think about building this with a floppy disk blade for cutting plastic. Or you could mount a laser (but use a different power supply, please).

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