Lab LogoFletch's Fab Academy 2014 Blog

01. Principles and Practices / Project Management

This week we had an excellent talk about the genesis of the FabLab concept.  We also discussed the concepts of source control and project management and were given our first weekly assignment, which is two fold:

01.1 Assignment Part 1 - Student Website

This week I've spent quite a bit of time looking at different CMS systems and HTML editors.  The choice is quite large so initially I've decided to keep my blog as plain HTML.  I've also been experimenting with a new drawing package and graphics tablet, so the concept sketches are quite 'raw' at the moment.  It may be better to photograph hand drawn sketches in future.
ToDo: Find an HTML5 compliant toolkit, template or CMS system to keep current content and 'prettify' my blog.

01.2 Assignment Part 2 - Final Project Proposal

I have a number of ideas for possible final projects, some are quite cool frivolities, some are more focused on improving the world.  All of these iseas are fairly rough right now and one will need to be chosen and considerably developed over the next few weeks to make it viable.

01.2.1 Proposal 1 - Water Purifier

Clean drinking water is a problem in many parts of the world.  There are already quite a few solutions to this, however many require quite high tech materials or manufacturing processes.  So partly inspired by Ferdinand Meier's Fab Academy 2013 project and partly by the Oxfam Water Appeal, I'd like to design a water purification device that can be made with only the machines / materials available in a FabLab.
Prior Art: Oko Filter Bottle, Lifesaver Bottle
Water Purifier Image
Considerations: Power source, tabletop or portable, how to test water quality.  Purification method - Evaporative Distillation, Filtration, Electrolysis and recombination, Chemical treatment.

01.2.2 Proposal 2 - Self Assembling Chain

Inspired by the way ribosomes assemble amino acids into unfolded protein chains I'd like to build a self assembling chain system.  I envisage a tray of many identical loose 'chain' components and one 'assembler'.  The tray would be shaken vigorously back and forth causing the assembler to bounce into chain components, collecting them and hooking them onto it's growing chain.

Prior Art: Unsure of any.
Chain Assembler Image
The assembler would contain a mechanism a bit like an clock escapement that hook onto new parts and only allow them to feed through in one direction.  The only power input would be the shaking of the tray.

It would be hard to get the individual components to latch into the assembler reliably.
This concept could be evolved by having a variety of different 'chain' components and creating a chain with a given pattern by feeding another already existing chain through the assembler (think tRNA).
It could be further evolved by making the loose components fragments of electronic circuits with connectors at the joins and using the system to build linear electronic circuits.

01.2.3 Proposal 3 - Marble Computer

Logic gates activated by rolling marbles.  Gates would be combined into a useful computing fragment, maybe a counter, maybe a clock.  Input devices could be a simple pulse generator that drops a marble in at regular intervals.  Output devices could be coloured discs flipped up by passing marbles or marbles stacking in tubes or wells.  This could become quite a large art installation.
Prior Art: Youtube Marble Gates, Marble Adder

Marble Logic Gates
Considerations: How to adjust the timing.  Do you need to clock the system in some way or does it run asynchronously relying on marbles arriving at gates on time?  In an idea world the only power source would be gravity feed marbles, however electro-magnets could be used to hold ball bearings in gates.

01.2.4 Proposal 4 - Interactive Play Cubes

A series of approx 50mm interactive childrens stacking blocks.  Each of the 6 faces would have an an output device ranging from a single LED or buzzer, multiple LEDS or a LCD display.  Faces would also have a system that allowed the cubes to communicate, maybe magnatised contacts, maybe infer-red.  Many simple games could then be developed to play on the cubes.

Prior Art: MIT Sifteo Cubes,

Interactive Cube
Human Input Devices: Buttons on cubes.  Light sensors

Human Output Devices: Single RGB LED, Multiple LED's in the shape of an alpha character or simple symbol, Buzzer, LCD display.

Inter Cube Communications Options: external metal contacts, IR, ISM radio

Communications with PC to upload game logic: USB, RS232, via a special cube?

01.2.5 Proposal 5 - 3D LED Display Matrix

An 8x8x8 grid of RGB LED's that can be used to display fun images or for ambient lighting.  Cubes like this are available off the shelf but are quite expensive.  They are also a fairly common 'maker' project, however they are time consuming to make and difficult to construct accurately enough to look good.  The challenge would be to come up with a simple reliable method to make them rapidly.

Prior Art: Hack a Day, Instructables
LED Cube

Considerations:  What would the controller be?  (Arduino, RaspPi, Custom)  What would you display?  (Sound to light, games, 3d tetris)

01.2.6 Proposal 6 - Something Arty

Not sure what yet but my idea would be to explore my creative side and create something with no purpose except visual pleasure!  A piece of wood and metal sculpture.

01.3 Project Management

Every week so far I've been having new ideas for things that would make fun final projects, but I've still not decided on one thing and actually started to plan it.  So as part of my project management I've decided that my first milestone, due 19th March, is 'Choose a Final Project'.