Tuesday, 15 September 2015

EM drive, Hackaday prize SEMI FINALS! and International Collaboration

So over the last few months I've been tweeting a lot about parts I've been making as part of a team entering the hackaday2015 prize. They are parts for an experimental (and contentious) drive system called an EM drive. Now.. I need to come clear.. nobody seems to be able to adequately explain the physics behind this possible phenomena... let alone me so it has been fun as people have been asking me a lot of questions and I can only say... I've just been making components! However here is Paul's simple explanation of the project

"The EMdrive is a new type of thruster - recently invented by Roger Shawyer. 
Unlike other propulsion systems which need to repel mass to produce thrust, the EMdrive can convert electrical energy into thrust directly. 

A working EMdrive would start a revolution in spaceflight, enabling manned deep space exploration. 

Several builds have been made worldwide (eg Chinese University, NASA), many show positive results. This topic is still quite new and needs a lot of research. 

Most EMdrives work with frequencies around 2.4 GHz. This makes them big and hard to test under DIY conditions (big vacuum chamber, liquid metal contacts) 
So our attempt is to build one which works with 24GHz, which reduces the form factor significantly. 
A so small EMdrive could be flown to space for 30000$ on a pocketqube satellite. "

  It's got a LOT of attention within the hackaday prize and has solicited hundreds and hundreds of comments on Hackaday, Reddit, Twitter, NASAforums etc and a great interview was conducted with Paul on n-o-d-e.net http://n-o-d-e.net/post/119343131451/building-a-diy-emdrive

I've really enjoyed the feeling of being in a team on this project.. even though we are quite challenged geographically! There are 3 members, myself in Wales UK, Paul Kocyla the project lead in Germany and Montasser Sallam in Jordan. To say we have never met irl, we have forged great bonds and very productive teamwork between us utilising many little productivity hacks... 

One of my favourite little hack/workflows has been our use of OpenScad as a CAD environment.. OpenScad is free and opensource and is a code based CAD environment.. the beauty of this means that it is SUPER simple to share work... me and Paul regularly ping each other direct messages with entire CAD files pasted in as plain text.. I have even been known to open the text in ScorchCAD (an android port of openScad) and do work on the file on my phone.. great for fitting in dev work around other duties... true digital nomadery! 

So we are through to the semifinals and are very excited to be there. The final assembly of the MKII system and test rig (DIY laser interferometer etc) is being put together by Paul to hopefully perform some initial tests just before the final hackaday prize deadline.

If you want to support us.. (we don't want your money) please raise the profile and go visit the main project page on Hackaday and 'like' the project by giving us a skull! https://hackaday.io/project/5596-em-drive

And here is a collection of bits wot I made for it!

 Frustrum cavity.. lots of angles and geometry on this one.. accurate to around 0.02mm and >16um
 Piston assembly for tunable cavity experiment/prototype.
 Improvements in my CNC toolpaths above! Lower one the wrong way top one better! Cavity endplate.
 Above and below, assembly for a RF enclosure and heatsink for test of MKII assembly.

 The MK1 frustrum assembled and dissasembled

Friday, 21 August 2015

CNC router up and running!

So.. I have a CNC router.. hurrah! It's been a long journey getting it together as (like most things) I haven't done it in the simplest way! A while back a conversation on twitter led a wonderful stranger to gift me a YOOCNC controller unit that he had upgraded his machine from.. I already had some really powerful nema23 steppers in stock and so I got to thinking about building a cnc! The first thing I wanted to do was convert the controller to work via usb (like most cnc controllers they run parallel ports) and also so I could use the opensource GRBL controller software to run my machine. So an arduino and some wiring later I had the controller moving 3 stepper motors on my desk!..

I spent a while considering and prototyping a CNC router but then found a dealer on ebay selling mechanical kits for a 30x40cm CNC.. the price was right so a bit later everything was here!

So the last few weeks I've been getting my head around a few needed subjects... my current toolchain to create the required Gcode that GRBL needs is to draw the object/paths in Inkscape and use the GCODETOOLS extension to create the code. It isn't intuative and has taken a lot of tinkering and experimenting but I'm getting there and have started to make a few items that are beyond just test cuts!

First up I got one of these HDMI screens from Adafruit (with some free vouchers she gave me but thats another story!) the screens are great but just come as a bare unit so I've drawn up and routed a screen surround which makes it more handle able and I'll get round to drawing and cutting some triangular legs for it at some point. This was an interesting exercise as I had to mill out an area to a depth and had to work out making the thin tool stepover etc all good learning.

Then next up I've made this desk tidy/tool holder .. it needs a few revisions but overall I'm very pleased with it! I'm probably still being quite cautious with my cutting feed and speed rates but even so it took around 13mins to cut all of this out of 6mm mdf... it would take me hours to do it manually!

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

It’s not Rocket Science…OzQube1 media round up

Someone made a comment on my tee shirt today which is great as it enables me to tell someone else about DIY space initiatives and Pocketqube satellites, as well as focusing in on Stuarts brilliant OzQube1 project. It also got me thinking that it ‘s been ages since I did a post about OzQube1 particularly as it’s got a LOT of media attention recently. Check out this timeline of coverage he has received in the last few months. I speak to Stuart via DM most days and his work rate is prolific and it’s great to be (relatively speaking) along for the ride. The challenges he faces in his project are varied from the very technical to the mechanical to the administrative and the interpersonal. However one of his challenges stands out… FUNDING.. if you would like to help fund the launch of OzQube1 feel free to donate to him via his gofundme page  http://www.gofundme.com/ozqube1 and keep up on other news and ways you can support him at his blog http://ozqube-1.blogspot.co.uk/ .... but for now relax and unwind and watch Stuarts recent appearance on Australia's channel 7 Today Tonight program...

June 2015 edition of SatMagazine – US based web and print magazine for commercial satellites. http://www.satmagazine.com/story.php?number=1481898241

17/6/15 – Page 2 of The West Australian (Main daily newspaper for Western Australia)

26/6/15 – ABC talkback radio in Tasmania! (No web link!)
June 2015 edition of SatMagazine – Mentioned in an article, but not specifically about Ozcube http://www.satmagazine.com/story.php?number=192493859

13/07/15 – Guest speaker/Presenter for the Monthly meeting of the Western Australian Astronomical Society

30/07/15 – TV Interview on Today Tonight ( Channel 7 - Western Australia)

Friday, 3 July 2015

Massively Open Online Courses, motivation and learning styles

So I did this a while back but never posted about it (yes I am trying to be better at blogging again!) This certificate above is the results of me chucking a lot of hard work at this MOOC (Masively Open Online Course) It was a 20 week course on the MOOC platform EDx with this course being based on a module available in real life at MIT.

I've attempted 2 other MOOCs before, one on Embedded systems by University of Austin and also recently one on Engineering design, but the one above "An introduction to Aerospace Engineering Astronautics and Human Spaceflight" is the only one I stuck with and finished. I got thinking about why this might be today, as I listened to a podcast from embedded.fm where someone was discussing a MOOC and what motivated them.

For me, the Aerospace engineering  MOOC was the best organised and well planned MOOC I have taken part in for various reasons. It was organised into various subject areas, starting with rocket science and the Tsiolosky rocket equation as well as hybrid and solid fuel systems etc. It moved through ECLSS (environmental controls and life support systems) focussing on the ISS (international space station) as a fascinating example. It had a large complex section section of orbital mechanics which was in some ways the most challenging for me in terms of the maths involved. It also had sections on EVH (space walks) and had 2 large sections around control systems and systems safety which culminated in having to write and submit for peer review an Air Accident Report about a real aerospace accident.

So on reflection there was a good few reasons why I kept my motivation on this one... Firstly I went "public" with it early on.. as in I tweeted (@concreted0g) and Facebook posted and told people in real life that I was doing it.. adding possible ego crushing embarrassment if I failed/dropped out! However, linked to this, it also led me to be included in a community of learning.  I ended up conversing with 3 or 4 people directly via twitter who where working through this course at the same time as me. For me and learning I realise this inclusion in a community (virtual or other) is important. EDx also has online discussion boards and I did use these but mainly to discuss technical questions and seek clarifications. One of the nice things about my interactions with learners outside of EDx was they where less formal (there was a lot more... OMG this delta v calculation for this orbital transfer is f###ing hard!!)

I'd say the second factor that kept me going was also the pace and the structure of the course, it really suited me in terms of the units where around 2/3 weeks each and had timed assessment parts (either embedded questions in the website or as I said before peer reviewed paper) another MOOC I did was self timed in that you could do the assessed pieces at any time in course which simply doesn't work for me!

Finally.. what the MIT people did very well was they created a consistent narrative linking each unit to the previous and the next and showing as best they could real world purpose for the subject. In my work life I design and deliver various types of experiential training packages and this is something I seek to do in all my designs. One of the other MOOCS I mentioned I just plundered the sections I needed for the learning I wanted and then ignored the rest whereas as this course had a cohesive narrative that had me completely engaged. 

Last thing.. the statistics around this MOOC were amazing! I feel pretty chuffed to be in the 245 who managed to get the verified certificate out of this cohort of 12542!

  • Final enrollment: 12,542
  • Countries represented: 151 (highest enrollments in United States, India, United Kingdom, Spain)
  • Verified certificates issued: 245
  • Honor code certificates issued: 640

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Cannybots camera video

Cannybot Camera! from concretedog on Vimeo.

So at liverpool make fest I met the Cannybots people and we decided to attach my gopro knockoff onto the top of a cannybot!

Quick project.. Milling table

So I bought a milling machine over a year ago and in my rush to get going plonked it on top of a rubbish wooden box in my shed and started using it. Recently I've done quite a bit with it and it was becoming to uncomfortable to work with as it was to low. I was given some scrappy Dexion which is a great steel angle section that's like grown ups mechano!

 I bought one of these cheap mitre saws "evo fury 3b" the carbide tipped blade makes short work of this steel.

A few nuts and bolts later and it's starting to look more table like..

The rusty metal got a gloopy lick of hammeright... came up quite well I thought..
In position with the mill fitted.. I knew I was going to fit the mill off centre, it's to allow clearance and travel for the mill table. It's much better to work at now in terms of height and comfort. I could do with a more solid shed though to attach it to to increase the rigidity!

Monday, 29 June 2015

Liverpool maker fest 2015

Had a trip up to Liverpool to check out the Liverpool Make Fest last Saturday.. was a great day out. Brilliant to catch up with lots of people and met many of my twitter tweeps. It was a fantastic venue in Liverpool Central Library and seemed to be extremely well put together with a really interesting and diverse selection of people and projects represented. Here is a random collection of photos from the day in no particular order!

Central library is such a great venue. There was a lovely moment where we stopped and had a sandwich and the kids pulled books of the shelves and had a read!

The mighty  Ben from Mearm and Phenoptix... really nice to meet for the first time irl.

Cannybots.. doing really well and attracting lots of attention.. we had fun attaching my sj4000 camera to the top of one whilst it raced!

Biglesp... a mighty raspberry pi warrior and lovely chap to boot.

clip together bugs were built courtesy of hac manchester table

Twas a busy day


Best lasercutter company and best lasercutter company name!

Diy lego underwater rov workshops

conductive dot to dot pcb minecraft mashup with the brilliant Rachel Raynes and Ben Nuttall

A new project Petduino from Circuitbeard..

Some fascinating companies... draw and code were showing their multi player multi tech aug reality gaming stuff.. V COOL!