Thursday, April 30, 2015

10 Lego Machines You Wouldn’t Believe Someone Actually Bothered To Build

The humble Lego block - we’ve all met with it, either in childhood as our favorite toy or in adulthood picking them painfully from our feet in the kids’ bedroom. The following constructions made with Lego are way beyond these domestic encounters - in fact, they’re more than mind blowing, they’re unbelievable.

Lego offers an impressive variety of pieces and many of the creations on this list use them in order to gain functionality, not just shape or size. Lego Education, Mindstorms and Technic provide the mechanical parts necessary to bring these constructions to life.

10. Drawing and Sculpting

Spirographs draw mesmerizing spiraling shapes. You can draw them by hand using the plastic circles found in toy spirograph sets. But there are also automated spirograph toys in which a happy faced, plastic, pink insect holds a pencil in its hands and spins around on the spot. When you lift it, a beautiful pattern is revealed underneath provided that you’ve placed it on a piece of paper in the first place. There are many Lego Spirograph designs out there, but the machine itself doesn’t spin. Instead, the platform holding the paper does while the arms holding the pen move in an elliptical shape. The combined movements form these wonderful drawings. A great Lego Spirograph is “Spirograph V4because it’s compact, fast and the lines are not shaky. It’s built with 786 Lego Technic parts.

On the sculpting side, there are Arthur Sacek’s milling machines built from Lego Mindstorms. The Lego 3D Milling Machine carves whatever model it is given into flower foam in a bas relief manner. The arm with the drill moves from left to right, back and forth and up and down to remove material from the rectangles of foam. The 360° Milling Machine functions the same way only that it takes in a cylindrical block of flower foam which it spins while drilling. The output sculptures have well defined, smooth features.

9. Electro Music Machine

Another bizarre Lego construction is Alex Allmont’s “Play House”. This machine is an automated Acid House music generator. Alex, a full-time coder and part-time arts PhD in improvisation with polyrhythm and phased rhythms, combined his two passions: music and Lego building into one thesis. Different Lego blocks are hammered onto a surface and that beat is captured by piezo transducers (little devices that transform the pressure they catch into electricity) eventually turning it into different sounds. It is amazing how all those pieces manage to stay in sync while creating the right beats.

As Alex himself says on his blog, this is the most complex Lego Technic mechanism he has put together and a lot could have gone wrong. The original design was a whole lot more complex and its creator states that the current version is greatly simplified due to many impediments encountered such as short circuiting the machine due to its over increased sensitivity to touch. “The goal is to make listeners shift their attention between the sound itself and the mechanism that generates it.” he says and the results are according.

8. Loom and Braiding Machines

Nicolas is a 25-year-old mechanical engineer with a specialization in design process. This means he can plan out and build a machine that builds something else and as a Lego enthusiast, he has the components to do just that without spending a fortune. Nicolas designed and built a Lego loom machine that creates fabric by weaving wool threads the same way a person would manually. The threads that give the length of the fabric are stretched up and down alternatively while two robotic arms push one thread at a time through them. Then, a comb presses the newly added thread to form the weave. It took 2000 Lego Technic pieces to build the loom machine.

He also made a braiding machine that makes wristbands and ropes. It is powered by a single motor and has nine spools of thread (three spools on each of the three arms) that rotate clockwise to form 3 threads. These are then rotated counterclockwise by a large wheel forming the final wristband or rope at a speed of 35 cm/min. The braiding machine was chosen by Siltex (who manufactures material for automotive, space and aeronautic) to be adapted to braid composite material based on Carbon, Aramid and Innegra. The project was a success.

7. The Fastest Robot to Solve a Rubik’s Cube

At the Big Bang Fair in 2014, David Gilday and Mike Dobson showed up with a donut looking Lego robot that claimed it could solve the Rubik’s Cube. Its name was “CubeStormer 3and it solved the classic puzzle in a staggering 3 seconds. The human record for solving the cube is 5 seconds. Eight Lego Mindstorms bricks coordinate the movement of the arms while a Samsung Galaxy S4 uses its camera to analyze the mixed cube and give the commands to the robotic arms. The four arms grip the cube by its four central squares enabling them to rotate all four sides.

The record also contains the analysis time along with the time it takes to actually solve the cube. “Our real focus is to demonstrate what can be achieved with readily-available technology to inspire young minds into taking a greater interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.” said David Gilday. The next records he is preparing his robots to break is the 4x4x4 and 9x9x9 Rubik’s Cubes.

6. Robotic Arm

Lego allows us to build impressive and useful things and it is a great educational tool to observe the elusive mechanics of machines with all its nuts and bolts. A student called Max Shepherd replicated the joints and functionality of a human arm with Lego Technic parts on a full scale. The fingers can move independently within the natural limitations. It can hold a tennis ball and pour out a glass of water gently, without spilling. The amount of weight it can lift depends on the shape of the object and the orientation of the wrist and elbow, but it can't maneuver more than a couple of pounds. The arm uses pneumatics for muscles and it is controlled by a joystick.

The building instructions are available on the internet and it takes over 850 pieces to build the Lego arm. Max’s main purpose for this project was to mimic the full range of motion of a normal human arm and hand as accurately as possible.

5. Weapons

Yes, people have built accurate guns and crossbows from Lego. Although scary at first, the ingenuity behind them is remarkable. Lego weapons come in all shapes, sizes and ammunition. From guns and pistols to crossbows and sniper rifles. Some use plain Lego blocks as bullets, while others throw eight rubber bands at a time. In the common handgun, the bullet, usually a Lego block, is propelled by a rubber band. After every shot, the next bullet automatically enters the chamber and you need to pull back the mechanism so that the rubber band stretches over it and can be ready to fire.

The internet is teeming with all kinds of Lego weapon designs. There is even a book on how to build a few handguns including the Desert Eagle and the Mac-11 Rubber Band. The number of Lego blocks that make up these weapons vary greatly. A small pistol can have 288 pieces of both technical and classical Lego while the large MP5 can have as much as 972. Even if these weapons merely throw Lego blocks around, caution is still needed when choosing a target as sometimes they can do a considerable amount of damage like shattering CDs to pieces or going right through a can of soda.

4. A Car

That’s right - a car! A fully functional, drivable, vintage, gangster looking car built entirely from Lego. This piece of engineering runs on compressed air stored in bottles at the back of the trunk. Its author, a 20-year-old self-taught technology prodigy called Radu Oaida has managed to roll it down the road at 30 km/h (he didn’t push the pedal too hard afraid of a Lego explosion). Over 500,000 blocks of both classical and technical Lego went into the building of this car. The engine alone is composed of about 100,000 parts having 256 cylinders and according to Radu, it was the hardest part to build. The air pushes down the pistons and makes the whole mechanism move.

Steve Sammartino, a Melbourne entrepreneur met Radu online and when he found out about his unusual project he raised $20,000 worth of funds with a single tweet in 2012. Radu built this car to draw attention over air powered transportation and to demonstrate that one can build an eco-friendly car out of toy parts.

3. The Great Ball Contraption

Alright, so we’ve seen that Lego pieces can be combined to create functional objects such as cars, guns and artificial arms. But what if we combine everything it is capable of? In that case we would obtain an impressive conveyer belt and the ones who have already built it have called it "The Great Ball Contraption.” There is not much purpose to this gigantic machine except getting hypnotized while you watch the journey of the tiny plastic balls as they are hurled, pushed, churned, lifted, carried and thrown into the air from one point of the mechanism to the other.

In 2014, it held the record for the largest number of modules joined in one functional track (80 modules) and the whole circuit was synchronized to output one ball per second. A module is a part of the whole mechanism that is responsible for getting the balls from its beginning to its end in a bizarre way. Modules include cranes, tall circular slides, catapults, trains that transport balls in their wagons, elevators, ferris wheels that scoop the balls one by one in their seats and drop them on the other side, tunnels, churning containers, steppers, hammers and a salmon run track with trampolines that make the balls jump to the next module. It’s hard to count the total pieces that went into the building of this insane circuit because people keep adding modules to make it even crazier.

2. Insanely Large Constructions

People have always had a thing for building large statues, palaces, towers, empires and so on. In the Lego world, this passion manifests itself mostly in the form of life-sized (or larger) statues. From the Lego replicas of the Star Wars characters and the bust of Michael Jackson to the towering sea serpent that smiles at you from the waters of the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, the list goes on since Lego junkies are willing to build anything out of these tiny blocks. These aren't functional Lego machines like the title hints, but their size earned them a place in my list.

Still, people want more so what could be better than a giant statue? A whole country made from Lego! To celebrate the 50th anniversary since the introduction of Lego in Japan, the Japanese peripheral organized a cross-country workshop in 2012 called “Build Up Japan”. Over 5000 children and their families from six different regions teamed up to reimagine Japan. Instead of building existing landmarks, the children were encouraged to let their imagination run free and build what they wanted their country to look like. The assembled pieces then traveled to Tokyo where they were joined to form the monumental Lego map of Japan which added up to 1.8 million pieces.

1. The Rolls Royce Trent 1000 1:2

In 2012, Rolls-Royce revealed an innovative jet engine “concept” at the Farnborough International Airshow. Weighing just a fraction of the mass of a conventional jet engine, it can cut down noise and CO2 emissions by an astonishing 100 per cent. Unfortunately, this engine will not be able to take any passengers. At over 300 kg and measuring more than 2 meters long and 1.5 meters wide, the Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 Lego replica is one of the most complex Lego structures ever built. Rolls-Royce wanted to build this amazing creation to show how exciting careers in high-tech engineering can be.

Ed Diment from Bright Bricks helped convert the real jet engine into Lego and he explained the scale of this project: "When building the Lego engine we had to reflect that sophistication and complexity, replicating everything from the huge fan blades to the control systems. That's not easy to do and it made me realise how amazing the actual Trent 1000 is.” Having over 160 separate components and full moving parts, the engine allows people to see the intricate inner workings of the Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 jet engine which powers the enormous Boeing 787 Dreamliner. It took 152,455 Lego blocks and 1,280 hours to assemble the whole masterpiece.

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Never Hero - my 5 star review

I think it’s only a matter of time before "The Never Hero" becomes a sci-fi bestseller and a blockbusting movie. The story is more than gripping, it’s throat clutching. As we follow 22 year old, non-violent, thin Jonathan’s life go upside down the moment he wakes up in a puddle of his own blood without a single injury, we witness one of the most enjoyable mental treks. As deep and sober as the message may be (I’d say it can strike an epiphany) the level of entertainment reaches the same scale and the book doesn’t fail to deliver.

The plot is well crafted and the details are so real, you’d expect a Ferox run down your street. Had this book not been given any drop of fantasy (I'm referring to the Ferox's story and the blond man's implications), it would have probably not have had the same impact. With a little bit of imagination dripping into downtown Seattle, it stands as a remarkable metaphor that sends you thinking what is good and what is evil because in the end, this story is about neither. It is this uncertainty that makes things even more sizzling. There is great wisdom entwined in this story sometimes manifested as insightful questions rather than straight statements. There are also real facts from the worlds of martial arts and training. My favorite part was Jonathan’s psychological journey deeply captured in dialogue and gestures in a soul touching manner. Nothing is overdosed - the dialogue, the gestures, the thoughts, past and present - everything is just in the right amount to instill the ultimate sensation while reading.

It’s remarkably written - deep, thoughtful, balancing emotions and machine-like duty, shedding a view over themes like faith, war, morals, smothered anger and much more. Everything blends incredibly well with the characters and depth of detail - it was just enough to keep the flow smooth and tugging at my curiosity without feeling like something is missing or over pouring.

An amazingly written story, Ellery!
I’m eager for the sequel.