Monday, February 2, 2015

MaKey MaKey Scratch Musical Instrument Construction Suggestions

My friend asked me to write down an outline for a MaKey MaKey Scratch Musical Instrument workshop. 

Start by showing them Scratch and how to select a musical instrument and the note that it plays. Scratch 1.4 has 130+ instruments/sounds and Scratch in the browser has a little more than 20 at this point. Everyone seems to be moving to Scratch 2 so I would use it unless you have Scratch 1.4 installed already (I am using 1.4 with my 2nd graders to build instruments right now).

Use the "If key is pressed," then your instrument, then the note. 

I start them on Scratch now, as opposed to starting by building an instrument, to reinforce that the instrument works by key presses. You have a limited number of keys (I really don't show the younger kids the header on the back of the MaKey for "wasdfg" but older kids should be tolds about it), and each key should make a different note or chord or sound effect.

Based on the instrument they choose in Scratch, either through familiarity or because they happen to like the sound it makes, they can then sketch their instrument on cardboard. 

Cut out the cardboard. I don't have the 3rd graders cut it. I use a boxcutter. Give the student the instrument and have her trace it on another piece of cardboard. Give her a ruler, have her measure inch wide strips. Use the two "faces," strips, hot glue, and masking tape to create a 3D instrument, so it looks like more than a piece of cardboard. 

Use copper tape with conductive adhesive for strings, bows, or pads. Pads are most durable with a wire stripped of insulation sandwiched between two pieces of copper tape: you can clip onto the other end of the copper wire to reduce wear on the copper tape. Strings can be grounded with the bow, which also has copper tape on it. A paper clip makes a great guitar pick clipped to the MaKey ground and used to "pick" the strings.

Use aluminum foil with wire sandwiched, like copper tape pads, for drums and cymbals. The ground for a drum is a drumstick made from a chopstick, with wire, ends stripped of insulation, wound around the chopstick, and secured with copper tape at one end and masking tape at the other. You can add a ball of aluminum foil over the copper tape to turn the drumstick into a mallet.
Hook up the MaKey to the completed instrument. Since the students started with Scratch they get the gratification of immediately being able to test and play their instruments. Troubleshoot strings, pads, drums that don't work by checking connections, checking the circuit they have created, and the Scratch project.

How do you write down a song you invent so other people can play your song? Most kids figure out to write down the arrows/space bar/keys they are "pressing" to write down a song. Rehearse. Perform.

I have been experimenting with air gap piano keys and the xylophone I built with 3D printed bars and bridges I designed and printed. 

Friday, November 14, 2014

Sharpie Drawings to 3D Prints: Considerations

I have been working with a couple eighth grade art classes to produce 3D printed silhouettes. We start with Sharpie drawings that the students made from their shadows.

The drawings are scanned on a networked photocopier and emailed to the teachers. They are converted from jpgs to svg files in Inkscape. Finally, the svg file is imported into Tinkercad, extruded, and turned into an stl for printing.

The workflow was inspired by the MakerHome blog post about turning a Sharpie drawing into a 3D print. However, we started running into issues with some of the drawings we were trying to print. Some models were printing with extra strings, while others were air printing, not extruding filament as the extruder worked its way around the model.

I tried adjusting the Trace Bitmap thresholds thinking that might help, but the models still wouldn't print.

Here is the solution I serendipitously stumbled across.

From the Path menu, select Trace Bitmap. Leave the threshold levels alone. 

Click the Update button then close the Trace Bitmap window.

Select the image by clicking on it. If you drag the image you will notice that there is a tracing over the bitmap image.

 Here is a close-up of the image above.

In the image above you can see the bitmap on the left and the tracing on the right. Take a close look at the bitmap and you will see it is not uniform. I believe that Inkscape was including this data in the svg and Tinkercad was trying to model it, hence the ugly models, stringiness, and general failure of many of the print jobs.

Delete the bitmap portion of the drawing in Inkscape by selecting it and pressing Delete on your keyboard. Only the solid dark tracing should remain.

Save the file as an svg.

Import the svg file into Tinkercad at 10% size.

Clean up any "dots" left from the scan of the original image by using Box Holes to cover them. Size the silhouette to about 270 mm deep, so it will fill most of the build platform on a Replicator 2.

You will notice that the walls of the model are pretty smooth and free of holes.

Group the objects and download an stl of the model.

When you import the stl into MakerWare do not scale it to fit.

Use the Turn and Move tools to get the model completely on the build platform.

Your model should print beautifully with these settings.

Monday, July 28, 2014

MaKey MaKey Scratch Operation 2

Operation Game 2: browser-based, global low-scores, modular bodies, advancement of the platform. 

Contribute your ideas and Scratch projects, please.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Thing-O-Matic 3D Printed Upgrades

My trusty MakerBot Thing-O-Matic finally suffered from the bad design choice to use Molex connectors for the power supply to the Heated Build Platform. I went to print a project for a friend and the bed would not heat up. After some Google Group searching I found JetGuy's explanation of the problem, which turned out to be my problem, too. Putting too much voltage through a Molex connector not designed to handle such voltage will eventually burn out the connector and sometimes the Heated Build Platform, too.

Since a replacement cable is as scarce as hen's teeth, I took JetGuy's advice to salvage the good parts of the cable and replace the faulty parts. I went to a close-by HobbyTown USA. I purchased a Deans connector, which is designed for the voltage the Heated Build Platform requires. By the way, the clerk at Hobbytown was fascinated with what I was doing with the part. Support businesses that supply the arcane parts makers need for projects like this!

I cut the Molex apart, preserving in the Molex the blue ground wire and the three wires that read the temperature of the Heated Build Platform and freeing up the electrical wires.

Soldering the electrical wires in the harness to the Deans connector and a short piece of wire from the Deans connector to the Heated Build Platform was very stressful. I am not great at soldering and worried about doing more damage than repairs. Fortunately, I was able to solder good connections. I used some Sugru to seal up the connection between the wires and the Deans connector. The Deans connector and Sugru are red and part of the harness in the photo below. The Deans connector and the remaining Molex encased parts can be unplugged if the Heated Build Platform needs to be removed.

I used Tinkercad to design a bracket and cover for the remaining Molex and soldered wire connection to the Heated Build Platform.

Afterwards, I thought about printing a few Thing-O-Matic upgrades I had not yet added to my trusty 3D printer. The best thing about the original and subsequent Rep-Rap heritage 3D printers is that they were meant to be upgraded with 3D printed parts from the printers themselves.

First, the super-awesome universal X-Y axis tensioner. 

My friend Jaymes printed a set for me back when I originally received the printer but it was more meaningful for me if I printed them myself. I was scared to drill through my Thing-O-Matic to install the tensioning screw and the X axis required a good breakdown, but the results are awesome. Super easy to adjust X-Y axis, keeping the vertical walls of my 3D prints truly vertical from top to bottom.

Next up, a better X-Axis support from Jetty, one of the authors of Sailfish firmware for Makerbot and other Rep-Rap style 3D printers.

My Thing-O-Matic still skipped steps printing above 50 mm/s, probably because I am lazy and not printing from the SD card. But my default test object, difficult but fast to print, a circa second century BCE Indian lion, printed beautifully.

After these prints I changed my Skeinforge profile back to the Thing-O-Matic defaults with better results. Dan and Jetty really have Sailfish dialed in.

It is exciting to own a 3D printer that can still be hacked. As 3D printing becomes mainstream and the devices become more close boxed, without user-upgradable parts or accessories, the spirit of innovation behind 3D printing will change. I appreciate a 3D printer that requires some tweaking and updating now and then, as it keeps it a challenging maker project for me.

Blokify 3D Printed Puzzles

I ran two 3D design and printing five-day workshops for elementary and middle school students this summer. One design tool we explored was the Blokify app on the iPad. While the app is based around themes, like castles, space ships, and more, there is no reason to think outside the box and use Blokify to build 3D puzzles that you can print.

Start with a collection of LEGO bricks. I sorted through a big bin and pulled out 2x2, 2x3, and 2x4 bricks. My first prototype, shown above, was built with the studs all facing to the side, instead of up, but subsequent student builds used a studs up build.

If you are working as a group, this is a great collaborative exercise because all of the pieces of the puzzle must fit together. Aim to create a puzzle that when assembled creates a big cube or rectangular-shaped, smooth-faced solid.

Next, use blue tape to label each piece with a number. It is also important to label each piece on the same side of each piece, so you can remember how to solve the puzzle.

Divide the pieces of the puzzle among your teammates and open the Blokify app. When you re-create your LEGO prototype pieces in Blokify, each peg in the LEGO piece stands for one block in Blokify. So, a 2x2 LEGO piece translates into a single-layer 2x2 square in Blokify.

Additionally, turn you LEGO prototype pieces so your Blokify models have minimal overhangs. If your pieces have overhangs you will need to print them with a raft and support, which uses additional plastic and takes extra time.

Once your Blokify model is complete, have your teammates check it over next to the LEGO prototype piece. Make sure one peg on the LEGO corresponds to one block in Blokify. Once you are confident you models are ready to print, load them into your slicing software. I scaled these puzzle pieces down 50% to reduce print time. They were still very useably sized pieces at this scale. Print your puzzle.

Keep your LEGO prototype handy: you will need it to troubleshoot any puzzle pieces that end up not fitting. You might even need the labeled LEGO prototype to help you solve your puzzle the first few times you play with it!

Some students colored the white filament with Sharpie pens after printing. The pieces looked good in the distinct colors and a sharp individual might even use the colors to help remember how to solve these delightfully tricky puzzles.

Monday, April 21, 2014

3D Printed TurtleArt Stamps for Clay Tiles

When I saw the MakerHome post on using a Sharpie to create the basis for a 3D printed object I knew I wanted to try a similar project with the lower school art teacher and fourth grade students. We would use TurtleArt to program a design then turn the design into a 3D printed stamp that we could use to create intricate patterns on clay tiles. Here is the process that I lead the students through to create a fantastic 3D printed tool to create other works of art.

I originally intended for the students to experiment with Islamic-inspired tile patterns in TurtleArt. 

Some were able to get their patterns to repeat while others focused on creating a single design that was approximately 500 pixels by 500 pixels in size. Below is an example programmed by one of the students.

Next, the students opened their design in Preview and cropped the design as closely as they could.

Since I do not have Inkscape installed on the student laptops, I did the conversion from .png to .svg file format. 

Once the students had an .svg file they imported the design into Tinkercad at 20% scale and 10mm tall. The design comes in quite large.

The students resized their tile stamps to approximately 10 cm square and 4 mm tall.

Once resized the design was downloaded as an .stl tile for 3D printing.

The tile stamps were printed on a MakerBot Replicator 2 printer in PLA plastic. I used MakerWare to print them. The stamps were printed with a raft because it formed a convenient backing for the tile without requiring the students to place their designs on a base before they downloaded the .stl. I was able to print two tiles at a time on the Replicator 2.

Once everybody's stamps were printed the students practiced stamping Play-Doh in anticipation of stamping clay. Students learned how much (or little) pressure they needed to apply to the stamp to get a good impression in the Play-Doh.

Prepared to stamp clay, the students used their 3D printed stamps to create their tiles. The clay was forgiving if the design did not come through the first time: they could re-roll out the clay and re-stamp it.

The students also printed out their designs and took them to art class. They used markers to color in their designs in anticipation of glazing their tiles. The paper versions of the tile informed their glazing efforts.

Once glazed, the tiles were fired. They turned out beautifully!

The students, the lower school art teacher, and I all agreed that this was a hard fun project! We were afforded plenty of time so no part of the process felt rushed. I feel that this project is a good response to Gary Stager's "...and then?" prompt because the 3D printed object was not the end product but instead the beginning step in creating something new and more complex than they might have been capable of without the new tool they created. I love the variety of designs and choices of glazes. One might not consider programming to be a an artistic act, but these fourth graders proved it can be, given the right prompt and the support to carry the project through to its conclusion.