An etch a sketch type controller for CNC machinery

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So I'm making a CNC controller in an etch a sketch form factor. It spits out gcode so it will work with any gcode capable CNC system. It is not a hack of the controll systems inside my machine. This is my gcode generator. There are many like it, but this one is mine.

So I had this idea to make my CNC machine approachable for kids.  I thought about various methods to do this.  My brother-in-law showcased his Fireball v90 CNC router at a local mini maker faire and had the machine running cutting out keychains to give out.  It was cool and the booth was crowded the whole day.  Kids seemed mesmerized watching it cut out the shapes.  I wanted to make something interactive, and thought about toys that they have that are similar to the CNC.  The etch a sketch immediately came to mind.  It's a control interface that kids can intuitively understand, is simple to operate, and comes in a non threatening red plastic case.  The project continues to grow in complexity, but only on my side not in the interface.  The user interface is going to be as close to the original as I can make it.  I've even got plans to have the system reset be done by turning the controller upside down and shaking it.  Stretch goals include having the reset feed out the paper from a continuous roll, sign it with a URL for more info and maybe the date or event name, cut it out off give to the user and reset itself for the next user.   It's not quite all there yet, but I'll document it all here as I go.

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  • shake to reset!

    lj06/17/2014 at 15:47 0 comments

    I’ve been working on the controller slowly these last few days. I got a 9-axis imu hooked up now and have it controlling the reset. So far it just resets when you turn it upside down. No shaking required. I tried reading the X-Y data when it was upside down and being shaken but it just came in as a jumble of quickly changing numbers. I think its good enough for now. I’ve also switched to using the integral push buttons in the encoders for the up and down of the Z axis.

    I’ve got it all stuffed into the frame to test. The problem is the cables for USB and HDMI are all long and thick. So I’ve been soldering in some direct connections where I can. So serial from arduino to raspi is direct over gpio instead of USB, one thick cable gone. And for the video from the raspi to the screen has been moved from the HDMI over to the composite video connection. And that connection is also using some bodged on header to do the connection instead of the barrel connections. Second thick cable out of the way. now it’s a mess of rainbow cable crisscrossing inside making all of the needed connections. I’ve made a resistor divider for the tx-rx from the arduino to the raspi since it needs to step down from 5v to 3v3 so as not to fry the raspi. Progress is coming along nicely.  

    I've found an old printer on the street that will be serving as the donor for the paper transport.  I'm not sure if I'll be able to use the paper path intact or not, but if nothing else I'll be able to use the rubber rollers to move the paper around.  I'm also planning on refitting the printhead carriage with an exacto knife to cut the roll after each picture.  I'm planning on doing the disassembly and parts harvest with my kids.  Hopefully the parts harvest will yield some good results.  The last few printers I've taken apart have been somewhat disappointing.  The older dot matrix and lasers always have better parts than these newer inkjet all in ones.

  • display progress 1

    lj05/06/2014 at 03:19 0 comments

    So I got the display and stuff working.  It is running a small 5" lcd panel shoved into the frame of the travel etch a sketch.  

    There's a small 0.5" gap along one edge, but I think it'll be ok.  The slightly larger panels cost about $100 more, I don't think it's worth it.  

    I'll post a video of the whole thing working in the next few days.  Next I have to dig out the 6dof imu board I bought ages ago but never got around to using for the balancing bot idea I had.

  • Initial log entry

    lj05/02/2014 at 21:17 0 comments

    I started building this and documenting it on a blog, but then saw this platform which might be easier to share/display on.  I'll be double booking my entries between the blog and here, with the blog getting updated first most likely.  So far I have my initial design done and the code functioning.  moving the dials moves the CNC head.  I'll be adding in more features as time permits.  so far I have a processing sketch that draws the same coordinates on the computer screen so you can visualise the motion on the screen as well as seeing the CNC carry out the same commands.  I'll be attempting to shove the electronics into an actual etch a sketch toy for authentic feel.  I'll be attempting to cram in a small display in place of the drawing surface as well to add in more realism to the build.  I'll be attempting to incorporate an accelerometer to allow turn upside down to reset functionality.  And finally I'll be attempting to add in some automated paper handling to hand the user the completed drawing when they reset the display.  That last one is a stretch goal and we'll see how close I can get to it.

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Enjoy this project?



georgefomitchef wrote 01/25/2016 at 13:00 point

Looking for gcodes for engravings

We are looking for gcodes for engraving to put on our web site:

we already have some on Endurance web site. So feel free to send gcodes so we can

upload them

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Adam Fabio wrote 06/18/2014 at 03:21 point
Great Project lj.johnyang! Kids love etch-a-sketch, and this will really bring them an understanding on CNC basics! This kind of project would be a huge hit at makerfaire and similar events. Don't forget to keep updating your photos and videos, are the community judging will be starting very soon. Thanks for submitting to The Hackaday Prize!

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lj wrote 05/02/2014 at 22:06 point
I'm planning on running this with a marker on a continuous roll of paper. A roller to feed off, and a cutter to cut the sheet off and give to the user/kid to take with them. I'm planning on running this as a CNC intro for kids of all ages, possibly at the world maker faire this fall.

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crowdpainter wrote 03/15/2015 at 20:08 point

I love this idea.  But consider not cutting it.  Would be awesome to have a long scroll of dozens of users work.  It would be so cool.

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zakqwy wrote 05/02/2014 at 19:09 point
I like the turn-upside-down-and-shake-to-reset feature, that would be awesome.

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lj wrote 05/02/2014 at 21:19 point
Yeah, I thought that one up last night. It shouldn't be too hard to replace the current reset button with a polling of an accelerometer instead.

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zakqwy wrote 05/02/2014 at 21:21 point
For sure. Add in auto-tool changing and a 4" fly cutter and you can make it automatically buzz a fresh surface onto a sheet of MDF! Okay, maybe that's a bit much for the first go-around..

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