Updates to project vision & plan

A project log for Mug-O-Matic: A Modular Tiny CNC

Open Source Reconfigurable Robot Arm for Learning STEM. Make It Your Way!

Michael GrahamMichael Graham 07/20/2018 at 05:190 Comments

This is the first update since I was awarded the $1000 for the first round of the HaD Prize, so thanks for that!  I took some time to look through the winners so far in this years Prize (and prior years) and I have to say that was a humbling experience. 

 People on HaD make some of the most amazing DIY projects I've seen on the internet, and so part of me feels like bringing my little toy to the party is a bit like a knife to a gunfight lol!

 Except, I do think this little toy is exactly the type of thing that this challenge is for. 

 The purpose of the Prize is to show the good that technology can do and to build hope for a better future, and where better to find that inspiration than the next generation of scientists and engineers?

Tell you something, I love meeting smart kids! I go to as many Makerfaires as easily possible and I recently decided to sponsor a local public middle school robotics club because I see them as a valuable asset to the community. Its encouraging to see young people with technical interests who are clearly destined to grow up and make useful contributions to society. Not that non-techies don't contribute, but it's the scientists who solve life's big problems and the inventors who create technology to raise the tide that floats all boats. Constructive technology makes life better for everyone and society only stands to benefit from an increased interest in science and the key scientific virtues of honesty & curiosity. 

That's also why I love to see how making things is becoming more culturally popular with time. As seen in the growth of MakerFaire's celebration of invention/creativity/resourcefulness, and kids movies featuring techno-optimist themes and tech-savvy hero's, like Big Hero 6, Meet the Robinson's, Cloudy with a chance of meatballs, and similar. 

 Open source educational toys also have their own role to play in sparking the interest of young minds. Things like the EggBot, MePed, & the MeArm are clever inventions that attract and provide an excuse for a newbie to get their toes wet and develop new skills.  And now alongside them will be the Mug-O-Matic and its various configurations!

(Fyi I think up until this update I've made the mistake engineers commonly do when selling an idea. That is, sell features instead of benefits & ROI. This project is not ABOUT the 3d printed linear actuator. Rather, that was a stepping stone, a cool component of a larger work with a more important purpose.)

 For this project I chose to accentuate 3 features to solve key problems with currently available edu toys:

 *Usefulness: The finished robot should do useful meaningful work as real robots do, rather than exist solely to be cool. Also, as per the contest the robot modules themselves should have a usefulness such that they facilitate others to build incredible robot projects. 

 *Tinker-with-Ability: As I learned from Invent to Learn, kids learn by doing and are most engaged when they are able to independently experiment rather than just being told what to do. 

 *Accessibility: Be as easy and affordable to replicate as possible. Replay value is a must. Schools aren't known for being flush with spare resources.

I think the current design is on target for these goals. Here is the current project status:

While I have not been promoting this work much recently, I have basically been spending all my free time developing it. Keeping my head down pulling the cart. I've spent a significant portion of the prize money already gathering hardware to make a few of everything and then some. R&D isn't cheap.

In a nutshell, Ill soon have the essential hardware models in a shareable state. I have a whole construction set of proven easy to print parts that can be rearranged to build all the common industrial robot configurations, or a walking bot, or any other Voltron style complexity a kid would desire. 

The Mug-o-Matic & Post-it-Plotter (MoM & PoP? lol) are the stars of the show because these toys enable the user to produce a real & unique output. Customized mugs & sticky notes drawn with a precision, speed, & repeat-ability not achievable the the typical human hand. And even though the builder will follow assembly directions for those bots (only) they aren't robbed of the 'I made this' feeling or opportunities for tinkering & original experiments.

Da Loose Plan:
1. Perfect hardware. -Don't share models until stable so people don't print obsolete parts and repeat my mistakes! (Almost there!)
2. Develop software. -enough to show what this puppy can do.
3. Proliferate design. -Seek feedback/ideas, adopters / collaborators.
4. Perfect software.   -Focused on MoM & PoP. (They use the same sw.)
5. Promote.  I'll say now that even though this work is entirely open source that I have some profit motivated plans. I'd like to do a crowd funded batch build but I first need to determine if enough people will be interested. 

*** If you are potentially interested in supporting a crowdfund build then take a second to fill out this survey please & thanks!

I also have all the connections for putting on a sponsored build/teach event with a local non-profit if I decide that I am up for all that. But for sure I have a table reserved @ Makerfaire PDX 2018 to display this specific project and let kids build & manually control bots with servo drivers & joysticks.
6. Develop sw for alternate configurations.

  But how far I try to take it really depends on how it is received. Will it encourage & inspire, or bore confuse and frustrate...? I work in isolation too much and sometimes dumb ideas seem great for a while. :) And as best I can tell people love robot arm type toys & the MoM in motion makes quite the appealing display. This week I was able to let a small group of middle schoolers play with my prototypes. A promising start and I learned a couple things from the experience. 

Identified distinct programs to develop:
* 'Teaching' the bot  (via 2 buttons & screen module. EASY. enables quick programming for weird configuration bots.)
* Manual control via joystick modules EASY. Enables alternate manual control option favorable to potentiometers.
* Wired or Bluetooth drawing of different list of math functions like a graphing calculator EASY
*Wired or Bluetooth Gcode drawing. HARD
*Wired or Bluetooth dot matrix drawing.  HARD
*Bluetooth communication- Smart phone control. HARD

Schedule of Updates:  mostly a note to self, I know this update is long and few will read it. 

    1. Share vision & plan (current)
    2. Mechanicals:
    3. Electricals:
    4. Programs: 
    5. The big day(s).

October 22 = deadline to publish: video + BOM + instructions + design files + module IO specs

Well that's where were at now.