A Lesson in Iteration, Time Requirements, and Brushless Motor Design

The first two weeks of the semester have come and gone and so has the first milestone: Robot Battles at DragonCon. The past week and a half was almost a complete blur of designing, building, breaking, designing again, machining, breaking, etc. In the end, after losing a lot of sleep, I showed up a DragonCon with a robot that didn’t drive. No matter how good your weapon is, it doesn’t really matter if you can’t get to your opponent. There were a few lessons that I have taken away from this extremely small and intense build sprint:

1) Iteration is the basis of a good design. No matter how much time you spent thinking, you need to bring the design into the physical world and observe how it works. This is something I have know but it was even more solidified when I got to DragonCon with a robot that had an amazing weapon, but didn’t drive.

2) It is crucial to have enough time to make those iterations. This was the nail in the coffin. While my motor design had time to iterate over the last year of failures, I went away from my bulletproof drivetrain to experiment with a new idea. While the idea was good and saved weight, a week and a half was not enough time to get through the iterative design work that made my other one so good. I was able to go through about 3 chassis in a week and still ended up with one that was critically flawed.

3) Given how bad the drivetrain turned out, my weapon design was awesome. Recognition needs to be given to the people I build with. Aaron Fan and Matt Carroll specifically gave me great advice and good design direction on the brushless motor for my weapon. I ended up using the stator and the magnet ring from a Turnigy D3536/9 910KV Brushless Outrunner. I designed a new can for the magnets and a mount for the stator. The whole motor was supported by a large 40mm bearing on the outside of the Can and a 14mm skate bearing on the side of the can. The can was located on the mount with a M6 shoulder bolt. This design worked really well. The can moved with little friction and good support when handspun. When driven, there was some vibration but no more than the stock motor have.

Overall it was a good week and I got a great motor out of it. Rest assured it will make it into the next iteration of MowBot. This time with a moving drivetrain.

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Bay Area Trip, Capstone Senior Design, Combat Robots, and Maker Spaces

The Semesters to End All Semesters

So here I go! in less than two weeks I will start my final semester at Georgia Tech. It’s been a seemingly normal college ride filled with class averages around 45, endless problem sets, an average of < 6 hours of sleep, combat robots, downhill cars, maker spaces, building, designing, and friends all around. Normal right? A quick run down of my activities over the next 4 months:

  • Bay Area Visit

August 10th through the 14th I’ll be out in the Bay Area visiting friends, exploring companies and getting a feel for the area. I’ve been told it’s an amazing place.

  • Back to ATL/School

On August 15th I rive back to Atlanta and start school on the 19th. 3 classes: Capstone Senior Design (our project is still undetermined even though we have a great team put together), Hybrid Electric Vehicle Drivetrains, and Into to Cognitive Psychology. I am also a TA for the 3rd iteration of Design, Think, Do, Maker; a pilot multidiscipline design course spanning Mechanical Engineering, Architecture/Industrial Design, and Computational Media. A lighter course load but given the things below I should have my hands busy.

  • Combat Robots

DragonCon is over Labor Day weekend in 3.5 weeks. There will be a two week build sprint when I get back to school to get ready. Should be an intense, fun, and stress inducing build. Absolutely excited. I will be entering another event at the Atlanta Mini Maker Faire in late October. Look for build progress posts and a portfolio page for the updated MowBot design.

  • Maker Spaces/Atlanta Mini Maker Faire

My role at the Georgia Tech Invention Studio has shifted to Programs Director. I will be running our Maker’s Monday meetings for campus makers to meet and engage in workshops, speakers, etc. I am also the Georgia Tech liaison to the planning committee for the Atlanta Mini Maker Faire which is host on Tech’s campus. It is looking to be an amazing weekend.

All of this should keep my hands busy for the semester!

June Kickstarter Campaigns

This kicks off a monthly (hopefully) look at technology and design {Kickstarter}(kickstarter.com) campaigns that I think deserve a look or are just too cool not to share. So let’s jump into it!


Unfortunately when using a new blogging platform you tend to make mistakes such has not saving your post when you are almost done writing it. So look for an update when I find more time to expand on what I have below!

ARKYD: A Space Telescope for Everyone

TRAKLINE: a new kind of belt for men

EMBRACE+, a smart piece of wearable technology

Georgia Tech Invention Studio Sign

With the expansion of the invention studio at Georgia Tech, the shop was in need of a new sign and true to our maker culture a few other students and myself decided to build one.

It is made out of 1/8″ aluminum with 3/4″ round aluminum stand offs. Check it out!

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Saturday Afternoon Activity: Heat Treating Steel

I’ve always been interested in metals and metallurgy. Welding, shaping, bending, the works. Something about steel intrigues me. As with most of my small projects recently, they have come to me as a generic dialog that goes something down the lines of:

Person A: I think *design idea here* would be awesome. Lets look at getting/buying/somehow doing that”

Person B (sarcastically): That’s awesome! Why don’t we just try *insert seemingly absurd idea here” to do that.

Persona A: huh, ok. That seems feasible enough, lets do it.

And then I decide to start building a hybrid rocket engine or in this case, buying and heat treating our own armor for the battle bots. Advantages: can buy relatively cheap carbon steel and give it the properties associated with a much more expensive spring steel. Disadvantages: we only have a kiln with a qualitative temperature control (read: knob that goes from 1-10) and no experiment in hardening metals other than a small amount of theory. But hey how hard can it be? Continue reading

The Phenix Rises

Backstory:

After designing and building a 3lb combat robot in 4 weeks for the Atlanta Mini Marker Fair (AMMF), I was coerced (read: accepted an invitation from Jamison) to go to GMX two weeks later for another competition. Now given that MowBot’s performance was good at the last competition but spotty with the weapon not working consistently, I felt the need to redesign and rebuild in the 2 weeks I had before the competition.

So here I go again. A complete redesign and rebuild in half the time as the original design and build. (Spoiler: I don’t get much sleep)

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The 4 Week Combat Robot Build Challenge: MowBot

A little over a month ago it was mentioned in passing that there was going to be a combat robot arena at the Atlanta Mini Maker Faire the first weekend of October. The thought, “4 weeks is plenty of time” crossed my mind and it was off to start designing. I opted to build a 3lb robot; it gave me enough weight to build something with a decent weapon and not have to worry too much about weight. Below is what happened. MowBot is a 3lb combat robot with a solid 4 wheel tank drive, hardened 1095 steel plates for armor, and a spinning blade on top that has just over 800 joules of energy in it when fully spun up (this is the same amount of energy as dropping the 3lbs robot 60 meters and letting it hit the ground). He is the first combat bot I have built and  it won its first competition! Click through to the read me post to see the whole build process or check out the portfolio page which has a gallery of all of the build pictures. Links to the videos of the competition are included below the picture.

Videos: Match 1 | Match 2 | Match 3 | Semi-Finals | Finals | Beetleweight Rumble | All Competition Videos

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New Site!

The new site is finally up and running! Bare with me while I migrate old posts/projects from the old site and add in the couple I have been working since the old one went down. Have comments or improvements? Let me know over on the About Me page.

Building and Making: By Trial, Error, Elbow Grease, and Quick Learning

This is The Building Experiment. A blog and portfolio where I post articles, reactions, cool videos, resources for makers and hobbyists like myself, and all the cool projects (both complex and mundane) that I have and am working on.

Why The Building Experiment? I have always learned best by doing: by getting an idea, setting a goal, and then diving in and getting my hand dirty. If there is a question I have that I can’t answer, I find someone or some article that can explain it to me. If I run into a problem I can’t fix, I read, talk, listen, and tinker until I get an understanding and find a solution. The side effect? Quick learning that cements knowledge in a reality based foundation.

Have I burned out motors? Yes. Have I let the ‘magic smoke’ out of circuit boards? Absolutely. Have I understood the causes of the failures and come up with a solution to better the design? Every single time.

Through trial, error, a little bit of elbow grease, and a thirst for information and understanding, I am designing, making, and building to a better understanding of the world around me.

Happy building!

~Gabe