CNC (Computer Numerical Control) mills, routers, and lathes are indispensable manufacturing tools. If you need a part that adheres to tight tolerances, you turn to a CNC machine. Industrial CNC equipment is usually large, heavy, and very expensive. But small models exist for light-duty hobby jobs. This DIY version designed by Brian Brocken stands out because it is huge, has five axes, and is 3D-printable.
The most basic CNC mills and routers have three axes, so they move in the X, Y, and Z directions. But additional axes help a machine perform more complex operations. A fourth axis most often rotates the work piece, while a fifth axis tilts the spindle that rotates the end mill. It is rare to see a DIY CNC machine with five axes, but Brocken pulled it off with this project that has a massive work area of one square meter.
Brocken performed all the design work within Autodesk Fusion 360. The frame of the machine is aluminum tubing and 3D-printed parts. An Arduino Mega board controls the stepper motors through a RAMPS 1.4 board. It accepts standard G-code, so Brocken can create toolpaths in Fusion 360 or other CAM (Computer-Aided Manufacturing) software. The frame lacks rigidity and there is no way it could handle milling aluminum or even wood. But it can mill foam, which is the intended purpose. It can also perform 3D printing and laser cutting. Brocken isn’t quite finished building his CNC machine, but it is already semi-operational.
Those of us who have experienced the Nintendo Zapper while playing games such as Duck Hunt will probably have fond memories of it. However, with the rapid disappearance of CRT TVs and the aging of the physical mechanisms, YouTuber DuctTape Mechanic wanted to give an old Zapper a new lease on life. His modification integrated a small RF transmitting module into the top of the device, allowing it to be switched on by the trigger’s microswitch. With everything in place inside the Zapper, he moved onto the receiver.
In order to get the incoming signals from the RF transmitter and turn them into an action, a receiver circuit was necessary. First, he soldered an RF module to a breadboard, along with an opto-coupling IC that isolates the sensitive electronics. From here, the receiver connects to an Arduino Uno that sets a pin high or low to turn the relay module + opto-coupler circuit on or off. In its current configuration, the Zapper acts like a toggle switch, where one press toggles everything to on while a subsequent press toggles everything off.
As seen in the video below, being able to ‘zap’ your lights with the Nintendo Zapper looks really cool, and it will be interesting to see where DuctTape Mechanic takes it from here.
Since launch, we’ve been working with educators around the world on how we can make the kit even better (because everything can be better, right?) and the invaluable feedback they’ve given us has led to the following updates:
– An introduction to the tools – Software IDE – Web editor – Libraries – IoT Cloud – Troubleshooting
Simpler sign-in functionality
Explanations of the benefits of teaching the Internet of Things to high school students right now
We’ve also dived deeper into how the Explore IoT Kit can help students get career-ready, with new examples and illustrations that show how the kit helps develop the future skills the world will need, especially in the IT sector.
Over the past few years we've released over a dozen different Thing Plus boards with the same footprint (commonly known as the Feather footprint). Each of these boards are 2.3" x .9" (58.42mm x 22.86mm) and all come with the same pin layout to take advantage of many of the available shields on the market today, such as the SparkFun Qwiic Shield for Thing Plus. As you would come to expect each of the Thing Plus boards come equipped with a Qwiic Connector but that's about where the similarities end. Our lineup now includes many different processors, with many different capabilities so we figured it would be best to put them all together to easily see which Thing Plus board would work best for your next project!
It can be easy to think of science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM) as fields that develop in a linear way, always progressing towards ever better solutions and approaches. Of course, alternative solutions are posed to all sorts of problems, but in western culture, those solutions that did not take hold are sometimes seen as the approaches that were ‘wrong’ or mistaken, and that eventually gave way to the ‘right’ approaches. A culture that includes the belief that there is only one ‘right’ way can be alienating to anyone who sees the world in a different way.
Dr Ron Eglash from the University of Michigan explored the intersections of diverse cultural ideas and computing in his talk at the final research seminar in our series about diversity and inclusion (see below for the recorded video). His work and insights show us how we might think about diversity in computing as being dependent on the diversity of cultural concepts and beliefs that can underpin the subject. Ron also shared free resources for educators who want to help their students learn about STEM while exploring cultural ideas.
Where do our ideas about computing and STEM come from?
Ron’s talk explored the overlaps of technology, culture, and society. In his research work, Ron has facilitated collaborations across the world between STEM students and people from indigenous cultures, opening up computing to people who have different backgrounds and different ways of seeing the world and, in the process, revealing many complex assumptions that different cultures have about computing and technology.
Ron’s work challenges some of the assumptions in western culture about technological knowledge. He started his talk by showing the evolution of knowledge as a branching set of possibilities and ideas that societies choose to move forward with or leave behind. To illustrate, he gave examples of different concepts of mathematics that western society has taken on board, refined, or discarded throughout its history, demonstrating that there are different versions of mathematics we could have had but chose not to.
These different choices in adoption and exploration of ideas, Ron continued, are more evident when one looks at the knowledge systems of different cultures side by side: different knowledge systems represent different paths that groups of people have chosen — not in totality but as the result of smaller decisions that select which ideas will be influential and which will be eliminated.
What ideas pattern our cultures?
One idea that western society has chosen, and that Ron highlighted for us, is the extraction of value. This is something we can see across this society, and it’s a powerful idea that fundamentally shapes how many of us think about the world. We extract value from the natural world in the way we exploit raw materials. We extract value from labour through the organisation of working arrangements that we have made the norm. And we extract value from social relationships through the online social media platforms, online games, and other digital tools that have so quickly become a central part of billions of people’s lives.
But western culture, with its particular knowledge system and core tenet of value extraction, represents just one possible way of social and technical development. In nature, systems do not extract value, they circulate it: value moves in a recursive loop as organisms grow, die, and are subsumed back into the ecosystem. Many indigenous cultures have developed within this framework of circulating value. The possible benefits of a circular economy are becoming a topic of discussion in western society, and we would do well to remember that this concept is not western in origin: other cultures have been practicing it for a long time, a point Ron made clear in his talk. And as Ron showed us through his research, the framework of circulating value permeates various indigenous cultures in ways that go beyond approaches such as sustainable agriculture, and thereby creates repeating, fractal patterns in cultural artefacts at different scales, from artworks, to the way settlements are organised, to philosophical ideas.
In nature, there are many examples of fractal geometry because of biological and chemical phenomena of bottom-up growth and replication. Ron shared images gathered during his research that highlight that fractal patterns are also clearly visible in, for example, traditional African art: by using visual patterns of recursive and non-linear scaling, artists intentionally symbolised the bottom-up and circular ideas permeating their culture. African cultural concepts of recursion and non-linearity, which were also brought to the Americas during the transatlantic slave trade, can be seen today in, for example, cornrow hair braiding, quilting, growing traditions, and spiritual practices.
Computing activities based on circulation of value
The links between indigenous cultural concepts and computing algorithms are many. To explore these in the context of education, Ron and his team have worked in collaboration with members of indigenous communities to develop Culturally Situated Design Tools (CSDT), a suite of computing and STEM activities and learning resources that allow young people of a range of ages to discover the relationship between computing and programming concepts and cultural ideas that trace back to indigenous cultures. The CSDT development process Ron described involved genuine collaboration: seeking ‘cultural permission’ from communities; deeply understanding the cultural concepts behind the artefacts that were being developed; and creating tools that not only allow students to explore traditional designs and artefacts but also give them the scope to design their own original artefacts and to actively contribute to communities’ cultural practices.
Ron underlined in his talk how important it is not to see activities like CSDT as a lure to ‘trick’ young people into engaging with STEM classes; the intention is not using them as a veneer to interest more young people in industries underpinned by an extractive world view. Instead, circular and bottom-up concepts are an alternative way of seeing how technology can be used to influence and construct the world.
Returning creative contributions
As such, an important aspect of the pedagogy of Culturally Situated Design Tools is returning creative contributions to the community whose concepts or artefacts are being explored in each activity. The aim is to create a generative cycle of STEM engagement, and Ron demonstrated how this can work by sharing more about a project he conducted with STEM students in Albany, NY. Students began the project by exploring cornrow design simulations. They brought these out of the computer, out of their schools, and into local braiding shops by producing 3D-printed mannequins featuring their cornrow designs. Through engaging with the braiding shop owners, the students learned that the owners had challenges to do with the pH level of hair products, and this led to the students producing pH testing kits for them. The practical applications benefitted the communities connected to the braiding shops and inspired more student interest in the project — thus, a circular, mutually beneficial process of engagement emerged.
Importantly, the STEM activities that Ron and his collaborators have developed cannot be separated from their cultural context. This way of teaching STEM is not about recruiting young people to become software developers or other tech professionals, but instead about giving them the skills to be creative contributors and problem solvers within communities so that they can help promote the circulation of value.
I have long been enthusiastic about the potential of computing and digital making as a tool for many disciplines, and Ron’s talk made me consider what this might mean at a much deeper level than providing different routes into computing. There is a lot of discussion about how we need to increase diversity in the STEM field to make the field more equitable and able to positively contribute to society, but Ron’s presentation challenged me to think about the cultural assumptions that shape the nature of STEM, and how these influence who engages with the field. Increasing diversity and inclusion in computing and STEM is not just a case of making opportunities open to everyone, but about actually re-shaping the nature of the field so it can be equitable in its interactions with ecological systems, cultures, and human experiences.
Do watch the video of Ron’s presentation and the following Q&A for more on these concepts, examples of the computing activities and how to use them, and discussion of these fundamental ideas. You’ll find his presentation slides on our ‘previous seminars’ page.
Meet Eli’s WeatherClock, a digital–analogue timepiece that displays the weather at each hour of the day as well as the time. Here’s an example: every day at 3pm, instead of the hour hand just pointing to a number three on the clock’s face, it also points to a visual representation of what the weather is doing. Obviously, Eli’s WeatherClock still tells the time using the standard positions of the hour and minute hands, but it does two jobs in one, and it looks much more interesting than a regular clock.
You can also press on every hour position of the watch’s touchscreen display to see more detailed meteorological information, such as temperature and the likelihood of rain. Then once you’ve gotten all the detail you need, you return to the simple analogue resting face to by pressing the centre of the touchscreen.
Under the hood
The device uses the openWeatherMap API to fetch weather data for your location. It’s a simple build powered by Raspberry Pi Zero W with a Pimoroni 4″ HyperPixel Hi-Res Display providing the user interface. And its slim, pocket-sized design means you can take it with you on your travels.
We found this creation on The Digital Vagrant‘s YouTube channel. A friend named Eli gave them the idea so the maker named the project after him. The Digital Vagrant liked the idea of being able to quickly check the weather before leaving the house — no need to check a computer or get your phone out of your bag.