Posts about home engineering

Do It Yourself Solar Furnace for Home Heating

Man builds $300 solar furnace, decreases heating bill

“I think it’s something that everyone should have affixed right to [their] house. I think it should be part of your design,” said Buchanan. “It would be very easy to do. [With a] south-facing house like mine, it’s perfect.

“Just mount it on the side. If you touch the side of the house, even at —20 C, it’s still hot. We should be gathering that heat and driving it inside as quickly as possible.”

It is great to see do it yourself solutions that easily tap the energy provided by the sun to heat your house.

I had a friend that had a south facing greenhouse (attached to her house) that had 2 huge water tanks. They would heat up in the sun and give off heat all night (the stone floor would do the same thing).

Related: Brian’s Pop Can Solar HeaterSolar DIY Space Heating ProjectsHow to Build a Soda Can HeaterPay as You Go Solar in IndiaSoda-can furnaces powered by solar energy heat Denver neighborhoodGreen Building with Tire BalesCost Efficient Solar Dish by Students (2008)

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3d Printers Can Already Save Consumers Money

I first wrote about 3d printing at home here, on the Curious Cat Engineering blog, in 2007. Revolutionary technology normally takes quite a while to actually gain mainstream viability. I am impressed how quickly 3d printing has moved and am getting more convinced we are underestimating the impact. The quality of the printing is improving amazingly quickly.

3d printed objects

As is so often the case these day, our broken patent system is delaying innovation in our society. For 3d printing there is a good argument the delays due to the innovation crippling way that system is operating today will be avoided as critical 3d patents expire in 2014. Patents can aid society but the current system is not, instead it is causing society great harm and delaying us being able to use new innovations.

“For the average American consumer, 3D printing is ready for showtime,” said Associate Professor Joshua Pearce, Michigan Technological University.

3D printers deposit multiple layers of plastic or other materials to make almost anything, from toys to tools to kitchen gadgets. Free designs that direct the printers are available by the tens of thousands on websites like Thingiverse (a wonderful site). Visitors can download designs to make their own products using open-source 3D printers, like the RepRap, which you build yourself from printed parts, or those that come in a box ready to print, from companies like Type-A Machines.

3D printers have been the purview of a relative few aficionados, but that is changing fast, Pearce said. The reason is financial: the typical family can already save a great deal of money by making things with a 3D printer instead of buying them off the shelf.

In the study, Pearce and his team chose 20 common household items listed on Thingiverse. Then they used Google Shopping to determine the maximum and minimum cost of buying those 20 items online, shipping charges not included.

Next, they calculated the cost of making them with 3D printers. The conclusion: it would cost the typical consumer from $312 to $1,944 to buy those 20 things compared to $18 to make them in a weekend.

Open-source 3D printers for home use have price tags ranging from about $350 to $2,000. Making the very conservative assumption a family would only make 20 items a year, Pearce’s group calculated that the printers would pay for themselves quickly, in a few months to a few years.

The group chose relatively inexpensive items for their study: cellphone accessories, a garlic press, a showerhead, a spoon holder, and the like. 3D printers can save consumers even more money on high-end items like customized orthotics and photographic equipment.

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Home Engineering: Automatic Screen Door Closer

A simple solution to a common problem. Using a small pulley, some nylon string and a bottle of sand to create an automatic sliding patio door. It is wonderful to see how creative people can find solutions to improve our lifestyles. Don’t just accept limitation, find ways to make things better.

Related: Home Engineering, Halloween Edition: Gaping Hole CostumeHome Engineering: Bird Feeder That Automatically Takes Photos When Birds FeedLow-Cost Multi-touch Whiteboard Using Wii Remote

Promoting Innovation in Sierra Leone

Another inspirational kid that shows that the potential for human good is much greater than the talking heads and politicians that litter the TV screen so often.

In the video Kelvin says, “That is my aim: to Promote Innovation in Seira Leone, among young people.” See another video as Kelvin explains his homemade battery.

Support these young engineers in Sierra Leone via innovate Salone.

Related: Inspirational Engineer Build Windmill Using TrashSupporting the Natural Curiosity of KidsWhat Kids can Learn If Given a ChanceI was Interviewed About Encouraging Kids to Pursue Engineering

Arduino Introduction Video Tutorial

Arduino is a very cool open source programable hardware engineering initiative. It is great for kids and adults who like to learn and create electronic devices. The Arduino Starter Kit is a great education gift for those interested in such things.

The video explains how to build a basic circuit with the Arduino board, and how to use each of the basic components such as LEDs, switches, and resistors. See more videos on related topics. Massimo Banzi, the co-creator and CEO of Arduino, and seen in the videos, also has a book: Getting Started with Arduino.

Related: Schematics of Electronic CircuitsEZ-Builder Robot Control Software

Special Summer Fun Issue of Make Magazine

Make is really is a wonderful way to find ideas. Some people have the imagination to come up with all sorts of projects to try, I don’t. But Make takes care of that for you and provides really interesting ideas for things to try out yourself.

The summer fun guide includes over 50 projects for kids of all ages.

Related: Book on Adventures in MakingAwesome Gifts for the Maker in Your LifeThe DIY Movement Revives Learning by Doing

Repair Cafes in The Netherlands

Repair Cafes in The Netherlands Give Life Back to Broken Objects

A new brand of DIY self-sufficiency is spreading across The Netherlands. Skilled craftswomen, mechanics, seamstresses, and handypersons are banding together to resist disposable consumer culture. It is the rise of the Repair Cafe, a place where neighbors get together to extend the life of their material belongings. “Fixers” mend clothes, restore furniture, rehabilitate electrical appliances, and enjoy each other’s company while industriously toiling away. The first cafe was founded by Martine Postma in Amsterdam in October of 2009. Today, there are 20 fully operational Repair Cafes, and 50 more in the planning stages.

I really like these efforts. We throw away too much stuff that has plenty of useful life left. Also it is a great way to build community. And it is an interesting way to learn about products we use everyday (both by fixing them and having your items fixed). The throw away culture is something we should aim to change. By these actions and also by engineers designing products to be fixed instead of thrown away. I donated to a similar fixer collective in Brooklyn via Kickstarter.

Related: Fix it GooBook Explores Adventures in MakingTeaching Through Tinkering

Book Explores Adventures in Making

image of the cover of Made by Hand

Made by Hand by Mark Frauenfelder, the editor-in-chief of Make magazine. explores his adventures in the world of do-it-yourself.

Frauenfelder spent a year trying a variety of offbeat projects such as keeping chickens and bees, tricking out his espresso machine, whittling wooden spoons, making guitars out of cigar boxes, and doing citizen science with his daughters in the garage. His whole family found that DIY helped them take control of their lives, offering deeply satisfying alternatives for spending time together. Working with their hands and minds helped them feel more engaged with the world around them.

Frauenfelder also profiles fascinating “alpha makers” leading various DIY movements and grills them for their best tips and insights. He offers a unique perspective on how earning a few calluses can be far more rewarding than another trip to the mall.

Related: Science Toys You Can Make With Your KidsGifts for the Maker in Your Lifescience booksTeaching Through Tinkering

Awesome Gifts for the Maker in Your Life

See the full Sylvia’s Super-Awesome MAKE Holiday Gift Guide 2011

Related: Science and Engineering Gadgets and GiftsGet Your Own Science ArtSiftable Modular ComputersArduino: Open Source Programmable Hardware

Schematics of Electronic Circuits

Reading circuit diagrams

Schematic diagrams are made up of two things: symbols that represent the components in the circuit, and lines that represent the connections between them.

If a line runs between components, it means that they are connected, period, and it tells you nothing else. The connection can be a wire, a copper trace, a plug-socket connection, a metal chassis, or anything else that electricity will run through without much resistance. Messy details like wire or cable specifications and routing, if they are important for a project, belong elsewhere in its documentation. The length of a line also has nothing to do with the connection’s actual distance in real life. Schematics are drawn (ideally) to be clear and simple, with components and connections arranged on the page to minimize clutter, not to represent how they might be placed on a circuit board.

The video and the article give you a good start on understanding schematics. There are 2 ways to show wires crossing in a schematic (the video shows one, the article shows both). Learning how to read a schematic gives you the ability to go many different directions with your home engineering efforts. Have fun.

Related: Arduino: Open Source Programmable HardwareEZ-Builder Robot Control SoftwareBuilding a Windmill to Generate Electricity by Reading and ExperimentingTeaching Through Tinkering

EZ-Builder Robot Control Software

You can get EZ-Builder Robot Control Software and try this out yourself.

Not a programmer? No problem! The EZ-Builder application allows non-programmers to easily build robots using advanced functions of the EZ-B Robot Controller. It is a Microsoft Windows application that gives you remote and scripting control of your custom robot design. Within the application, you add Controls that mimic your robot’s configuration. There are many controls for speakers, iRobot Roomba, HBridge, Servos, Cameras, Voice Recognition, Joysticks and more! There is even an easy scripting language so you may create short animations, interactions or initialization routines for your robot.

Using a Dremel, hot glue gun, screw drivers and various other tools, you can begin modifying the toy shell to fit your servos. For wheels or mobility, use continuous rotation modified servos. For arms and neck, use a standard servo. To allow your robot to see for object detection, use a Sharp IR Distance Sensor or a HC-SR04 Ultrasonic Ping Sensor.

Related: Arduino: Open Source Programmable HardwareRobots That Start as Babies Master Walking Faster Than Those That Start as AdultsRobot Built Largely From Old TV Parts

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