At RobotsConf in Florida Ben was struggling to find a way to make his bot competitive. All the bots started as identical laser cut kits. Whatever to do? Hairspray! Well hairspray and a pilot light that is. The firebot was born. But it didn’t look the part… but that’s a story for another post.
While working with a prosthetist (someone that designs, creates and fits artificial limbs) to record and analyze the behavior and performance of of amputees wearing prosthetics, we discovered that we could do more than just capture the information with gyroscopes and accelerometers… we could display it in real time. But that was too much for the human eye to handle. Using a programmable LED strip we were able to strobe different colors representing different axes and motions. And by taking a long exposure photograph in an otherwise dark room we were able to capture rather striking images of the exact data we were seeking to plot. It was real life data visualization.
The basic flip-flop circuit or astable multivibrator (try telling a bunch of middle school kids that’s the name of this thing). This version was built after the Feltronics Flip Flop, but make so all the components could be used with feltronics. The negative voltage across electrolytic capacitors and the initial race condition meant that this was never the best first contact teaching tool, but that only inspired us to come up with something better. (ssh – this picture isn’t really a flip-flop, can you figure out what it really is?)
Who needs a fiberglass substrate? Paper circuits for the win!Ben
Of course we have made the flip flop circuit many different waysHead Manufacture of Felt Integrated Circuits
The first radio created with Feltronics, while functional, was a bit complicated. And as can be seen in photographs of our early days, we did not have a consistent product. All of the pieces were cut by hand, and some individuals did a slightly better job. But it worked! A working radio transmitter in felt!
The second iteration of the Feltronics Radio was a work of simplicity. Working with large fuzzy components is great for the the whiteboard in front of a large classroom. But whiteboards are still only so big and complex circuits lead to very busy schematics that also happen to be difficult to comprehend. The answer was to boil a radio down to it’s most essential components. Thus the 5 component transistor radio transmitter was born… in felt. This particular radio puts out a 1Mhz signal. There is a bit of drift as is to be expected in such a simple radio, but that just makes it easier to pick up on a receiver (no phase lock loop radios please). Kids can understand what each of the 5 components do individually and can even work out how then affect each other. Kids literally have the “I know kung fu” moment, and never look back.
Soldering is often a challenge when you only have two hands. Having another person offer a third hand usually just results in someone getting burned. Ben decided to not only flip the solution (a third hand to poorly hold the object) and have the soldering iron held stationary. This solution worked great but for all the parts and setup it needed to scale to be useful. Hence the multi station solder… station. Complete with lights and fume extractor.
But you don’t always need a soldering station for a group of people. Sometimes you just need a soldering station that can hold the soldering iron for you.
The the magic they bring and the powerful way they forever changed the world, radios don’t have to be that complicated.
Joshua Made his first radio with some wire, and earphone, and a diode. He jammed one end of the wire into the ground and a breadboard. Connected that to an earphone which was in turn connected to a diode. The diode was connected to the other side of the earphone and to one more piece of wire thrown high up into a tree… the antenna. That was it!
Radio was brought to life. He could immediately hear a trumpet playing music… on the radio. No tuning required. Actually no tuning is even possible with this simple design, you hear the loudest, strongest station broadcasting. But it’s so simple! This magical arrangement of uncomplicated stuff can pull electromagnetic waves out of the thin and turn them into music.
But the best part was that immediately after hearing sound from no where, Joshua thought of nothing other than to share it with his sister.