Phone System Components

So I think I mentioned that I ended up with a phone system that was being tossed out.  Here’s what I ended up harvesting from it.

Battery backup system with batteries, power switch, 2 punch-down blocks, dozens of buttons and LEDs (surface mount), a dozen RJ-45 (?) cables and connectors (which will make wiring cleaner in some cases), speakers, microphones, DC power adapters (where the plug goes – PBC mount), typical PCB components – resistors, capacitors, etc., and some decent flat black plastic panels.

Here’s a pic of some of it.

Not too bad!


More Parts & Ideas

I picked up another copy machine yesterday morning on the way in to work.  When I told the people giving it to me what we were doing with it, they also gave me an old phone system.  That means speakers, microphones, buttons and LEDs!

This morning I woke around 3 am with several ideas for opening panels.  These include options to open a ring of 8 panels at once via a single motor (think a hexagonal ring, 8 panels, all driven by a belt and 45 degree gear angles), vertical and horizontal belts, solenoids, panels that slide vertically, panels that slide from top to inside or bottom to inside, and plenty more.

After sketching these out on paper, I realize that it’s time to learn some open source CAD software.  I also decided that since one of the drivers for this whole endeavor is for my son’s mechanical engineering interests, we’re just going to go ahead and build prototypes of all of these different ideas.

Also in the mix is a launcher/ejector for a light saber (of course).  I have a few ideas on that, although some of them might be of the speed to make it more of an elevator than an ejector.  I decided that we’ll build each of those as well.  After all, if we aren’t experimenting with each of these ideas, we’re probably doing the whole “learning” thing wrong ;-)

I spent an hour or two last night watching YouTube videos on stepper motors.  I’m pulling several of these from the larger copy machines and am excited to start working with them.  Still in the “raw materials collection” mode, though.

A couple images from the notes this morning.  Now out to the freezing garage to pull things apart!

Bending Plastic & More Parts

The weather was fairly warm today so I opened the garage door and spent a good portion of the day taking apart the copiers we have so far.  You can see from the photos how much comes out of these.  In the beginning I saved almost everything, but with more material I find that I’m going to be able to be more selective.

One of my goals for the day was to bend some plastic.  I have a heat gun that I use for electronics shrink tubing.  I cut a flat piece of plastic from a larger, more involved one, and put it in a vise, then applied heat from the heat gun as I held the plastic in a curve.  For not having any form, I thought it turned out ok.  All I was trying to do was see what kind of options I had.  I think that once I have a form (probably wooden), I’ll be able to make pretty decent curves; consistent and professional looking.

My son was excited about this, since it means that a round Star Wars R2-type unit will be possible.  I’m excited because it probably means I can get good bends (without curves) if I do something octagonal.  I like the idea that I could have 2 or 3 of the sides all formed from one piece.  I think that will provide a more professional look.

We still have a long way to go, but this was a good next step. Later steps include building and using the forms, possibly with a vacuum attachment (we saw one of those at a Maker space), bending sheet metal, building bases and frames and such.

It’s time to start planning what we want in each of the robots and how we’re going to allocate space within them.

One of the other things that I enjoyed about today’s work was just how many different ways that hinges, actuators and levers were used.  I am learning a lot from tearing down these copiers, getting ideas on how to build things that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.  I am looking for good books on mechanical engineering and suspect these techniques would be covered there, but still it was fun to see.

I also pulled out several components that were unfamiliar.  I believe that there are some linear actuators that are magnetic, and there were some other parts I couldn’t identify.  Part of the fun is figuring out what those are and then coming up with a way to apply them.

All in all, still having fun!

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Raw Materials

We’re going to need some material to work with. Money is tight so we’re going the scavenge route.

First, I have a collection of old rack-mount servers. Most of these I paid $20 for since they were old and I’m done with the software experimentation I was using them for. They cost too much to power on for long because of how much electricity they use, so it’s time for them to become raw materials. We’ll be able to use sheet metal from the cases, fans, drive magnets, leds, plenty of components (if we de-solder them), power transformers and the like.

I also sent an email out to co-workers and friends and ended up with some old equipment from them. One of the best leads was to a co-worker’s uncle, who has a garage full of parts that he’s scavenged. My son and I went over and talked with him for quite a while one evening. He gave us a few motors, rods and 4 ink-jet printers to tear down. We’ve pulled those apart and mainly ended up with rods and motors. Best part? The 4 printers were all the same model, so after pull 3 motors from each printer, we have 4 sets of matching motors! That will make matching wheels for robot bases a non-issue.

I also learned from him that one of the best sources of motors and other components is old copier machines. Sure enough, I found one via local classifieds being given away so I picked it up during lunch. I took it apart that night and ended up with a ton of great material. Since then we’ve got our hands on two more and will continue to collect and tear more apart until we have the raw materials we need. (My personal goal is to get around a dozen and get them ripped up quickly. Winter is coming and we’re doing the tear-down work in the garage, which is really hard to heat, so we want to get this part done as quickly as possible!)

I was hoping that we’d be building these from aluminum, PVC and/or ABS sheets and maybe thinner plywood, but budgets being what they are, we’re going to use what we can find. So it looks like sheet metal is going to be our structural material of choice. We are also collecting quite a bit of plastic panels that we hope to bend and shape as well, probably mostly for exterior appearance.

Having fun!


How they start out when we get them.


How they look while we’re tearing them down.

And below, how they end up :-)




Project Next

Yeah, it’s been a while since I posted anything.  A lot has happened during the interval from my last post to now.  It includes two moves, a job change, a divorce, prep for marriage, kids growing up and lots of education.

I have a hard time if I’m not learning something new or working on some interesting new project so I keep busy.  Without trying to catch anyone up on everything I’ve done since posting last, I thought I’d start with my newest, latest project.

My son is interested in mechanical engineering and joined a Maker program through his Jr High School.  I’ve loved that stuff since I was a kid but never pursued it, so this became the perfect opportunity to both explore it myself, support him and do the mechanical education and experimentation necessary for the robotics we both want to do.  He has more of an interest in the mechanical engineering and I have more of an interest in the electrical engineering (and, of course, I’m already a software engineer) but we both like all of it.

Anyway, now that things in life have settled (job, house, family) and in conjunction with his interests and mine, I’m going to start blogging about what I’m learning and doing.  If nothing else, it’s so I can keep track of things, and because I like looking back at the projects I’ve done (like the bike tour which is the last thing you saw here, but seems so many years ago).




I understand good search tools that want to suggest alternatives, but this one?



Glen’s Tour Day 19 – September 24, 2011

Today I woke up around 5, ate some of my pizza from yesterday and went back to bed. Woke up again around 9 and ate the last of the pizza before hitting the road.

Oh, I followed a passage from the Bible of Heidi, Book of Cycling 1:1: “Thou shalt have breakfast before cycling.” I also followed 1:2, “Thou shalt eat often.” I violated 1:3, though, “Thou shalt stop for lunch.”

Instead I just stopped every 45-60 minutes, ate a food bar, drank some sugar water, waited 5-10 minutes and took off again. I find that when I stop to eat I have a hard time getting started again.

I finally got out of the room around 10ish.  Jim had the room across the hall and it was already being cleaned so he clearly left before I did.  I’ve no idea how much earlier though.  I only have a bit over 250 miles left to San Fran.  There’s no rush with 6-7 days of cycling left, so I figured I’d take it easy.

I stopped every 45 to 60 minutes to eat a food bar, drink some Gatorade or whatever it was, use the bathroom, wait five or ten minutes and then get back on the road.  I didn’t want to take the time to stop for lunch and I didn’t want to have to get started again; I do best if I just keep going.

I saw Jim just an hour our two out.  He caught up with me and we laughed about it.  He thinks he left the hotel just minutes before me.  He stopped at a bike shop and I wandered through town.  With the Garmin and the ACA maps being very different so it’s funny how close we were to the same place.  He joked that he’d recognize my panniers (pronunciation stressed) anywhere.  We only rode for a short while, then I followed the Garmin route while jim followed the ACA route.
That just makes it more humorous since we linked up again about an hour later when our paths converged.  I was just finishing one of my short breaks as he was coming down the road.  It was pretty funny.  We parted ways again, still going to the same place but opting for different routes.  I didn’t see him again.

I rode into Ferndale but didn’t feel like stopping at any of the places for food, so I found a park, used the bathroom, filed up my water bottles and poured in Gatorade mix, ready to hit the road again.  I was only going to go another 10 or 20 miles but just couldn’t find any place I liked.  Leaving Ferndale an older guy training for a bike race caught up with me.  We talked for just a few minutes and then he went on ahead. I trailed him by about a hundred yards for ten miles.
He turned around and headed back to town while I continued on.

I got to a place I thought I’d stay for the night but the guy wanted $65 for a room and I just didn’t feel like paying that.   I went across the street to stock up on food in case I ended up camping, but the prices were highway robbery. They wanted $1.65 for a small candy bar. I figured I could do a lot better than that and so continued on.  Only about five miles further I found a local grocery store which was quite reasonable.  I stocked up on enough food for a couple days, had two ice cream bars and headed out.  There were several candidate camping locations but each of the ones I looked at was over priced and really crappy, so I just kept going. Since I was fueling up so frequently, and possibly because of the great night’s sleep and little climbing, I was feeling pretty good all day long.

I finally ended up at Ft Meyers, a place I figured would be much further than I needed to go, but the campground is reasonable and nice, and the shower was good.  I had two packets of Ramen noodles – not great but the best I could find at the grocery store on the way here.  I also had several small packets of cheese and some crackers, finished off a bag of peanut butter M&Ms.

I sent a couple of emails off, am charging the GPS and the phone and think I’ll read for a while on my Nook, whose battery will probably die soon.  My food is hanging up so hopefully the raccoons and everything else will leave it alone and I’ll have breakfast tomorrow. I’m expecting rain tonight so the fly is on the tent.  If the weather is bad I might just spend an extra day here…we’ll see.


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