Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Adventures Table Top Structural Engineering - Lego Style

There are a number of notable parallels between Legos and the micro:bit. Both platforms trade sophistication for low bar of entry. With Legos, you can dispense with even the most basic tools and just start building. And so it is with the micro:bit: you need not master an IDE or programming language; you can just start building. The same properties in Legos and micro:bit that lead to clunky and relatively inefficient solutions, also lead to experimentation and the development of novel solutions.

It was with this in mind that I experimented with ways to enhance my take-your-meds-once-a-day hack. I was curious if I could take the mess of tape, wires and foil and put them into a cleaner form.

Here was my first attempt:

I created a box with a hinged lid. Using liberal amounts of foil, I set it up so that closing the lid completes the circuit and restarts the next-pill timer.

The problem with this approach is that it requires the hinge to behave reliably. If the box remains open by even a millimeter, the connection is lost. Legos are many things, but precise to the millimeter isn't one of them.

With further experimentation I learned that I could sandwich foil between two Legos. The result is a durable conductive surface:

With this discovery in mind, I crafted version 2.0 of my pill-bottle cage. This version embeds foil on either end of the box. I then rest the cover, which is encased in more foil, across the top to complete the circuit:

Note the use of Lego figures for cable management. This was totally not my idea; I originally saw it here.

I felt like I was on to something with the foil wrapped Legos, but I could see room for improvement. Here's version 3.0:

In this version, I've created an elevated platform that has floor made up of two large Lego pieces. Each piece is wrapped in foil with a thin strip of tape keeping them from completing the circuit. The pill bottle in this version is back to having foil placed on its bottom. By resting the pill bottle in center of the platform the circuit is completed and the timer starts ticking. When I lift the pill bottle up, the timer is reset.

Version 3.0 attempts to mount the micro:bit in a secure manner and does a passable job of hiding wires.

Would a 3D printed version of this platform be better looking? Heck yeah. But Legos really do deliver on the experimentation side of things. I was able to try multiple solutions with minimal effort. And, like programming the micro:bit, it's just plain fun!

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