We created an awesome Rube Goldberg machine that celebrates the greatest accomplishments in science and engineering in 2012. See how we pay tribute to Felix Baumgartner, the SpaceX Dragon capsule, Mars Curiosity, the Tesla Model S, and CERN's discovery of the Higgs Boson at the LHC. We used lots of fun technology and plenty of hot glue, popsicle sticks, and duct tape. Turn on Captions for Technical Info
Our friends over at Leap Motion were kind enough to send us an early dev copy of the Leap Motion controller. If you haven’t already, check out this amazing new device. We wrote a custom LabVIEW interface for the Leap that allowed us to send commands to the AR Drone. The AR Drone is a consumer quadcopter that is controlled over WiFi and has a lot of built-in functionality. We used the AR drone toolkit from LabVIEWHacker.com to communicate with the drone. We got our hands on an alpha version of the LabVIEW Leap toolkit, which will release later this year on LabVIEWHacker.com after the Leap Motion device is released. Using the Leap, our application monitored the position of a palm above the sensor. When the palm goes above a certain threshold, the system sends a takeoff command to the drone. When the palm dropped back down, the AR drone landed.
The AR drone takes off from a large switch-landing pad made of foam core and popsicle sticks. It's rigged with rubber bands so it expands up once the drone takes off. The underside of the top is covered in aluminum foil, as is a small platform that keeps the switch from completely collapsing. When the drone takes off, a piece of foamcore is pulled out on a rubber band so when we send a signal for the AR drone to land, it closes the switch. Thus, our 9V battery powers a small DC motor, which turns a lever, which pulls a string, which releases out marble into the shoot. At the base of the ramp, a LEGO NXT color sensor that detects when the red ball is in place.
Our custom LabVIEW interface allowed us to display the height of the palm on a slider and display the X,Y hand position over time on an XY graph. The screenshot here shows a hand moving in a figure 8 pattern. The Leap Motion can provide accurate hand targeting data, measuring more than 100 times a second. We were surprised at how accurate the measurements were into the millimeter range. The software for this module is available, but unless you have a dev unit from Leap and access to the developer SDK, you won’t be able to use it. You can still look at the code and use the AR drone parts.
The Landing Switch
On October 14, 2012, Felix Baumgartner made a historic journey, jumping out of a capsule 39 km over New Mexico and setting numerous records. Felix's feat required a huge team of engineers and scientists, who created the Red Bull Stratos capsule and his one-of-a-kind space suit.
On May 25, 2012, the SpaceX Dragon capsule became the first commercial spacecraft to ever dock with the International Space Station (ISS). For decades, NASA space shuttles carried the ISS into orbit, but with the retirement of the shuttle program, we have entered a new era of space travel. With several resupply missions scheduled in the near future, SpaceX will get lots of practice so they can refine their designs and code in time to be ready to transport humans by 2015. We wanted to pay tribute to the engineers and scientist at SpaceX and let them know we're cheering them on every step of the way!
We used a SpaceX Falcon 9 and Dragon Model Rocket Kit as the rocket and capsule in our setup. The rocket attached to two guide rods made from copper wire and a DC motor at the top of the tracks launched the Falcon 9 via an attached string. At the beginning of the launch sequence, we had a red electroluminescent (EL) pad to represent the massive amounts of fuel that the Falcon 9 needs for successful delivery of the Dragon capsule. We used guide rods to make the rocket “wobble” as it ascended, as well as to make the launch more interesting. The launch is stopped by a Hall Effect sensor mounted near the top of the launch tracks, which detects the magnetic field of a magnet we mounted inside the tip of the rocket.
The capsule was also made out of the same SpaceX Model Rocket Kit, and it is initially hidden behind a black box. Once the Falcon 9 rocket launch is complete, the capsule separates from the rocket at begins its journey to the ISS. It's propelled by another DC motor toward the ISS model. The ISS model is made from a folded paper kit and mounted in front of the pulley, which pulls the Dragon capsule close for docking.
Once the Dragon capsule docks with the ISS, a confirmation signal is sent back to earth, which is represented by four strands of EL wire. Each strand is controlled to light up one after the other with about one second of delay between. We did this to demonstrate electromagnetic propagation and that RF waves take time to travel.
Once the last strand of EL wire is lit, an LED lights up on the Mission Control Panel. This LED is monitored by a LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT program and light sensor. When the light level goes above a threshold the motor turns, causing our LEGO SpaceX engineers to rejoice! This pulls a string which releases the Hot Wheels car for the Mars Curiosity section.
Behind the scenes, all the motors and lights were controlled by LabVIEW through an Arduino with the LabVIEW Interface for Arduino Toolkit. All the code was written in LabVIEW. The motors were connected to a DC Motor Shield and the EL wire was connected
to an EL Wire Driver Shield, both of which were connected and stacked onto the Arduino. This allowed us to control all the devices with digital signals through the Arduino. The Hall Effect Sensor was connected to one of the Analog Input pins on the Arduino, and the value was read as the rocket launched, and a loop waited for the signal to reach above a set threshold. The motor speed as well as the strobe effect on the EL Wire Launch Pad were both controlled by the PWM digital output pins on the Arduino, which allowed for a pseudo-variable voltage.
In 2012, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) successfully landed the largest and most complex rover ever sent to Mars. The Curiosity Rover landed on Mars using an amazing array of engineering systems to slow it down as it entered the Martian atmosphere, finally touching down using a jet-engine-powered sky crane. The entry descent and landing was a AMAZING Rube Goldberg machine. The engineers and scientists who designed the rover now get to use the rover for years to come to learn more about Mars and determine whether it has the right environment to support life.
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One of the greatest engineering challenges of our time is building a sustainable energy system that can support the world’s growing demand. Advances in green energy production around the world are propelling the growth of renewable energy and providing a path to global sustainability. Our system shows solar, wind, and hydro power being used to charge a Tesla Model S performance electric vehicle. While engineers and scientists still have a lot of work to do, today’s innovations are an awesome foundation for the future.
LabVIEW 2010 or later
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In July 2012, the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) announced that they had detected the Higgs Boson, which was first proposed in 1964. To do this, the engineers and scientists at CERN first had to build the world’s largest and most complex machine: the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva, Switzerland. This massive machine can accelerate protons to 99.9999991% the speed of light in opposite directions, then slam them together to create an explosion of subatomic particles whizzing through the air. Using ATLAS, the largest of the experiments along the LHC’s 27km ring, engineers and scientists can take a snapshot of all of these particles at the moment of collision. After performing detailed mathematical analysis of the collision, we can understand more about what we are made of, literally. The detection of the Higgs Boson proves that our understanding of physics is improving, and as it does we will be able to use the knowledge to conquer greater and greater challenges.
The CERN module is controlled by an NI CompactRIO (Compact Reconfigurable Input/Output) device used for the FIRST Robotics Competition. The CompactRIO device uses a real-time processor and FPGA so it can be configured to control and monitor any kind of sensor or actuator very reliably. We created a few “Shared Variables” and connected the NI CompactRIO device to a wireless router so we could publish data to the WiFi network.
Eric A. Levy
Patrick D. Williams