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Hands-On Engineering

It seems the more little engineering projects I do to support my photography habit, the more I find I want to do.

Last year, it was the double-header, and the time-lapse rig for the Iceland roadtrip. But after looking at some of this guy’s work and the toys he created to do it, I got hooked on the idea of a motion-control dolly.  I figured, I’m a mechanical engineer, right? How hard can it be?

Well, following his example seems to be a lot more difficult in the U.S. than in Germany. Finding the exact motors he used and an equivalent Igus slide were trivially easy, but finding gears and a gear rack to match have been frustratingly difficult — so much so that I’m giving in and ordering them from the same company he used, and hoping that the shipping and whatever import duties this entails balance out against the higher prices and half-assed selection offered by McMaster-Carr and other similar retail gear suppliers here.

The Igus slide arrived yesterday, and I was disappointed to discover that my mental impression of a meter corresponds more closely with four feet than three. But other than that, it’s a slick and simple piece of engineering:

The most fun part of all of this, however, came from digging into the motion control aspects. Ben’s setup used a simple voltage regulator to control the speed, but I quickly discovered there are better ways — specifically, using Arduino microcontroller components. It would appear that if you have anything that moves or needs to be monitored (or both), there are Arduino boards which can be adapted for the purpose — right up to navigating autopilots for DIY drones. And it’s all dirt-cheap.

I think this is going to be a fun little project, with lots of learning transferable to related follow-on projects (why stop at one axis of motion?).

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