Mechanical Beaver

Canada Day is coming up and this year is a pretty special one, as it marks the 150th anniversary of our country’s confederation. The entire country is celebrating, with many ‘Canada 150’ events going on throughout the year. In fact, LEGO builders from around the country have already joined the celebration by building many Canadian themed models, which can be found at the Canada Builds 150 website, with more being posted throughout the year.

I thought it would be an interesting challenge to build a mechanical LEGO sculpture of our national animal, the cute and industrious beaver. You can watch the video to see it in action, along with an explanation of how it works. Building instructions and more details are below.

It’s a pretty simple mechanism, consisting of a single drive shaft with a cam that slaps the tail and a crank connected to a piston that opens and closes the teeth.

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Rebrickable

You can operate it with a hand crank inserted into the side of the body, or by using a Power Functions M-Motor. The slapping of the tail is pretty loud, especially on a hard surface. I would recommend putting something soft under the tail to dampen it unless you are intentionally trying to annoy everyone nearby. If you connect a motor to it, I would also recommend either gearing down the motor, or using the Speed Remote/IR receiver to control the speed of the motor (or the rechargeable battery box). Directly driving it with the motor at full speed can result in some pretty spectacular tail slapping!

I had a lot of fun building this model, and Kristal and I are working on a couple of other Canadian themed models to continue the Canada 150 celebration.

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Light and Sound Saturn V

There is no denying the LEGO Ideas NASA Apollo Saturn V (set 21309) is a brilliant model. It’s big, beautiful and incredibly well engineered – much like the real thing, I imagine! Even before I started building it, I knew it would be worthy of some extra attention to detail, to really bring it to life. I decided to wire it up with lights and sound using the PFx Brick, so that I could easily activate the engine lights or play iconic sounds from the Apollo missions while it was on display. You can see the results in the video, or read on for more details and photos.

I even built a small launch/display platform for when it is displayed vertically. Not only does it allow me to see the engine glow, but I feel it also finishes off the model nicely. Clearly, in the real world it never just sat directly on the engines. I think it will be awesome when someone builds a custom mobile launch platform for it, and I may even build one myself someday, but until then, this stand is simple, effective and quite sturdy.

Here are building instructions for the stand, if you would like to see how I built mine, or build one for yourself.

Instructions

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Rebrickable

If you are interested in the PFx Brick, you can find more information about it at fxbricks.com. We are currently running a Kickstarter campaign to bring it into production, so we would appreciate any support you are willing to give us.

Before starting, the biggest unknown was whether or not all of the electronics components would fit in the rocket itself. I wanted to fit a Power Functions battery box, PFx Brick and XL speaker inside. Luckily, the inner core of the first stage had enough space to snugly fit them all. I did have to remove 3 of the quarter round panels from the inner core, as well as remove one section of internal cross bracing. The model is so well built though, that doing so had very little impact on the overall structural integrity.

Running the wires for the speaker and LEDs proved to be very straight forward. The rocket is designed with an outer ‘skin’ surrounding the internal core, and there is plenty of space between them to accommodate the wiring. Also, all the parts that make up the engines have an axle hole running through their center, which was perfect for running the LEDs to each exhaust port.

So, in the end, it turned out to be quite simple. I was really excited that everything could be contained in the first stage, to maintain the modular nature of the model. I can access the battery box and PFx Brick by removing just a single thin panel on the outer skin, which makes powering it on and configuring it very easy.

 

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Mechanical Flower

April showers bring May flowers – at least in Northern climates. I built this mechanical LEGO flower to celebrate the imminent arrival of summer. It’s pretty simple, and features a collar on the stem that you can rotate to open and close the flower petals. The collar is connected to each petal using a link and a couple of ball joints. You can watch me build it in the video (skip to the end if you just want to see how it works). Building instructions are included below if you would like to try and build it yourself.

Instructions

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Rebrickable

Flower Open

 

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Micro Ghost Millennium Falcon

Last week, I was in St. Louis for the FIRST Championships, showing off some robots in the LEGO Education booth. Unrelated to the robotics event, they had a table full of white parts, mostly from the Architecture Studio set, for people to build with. It’s a very interesting exercise to build using a single colour. You focus a lot more on the shapes of what you are creating, using texture to add detail instead of colour differences. I definitely wandered over to that table whenever I had a chance. Who can resist a table full of pieces? One model that came out of it was a micro scale Millennium Falcon. It wasn’t very accurate to the ‘real’ thing, as there was a limited selection of parts, but upon returning home I thought I would try to make a more accurate version at the same scale.

Ghost Falcon

Here are building instructions if you’d like to try to build your own. You can just use a regular 1×1 cone for the cockpit if you don’t have the squat cone that I’m using, which isn’t all that common.

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Here are a few more pictures of it, including the original version I built at the event. May the force be with you. Always.

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2017: A LEGO Odyssey

As I was thinking of projects to incorporate the PFx Brick into, one of the first ideas that popped into mind was to create a LEGO version of HAL 9000 from the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. Although it doesn’t exercise anywhere near the full capabilities of the PFx Brick, I felt HAL is such an iconic entity from the realm of classic science fiction that just hearing him speak from a LEGO model would be incredibly cool. I decided to have some fun with the video for it. Instructions for building your own can be found below.

If you are interested in the PFx Brick, be sure to check out the Kickstarter campaign we are currently running. If it is successful, I’ll provide instructions for integrating it into HAL, as well as the configuration I used for the lighting and sound.

The build is pretty straight forward, mostly using basic pieces for the interior. The red and yellow pieces can be swapped with any colour without changing the outward appearance of the model. The instructions include space for the PFx Brick and the XL Speaker behind the speaker grill, as well as some holes to run the wiring. Feel free to build up the entire interior with basic bricks if you’d rather, or fit in your own lighting.

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I decided to name the LEGO version “HAL 0937”, for reasons which will be obvious to anyone who spent time writing words on their calculators in school.

HAL 0937

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PFx Brick Kickstarter – Final Week

We are in the final week of our Kickstarter campaign for the PFx Brick. There is still quite a bit of ground to cover to reach our goal, so be sure to check it out if you haven’t already. There is a lot of great content on the fxbricks.com website about how it works and what it can do, but this video will give you a taste of what it can accomplish. A huge thanks to all our backers so far. Help us spread the word in a final push to the finish!

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Hatching Eggs

To celebrate the arrival of spring, Kristal had a wonderful idea to build a LEGO egg that could hatch. She designed it so that a cute little chick breaks out of the top of the egg when you turn a knob on the side. Of course, I just had to motorize it, and built a nest containing three of them that can wiggle the eggs and open them all. I explain how it all works in the video, and you can find instructions for building the basic egg, along with more information below.

Instructions

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Rebrickable

One thing to note if you build your own is that if you push the front of the egg in really tight, the beak of the chick can get caught on the inside. You may have to loosen up the connection, or pull it out just a bit if that happens to ensure the head can move up and down freely.

I’ve also designed the control knob so that it can be easily removed and replaced with a 1×1 plate, to ‘hide’ the mechanism. But, depending on the clutch power of your bricks, the 1×1 round bricks might slip. You can just replace the axle with a longer one that extends outside the egg to have a more solid control connection.

The nest was very interesting to make. It’s actually built around a Technic ring to get the semi-circle shape, and uses a combination of plates and tiles to give an intertwined effect. Most of the pieces are actually connected to each other, though there are a few that I just slid into the gaps to fill space.

I’m using 4 Power Functions M-Motors to drive all the motion. 2 for wiggling the eggs and 2 for opening and closing the eggs. This allowed me stagger the starts of the wiggling and hatching of some of the eggs for the video, instead of having them all happening at once.

Hatching Eggs

 

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PFx Brick Kickstarter Campaign

Over the last year, I have been working with Michael Gale on a LEGO compatible device to really inject some life into our models. It’s a powerful little piece of technology called the PFx Brick, which can be used to add advanced lighting, sound and motor control to your models. Today, after much engineering, testing and preparation, we are launching a crowd funding campaign to put it into volume production.

Head on over to the Kickstarter page to check it out. There is a tonne of information over there, including more videos demonstrating its capabilities. We would really appreciate any support you are willing to give, either through sharing our campaign with your fellow LEGO fans, or directly supporting it yourself. Help us make the PFx Brick a reality!

 

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Creator 3-in-1 Alternate Models

A couple of months ago, LEGO launched a site called the Ideas Test Lab, to test some new features that I assume might eventually make their way to the main Ideas site. As part of the Test Lab, they ran a challenge to build a ‘fourth model’ for some of the LEGO 3-in-1 Creator sets.

I really enjoy the challenge of building alternate models for LEGO sets. It brings me back to when I as a child, building with a limited selection of parts, relying more on imagination rather than trying to build a polished model. It also makes you think a little more about how to use certain pieces, to get the most out of what limited number you have. Needless to say, I jumped at the opportunity to participate.

Modern Creator sets are actually pretty good for designing alternate models. They typically have a good selection of useful parts related to the type of set, and a unified colour palette. Much better than, say, a super heroes set that might have more specialty pieces and a bunch of minifigs. Of course, coming up with a good idea of what to build is usually the hardest part for me. In the end I built 1 alternate model for each of the sets in the challenge. You can see them all below, along with some notes on their construction. I also put together instructions for anyone interested in building them.

Mountain Goats and Vulture

These were built from 31058 Mighty Dinosaurs. I started out trying to build some sort of robot, but after randomly trying out some pieces for a head, I realized it looked very much like the head of a mountain goat. I built the large goat first and thought I was done. Then Kristal came by and suggested I built a kid to go along with it. With the leftover small pieces I was also able to build a vulture to hang around with them.

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The Gnat

Built from 31057 Air Blazer, this is a micro scale, single pilot, spacecraft, which I envisioned as being for research, exploration and scout missions. I really like the teardrop shape of the body and how tightly the angled wings mesh with it. With the leftover pieces I was even able to design a stand for it.

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Green Roller

I really wanted to build something other than a vehicle from 31056 Green Cruiser, but in the end my creativity failed me, and I ended up with a large scale motorcycle. Once I embraced what I was building, it came together pretty quickly, and I’m pretty happy with the final result. I focused more on the shaping of the bike, rather than functionality.

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Supabot

The smallest set was 31042 Super Soarer, with just 100 pieces. I really didn’t want to build another flying ‘thing’ from this set, and ended up building a robot. Its limbs don’t move very much, due to the limited selection of hinge or joint pieces, but I was able to add some nice details to its torso and head. With the leftover pieces I was even able to build a landing pad or the Gnat, which you can see in the video.

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Alternate Models

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Wing Flapping Mechanism

I’ve received a few requests for instructions for Kristal’s kinetic Bat sculpture, and though I don’t know if I’ll be able to make them for the full model, I have started to document some of its components. Here are instructions for the mechanism used to flap the wings. Hopefully some people can make use of these to achieve similar motion in their own models, or even just to get a better understanding of how it goes together.

Instructions

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Rebrickable

I explain how the mechanism works in detail in the main video, which you can find in the original blog post.

Wing Flapping Mechanism

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