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The Genius of the Lego Printer 187

Posted by timothy
from the dot-by-dot-by-dot dept.
Barence writes "If you've ever struggled to build anything more complex than a cube of Lego, this will blow your mind. It's a fully functioning Lego printer, complete with felt tip print head."
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The Genius of the Lego Printer

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  • Linux (Score:5, Funny)

    by MrEricSir (398214) on Wednesday June 02, 2010 @03:02PM (#32435770) Homepage

    ...but is there a Linux driver?

  • WTF (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 02, 2010 @03:03PM (#32435798)

    Stop linking to websites that link to the actual fucking article: http://www.b3ta.com/links/Lego_printer [b3ta.com]

    Also, this is just a more advanced variation of a project included with the original Lego Mindstorms kit.

    P.S.: fucking Flash used for video again. Lame.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      so by your definition, some shitty forum post is the "actual fucking article" as opposed to say an actual article?

    • Re:WTF (Score:4, Informative)

      by Endo13 (1000782) on Wednesday June 02, 2010 @03:09PM (#32435870)

      And sometimes there's some pretty good reasons for it. Like in this particular instance the article is a great read and perfectly fine to do so anywhere you please. The forums with the original post, on the other hand, not so much.

    • Re:WTF (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Mr. Roadkill (731328) on Wednesday June 02, 2010 @08:12PM (#32439226)

      Also, this is just a more advanced variation of a project included with the original Lego Mindstorms kit.

      This kind of thing goes back WAY further than that.

      I've got a book from the mid-80's with a whole lot of C64 robotics projects in it, which features a lego pen plotter. The paper handling is more convenient - that project was a drum plotter - but otherwise, it's a variation on that basic design. In some ways it's both a step up and a step down from that project - this rasterizes everything, whereas the old C64 project could draw non-jaggy lines in any direction.

      I'd say the paper handling alone makes it a step up from the C64 project in terms of convenience and usability, though. Plus, any advancements over the Mindstorms project make it worthy of attention IMHO - it's great that we can all learn from other tinkerers.

  • by jgagnon (1663075) on Wednesday June 02, 2010 @03:06PM (#32435826)

    That will take a CAD drawing and build me a Lego model from it. :p

  • I somehow thought that a "Lego printer" was a device to create an image of what you print using Lego cubes. So, as amazing as the thing is, I felt a bit disappointed.

    • by halivar (535827) <bfelger&gmail,com> on Wednesday June 02, 2010 @03:46PM (#32436296) Homepage

      My only disappointment is that he used "special pieces." At least, I think a felt-tip and a rubber-band count as those.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by langelgjm (860756)
        Well, didn't some of the Technics kits come with different kinds of bands and wheels for them? So that's not too much of a stretch...
        • by KlaymenDK (713149)

          Badum-tish. Hah.

          But yes, I have a number of sets with rubber bands in them (although there might be a different term for them in legolese?).

      • There are plenty of hard-core LEGO enthusiasts who only use official LEGO-brand rubber bands. There are enough sets that have come with a rubber band, various pieces of string, etc., to make that possible. Back when I bought sets and resold them as parts in the late 90s, the rubber bands and string and such were hot sellers.

        The pen, though.... I can't think of any set that has come with a pen. Maybe use one from LEGOLAND?

        • by JonJ (907502)

          The pen, though.... I can't think of any set that has come with a pen. Maybe use one from LEGOLAND?

          Maybe my memory is playing tricks on me here, but there was this set that my older brother got a long time ago, which was a husge truck, that had extra instructions for making it into either a sorting machine(I don't know the technical name) or a drawing machine. I believe that one came with a pen, so if I remember correctly some sets have been known to come with pens.

      • by mcvos (645701)

        My only disappointment is that he used "special pieces." At least, I think a felt-tip and a rubber-band count as those.

        Rubber bands are legal as far as I'm concerned, and I don't think there an official Lego pen yet, so you can't get out of the felt-tip either. But the home-made electronics made me wonder how essential the Lego really is in this printer.

        It's still awesome, though. I especially like the little touches with the minifigs (though they may have been added to make it look like there's more Lego in it).

        • by SkunkPussy (85271)

          you get back rubber bands with some lego technic sets.

          obviously the felt pen, circuit board and printer driver weren't bought in a toy shop

  • I clicked on the article, excited to see a 3D printer that printed out complete Lego models. Talk about a let-down.
  • by Yvan256 (722131)

    I'm guessing it takes one new felt tip pen per page, seeing how often it hits the page.

    It's always freakin' Windows or Linux for these crazy projects, so bonus points for making the whole thing run on a Mac, as an OS-level printer driver too.

    • Re:Ouch (Score:5, Insightful)

      by obarel (670863) on Wednesday June 02, 2010 @03:11PM (#32435894)
      You mean "it's 1,000 times cheaper than inkjet".
    • Re:Ouch (Score:4, Interesting)

      by 0100010001010011 (652467) on Wednesday June 02, 2010 @03:13PM (#32435922)

      Although he loses some street cred for not using Dogcow [wikipedia.org] Especially since it was used for print dialogs.

      The image of the dogcow was used to show the orientation and color of the paper in Mac OS page setup dialog boxes. HCI engineer Annette Wagner made the decision to use the dog from the Cairo font as a starting point for the page graphic. Annette edited the original font and created a larger version with spots more suitable for demonstrating various printing options. The new dog graphic had a more bovine look, making it arguably less clear as to what animal it was intended to be, and after the print dialog was released the name "dogcow" came into use.

  • by sxedog (824351) on Wednesday June 02, 2010 @03:07PM (#32435854)
    Let's improve on this by adding a fine point marker! :)
  • I bet this is more reliable than any printer HP ever put out. I'm certain the cost of ink is cheaper.

    Love all the little minifigs scattered around the machine.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 02, 2010 @03:16PM (#32435958)

      Somewhere, there are LaserJet IIs still printing.

      Not all HP printers are consumer grade junk.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by kalpol (714519)
        I'm still using my 20-year-old LaserJet IIIsi.
        • 4M Plus for the win! Awesome printer. With a JetDirect card all these printers integrate easily into a modern network. (Just put the printer near the wireless router and use one of the hard wire ports.)

      • by Pharmboy (216950)

        We have a LJIII and a consumer grade Epson dot matrix printer (circa 1990) that we used for address labels for most of two decades. The only reason we don't use them is that our newer printers are much cheaper to operate. Both still work just fine.

      • by skids (119237)

        To me "consumer grade junk" == "spare parts found in trash."

        More Epsons than HPs found there, from experience. Unfortunate, because I don't know how to break into those yet,

      • I've got a '98ish consumer-grade HP-660C that still works. Not all consumer-grade HP printers are junk.
      • by Nikker (749551)
        Can't argue with that. Bought a laserjet 6l last year for $50CDN with a full toner still haven't put a dime into it. Best printer purchase I've ever made.
      • by dgatwood (11270)

        The reason the LaserJet II is still working is that the guts were built by Canon. There are plenty of LaserWriter printers that still work, too. It was a good engine.

        To be fair, HP's bigger laser printers are pretty solid (e.g. the 81xx series) unless you actually need them to conform to their specs. Then they fail miserably.

        For example, we have two 81xx series printers where I work. I tried to use them to print 11x17 pages double-sided. Shouldn't be a problem, right? Wrong. The printers are so brain

      • Somewhere, there are LaserJet IIs still printing.

        Not all HP printers are consumer grade junk.

        IIs was probably a business printer. If Best Buy sells a printer in their stores, you probably shouldn't buy it. When it comes down to it, if cost is a major factor, you really need to be careful. If you really need a printer, you are often better served with a more expensive unit. A cheap printer is likely to have more corners cut than one that's a step or two up the scale.

        I do have a 10 year old HP business LaserJet that still works, I bought it from my sister's employer. I don't use it much now beca

    • Cheaper, Better, Faster. Pick two!

  • ... I wanted to cry
    • by kramulous (977841)

      I couldn't find the empathy mod ... so ...

      [pats on back]

      It even had little lego men and women working.

  • by adeft (1805910)
    The little guys riding on it just top it off perfectly. I'm reminded of the rickety dumb erector set models I made as a kid with an instruction manual. :(
  • Next steps (Score:5, Interesting)

    by wickerprints (1094741) on Wednesday June 02, 2010 @03:14PM (#32435930)

    1. Multiple colors via a pen carousel and switching mechanism.
    2. Support for plotting in addition to line-by-line output.
    3. Halftone dithering.

  • It's a plotter not a printer.
    • Re:Technically... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by mea37 (1201159) on Wednesday June 02, 2010 @03:23PM (#32436024)

      Plotters draw vectors. Based on the demo this is pretty clearly raster-based. Don't let the way it holds the ink fool you; it's a printer.

      • Plotters draw vectors.

        Which definition of "vectors" excludes straight lines? The gadget converts a raster image to drawing instructions; then executes the instructions with a pen. It's a plotter.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by clone53421 (1310749)

          It’s a raster-based printer, which plots (yes) dots. Devices which print by plotting dots are simply called “printers”.

          Vs. a line plotter, which is what you are typically referring to when you say “plotter”: some of which are designed exactly like this, with carriages to move the paper and pen. Rather than plotting dots, though, they draw solid lines by moving the pen and/or the paper in solid, continuous movements (only lifting the pen when necessary to break the line and begi

        • by Urkki (668283)

          Plotters draw vectors.

          Which definition of "vectors" excludes straight lines? The gadget converts a raster image to drawing instructions; then executes the instructions with a pen. It's a plotter.

          This Lego printer compares to a real plotter, as a regular CRT-TV compares to a vector-based CRT. Yes, both draw lines, yet CRT-TV isn't a vector display.

          Or to put it another way, definition of vector (in the plotter context) doesn't exclude straight lines, but it does include lines in any direction. I'm pretty sure this Lego printer can't do that...

      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        This takes me back; in the early eighties I had a Radio Shack MC-10 computer, and poking around (and buying a repair manual) I discovered that it had a far higher resolution video driver than was sopperted by its OS. I also had a small plotter for it.

        So I wrote a graphics program that would show the pic on the TV, and wrote a printer program for the plotter that would print out the pictures. I thought it was pretty cool, since IBM didn't even have a PC capable of that.

        I was a lot smarter back then...

      • by Dynedain (141758)

        Actually, it's converting the rasterized image back into 1d vector lines. Notice how it doesn't lift the pen between two contiguous "dots". That line makes it vector.

        • by TheSpoom (715771)

          Sure, if you count a vector image as a series of thick parallel lines. If that's the case, all printers are vector printers, unless they raise the cartridge between pixels, which would be silly.

  • It's not a printer (Score:2, Informative)

    by Dynedain (141758)

    Actually, it is a pen plotter [wikipedia.org], not a printer. It's a technology that was very common in architectural and engineering offices until it rapidly died off 10 years ago for inkjets.

    I love the Lego figures going along for a ride.

    • by poopdeville (841677) on Wednesday June 02, 2010 @03:21PM (#32435994)

      No, it's not a plotter. Plotters are able to move the substrate back and forth underneath the pen. Combined with the left and right motion, a plotter can make a line in any direction on the substrate. "Plotters are restricted to line art," as your wikipedia link says. This can't even do line art. It must rasterize ("pixelize") an image before it can be printed.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by $RANDOMLUSER (804576)
        Yup. More like a 1-pin dot matrix printer. But oh-so-wonderful!
      • It’s designed in such a way, yeah, but it seems to me that it could have just as easily been designed to lower the pen and draw line art.

        However your average software probably expects you to rasterize the output when you print...

        • by Urkki (668283)

          It’s designed in such a way, yeah, but it seems to me that it could have just as easily been designed to lower the pen and draw line art.

          I don't think so. With Lego motors, I'm pretty sure it's effectively restricted to drawing straight lines in 8 directions. Lines drawn in any other direction would be very choppy, worse than produced by current raster printing method, so there's kind of no point in doing that.

      • by Kemanorel (127835)

        Some plotters are able to move the substrate... Others merely had a stationary flatbed and had a dual-axis armature to generate lines in any direction. The flatbeds worked great for smaller sheets while the moving substrate models were more suited to larger sheets.

      • Analog plotters were at one time common items in engineering labs, as well as chemistry labs where they served as output devices for chromatographs, spectrometers, etc. HP pretty much owned the market, and they moved an overhead pen over a stationary sheet of paper, which was held down to the bed by an electrostatic charge. A typical unit shown here:

        http://www.teknetelectronics.com/Search.asp?p_ID=12956&pDo=DETAIL [teknetelectronics.com]

        • by clone53421 (1310749) on Wednesday June 02, 2010 @03:54PM (#32436400) Journal

          Whether it moved the paper or the pen is relatively irrelevant. I think his main point was, plotters universally draw line art (moving the paper, or pen, in a fluid continuous movement along the path you are tracing)... vs. printers which rasterize their image (print dots of colour which merge together to form a complete image).

          Although this project rasterized the page (printing dots), it could have just as easily been designed to set the pen down and then do continuous line art... but you have much less software that’s capable of printing to a line art plotter as opposed to a regular raster image printer. That is most likely the reason for the dot-matrix print style that it used.

          This really isn’t that impressive. The main point that impresses me is that LEGO products are precision-built with such a quality as to be able to feed paper and move a pen to accurately position the dots and produce what looks like essentially a flawless page of print (albeit slightly low-res because of the relatively large size of the dots). We always knew that LEGO used top-quality materials with very, very small tolerances on the parts... this takes advantage of that and shows just how high their standards are.

          • by Dynedain (141758)

            Although this project rasterized the page (printing dots), it could have just as easily been designed to set the pen down and then do continuous line art...

            Actually, the print driver is rasterizing an image (which is already the case for a bitmap anyways) and then this plotter (or the driver) is vectorizing it again into a series or horizontal lines. The pen doesn't lift and touch down for each dot (like a dot matrix would), two dots are continuously drawn together as a line. That makes it a vector plotter,

            • By that logic an inkjet printer that sent a continuous stream of ink as the printhead moved (rather than series of measured pulses) would be a plotter.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by egcagrac0 (1410377)

            The main point that impresses me is that LEGO products are precision-built with such a quality

            If they weren't precision-built, they wouldn't line up when you snap the pieces together.

            Erector sets allowed slop, because of the hole-hardware clearance. That goes away in Lego.

          • by SkunkPussy (85271)

            i think the precison has a lot to do with his position sensors (the black and white spinning lego bricks you can see at the side)

  • I give it more credit for artistic value with the figures placed around than for the technical difficulties.

    I built a plotter capable of those drawings for my 2nd year engineering class using a few stepper motors, a bunch of paint stirrer sticks, epoxy and an AVR microcontroller.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I give it more credit for artistic value with the figures placed around than for the technical difficulties.

      I built a plotter capable of those drawings for my 2nd year engineering class using a few stepper motors, a bunch of paint stirrer sticks, epoxy and an AVR microcontroller.

      How many Lego blocks did you use?

      • by SkunkPussy (85271)

        well this one uses lego motors - i.e. non-stepper motors - and nonetheless achieves an impressive level of precision

    • I give it more credit for artistic value with the figures placed around than for the technical difficulties.

      I built a plotter capable of those drawings for my 2nd year engineering class using a few stepper motors, a bunch of paint stirrer sticks, epoxy and an AVR microcontroller.

      Well bully for you!

  • I much prefer the Lego Car factory [youtube.com] way cooler IMHO than some paper and a coloured pen.
  • f*cking awesome!
  • We finally get some *real* "News for Nerds"!

    That's really awesome.

  • Lego Lab (Score:3, Funny)

    by Mindcontrolled (1388007) on Wednesday June 02, 2010 @03:31PM (#32436108)
    During my PhD work, we built some lab gear, for example an overhead shaker, from Lego Mindstorm gear. Pure nerd fun. Had to hide the stuff when the prof showed the lab to guests, though...
  • Direct YouTube link (Score:5, Informative)

    by steveha (103154) on Wednesday June 02, 2010 @03:31PM (#32436120) Homepage
  • by Mike McTernan (260224) on Wednesday June 02, 2010 @03:58PM (#32436442) Homepage

    There's a similar lego plotter in this book: http://www.clarkonline.org/william/mapyor/index.html [clarkonline.org]

    The book describes using some large lego wheels to form a drum around which the paper was attached, and how to form a small electro magnet around a bolt through a technic lego plate to pull the pen towards the drum. The pen itself was suspended between two lego axles on a butterfly pin. The whole magnet head assembly could pinion left and right using an improvised lego rotary counter to measure progress with a similar block to rotate the drum.

    I had the Sinclair Spectrum version of the book as a child and an IO box of relays. I never made the printer, but made lots of other devices.

    There's some inside pictures of the book here: http://www.hexapodrobot.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=35&t=318 [hexapodrobot.com]

    A PDF of the book is here: http://www.worldofspectrum.org/infoseekid.cgi?id=2000479 [worldofspectrum.org]

  • The actual LEGO construction is _not_ the impressive part here. I built something quite similar 5+ years ago. Many people did. They gave instructions for how to build it in the LEGO Mindstorms Ultimate Builders Set. And there were a huge number of alternatives built as well, to be more accurate or to print on different paper or just built differently. The impressive part of this is all in software. Never seen anything like that before.

  • by lobiusmoop (305328) on Wednesday June 02, 2010 @04:28PM (#32436834) Homepage

    I remember being awestruck seeing a picture of a Lego plotter machine many years ago. It turns out that it was build by Larry Page [wikipedia.org] of Google fame.

    Here's a picture of it [luberth.com]

  • by nukenerd (172703) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @08:23AM (#32443120)

    Sorry to be a wet blanket, but the fact that a generation or two of kids have been brought up on Lego is partly responsible for a decline (in the West at least) in people interested in engineering as a career, and in a general lack of public understanding (and even revulsion) at engineering.

    Lego was introduced as a constructional toy for model brick buildings. It replaced stuff like Bayko and Betta-Builder. With Betta-Builder (I may have that name wrong) you glued little bricks together with water-soluble glue; Lego was its less-messy replacement.

    The dominant mechanical construction toy of the time was Meccano which had an awsome arrray of components (machine-cut brass gears for example), far more than it has had in recent years. Meccano was true miniature mechanical engineering; you construct Meccano on the same principles as a full size project. I am a professional engineer and have seen Meccano used to demonstate real-life mechanical and structural engineering concepts; eg I know that some of the buffers you see at railway termini were first modelled with Meccano. A plotter-printer would be well within its stride.

    But somehow Lego went from a masonry toy to ousting Meccano as the leading constructional toy of any kind, with the introduction of rather crude and weak plastic shafts and gears. A Lego mechanism is not however representative of how you would design a mechanism for production.

    Lego is however colourful, has no sharp edges, is not made of nasty steel, and above all you cannot see any nuts and bolts - supposedly the greatest design gaffe of the modern age - OMG.

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