Thursday, June 13, 2013

How much power is there in PowerCube?

How much power does a PowerCube produce? There are several versions of PowerCube, with various engines. For example, my unfinished PowerCube IV will have a Briggs and Stratton 37 horse engine. When I'm done I have no idea how much power it will generate. I don't know what sorts of load it will be able to move, or how fast it will be able to move them.

Videos of LifeTrac are impressive, but I'm an engineer. What will it be able to do? How will I know if my PowerCube is subpar or by some fluke perfect? I belive that PowerCube VI is under development, but can't tell you if the new designs are more powerful than the old ones. (I also can't speak to reliability but that's another story.) If OSE is going to rapidly iterate on its designs then it needs to know when an iteration is better.

I understand that Tom is putting a bigger engine into version VI. How much better will it be? What is success?

OSE needs a simple fixture to measure hydraulic power output under various conditions. I'd suggest the initial design allow the independant control of at least two variables: load, and fluid capacity. I'm not sure what it would need to measure, but suspect that measuring pressure drop over the load could stand in for power manifested. A more complete design would also measure absolute pressures, and flow rate.

Here is a possible implementation. A non-load bearing cylinder (the kind that stores fluid when expanding) in parallel with a needle valve. A pressure valve before and after the needle valve. Expanding the cylinder would decrease the level of the hydraulic tank. Tightening the needle valve would simulate a load.

As a complete novice in hydraulic design, I'm sure the above is wrong. However the concept holds. We can measure any PowerCube with such a fixture and can definitively show progress (or its absence). Finally, such a fixture may be very useful in diagnosing failure modes in the PowerCube (such as stalling.)

I'd love to see some data on what the earlier PowerCubes can do and how they measure up to the new ones!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Perhaps the glut of STEM workers is fueling the open source economy?

America has too many Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math experts. There aren't enough jobs for our high tech graduates. You may not think so, but the story is coming out. Perhaps having a lot of highly trained, unemployed people isn't all bad though. There are a number of great movements that rely on voluntary donation of technical work. Opensource Ecology is only one of many.

These projects wouldn't be going anywhere if they didn't have people with the time and energy to work on them. I suspect that a lot of the work is coming from STEM workers who are under employed. This would be somewhat ironic. The story that there aren't enough STEM workers appears to be intentionally woven by large employers in order to depress labor costs. If that's so, then what a surprise to find competing products on the market made by the workforce they've tricked.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Some possibly contentious thoughts on copyright law.

After reading a Forbes article about Megaupload and copyright law, I had some thoughts that have to do with copyright. I think they are relevant to the 'open hardware/software' movement. Keep in mind that these thoughts are mine alone and are not the statements of Open Source Ecology.

To me there are two kinds of things that can be created. The first is kind of thing can be reproduced for approximately zero cost (like music and text). The second type requires human or material cost of meaningful quantity to reproduce (like clothes and books). These two types I'll call Type Zero and Type One respectively. I can't think of anything that have used to be Type Zero and is now Type One. Can you think of anything? However, many things were Type One and are now Type Zero-- thanks Technology! The written word, engineering drawings, images, music and video are all examples.

Many businesses are based on using Type Zero things (such as engineering designs) to produce Type One things (such as cars). Copyright protects Type Zero things-- it makes something that is free to reproduce have a cost. Such protections have been historically needed in order to encourage invention.

Copyright has gone out of control in many ways. Plenty of people live without producing anything of Type One. These people depend on income associated with something they made of Type Zero. Think of a musician who is living off of royalties. It seems unnatural that a person can have one idea which guarantees their material wealth indefinitely.

Our economy has a lot of features which funnel money from the people that create Type One information (think factory workers and cooks) to those that create Type Zero information (think CEOs and Programmers). I find this ironic as Type Zero information is freely copy-able. Shouldn't it be in extreme supply?

Instead, Type Zero information is heavily protected, horded, and traded. The makers of Type Zero information are highly prized and rewarded while those that do Type One work are frequently devalued and left out in the cold.

An Open Economy can help to reduce this imbalance. By giving away Type Zero at all levels, competitive waste is reduced. Type One workers will have access to the designs for better tools and processes. They will be more productive as a result. The resulting market will produce only as much Type Zero information as needed instead of hundreds of variants all intended to circumvent rules about copying. Workers will be able to produce more Type One product for less effort. Prices will fall and work days will shorten.


We already know that a large segment of the population like to do Type Zero work. These are the Open Source programmers, hobbyist musicians, and filmmakers, and makers of all sorts. These people are working towards a world where they can produce less Type One product, live well, and truly explore their Type Zero aspirations. I am one of them and I hope we succeed.


[I'm not certain of my conclusions, or of the future. However, I'm excited to see the results of the transformation that is currently underway.]

Thursday, July 5, 2012

What is OSE doing in New York City?

What a whirlwind trip. This Friday I drove to NYC with my awesome family and stayed with Andrew and Chrissy (who also rock!). I helped represent OSE at For Humankind. It was awesome! I got to meet Aaron who will be living at Factor e Farm soon.

The event was a sort of exposition of human centered technologies. There were people turning soccer balls into little self charging batteries, others could turn any surface into a touch screen, yet others were working on turning algae into a high production bio fuel.

And of course, there was OSE. And my PowerCube! I got to show it off to others and explain the challenges of building it. I got to explain how the work of OSE made them inherently more valuable because it allows them to start a business that was previously out of their reach. I got to learn about their interest and goals. It was incredible how many intelligent, curious and engaged people came by to see what we were about.

I'm also happy to report that this kicked off some collaboration between Graham and myself. Graham will be building MicroTrac at FeF and we've been discussing goals and some design aspects. I'm excited to see what we come up with.

I've been invited to FeF, but given my current circumstances, I'm doubtful it would be practical (despite my real desire to make it happen). So for now, I'll work on getting my life in Detroit up and running. Then I'll finish my PowerCube and see what is next.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Meeting OSE in person in New York City?

I've recently been in touch with Aaron of OSE. He has invited me to visit NYC to show off progress on my PowerCube 4. I'm hoping to make it work. I've got a query out to some friends-- I'm hoping they can host me.

Here is the most recent photos of the Power Cube with captions.

Top View of Power Cube

Notice the minimal clearance between the tank and the engine here.

Gas Line connecting tank to Engine.

Gas Tank was a gift. Cheap, but effective. I will mount it more permanently when time permits.

Fitting for Engine Electrical



The Engine in profile

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

OSE is Growing!

There's been a lot of exciting stuff coming from OSE. They've really begun to scale and it's great to see the Iron Worker and CnC torch table running. Here is a video they produced showing off some of their progress:


As for me, I'm in the process of learning a new job and buying a house. That's got me pretty tied up. I'm hoping to get back into production before my new baby comes along. I still hope to finish the Power Cube before Christmas.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Details and Diagrams of MicroFork

As far as I can tell there are only a few major modules to MiroFork. Here they are:

  • Drive Module - Applies force to the ground so MicroFork can move.
  • Tool Fixture - securely attaches a tool to MicroFork and moves that tool relative to MicroFork.
  • Power Module - Feeds other components with energy. This is a PowerCube.
  • Control Module - Allows the behavior of other components to be controlled by the driver.
  • Tool Module - One of many possible machines that attach to MicroFork (eg, snowplow, tiller, etc.)
  • Passenger Module (optional) - Allows the Driver to ride on MicroFork.
In the spirit of hypermodularity, each of these modules should define interfaces such that they can easily be swapped out. This modularity is somewhat expensive. It requires additional materials and manufacturing as compared to an integrated tool. For long lived, versatile tools it's worth it.

Here are my vague ideas on these components and interfaces. I've already posted a little on the drive unit. I now consider those thoughts largely irrelevant. The drive unit can be implemented in lots of ways depending on the requirements. I'm reluctant to make MicroFork a skid steer because I want it to be useful on a suburban lawn (so no skid marks). I'm leaning toward a lawn tractor type design-- 4 wheels, two steerable, two powered by a differential transmission which is in turn powered by a hydraulic motor. This is complex, but would be manageable with salvaged parts. This isn't a good long term OSE solution but would work for me personally in the short run.

The Tool Fixture is the core of MicroFork. All other components attach to it. I'm like my forklift style manipulator because I imagine it to be simple to build and sufficiently flexible for MicroFork type work.

Time for the pictures! To the left is a the forklift based tool fixture. The green plate would support multiple attachment schemes. The two important ones are Bobcat quick disconnect, and 3 point hitch (like the one on my Dad's John Deer tractor-- probably class 2). A big feature of this design is ease of dis-assembly. The pins holding together the pivots can be removed to collapse the whole thing. Having multiple brown members of different lengths, allows the angle of the green plate relative to the ground to be changed. 

Next is the interface design between the Drive Module and the Tool Fixture. This is a simple 'drop and pin' arrangement. It doesn't allow for any movement, but is very general and should be (I'm guessing here) very strong. So long as the fixture and the drive module have correctly spaced joiners, it won't matter how they do their job (tracks, or skid, or articulated steering).

I still don't know how the other modules fit in. There may be problems with balance, strength, and alignment. I don't even know how a real forklift operates (I'm hoping to take a long look at one sometime soon.)

Ideally, if the interfaces were well defined/designed the different components of MicroFork could be implemented in parallel-- good job team WikiSpeed.

I was contacted by Graham who will be making a MicroFork this summer. I'm hoping to be able to help with the design if not the construction.