Category Archives: Stuff we made

Make money with bots, or just help build one.

Before the opportunity passes, I wanted to provide an update on the $50 robot project and remind students that they could be paid to work on the project this summer.

First, the money part. I am referring to the Stetson SURE grants. One of these grants provides $2000 for eight weeks of work this summer. There is also travel money available for presenting a project. Eligible students must have at least sophomore standing as of the spring 2015 semester and attend Stetson at least through fall 2015. I think the $50 Robot would be an excellent project to base a SURE grant application on. It could either focus on developing the software libraries (for a computer science student, or at least one with programming experience) or the project development and marketing (for someone in entrepreneurship/marketing). The deadline for applying for a SURE grant is March 11, so please contact me immediately if you are interested in pursuing this opportunity to work on the little money-maker over the summer.

Even if you are not in a position to pursue a SURE grant there are other ways to get involved, from assembly to design to programming and testing. Ultimately it will need a better name than the “$50 robot,” so I am looking for ideas on that as well.

At this point the physical layout is pretty well defined, as is the electronics main board. I am fiddling around with sensors and the basic software to go with them. It kind of works but needs a bit more refinement before setting the basic overall design and components.



The main components of the bot include an Arduino to control it, two geared DC motors running from a motor controller, a piezo speaker, and a suite of obstacle avoidance sensors. At present I have an ultrasonic sensor and two bump switches mounted. But there will be variants.

The goal is to have a set of these bots ready for MakerCon in April. I plan to recruit builders at that event, with some partial kit give-aways as inducements.

Short term tasks include (I could use help on any of these):

  • Building more electronics boards. I have some kits ready to assembly by someone who has done some soldering in the past.
  • Building more bodies & drive assemblies. I am ordering parts for some kits at present.
  • Trying different sensors and add-ons. In particular I want to arrive at MakerCon with a line follower version, a bluetooth enabled version, and a lithium rechargeable version.
  • Developing documentation and thinking through the marketing aspects.

Looking past MarkerCon, I’d really like to get this project to the point where a successful Kickstarter could fund some full kits for people. So there is ample opportunity to be involved on the marketing side.

Finally, I have put up a basic blog at to post the details of the development process for now. Eventually, it will host full documentation, bill of materials, build instructions, 3D and CNC files, example programs, and everything else.

Bill Ball

Help me usher in the robot apocalypse

I am looking for people who would like to be part of a project to develop and make available a cheap robotics platform for would-be makers. A concept statement follows:

Robot50 Program Description

Goals for builders

To learn basic maker skills on an inexpensive and extendable starter project to the extent that they may independently pursue new projects. These skills include:

  1. Fabrication (cutting, drilling, assembly). The project will be suitable for fabrication from commonly available materials with hand tools, but with the option for learning basic CNC work and 3D design and printing.
  2. Electronics (introductory soldering and working with both prefabricated electronic modules and basic components and wiring). Parts will be inexpensive, commonly available, and well supported.
  3. Programming (installing a programming environment, setting up drivers, and working within a high-level programming environment). The programming environment will be wildly accessible but allow for professional-level work.
  4. Skill at participating in physical and online support communities of peers.

Goals for developers

To learn how to shepherd a project from idea through prototypes, community building, crowd-sourced funding, to project evolution and support.

The starter project

The program’s initial focal point will be providing access to a small, autonomous robot design that uses the Arduino microcontroller and costs approximately $50 to build.


The target audience is individuals or groups age 16+ who aren’t afraid to learn to use saws, drills, or soldering irons, to install software, share what they learn, or make mistakes.

Project milestones

  1. Construct a series of prototypes of the starter project.
  2. Based on a final prototype, prepare a bill of materials, a list of part vendors, a set of assembly and set up instructions, and basic software libraries.
  3. Disseminate the project online, at maker events, and with local partners to obtain feedback.
  4. Conduct a crowd-sourced funding campaign to finance a run of kits.
  5. Prepare and disseminate the kits. Support the project with robust online information and community.
  6. Generate new starter project ideas advancing the same general goals. Provide a path to graduate builders to developers.
  7. Lather, rinse, repeat.

At this point I am in stage 1. I would like to get to stage 3 for the Tampa Makercon in April and/or Orlando Makerfaire in September. To whet your appetite, here is a picture of the prototype I am currently playing with (i.e. testing to destruction).


There are a number of ways for anyone who is interested to get involved. It would be great if one or two students would like to get seriously involved: building their robots, developing code libraries and helping to populate a website and promote the project. I hope it could lead to a summer SURE grant for somebody (application due 3/11). Maybe a senior project in Computer Science. But there are less intensive ways to get involved also. Anyone who is interested should get in touch with me:

By the way, this is a good commentary on the likelihood of the Robot50 project actually ushering in the robot apocalypse.

Bill Ball,

Innovation House Takes a Big Bite out of Orlando Makerfaire









Stetson was well represented at the 3rd year of the Orlando Makerfaire at the Orlando Science Center by a booth organized through Innovation House.

Our team of students, staff, and faculty for this year consisted of: Christian Micklisch, Dan Nunez, Vanna Blasczak, Nathan Hilliard, Katie Porterfield, Dun Burrhus, Dan Lane, Harry Price, Michael Branton, and Bill Ball.

It’s never too early to start working on projects to bring next year!



























Worn out tire to nearly new shoe? Is it possible…

Tires are all around us.  On cars, trucks, trailers, bicycles, and it seems anything else that needs to move efficiently.  But what happens to all those tires when they are worn out?  Millions of tires are discarded each year with some recycled, some burned as fuel for cement kilns, some crushed to be cover for landfills, and some left to rot in vacant lots.  But what if your “worn out” tires can become your next pair of shoes?

My family has a few trailers and every few years these go through tires.  Whether these are lost due to nails, blow outs, dry rot or flat spotting they are still no good.  The last time I replaced a tire on one of the trailers I wanted to try to turn it into something useful instead of just taking it to a recycler and paying a few dollars to make it disappear.  I looked on the Internet and found instructions to turn an old tire into a pair of shoes.  The instructions can be found at

This project took a while to get started.  There was work to do before I started the project.  I made a pair of pucker toe moccassins to cushion between my feet and the tire rubber.  These are very comfortable to wear and I would recommend the design to anyone who is considering making moccasins.  I believe the instructions I used are from ​

My first major difficult came in cutting the tread off the tire.  A major ‘Thank You’ goes out to Larry, the Stetson University shop technician who helped me use a large band saw to cut the sidewall and tread off the tire bead (the part that seals on the rim).

The cutting of the tread to make the sandals was the next big hurdle.  A ‘Thank You’ to the Innovation House for use of their saw which worked well to carve the sandals out from the chunks of tread.

I tried to innovate on the method of making these moccasins by drilling instead of chiseling the holes for straps.  It failed miserably.  Back to the wood chisel.  However, one innovation did work.  Instead of straps I used 550 cord because I had some on hand and it worked very well.

Finally, the moccasins were done.  When I tried them on these ended up being some of the most comfortable shoes I have ever worn.  Yes, the first day of wearing these required a lot of adjustments to the cordage and tweaking of the sandal sole but after that these fit pretty well.  However, these are not much for good looks.  As my younger sisters will tell you – these sandals are ugly.  Ugly – but comfortable!

So, can someone build their own footwear from tires?  Yes.  Is it worth the effort?  Yes, provided you like to tinker and are willing to invest a good deal of time into building the shoes.  Could this change the world?  Unlikely, not many people have the time, supplies, skills, and effort to divert to a project like this and these shoes will not outperform a pair of shoes you can buy at the store.  Still this has been a great learning experience and hopefully the basis for many more adventures.  Always stay thrifty and curious.  – Logan


An assembled sandal

An assembled sandal

An assembled sandal with matching moccasin.

An assembled sandal with matching moccasin.

Moccasin and sandal on author's foot.

Moccasin and sandal on author’s foot.

Habitat for Humanity Birdhouse Building

For the past few years, Stetson University’s Chapter of Habitat for Humanity has held an annual Birdhouse Building Competition as part of the Gillespie Museum’s Earth Day.  This competition is open to teams of students from Stetson or members of the DeLand community to build birdhouses with all proceeds from the event going toward building houses for those in need with Southwest Volusia Habitat for Humanity and West Volusia Habitat for Humanity.  This year we partnered with the Innovation House to build all the kits for participants.  Traditionally, each team has the option of going with a birdhouse kit which contains all the supplies and instructions to build a standard birdhouse or pulling from a parts bin which has mismatched lumber that can be creatively assembled into a birdhouse.  This year there were three kit designs which can be seen in the pictures.

Over the course of a few weeks we were able to create 50 kits using measuring tools, saws, and the drill press from the Innovation House.  There are always difficulties encountered and this year was like any other.  Standardizing the kits to all pull from one board size proved more challenging than originally thought and it was hard to recruit teams before the event.  However, there are also little successes along the way.  The drill press made drilling the holes in the front of the birdhouses much faster and simpler than it had been in previous years.  This year 12 birdhouses were assembled (lots of kits left over for next year) and raised more than $50 to build real houses.  Overall, we were glad to work with the Innovation House for this project and look forward to working on other projects with them in the future.  If you would like more information about Stetson University’s Habitat for Humanity please look us up on Facebook (Like us for future updates!) and you can join our email list on HatterSync.

-Laurie, Brianne, and Logan holding up the three birdhouse designs from 2014.

Laurie, Brianne, and Logan holding up the three birdhouse designs from 2014.

All the assembled birdhouse kits.

All the assembled birdhouse kits.

The building crew hard at work.

The building crew hard at work.

3D printer enhancement

My Innovation house project is the hardware portion of my research into extending the functionality of 3D printers. For further information you can visit the project website at

Version 1 of my machine connected to the MakerBot Replicator 2
Version 1 of my machine connected to the MakerBot Replicator 2

Three dimensional printers have taken off in the past three years, and home models are now able to make intricate and interesting designs. As professional- and consumer-grade versions increase in popularity, extensibility will need to be addressed. This project explores the idea of expanding the normal 3D printer and adding a second range of motion. To test the feasibility of this I have built A electromagnetic crane attachment capable of inserting objects into a printed object.

Version 1 of my machine connected to the MakerBot Replicator 2
A side view of the crane arm and how it goes into the printer

The crane is based of the Shapeoko machine but features several modifications includingi a enlarged work area, a lighter frame and most importantly an arm capable of holding several tools. The first tool implemented was the electromagnet but others could easily be used. Development has begun with the Makerbot Replicator 2 but will include other 3D printers in the future. Here is a demo of the two machines functioning together.



Announcement teaser and updates

A major announcement about Innovation House will be posted to this blog on Monday, 1/14/2014. Consider yourself teased.

In preparation for the Spring semester I have made a couple updates to the 3D printing setup. The red laptop connected to the Makerbot had died (after many years of dedicated service). The graphics card is failing. If you have any personal files on that laptop please transfer them off during the first week of classes. Then it will be fed to the wolves.

I have set up a new laptop to run the printer. It should boot into the administrator account, from which you can run the MakerWare application (the one with the “mw” logo). Please do not clutter the desktop with files. It is running Ubuntu 12.04. The administrator password is “digital” if you need it.

Since the build plate that came with the machine is getting pretty beat up, and Makerbot does not sell replacements, I decided to try to fab something. I bought some scrap 3/8″ lexan off ebay cheap (enough make 3 build plates). After lots of carefull sawing, and a bit of cursing, it seems to work. This new build plate is thicker, stronger, and much more scratch resistant than the original acrylic one. Please be careful removing it and inserting it. Start with the back clip and gently push it into place. It’s a very snug fit and I don’t want to break the clips. Although lexan is very tough, it can be scratched so let’s see how long we can keep this one from getting scratched up.

If you want to use the old build plate, I will leave it by the printer. Remember that you will need to re-level the axis if you switch from one plate to the other. I think you will like the new one much better, but I have not tried it with any really large or long prints.

The white board is accumulating a lot of warnings born of anguish. Is this our wailing wall?


The case of the phone cases

After playing it safe on the first couple of attempts at vacuum forming, a couple members gathered up their courage and put their phones on the machine. A couple of nice phone cases were the results. I’m not sure I’d drop melted plastic directly on to my phone, but it was fun to watch and I guess all’s well that ends well.