Friday, October 06, 2006

Mmm...small bits of acrylonitrile butadiene styrene...

Or ABS. The plastic of which Lego bricks are made.

I started my fascination with Lego probably close to 25 years ago. That would make me...8 at the time? Maybe younger, but I was a Lego fanatic by 8 to be sure.

Hours upon hours upon hours were spent with the toys creating Star Wars replicas, houses, horses, spaceships, cars, cats, moonbuggies, planes, mitochondria...

And then, at about age 15 or 16, it stopped. Computers (an ancient XT clone), adventure games, and voracious reading overcame the time I spent with the small, perfectly formed bricks.

Until now.

Long story short, I have kids (3,5,6), pulled the old legos out of storage and rediscovered the magic. As I watch them make space ship after space ship after car after house I remember fondly my own hours. A 9lb batch of mixed regular/technic courtesy ebay + my own bits and pieces + a couple general brick batches and creativity has been flourishing.

Well, that and suppressed profanity as I step on the inevitable 1x2 bricks hidden in the carpet.

Why Lego Defense Industries?

When I rediscovered my old stash, I gave my kids the "regular" ones, and took my beloved 8055 set with me to work. While diddling around with gears and pinions entertained for a season, I longed for a goal. A Big Hairy Engineering Goal. And slowly...with visitors chatting, the next challenge revealed itself.

How to fling an M&M 15 feet in a nice arc to land in the cube across a wall and one aisle away. I cackled evily as I imagined a barrage of chocolate death raining down from above like so much multicolored melt-in-your-mouth-not-in-your-hands hail. (actually, the target was a very congenial co-worker. Aka, someone who wouldn't chase me down and beat me with a mousepad were I successful.)


Many catapult ideas were built, scrapped, reworked.

"This will never do", I thought to myself. I ripped through the history of "thingies which fling stuff at something else, generally a largish amount of space away, with the intent to cause mayhem".

Looking for inspiration, naturally.

Of course, these folks generally weren't necessarily concerned with efficient confectionary delivery, ("pound cake" had a whole 'nother connotation) but the principles were otherwise very similar.

One thing led to another and I decided to see if I could create an auto-loading mechanism with to increase frequency of pelting.

(alas, unsuccessful. Mercifully for my officemates.)

I continued wandering down the blue, red, green and yellow brick road. I began collecting sites that dealt with all sorts of lego flinging machines. Those that shot rubber bands. Popped ping pong balls. Launched gen-u-ine lego missiles. Goodness only knows what else.

And then, it all came together. An unholy synthesis misanthropic intentions. A physical engineering challenge as well as an excuse to exercise Microsoft's .NET interface for mindstorms, increase my coding skills, and execute a design and solution with real world parameters.

An algamation of:

JP Brown's Serious Lego Aegis.

Daniel Rojas's lego rocket launcher

and Sebastian Dick's "Ultimate Lego Chaingun" .

(with inspiration from The Quintessential Sentry Gun.)

The progject's success will be determined by the ability of the device to track, shoot at, and hit one of these cool indoor mini-helicopters when monitored airspace is invaded.

Well, that and my own childish glee at seeing a small chaingun spinning up with an ominous hum, wakening and stretching while noseing blindly towards unwary office invaders...

("Please Exit The Office. You have 20 seconds to comply...")

I get tingles just thinking about it. And fits of childish, diabolical, gleeful chortling.

Progress will be posted here.

Assuming my officemate doesn't have me comitted first.

First to do the vision tracking? I'm using c#, so I'm not sure if I can leverage the lejos vision system, or if I'll have to write my own.

Did I mention that I'm using this as a good motivating point to sharpen my rusty-to-nonexistant coding skills?

Stay tuned.

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