I love writing software, I really do. But I do it professionally every day of the week. One of my favorite things to do is engineering projects not requiring software. Although I love it, software takes a long time to develop, and there are a lot of components to even the simplest sites. I just spent 2 hours updating this site to make this post.
Why did I choose software then?
Software is essentially free. Anyone with access to a computer can write it with a little help. This was the biggest attraction for me. As a high schooler (and even middle schooler), I didn't have the resources or money to do all the cool mechanical projects. So instead, I did software.
It started with modding GTA: San Andreas for me. First modding car models, then modding with CLEO scripts.
Then it was writing software for robotics. I re-wrote the vision tracking software for our 2012 robot (and made it like 30x faster too!).
With Electical Engineering, you need tons of components, tons of expensive tools (oscilloscope, spectrometer, bench supplies, etc). To do even a simple industrial circuit, it'll cost you tons of money. Plus, many of the projects that beginners can do with electronics are not very cool. Blinking LEDs, creating a clock with 7-segments. Cool, but gets boring quickly. The fun stuff comes with skills that take years to develop.
With Mechanical Engineering (my 2nd favorite type of engineering), you need raw materials, machines and tools to cut the material, and space to put all the stuff. As a high schooler in my parent's basement, it wasn't exactly an option (although through PKT, I was able to use their shop)
Software, however, is very easy to get started with. I remember making simple java applications, websites, and even (very badly designed) android apps! In college, I jump-started my web development career with msushrimpfinder.com - a website dedicated to finding all the good shrimp food from all the msu cafs.
Anyways, software is very cool, but after doing it all day, I like to mix it up. I am able to do so at robotics, where I actually do very little software engineering, and mostly mechanical engineering.
Waverly Robotics - Sponsor Thank Yous
In 2018, I was not as involved way too much with the sponsor thank yous. I wasn't keen on the idea of spending tons of money to thank our sponsors. I feel like sponsors would be like "Why did we give them all this money if they spent it all on thanking us?". Little did I know that this was actually a good very investment.
In 2018, we had a sponsor donate laser cutter time, on the condition that we provide labor and materials. That year, we created a 1/2" thick, laser cut acrylic award. This was not only very expensive, but often produced bad awards because they caught fire.
I did the design of the base (with the signature LEDs) and the outline. The students designed the text
2019 is when I got involved heavily in the sponsor thank yous. This year, me and Jeff (other lead mentor) had the students do a paper-drawing concept of what they wanted to see. I took that, put it into CAD and worked out the details. 2019's game was Deep Space, so the students chose a rocket ship design
The budget this year was a little higher. The success of 2018's thank yous let us spend a little more this year. We decided that every year we were going to do something unique. Part of this decision was based on a bad experience with the sponsor who did 2018's. We found out they ended up making tons of money off ours when they said they didn't.
The initial idea was to get them laser cut out of aluminum, then creating some sort of base. However, we scrapped the base idea since we had to do over 100 of these (we have really good outreach team). We ended up going for a bent sheet metal (my favorite) design, along with a custom laser engraved name tag.
After getting quotes back from my laser guy, we decided that we would make them out of .036" Cold Rolled steel. We had to go thinner because the design was too intricate for 3/16" aluminum (which is what we originally wanted). Plus, .036" CR Steel is very cheap. To combat rusting, we got them powder coated after
This was the original design. We were not going to do a custom name plate with this design. The laser guy complained about the time and error-prone details that we have. We modified this design to remove the FIRST and Deep Space logos, and instead, added two holes for a annodized aluminum name plate.
This one is the final design. White powder coat and purple name tag. The name tag would be annodized aluminum and laser engraved
These turned out really well. The sponsors were very happy to recieve these. We got comments like "Wow! Most people don't thank us, or just give us a letter! These are awesome!".
The best part of having these (and having a lot of Lansing sponsor you), is running into these in the public. I ran into the one at Auto Pros while getting my car's AC repaired. It's very fun to see!
In 2020 (as of writing this), we are doing a similar method, but changing a few things. The concept is still the same - powder coated sheet metal with a name tag. But this year, the students designed an R2D2 shaped thank you. We are combining this with some stickers to really pronounce the shape. As of writing this, they are about half way done:
On the left you see the CAD model (note: no vinyl stickers are modeled yet). On the right is the cut out from the laser. These need to be bent, powder coated, have the annodized plates attached, and then stickered.
The Hannah Projects
There was this girl named Hannah. I made a lot of things for her
The Hannah Water Bottle
Hannah always lost her water bottle. Like it would be 2 a month that were lost. I took this as a personal challenge. This project wasn't super complicated or anything, but I wanted to make something custom!
This water bottle featured a fancy "H" that was her "logo" (really it was just an H that was tattooed on her that I used for everything). It also features a Tile tracking tag. That way she could go on her phone and find it. She uses this feature about once a month! It's just attached via a keyring that I drilled a hole for. Simple solutions are sometimes the best!
She still uses the water bottle today!
The Hannah Veggie Cooker
One day we were cooking some veggies on the grill together. We had a ton of zucchini on this grill. Unfortuatly, our yield was less that 50%. That's right - more than half fell through the grate and suffered a terrible fate. Sad!
This project was pretty cool. I had a few ideas. The first was similar to the final product, but instead was a few rails with many rods going through it. Basically a grill with a much tighter spacing that sat on top of the regular grill. Unfortunatly, I lost the CAD model for this one, but I didn't end up executing on this design because it would require a lot of welding of stainless steel, which I haven't done before.
The second iteration was much easier to make. It was a single piece of laser cut metal that was bent to the right shape. Since I was going to laser cut this, I added the signature "H", as well as the name HANNAH to make sure nobody could steal this. And because I love a good customization.
Funny thing - this was actually the 2nd one made. The first one was 50% bigger and was unfortunatly bent the wrong way so the Ns were backwards. The laser guy made me another one for free, so all is good! Smaller one fit better on a smaller grill (which is what she had access to)
Some challanges with this project was making a design that was cheap enough to make, safe for food handling, and easy to use. The first design with the rods wasn't going to work. Stainless steel rods are pretty expensive, and it would take a lot of time to cut and debur 100+ rods (which is what I calculated). The second design was much better because it could all just be laser cut. The total cost was $150 shipped!
She still uses this one as well!
The Hannah Tile TV Remote
The worst part of trying to watch TV is losing the remote. Hannah (and I) did this a lot. I decided to put an end to this problem once and for all!
The initial thought was to make a remote that had a tile attached to it with a keychain. The problem with this one was that this is a terrible idea and I would be instantly annoyed. I hate things that are clunky.
The solution I came up with was a lot cleaner. Tile makes these things called "Tile Stickers", which are miniature tiles that stick to things. Although they are small, they're not small enough. I took one apart to see what was taking up so much space. The majority of the space was taken up by the oversized case and the battery. The battery was a miniature coin cell battery, which output 3 volts. You know what else puts out 3 volts? 2 AAA batteries that are in the remote.
So the final product was a cheap remote from ebay (china clone of the OEM remote), and a tile. I then took apart the remote, stripped the cast plastic webbing, drill some speaker holes, and put the tile in there. Then I wired the tile's battery leads (which had convenient test leads on the circuit board that I could solder on to) to the remote's battery leads and reassembled. The whole thing was a major success and worked really well!
Unfortunatly, I don't have a picture of the final product, but here is one that I took on my parent's kitchen table of the mess I made:
More random custom things
Krause KitchenAid Handle Medallions
My parents renovated their house recently and installed all new KitchenAid appliances. These appliances have a weird handle insert that says "KitchenAid" on them. They are only held in by a single screw.
I love attention to detail and little easter eggs, so I decided to make custom inserts as a Christmas gift for my mom.
Here they are in the CNC machine after engraving, and in my hand un-annodized
And here they are annodized and installed
There are about 14 total in the kitchen. 2 per handle, 7 handles