PlotBot: Brief

So as time draws on we are getting closer to the start of the new academic year, and of course that means Fresher’s Fair!
At Kent we have several creative societies including SpaceSoc and their “Build a Rocket” sessions, Engineering Soc  with their focus on robotics, and TinkerSoc who want to help people build without limits.
With TinkerSoc it has become somewhat of a tradition to build and showoff a project at the fresher’s fair. In previous years we have had a laser engraver making custom name tags and furbies singing bohemian rhapsody, basically something to grab peoples attention and imagination.
Having seen a number of vertical plotters online I have decided now is the time to build one.

The standard vertical plotter is made up of 2 stepper motors, a servo, a motor controller and a microcontroller. By providing a stream of polar coordinates to the robot, the two motors can be wound in and out to move a pen across the whiteboard. This produces drawings where the pen never leaves the surface however that does not limit the styles of drawings that can be produced. Drawings can be developed further by adding a server or linear actuator to the pen carriage in order to push the pen off the drawing surface, thus allowing mush more freedom to implement different drawing styles.

Obviously we cannot draw above, or on either side of the motors, however the effectiveness of the plotter changes depending on the position of the pen carriage.
As such the most effective drawing area is a rectangle in the centre of the drawing surface with the tension on a cord being too low on either side, and the resolution is too low at the top due to the large angles. (



There have been a great many vertical plotters in the past, a great list can be found at
Overall there seem to be two different styles of drawing with vertical plotters.

Single line, where the pen never leaves the surface, is technically less challenging and can provide great results however you can be left with the odd scrawl across the surface that you didn’t want.

Multi line, where the pen can be lifted/pushed away from the surface, allows much more flexibility with regards to what can be drawn as the robot won’t scrawl connecting lines across the surface however does add the extra complexity of having a servo or linear actuator to push the pen carriage away from the surface.

Bearing in mind the saying, the more complex it is, the more likely it is to break.


Tinkerlog’s “Der Krizler” is definitely one of the more popular V-plotters out there, drawing on glass to amuse passers-by.



Dan Royer’s Makelangelo is a very impressive V-plotter. Commercialised as a kit, it’s reliability has been tested extensively!

Makelangelo 2.5


And probably the oldest V-plotter around from 1988 developed at MIT using lego!



In the Aftermath of the Mini Maker Faire

The dust is settling now after the hordes of people who wandered through the halls of the Elephant & Castle Mini Maker Faire.

Within the halls of the London College of Communication, makers were separated by categories into different studios. We had lots to look at and admire, however Raspberry Pi’s and 3D printers, not surprisingly took centre stage.

I don’t intend to talk about everything that happened, just a few things that really made an impression on me.

One 3D printer that caused me to take a second glance, and a third, and a fourth, and a chat with the creator, was the 3DR.
The 3DR is an inverted delta-bot style 3D printer that is constructed mainly out of 3D printed parts. Because of the simple design it seems to me that it must be must easier to set-up initially as the only areas you need to focus on are how tight the strings/cam belt are, and the position of the 3 arms, of course that is only the case if the rod guides are all the same height and parallel to each other.

A 3D printing company caught my eye as we wandered around because of their impressive printed objects and nicely build RepRap printers. Active 3D is based in Tunbridge Wells and aim to help introduce schools in the area to the opportunities that are available in 3D Printing. They offer workshops and monthly meetups which aim:

  • To train people in how to use 3D printers.
  • To train people how to maintain a 3D printer.
  • To provide an easy to use instruction manual.

And finally, catering to the more artistic of us, and the thirsty, the Tropism Well could be found in one of the main halls.
The Tropism Well is a drinking fountain with a difference. With a base made up of a 14 litre tank, which can be filled with any beverage, the Well automatically detects the presence  of a person and elegantly bow’s its neck, presenting to the honoured person a gift of a perfectly poured serving or a drink, before bringing its neck back up straight as if to observe you enjoying its gift.

Elephant & Castle Mini Maker Faire


Elephant & Castle Mini Maker Faire

So the three of us are off to The Elephant & Castle Mini Maker Faire on Saturday.
Maker Faire’s were created by Make Magazine in the USA, they are now events that happen all over the world.

Currently in the UK we have 6 Mini Maker Faire’s in; Brighton, London, Nottingham, Manchester, Dublin and Edinburgh. There is also a “featured” Maker Faire in Newcastle. Find your nearest Maker Faire here.

On the agenda for the Elephant & Castle Mini Maker Faire in London are loads of workshops including learning to solder (Through Hole and Surface mount),  creating a mini synth and 3D modelling in Blender. See the full list here.

We are really looking forward to the day and will update everyone with what we see and do! =]



London Arduino

Tonight was my first time along at the London Arduino Meet Up.
The London Arduino Group is of a similar idea to the Raspberry Pi Jam events that I’ve been to
before. It is a group of people who want to share knowledge about the Arduino platform and start to
innovate across other platforms.

This month we had presentations including hobby electronics, internet controlled LED’s and 3D

Using an Ethernet shield, Christian, put together a set up where he was able to control the status
of an LED in his web browser. This was done on a local network (sorry guys who wanted to take
control of his little light) where he showed two methods of flicking the switch.
The first method he showed off was to use the arduino as a web server and construct the html on it
as well. Then it was a simple matter of connecting to the IP address that was defined on the
arduino and hey-presto it worked.
The second method that he demonstrated was a little more complicated involving node.JS, sockets and other technical jargon that I didn’t catch.

On a similar vein we had Liam demonstrating the use of a TP-Link Wireless N Nano Router (TL-WR702N) to connect an arduino to the internet. He argued that the use of WiFi shields is overly complicated compared to Ethernet shields, as well as being a lot more expensive  So if you are willing to have a slightly bigger package then you can connect the Ethernet shield to the nano router and leave that to sort out the complicated subtleties of wireless connections, allowing you to get on with innovating your wireless solution. Another thought is that a nano router is much more versatile than a WiFi shield because it can be plugged into a computer, games console, Raspberry Pi, or any other device that has an Ethernet socket.

In the realm of Hobby Electronics we had Danny, who was plugging his first ever kit robot. is his creation and is where he is selling his first his own starter kit robot. In this kit you will find everything that you need to to construct a small chassis with 4 wheels controlled in pairs (left and right) by a L298n dual H-Bridge controller board which is interfaced to an Arduino Uno R3 (provided in the kit). With a easy fit design, you only need a screwdriver to put this kit together making it perfect for anyone who is; unsure with tools, in need for a robot chassis quickly, or just lazy.

The final talk of the evening was from Mark, on behalf of another London Tech Meet-up group, Future Manufacturing, who have a keen interest in 3D printing. They are really keen to see cross collaboration between our two groups on various projects including potentially the Luma Module Interactive Spaceship. The Luma Module is a KickStarter project where they want to build a spaceship that lights up when people interacts with it. This spaceship will then be shipped (no it won’t fly itself) to Nevada for the Burning Man art Festival at the end of August 2013.

Digibury Discussions

So the other day, for the first time, I went along to Digibury, a event for people interested in technology in the local area. At the monthly meetings you can normally expect to 3 different talks.

The Digibury Postcard

The Digibury Postcard (Slightly crumpled)

At this months meeting we heard from Joe Webb, a PhD researcher in Cultural Studies. He is conducting an ethnograph about how “computing professionals” have learnt to use computers. He has started to see some very interesting generational differences in how people learnt to use the computers.

Next up on the schedule was a talk from Deri Jones, from SciVisum.
At SciVisum they specialise in load testing websites and web applications. From the data that they collect and analyse they can advise a business’s technical team so that they can adjust the companies website to be more efficient and capable of coping with the expected load. It also means that SciVisum can advise the less technical directors as to if there is a something that the companies technical team can do when their website has a fault.

The final talk of the night was from Chris Atherton, a user experience architect. She was talking to us about the recognition rules that humans apply to the world around them, for example that a chair has 4 legs and a back, or that a wheel is circular and has spokes. She then asked that we apply these rules to showers and to microwaves, and we all came to realise that these products do not have any standard user interface. Eventually after some discussion we even decided that showers do not offer enough control for the temperature of the water, only cold or hot, whereas microwaves offer too much functionality above and beyond heating a dish for a set amount of time.

All in all I really enjoyed the evening of talks, and am looking forward to next months set of talks on interfaces.

Raspbery Jam & SDR

Inspired by a talk on Software Defined Radio (SDR) during a TinkerSoc night, and motivated by the rocketing number of hits the society’s website after their blog post about SDR was featured on Hack-A-Day. I decided to try it out for myself!

SDR works due to the RTL2832 chipset which has a very wide frequency receiver range. This chipset is used in a lot of the USB TV tuners out there, however not all of them. A list has been compiled on the website where they also have a huge amount of information about SDR.

Having brought myself a USB TV Tuner off Amazon for £14 and free shipping it is clear that this is a really inexpensive way to get into amateur radio.


The USB Tuner arrived at my house at university on the day of the fifth Raspberry Pi Jam, it seemed like an ideal opportunity to combine the two interests.

Having learnt a little bit about the different programs available during the talk at TinkerSoc, I decided to use rt-_tcp a lightweight piece of software that has the RTL (Realtek) drivers.

RTL-tcp is a sub program of RTL-sdr which is a command line interface program for controlling the TV tuner. By using RTL-tcp you are setting up a server which you can then connect to and stream the data from the Raspberry Pi to your computer. The benefit of this is that your antenna can be high up outside in the cold, meanwhile you are inside, nice and cosy.

Arriving at the Raspberry Jam I immediately set myself up with a my RPi connected to all the peripherals like the monitor and keyboard, as well as connecting it to my laptop over an Ethernet cable and I bridged the LAN to my wireless connection in order to install the software.

I was fortunate that two gents were very kind as to start helping me, teaching me my way around the command line and explaining the function of programs like aptitude and git.

Referencing a guide on I started to set up my RPi with all the software I needed.

To start with I checked that all dependencies were installed. There are programs that RTL-SDR and -TCP will need in order to work correctly. To check and/or install these dependencies I had to use the sudo apt-get install function and then install git, cmake, and build-essential.

sudo apt-get install git 
sudo apt-get install cmake
sudo apt-get install
sudo apt-get install build-essential

The next step was to download RTL-sdr and install the drivers.

git clone git://
cd rtl-sdr/
mkdir build
cd build
cmake ../
sudo make install
sudo ldconfig

The final step is to copy the rules file (rtl-sdr.rules) which can be found at /home/pi/rtl-sdr and this file should be copied into etc/udev/rules.d .


Once the rules are in place you need to plug in the TV tuner and then you are ready to test that everything is working correctly by using the command rtl_test -t.


If everything is working all right, as it is in the picture above, then it is time to start the server and then set up your listening station.

To start the server type rtl_tcp -a followed by the ip address of your Pi. The ip address can be found by typing ifconfig into the command line, the ip address is the set of 4 numbers in the eth0 section. next to the lable “inet addr”.

SDR Sharp is a program written in C# that claims to be high performance with design in mind. It is also the program I decided to use with rtl-tcp.

To set SDR Sharp up with the raspberry pi, RTL-SDR / TCP must be selected from the drop down list, and then click configure.


The Raspberry Pi’s ip address should be entered into the host cell, and in the Port cell is the default value that doesn’t need to be changed. Volume can be adjusted using the RF Gain slider if you want a more permanent higher volume.

sdrsharp2When you have finished configuring, just press play. If all has gone well, then you will see the waterfall of data start to fall down the screen and hopefully hear something.  In all likely hood you won’t hear anything straight away, so you will want to change the frequency, you can do this by clicking on the top or bottom of the numbers representing the frequency at the top pf the screen, or by clicking along the activity bar.

Happy listening.

————– UPDATE ————–

April 2014

So after not using SDR for over a year I have set up my Pi to listen to the airwaves again. This was sparked by a comment below asking for help.
I followed my own walk-through and encountered the same issues as Ryan had encountered.

I managed to resolve these by adding “blacklist dvb_usb_rtl28xxu” to the file
/etc/modprobe.d/raspi-blacklist.conf by entering

sudo nano /etc/modprobe.d/raspi-blacklist.conf 

and entering the extra line at the bottom.

After rebooting everything worked well.

My first Rapsberry Jam

Well last night, in preparation for getting myself a Raspberry Pi I attended the London Raspberry Pi Jam Night at the Mozilla space in London.
I won’t bore everyone with a full write up of the night and instead if you are interested, point you to my good friend The Scientific Moustache’s blog post on the night.

Instead I will be giving you my impression as a newbie at these events.

I arrived early with my friend as he is a co-organiser, and it seemed to be quite a quiet affair.
As people started turning up and getting to work with their projects and lending a hand to others with their own projects. I started to get into the spirit of the evening, lending my own advice and opinions, although very often I was proved wrong. Alas I was surrounded by new technology, and a new programming language, so I’m not surprised that I was no help.
So despite not being any help myself, I really was intrigued by some of the projects others were doing, from controlling a Lego NXT robot, to taking pictures using a webcam and controlling an Arduino Uno, to just trying to connect it to the internet.

I really can’t wait for my Model B RPi to arrive so I can start playing with it, and of course I’ll update on here with my progress.

The Raspberry Jam is in no way affliated with the Mozilla Space or the Rapsberry Pi Foundation. Raspberry Pi is a trademark of the Raspberry Pi Foundation.