3D Printer Build Group 11 is here!

Build your very own 3D printer at Nova Labs!

The 11th 3D Printer Build Group is launching on December 9th, 2pm, at Nova Labs. On that date we’ll be putting together a kit that anyone can purchase, assemble, and turn into their very own Nova I3 3D printer. If you’ve got time to help assemble, please sign up here: https://www.meetup.com/NOVA-Makers/events/245247401/.

The 3D Printer Build Group meets every Monday evening from 7-9pm to assemble kits.

Kits will cost $450 for Nova Labs members, $500 otherwise, and may be purchased at any time, but will not be ready for pickup until the 9th. There will probably be kits available for some time after the assembly, but they are sold on a first-come first-serve basis. If you have any questions feel free to email Paul Chase – paenian at gmail dot com – or come to any of the 3d Printer Build Nights, every Monday evening from 7-9pm.

If you’re interested in joining the build group you can email Paul Chase: paenian at the gmail dot com

The printer we’re building is the Nova I3, which is a high-end printer for a mid-range price.
Features include:

  • Genuine E3D hotend, capable of printing high-temperature materials
  • Heated Bed
  • 24v motor and heater supply for high torque and fast heating
  • 200mm cubic build area
  • LCD & SD card for computer-independent printing
  • Available upgrade to dual-extrusion

The frames and 3d printed components are made right at Nova Labs; we’re also looking for volunteers to cut frames and print parts.

Laser Cutting

If you’re trained on the laser I could especially use help cutting – each kit comes from a single sheet of MDF, and takes ~40 minutes to cut. After cutting, the parts are stored in our boxes waiting for the kit assembly. Please contact Paul Chase, paenian at gmail dot com if you can spare some laser babysitting time 🙂

3D Printing

All the parts are printed by volunteers; they’re up on my Github page: https://github.com/paenian/i3_parts/tree/master/bg11

The full_plate.stl is everything needed for a printer, about 12 hour print on a BG machine. The other three plates combine to make the same parts if you have a smaller machine. Parts must be printed in (recommended) PETG or ABS; color is not important. Again, please contact Paul Chase, paenian at gmail dot com if you’d like to print a set or two :-)​

Fun with AppliquĂ© and Embroidery – multi-tool projects at Nova Labs

Ed note: This article was provided by Jeff Chanesman, a Nova Labs key member and steward in the woodshop, laser lab, and instructor for our CNC embroidery machine. Look for sessions on our Meetup page.

Applique pillowThe embroidery machine isn’t just for embroidery. Suzanne and I made these fun pillows using appliqué. Appliqué is the sewing of fabric onto larger piece of fabric to create pictures. The only thread used in this example is black. All the colors you see are pieces of fleece cut on the laser cutter and then sewn into place. It’s like painting with cloth!!!

This was very easy to do with the embroidery software we have at Nova Labs; Hatch from Wilcom. Shapes are imported or created and the converted to appliqué. This not only automatically creates the stitches to hold it in place but also creates stitch outlines for placing your pieces of fabric. You can then print out a template for cutting out your fabric “parts” or print them to PDF so you can convert them to DXF for laser cutting. I was able to cut out the eye, iris, and mouth for twenty of these pillow guys in less than 15 minutes including setup.

A bunch of pillows

You could easily make all sorts of projects using this technique. From potholders to stuffed animal friends.

I will give you an overview of instructions for doing this below, but remember you need to be signed off on the embroidery machine (and laser cutter if you plan on using it to cut your fabric) in order to sew these at Nova Labs. Hatch software is installed on all the machine in the CAD lab and you are more than welcome to use it but I would strongly encourage you to take the class. It is easy to use but can be daunting at first, especially if you are a first timer, as there are many specialized tools and settings.

Digitize AppliqueSuzanne created the initial design in Adobe Illustrator but you can use anything including Inkscape or CorelDraw (in fact if you happen to have CorelDraw X6 it integrates directly into Hatch). I had her size it to the exact dimensions she wanted and then saved it as a PNG. You then import the PNG into Hatch for digitizing. Using the Appliqué toolbox from Hatch’s left side menu. Digitize your shapes and then use the Object Properties toolbox from the right side menu to select fabric type as well as the kind of stitches to be used. This is also where you can select whether or not you will be using pre-cut fabric, or if you intend to trim in place.

Objects menuFor my project I chose pre-cut. Once you are done with each piece, save and export to the desired embroidery file type. You can then print out the templates to PDF. The machines in the CAD lab have the “Microsoft Print to PDF” as one of the printer selections. Choose this and save the file to a known location.
Import this into Inkscape or similar and save/convert it as a DXF in millimeters for importing into the laser software. If you are using Fleece, 400 speed 70 power works pretty well.

Hoop your fabric and stabilizer on the embroidery machine.

Load and run your embroidery file. The first stitch will be your placement. It will outline the location of where to place your pre-cut fabric pieces and then stop. Spray the piece with temporary fabric adhesive and place onto your fabric. Start the next part of the file which will tack and stitch your cover. Move on to each piece until complete.
Let me know if you have questions or if you would like a class specific to this sort of project.

Applique pillow eyeball

Parts of the eye after the outline (for placement) and tack-stitch were finished. The next step will be a satin stitch to cover the edge and provide a solid outline around the parts.


Reston Museum’s Cardboard Regatta sets sail Saturday!

LakeWeigh anchor for the 1st Reston Museum Cardboard Regatta!

Preparations for the Reston Museum’s 1st Cardboard Regatta are wrapping up at Nova Labs. Two boats have been taking shape over the past several days – one for Nova Labs, and another for NoVa Maker Faire. Both will be ready to go for the race.

Please come and cheer us on, or volunteer for the repair booth that is being staffed by the Nova Labs community.


The main event is THIS Saturday, August 12, with the race starting around 2pm. Location is the Boat rental area at Lake Anne Plaza

More details at the event website.

Check out some of these photos of the construction of the two boats:

Reston Museum Cardboard Boat Regatta – 8/12/2017

Summer fun for makers – cardboard boat race in Reston!

Cardboard boat hull

The hull of boat #1 is largely complete!

Nova Labs and Maker Faire NoVa will sponsor and staff a boat repair clinic & dry dock at Reston Museum’s Cardboard Boat Regatta. Both Nova Labs and the Faire will enter a boat in the regatta, too!

Cardboard hull pieces

Hull pieces cut on the laser cutter


A cardboard boat race!


Saturday, August 12th from 2-6pm


Boat rental area at Lake Anne Plaza

Join the fun:

Please consider joining our boat build sessions! They’re held evenings and weekend afternoons between now and race day at Nova Labs – look for sessions listed at https://www.meetup.com/NOVA-Makers/.

Cardboard boat hull being assembled

Boat #1 coming together

You can also help out the day of the race at the Nova Labs dry dock tent. Volunteers will have spare cardboard and duct tape to assist race teams with last minute boat fixes and answer questions about Nova Labs and the Faire. Contact [Jeanne Marshall] if you are able to help (see the email in the Chatter list serv).

 If you’d like to enter your own boat, you’ll find rules and registration at the event website. If you can’t help out in advance, please come to Lake Anne Plaza to cheer on our 2 boat teams!

We look forward to seeing you at a boat build or on race day!

Paper boat prototype

Paper boat prototype

Marvo the Magnificent

Ed. Note: Blog post contributed by [Nick Carter], Maker, retired electrical engineer, who is active in the Robotics Meetup, DIYBio Meetup, Artificial Intelligence Meetup, and pitches in with STEM programs whenever needed.

I had wanted to play with voice recognition for a long time, ever since the group I was in at ITT Research Center, many years ago, did some telephony voice related applications – a dial by voice system and an automatic switchboard attendant (U.S. patent 4608460 – I may be partly to blame for the ”Press 1 for..” menus  J). I have also held a long interest in robots and have an interest in making machines act somewhat human-like in responses, so when I saw the EasyVR VR-3 speech recognition shield for the Arduino I decided this was my chance.

The shield was around $50 (sadly, now out of stock?), and provides a reasonable functionality and a very nice graphical programming interface for the Arduino.  The VR-3 needed some soldering assembly but it was not too tough, basically soldering headers and recognition board to shield board. 

Initially to teMarvo1st it I made a “magic 8 ball” toy with only speaker dependent trained commands including some holiday season fortunes and I decided it would be a wizard looking into his crystal ball, hence Marvo was born.  One time I showed it at Nova Labs, one small girl tried it and asked it if she was going to get a puppy for Christmas, and Marvo told her yes – and I think she believed him. I am probably in big trouble. With the voice operated electronics these days, it is going to be difficult getting kids who grow up with them to distinguish real responses from toy responses (and true from untrue) – especially the more they act humanlike.

Later I refined Marvo, for a maker fair in Haymarket giving him some LEDs and an actual ball (bouncy superball with embedded stars), backlit with LED. I also added a second set of commands using the “robot” speaker inMarvo2dependent set. And added responses to try to get kids engaged and try the various commands.  You can see a video here which also shows the robot training the user (me). 


You can see the difficulty in recognition sometimes and how it has to train the user to speak properly for good response.  It did not really like my English accent. I also found that it is very sensitive to external noise and in the Haymarket fair environment it really had a tough time although once I moved to a quieter spot and tweaked some recognition parameters it did a bit better.

For a practical application, this would work fine in a quiet home environment and for controlling things for people with disabilities who could still talk well.

 To start, you create a speaker dependent trigger word that starts it into the program. I put “Hey, Marvo”. The speaker independent trigger is “Robot”. Each speaker dependent word/phrase has to be trained 2 times and can be tested for recognition accuracy within groups of words.Marvo3

To make the speaker dependent recognition more robust you can add additional entries in the word lists what are the same phrase spoken by different voices. The program may flag them as duplicates if the recognition template is the same.


It has a built in speaker independent Robot oriented set of command groups and you can make your own groups of speaker dependent commands that you can train to your own or multiple voices.  The key here is to only include in command groups words or phrases that are readily distinguishable.  There is 1 trigger word to get its attention and then you can use the Arduino program to choose which group of words to listen for and what actions to take.

The additional “robot” command groups are movement directions, “up”, “down” etc. and the numbers zero through nine.

It will store up to 32 voice response messages that you can record but unfortunately not save off, once you have recorded them. The program itself and the recognition templates can be stored off for reuse.

You can make quite a sophisticated system with this; it has 16 word groups that you can train. There is also a tool that you can buy for ~ $200 that will convert the speaker dependent into speaker independent. If one was using this commercially it could be worthwhile but too much for me.

Once you have trained the commands you want, the EasyVR Commander program will generate an Arduino program template file with all the setup commands and the voice recognition menus you made set up as switch/case statements so that you can add the programmed actions to them. This saves a lot of work and figuring out. If you really want, the detail level commands are provided to talk to the board.

You can also  have it store sounds from wav files. It comes with a “beep”, and there is also a feature for generating “lipsync” parameters from the recordings as they play, for animatronic mouth animation.

All in all, this is fairly easy to use and works well enough to be entertaining – well, I had fun with it.

DIYBio: Control a shark with your mind

Ed. Note: Blog post contributed by [Nick Carter], Maker, retired electrical engineer, who is active in the Robotics Meetup, DIYBio Meetup, Artificial Intelligence Meetup, and pitches in with STEM programs whenever needed.

Blog Contributed by Nick Carter, Maker, retired electrical engineer, who is active in the Robotics Meetup, DIYBio Meetup, Artificial Intelligence Meetup, and pitches in with STEM programs whenever needed.

The mind-controlled shark in action – view a video of it ‘swimming’ by clicking here.


While participating in the Nova Labs DIYBio meetings, I became interested in brainwave sensors and how brain activity can be applied. After some research the cheapest way to get into this seemed to be to buy a MindFlex game online. I got the MindFlex Dual because it has 2 headset/pickups. The EEG part is developed by Neurosky, who also sell their EEG amplifier/processing board for researchers. Initially I was just interested in looking at the game and the brainwaves and implemented a Bluetooth headset interface and could use an online program for Processing on the PC to display the filtered energy levels while playing the game.

After more research I came across a video of Open BCI developers controlling an air swimming shark http://spectrum.ieee.org/geek-life/hands-on/openbci-control-an-air-shark-with-your-mind – I decided to try that myself using the MindFlex game sensor instead. One major difference is that they used 5 players to control up/down/right/left and forward controls. I could only muster one or 2 inputs for control using the MindFlex.

After I got the game I found it was a great hit with both the DIYBio group and also the Saturday morning Maker Fun Project club (where I was volunteering) who asked me to make it control the LEGO Mindstorms EV3 robots.

I used that project as the proof of concept for the Arduino/remote control hacking before actually getting the shark. I implemented the hack into the remote controller and made a chatty Arduino game that let players interact with the EV3 from Putty on the PC using W, A, S, D keys. I have not yet integrated this with the MindFlex but the same ideas apply.

Breadboard interface between arduino and game device

Breadboard interface between Arduino and game device

Then I got a shark and hacked the controller; I used a small relay board I developed after taking the Nova Labs Eagle CAD course to control the remote’s switches, electrically isolating the Arduino and the Remote control.

Rather than taking the MindFlex headset signals and interfacing them with cable or Bluetooth directly to an Arduino to do my own signal processing, I decided to use the MindFlex game base processing and use the Brain signal intensity signals driving the colored LEDs on the game. I found these signals were Pulse Width modulated to vary the LED intensity so I had to smooth them to make an analog level for the Arduino to monitor and set thresholds in my program to decide if the LED was on or off.

Although I wired out the 2 sets of LEDs for both player headsets, I only implemented the drive, leaving the climb/dive manual control for later. There are Red, Orange and Green LEDs lit for 3 levels of detected Brainwave intensity. To get the ability to turn as well as go forwards I used the Green to go forwards and the Orange to turn, alternating left and right when returning to Orange after Green.

Testing the shark tail

Testing the shark tail

I tested this with the shark tail wagging and interface electronics off the shark leaving the shark assembly and inflation for later. Inflation requires a fair amount of helium, I was quoted around $15 so I did not want to do this until really ready, plus an anchored tail was easier to handle.

Finally I inflated and assembled the shark, using helium from a “Party Balloon Kit”, and brought it to Nova Labs’ July 10 DIYBio meeting.

It is not as controllable as the Open BCI version but still fun to drive (although as you will see in the video, some manual intervention is needed) and I had a lot of fun implementing it.

For more details, there’s a slide deck on the Nova Labs Meetup “file” area, or by clicking here.

How to build a working Claw Machine Halloween Costume

Ed. note: Nova Labs contributor [Alexander Romero] built this Claw Machine Halloween Costume for his son last year and wrote about it for his blog. This article re-posted with permission.

If you want to see or show off your Halloween creations, join us at Nova Labs on Tuesday, September 27, 2016 at 7pm. Details on our Meetup page.

Why a claw machine

My son loves claw machines, so when I casually asked if he’d be interested in being one for Halloween his eyes lit up and he jumped up and down proclaiming YES, YES, YES!!

Thus the two of us set out to create one for Halloween. This blog details how we built a working claw machine Halloween costume. You can see the finished product in this video.



The build

claw_machine_02First thing we did was to acquire two U-haul moving boxes that approximated the body of the machine. A top one for the main part, and a bottom one for the longer body.

Then I cut out the centers of each of three sides from the top part of the body, which is where the main part of the machine would be. I left about a 4″ border around the sides. Actually I left an 8″ border, but then folded it back at 4″ to make is stronger. I basically doubled up the border for strength.

Now the next thing to figure out was how to connect the two boxes. I could have glued them, but I didn’t love that idea, because I wanted to be able to take the two pieces apart. Also, I wasn’t sure if gluing it would be strong enough. So I cut out four pieces of thin plywood, glued them to the top box, and the bottom box, then I drilled holes and secured them with washers, nuts and bolts. That proved sufficiently strong, but also added weight. I also cut out a circular hole for his head, and some holes on the side for his arms.

The next step was easy, but took a while. I spray painted the whole thing red on the outside, and white on the inside for the inside parts one could see. If I did it again, I would probably just cover the outside with red wrapping paper. The spray paint took way too long. On the back of the top part I used a sparkle wrapping paper I picked up at Michaels. You can see it in the picture below.

claw_machine_03After this, it was now time to figure out how to make a working claw. For this I used a combination of Legos, a salvaged electric motor from a Nerf gun, and a tin can. First I built the assembly that I would tie the string to that would raise and lower the claw. You can see I made the spool that would wrap the string a wider diameter, so it wouldn’t take so long for the claw to go up and down.

claw_machine_04I mounted this to the ceiling of the claw machine. To do this I used a similar idea to how I connected the two boxes. I used plywood as the backing so that I could have a secure foundation to mount the assembly. This meant that I had plywood and screws popping out of the top of the claw machine. You can see how I covered those up with a third low profile box on the top of the machine in the finished product picture at the top.

claw_machine_05For the controls of the machine, I used an old Lego controller. I mounted this to the underside of a control panel made of plywood that was also painted red.

claw_machine_06You can see the control panel below. It has a joystick to control the up and down.

claw_machine_07It also includes two other items. On the front right is an on / off toggle switch that controlled the back lighting. For the back lighting I used a strip of LED’s powered by AA batteries and wired it to the on / off switch which I got from Amazon.

claw_machine_08On the side of the control panel there was a pressure kill switch. It had to be depressed for the claw to go up or down. I put this in because there is no auto stop for the up and down motion of the claw. Meaning, once the claw was fully retracted, it could get stuck and potentially break the assembly that retracts it. So the pressure switch gives the person wearing the costumer the ability to regulate the use of the claw and stop it if it is getting too close to the top.

Because I wanted the ability to disconnect the top and the bottom of the costume, I got a trailer harness connector from the auto supply store, and used this as the connector between the control panel, and the rest of the electronics. There were lots of ways to connect these components, but I found this harness to be the cheapest convenient connector.

claw_machine_09claw_machine_10For the claw, I used wire snips to cut triangles in a tin can, then used those triangles screwed to another tin can to form the claw.

My wife helped find some other decorations, like the “Win Me” at the top, as well as the prize door, etc. I printed these off on a color printer then used adhesive spray to affix them to the costume.

To say this costume was a hit is an understatement! It was admired by everyone who saw it, from kids to adults. See the video at the top of this blog for the mob of kids that wanted to check it out when my son wore it to the Halloween party.

claw_machine_11Because the costume was heavy, I cut an old foam pillow and then attached it using string to the undersides of the costume where it would rest on my son’s shoulders. This helped, but it was still a pretty heavy costume for an eight year old. You can see below where I positioned and secured the foam pillows.

Then with the help of my son, we filled up the inside of the claw costume with stuffed animals. To secure these from jostling around while the costume was being worn, we used fishing line and tied it to the bottom of the machine.

Things I would have done differently:

  1. Use red wrapping paper instead of spray paint. The spray paint just took forever. Several coats and more expensive.
  2. Just glue the two boxes together. I’ve never taken the two pieces apart, so in hindsight, I didn’t need to have them disconnect, which would have saved weight.
  3. Skip the connector harness. As discussed in point 2, I never disconnected the two pieces, so there was no need for this.
  4. Used lighter battery assembly. With some more time I probably could have used the same batteries to power both the motor and the lights. This would have saved weight also.

Lil Dragon v-tail quadcopter – developed at Nova Labs

Building a 250 quad racer from scratch

With 250 quad racing becoming more and more popular and local racing events starting to pop-up, Nova Labs member Fred Briggs decided to give it a try. Being a Maker, he didn’t want to buy the same ole’ frame that everyone else had so building from scratch seemed like the obvious way to go. Wanting something a little unique, Fred’s main goals were to develop something that looks cool, flies well, and is inexpensive to build. To meet those goals he quickly decided that Mongo, Nova Labs’ 100 watt laser cutter was a good option for cutting the frame. Having also recently finished building a 3D printer in Nova Labs Build Group 8, having some 3D printed parts seemed logical and a good use for the new tool. Fred also reported always loving the look of the V-tail quads so he settled on that design.

The design

250vtail2With that design criteria in mind the next step was CAD. Fred decided to use this project to learn OnShape which is becoming quite popular at Nova Labs. There were some frustrating moments with the CAD but the support of the OnShape User Group at Nova Labs helped through this portion. Once it looked cool in CAD it was time to make something!

20160131_135315Fred was able to get DXF files from OnShape and start to laser cut some wood frames which are simply hot glued together. This went through several iterations and this pic is of an early design. You can see the tabs that allow all the parts to key into place for quick and accurate assembly.

20160226_081607Then the “V” for the rear motors got 3D printed. While initially concerned that it might not be strong enough, some stress testing (i.e. crashing) has proven that the design is plenty strong and Fred hasn’t broken one yet.

Finishing touches

20160206_112645The frame was painted with a rattle can and then put together. To really make it look cool it needed a thermoformed shell and this was probably the trickiest part of the entire build. It required a CNC routed mold which was made from old 2X4’s that were glued together. After a little sanding and then some paint it came out really well.

Painted_shellOn to the thermoformer!!

20160219_11465720160219_115126Here is some video of the actual thermoforming process:

After trimming it fit great! The electronics are a very tight fit but it does fit.

20160219_21495220160219_220932Here is the finished product with a painted shell. Fred is really happy with the results and it meets all of his design criteria. It flies fantastic, it builds very easily and it gets attention every time it comes out at the field.

After looking at it Fred has decided to call it the Lil Dragon, and he hopes to run classes using the design at Nova Labs.

The final specs on it are 1806, 2300kv motors with 5” carbon props, 2200mah 3S battery and Naze32 flight controller. It gets about 12 minutes of hover and it is shockingly stable.

For more information please contact Fred directly at fred@openaeris.com, or be sure to check out the Open Aeris booth at the NoVa Mini Maker Faire, Sunday, March 13, 2016

Nova Maker Faire – Call for Makers!

Are you a maker?

If you don’t know, would you call yourself a tinkerer, hobbyist, entrepreneur?  Or even artist, sculptor, crafter?  Did you get one of those Arduinos or Raspberry PI‘s over the holidays and have no idea what to do with it?

The Nova Mini Maker Faire is approaching fast, and we would like you to be involved.


Projects range from the very old to cutting-edge new, and if you’re not actually done with something, bring it anyway!  You may find people willing to help or start up an interest group.  Some makers treat this as a way to get a project completed, because there is an actual scheduled date to get ready.

Bob (2nd left) with 1950-60's era Teletype upgraded with Raspberry Pi interface, and Brian (far right) learning about bamboo and carbon fiber composites at a Maker Faire.

Bob (2nd left) with 1950-60’s era Teletype upgraded with Raspberry Pi interface, and Brian (far right) learning about bamboo and carbon fiber composites at a Maker Faire.

If you dream of Rube Goldberg, this is the place to show off what you’ve been working on.  Just go to http://makerfairenova.com/cfm/ to register (direct link is here).  We can’t wait to see the great projects that you are working on.

Fred (left) and Mike (right) with their flying wing.

Fred (left) and Mike (right) with their flying wing.

Craig's epic marble machine

Craig’s epic marble machine

Projects@NL – Pegboard ribbon/dowel holder

Finished project mounted to pegboardNova Labs member Andrew has a set of IKEA drawers in his basement full of wrapping paper and gift bag type stuff. On the wall above it is a pegboard where all of the scissors, tape, etc. are hung.

Andrew’s wife used hooks to hold dowels for rolls of ribbon, but they didn’t extend far enough from the pegboard (given the diameter of the rolls at least) so the hooks would often fall down when they pulled on the ribbon.

Graphic of the dowel holder designed in IllustratorUsing Adobe Illustrator, Andrew whipped up these dowel holders to securely hold two 3/8″ dowels far enough from the pegboard to accommodate the ribbon.

Small tabbed feet keep the holder from falling over, and small holes were included to thread zip-ties through it to attach everything to the wall.

They were cut from scrap lite plywood on Mongo, Nova Labs’ 100W laser cutter.

Overall, it is working great! Check out a vectored PDF here: Ribbon_holder.
A pair of wooden dowel holders
Single ribbon holder

This post is adapted from an entry on Andrew Albosta‘s personal blog, and is used with permission (because he did the posting).