Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Thoughts on Next Gen Lego Motorization

Today I thought I would speculate and discuss the next generation of Lego Motorized products and how it may affect GBC building in the future.  From what I've heard these products will sell alongside the existing Power Functions systems which is good to hear because modern GBC builders such as myself are reliant on many of the current products to power our modules.

The only out of production item most of us use is the 9v Train Controller and occasionally the longer 9v extension cables that can span up to 300 studs.  The best part of these train controllers is that they allow us to use AC power from a standard household electrical outlet.

9v Train Controllers

The 9V train controllers are no longer in production and need to be purchased second hand usually via Bricklink.  This is a bit of an issue as supply could run out in the future.

If today you want to power your GBC modules using in production official lego parts without batteries you need to use the WeDo ($90 USD) or Power Functions ($50USD) rechargeable battery packs, which are quite expensive.

What do we know about the next motorized products?

Early leaks show that the next systems that will ship use the same motors and connectors that are already available in the Lego WeDo educational sets as well as the Lego Boost set.  What hasn't been seen yet is the battery packs or power supplies.  Lego is referring to these sets as part of their new "Powered Up" line of products.

Boost (Left), PF (Right)
Boost Sensor, Boost Motor, PF M-Motor, PF XL-Motor

A few leaked images of an "App Controllable" Batmobile (Set 76112) appear to be using the Boost motors.  (seen in a leaked image of the rear of the build)

It's also been reported that Lego will be releasing several new train sets in the "Powered Up" line in the future.  It's going to be quite disappointing if they only run off of batteries.

What GBC builders need from the next generation powered products

Various Power Options
Standard battery packs are not a workable option for public layouts.  I've witnessed rechargeable batteries frequently overheating in GBC applications and disposable batteries are costly and not environmentally friendly.

Various Motor Sizes

The current lineup of M, L, XL and SERVO gives GBC builders great flexibility with power and physical size choices.  I have several modules where a PF M-Motor is required due to it's small physical size allowing it to be placed inside tight spaces, such as my BB-8 module.

Lighting Systems

I am a Lego purist and would like to continue using Lego branded lighting products to add some effects to my GBC modules.  I'm hoping that some sort of lighting system will be available with the next gen systems.

Remote Controls

While Lego seems to want to push using phones and tablets to control devices, this will not be feasible for all GBC builders.  For example if I am at a public display and want someone to watch my modules while I take a break, I need them to be able to control my modules without needing my phone or tablet.  This is where the 9v Train Controller is great.  It's very easy to use and understand.

Other questions

When will Lego Mindstorms EV4 be released?  The current EV3 set will be 5 years old this September (2018) and it's not compatible with either Power Functions, WeDo or Boost.  Hopefully it will use the same connectors as the newer sets allowing for compatibility.

Monday, May 28, 2018

GBC Observer 👁 Week 22, 2018

Is it me or does it feel like GBC building slows down when the weather starts to get nicer?  We've been enjoying some great weather here in Vancouver lately, so a lot of my building time has been replaced with relaxing at the beach or on the patio.

None the less, here are some great GBC modules that have showed up over the last week.

BVB shows us 10 of his modules in a layout at a recent public display with Maico

I'm pretty sure this has been done before, a GBC conversion of the official Lego Ferris Wheel Set 10247.   This one by builder Yusei Sao.

The same builder Yusei Sao has also made another nice variation on the bucket wheel rings and buckets with this module.

A 3rd module from Yusei Sao is a double shooter module.  I really like his alternating double conveyor loading mechanism.

Have a great week everyone!

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

GBC Observer 👁 Week 21, 2018

Hey everyone, it's been a slow week for GBC with only a couple of videos worthy of a share.

Sawyer has created a mine cart module that is fun to watch.

An interesting series of lift mechanisms here.  None meeting the GBC standard, but still fun to watch.

Hopefully we get some more interesting module videos next week!

Monday, May 14, 2018

Matt's Mine - A Lego GBC Module

Today I present my latest module, Matt's Mine!

Matt's Mine is a reservoir style module using a triple stepper lift similar to my original Reservoir module from the Grey Line series.  Reservoir was a layout saving replacement module that I used to replace modules that needed to come out of service at BrickCan 2018.  I am going to keep Reservoir around for this specific job.

Having said that, the other major issue I had was the Surge of balls that would come into my line of modules overwhelming them at times.  This was a consistent challenge to have to deal with, so much so that I quickly decided after BrickCan to build a second reservoir with it's own speed controller that I will run at the start of my modules going forward.

Building themed modules is something I also really enjoy, so I decided to expand my Minecraft module collection to now include Matt's Mine.

While Reservoir or stepper modules are not unique in the GBC community, I think that building a speed controller right into the module is something that is unique to this module.  As well I tried to do the Minecraft theme justice by including several popular minecraft characters and items scattered around the module.   Both the public and the operator get some fun stuff to look at!
The drive train inside this module is much simpler then the one in Reservoir.  It is powered by a Power Functions M Motor, which is geared down using a pair of 8 and 24 tooth gears.  The final step is geared back up 24:8 making it move three times faster then the first two steps.

GBC Observer 👁 Week 20, 2018

Here are the GBC videos that I discovered and enjoyed over the last week.

A great use of the Bucket Wheel Excavator Buckets!

J Douglas has combined a spiral lift with a nice Plinko/Pinball style widget for the balls exiting the module.

Brian and the guys down at TexLUG put on a small layout at Maker Faire Austin 2018. There is a few new colour variants of popular modules in this layout which I really like.

Have a great week everyone!

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Still building!

Hey Everyone,

It's been a bit quiet around here but I'm here to let you know that I am still building!  After BrickCan 2018 I had a lot of modifications to do to existing modules as well as breaking down several modules, and sorting all sorts of lego.  In addition to that we had a lot going on at home that I had to help take care of, so GBC time was limited over the last few weeks.

Module Modifications:
Upslide: Rebuilt and reinforced the Input Bin, added a necessary piece (rubber damper and axle) to ensure that the pusher returns at the correct position to push the next ball.

D.R.O.P. Changed the gearing from 8:40 to 24:40 increasing the speed of the module.  You can see how I rebuilt the gearing in these images.  (I plan on using shared power with this module in the future, no more dedicated M Motor)

Pumping Station: Disassembled (This double ball pump jammed frequently and also required holding onto 14-16 balls just to operate which made it expensive to run)

BB8-Loader Disassembled (Multiple jams and explosions made this much too unreliable for public use.) I did not use the exact build from the instructions so the blame is fully on me.  I know many people run this module with no issues.

I'm currently finishing up the decoration of my next module which I really need for my public layouts to handle the surge of balls that was destroying my modules.  It is a reservoir style module with it's own dedicated speed controller and I'm building it in the Minecraft theme.  I plan to run this as the first module in my line of modules in order to control the speed and surge of balls much easier.

I hope to have a video for this new module up sometime next week.

Have a great weekend everyone!

Monday, May 7, 2018

GBC Observer 👁 Week 19, 2018

Hey everyone time for another observer.  There was quite a few new GBC videos last week which is great to see, here are 3 that I found quite interesting.

Here we have a monster of a module that uses pneumatics.  Its movement is so jerky that I wonder what kind of reliability it has.  Very complicated, and interesting to watch.

Solaire's evil twin?

This builder has integrated something similar to a coin pusher arcade machine, which have always fascinated me.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

PV-13 Module Review

Steve Jackson has reviewed PV Productions #13 module and offered to share his findings with us here at the Great Ball Pit.  Thanks to Steve for the write-up, and now onto the review.

Updated 4-2-18

PV-Productions instruction set GBC 13, created by Philip Verbeek, builds a huge Great Ball Contraption that runs either as a solo setup or as a module in a loop. I am enjoying this set!

Laid out in a straight line, it’s a whopping 51” long. Some “bend” is possible between each of the six sections, making it very flexible, but the structure is stable.

These instructions are a “remix” of Lego Set 42042, the Crawler Crane – that is, it uses only the parts available in that set. Part of the fun for me was seeing the different ways that the designer worked around this limitation. He also used most of the 42042 parts; the web page claims “90%”. It’s probably closer to 85% when you take out the parts used only for decor, but I was not disappointed in my purchase.

Mechanically, it’s a simple operation: a conveyor belt takes the balls to a small intermediate hopper, a second belt picks them up and takes them higher, and then a four-section track rolls them down again. It makes good use of the special parts that come with the crane.

How compatible is this set with GBC standards? Overall passing grade!

• The standard is one ball per second. Built to instructions, PV-13 delivered a ball only about every 3.5 seconds with new batteries or 9V power. By tripling the number of belt pins and adding one link to the upper belt I got this up to 3 balls every 3.5 seconds, which is close enough to 1 for me.
• The standard calls for input at 10 bricks height. PV-13 accepts balls at a height of 9+ bricks.
• The standard suggests output at about 11 bricks height. The PV-13 output is flexible and easily settles on a delivery at 11 or 12 height.
• The standard calls for the input hopper to be 10 x 10 studs x 10 bricks and accept up to 30 balls at once. This hopper is only about half that volume – but few modules meet the hopper standard, and it’s easy to place this one after a module that delivers one to four balls at a time, which it easily handles.

It took me about seven hours, all told, to put it together. Much of this was steady building, but there were occasional interruptions of a quarter-hour or so while I tried to puzzle out “blue pin in blue part on blue background, printed on a home printer” types of issue.

PV-P calls this 177-page instruction PDF an “easy” set. If this is easy, I would have trouble with a “medium.” As it was, there were several instructions that I could follow only by disassembling parts of previous steps, and two “points of no return” where, once I got a part into place, I had to hope it was right because it would never have come out again without the use of explosives. Yet I prevailed.

Built according to instructions, PV-13 worked as well as most modules. There were three issues that I thought required some tweaking.

• First, as mentioned above, it delivered too few balls. This was trivially solved by adding a lot more standard pins to the belt. More, in fact, than 42042 supplies, but you have a big bag of pins lying around, right?
• Second, the belts are under enough tension that the L motor labours and the upper belt moves only in jerks. I might try an XL at some point; the immediate solution was to go outside the 42042 parts pack and add one link to the upper belt.
• Third, when the upper belt is set at a steep horizontal angle to the lower one, balls may jump out of the intermediate hopper. Without adding parts, I modified the build slightly to restrict the motion of incoming balls; see closeup in video.

None of these is outside the expected range of issues for any GBC build. I had fun and am glad I bought it. I’ll look with interest to see what else PV-Productions creates.

The PV-13 instructions are available from www.pv-productions.com. The brick set, 42042, is out of print but still reasonable on BrickLink, and if you’re going to build the module to run, you might as well buy a used set. You can play with the crane before tearing it down to build the module.