Category Archives: Member Blogs

Servo code

I’ve recently added a library to my arduino code that I thought was useful, so I’m sharing it with the world.

It allows you to move a servo at a speed slower then “as fast as possible”

It works by first calling SetAngle
void SetAngle(int newGoal, unsigned long thisTime, unsigned long goalTimeFromNow_);

which calculates the time it should take to go through each angle to the new goal.
Then periodically call Update with the current time, to see if the servo is moved.
bool Update(unsigned long currentMillSec);

It depends on the Arduino supported servo library.

Quickie laser cut snowflakes

This is a slightly different version of a post I wrote on my own site,, modified for the Kwartzlab crowd.

It’s that time of year! Christmas! I have put together a tutorial on how to make some quick snowflake decorations.

You will need:

First off, go to Warning: this site is addictive, you may spend waaay too much time here.

Quickie laser cut snowflakes

Every line and corner between Noon and 2 o’clock has a tiny circle that allows to you bend and stretch the snowflake. Changing any of these dots and it is repeated six times overall. Play with them a while until you’ve made a snowflake you are happy with. For this activity, the only caveat you need to consider is cutting a slot to make it a 3D snowflake, and that requires a little extra material down the snowflake’s centre.

Quickie laser cut snowflakes

Click on “Save as SVG” to download the snowflake’s file to your computer.

Quickie laser cut snowflakes

Open up the downloaded snowflake file in Inkscape. It is all black. We need to change that to be just an outline to make it laser friendly.

Quickie laser cut snowflakes

Click on the snowflake and set the “Fill” to white. You are now left with just the snowflake’s outline.

Quickie laser cut snowflakes

Go to File>Document Properties. Set the default units to millimetres and add some grids and make them snappable. Millimetre units play better with laser cutters and snapping to grid makes it easy to move stuff around accurately.

Quickie laser cut snowflakes

On the bottom toolbar, click the lock to preserve the scaling, and type in the height you want it to be in mm. Height is important to the next step, use a value divisible by two to make things easier.

Quickie laser cut snowflakes

Next, draw a rectangle. It should have a black stroke and white infill (if it isn’t already the default). Click on the rectangle, and go back to the bottom toolbar. You don’t want the lock locked this time, now make the snowflake as wide as the acrylic you are cutting by typing in the thickness value into the width, in my case it was 3mm wide, and set the height to half of the snowflake’s height. This rectangle becomes the interlocking part to make the snowflake 3D.

Quickie laser cut snowflakes

Click and drag the rectangle up to the top of the snowflake and centre the top of the rectangle on the top point of the snowflake. I just eyeballed mine, since due to the size I was working with minor variations are going to be unnoticeable. If you want, you can play with the grids and snap settings (under File>Document Properties) to centre it exactly.

Quickie laser cut snowflakes

Now, select both the rectangle and the snowflake. Then, click Path>Difference.

Quickie laser cut snowflakes

And voila! You have the interlocking cut-out built right into the snowflake file!

Quickie laser cut snowflakes

Hit File>Save As and save your file. Make sure to save it as a .dxf file for use in the laser cutter.

Quickie laser cut snowflakes

Take the DXF file over to your laser cutter and cut them out!

Now you can optionally colour the snowflakes (if you want) with the permanent markers. Or you can leave them plain if you wish.

Finally, assemble the snowflakes. Match up the two interlocking rectangles, add a dab of hot glue to the middle of one to hold them together, and slide one onto the other. You’re done! Here’s one of the snowflakes made by my kids:

You can add some ribbon, and if you really want to plan ahead you could even laser cut a hole for the ribbon earlier on by adding it in Inkscape, before saving the DXF file.

DXF files work well with the Silhouette cutter. You can use the Silhouette to cut out the snowflake to make cards, add paper decorations to your tree, and many other options.

Have fun!

The Making of Gertrude the Great

About a year ago, I started dreaming up an idea for an interactive puppet that would push my skills to the limit and, most importantly, would be more dynamic then anything I had been able to produce so far. I tend to obsess over artwork. Many projects rattle around in my mind for months, if not years, before one comes to fruition. Marching up and down my street getting comfortable on stilts and occasionally surprising second floor residents, I knew this project was going to be a fantasy creature that involved the peg stilts. I eventually settled on a giant bird.

Preparing for such a creature takes time. Using peg stilts is tricky business. Peg stilts fix the ankle into one non-moveable position.  As a result much of the stilt-walkers movement is like a waddling duck. This creates a completely different sensation than walking. While the whole leg is used, the small muscle that runs down the outside from the hip to the knee, specifically Tensor Fascia Latae, is used much more than normal.  In addition, the user’s legs are very active at all times. Even when it looks like the stilt-walker is not moving, having only two small points to balance on means the user must have very active stabilizer muscles The Making of Gertrude the Greatthroughout the entire body to remain balanced.

Since I had a desire for having more stilt projects, as well as other zany projects, physical training over the last year has included leg work outs (bazillions of squats) and a focus on muscle gain. It might seem odd in a world where we are bombarded with weight loss advertising that I would have to focus on weight gain, but my overall lower weight was a significant concern of my doctor, particularly with some of the activities that are planned for the future. Healthy weight gain is a very slow process of diet tracking, constant measurements, and a darn good coach.

The Making of Gertrude the GreatIdeas usually start out as a daydream. Then they go through various evolutions on papeThe Making of Gertrude the Greatr, random doodles on wipe boards throughout the house, and, quite often, miniature sculptures made from scrap materials.

The hardest element to integrate with this costume was the saddle. For that I needed an expert so happily jumped in to work on the The Making of Gertrude the Greatproject. It is great when we can combine our skills and work together. Using vinyl, foam, leather and what felt like 5 lbs of glue, Agnes designedThe Making of Gertrude the Great the saddle to be functional, yet carry an element of realism, neatly fitting into Gertrude’s plans.  While Agnes diligently worked away, I created hand forged stirrups from the coal forge at Kwartzlab.  Traditionally, one isn’t supposed to paint coal forged items, but getting a bit of shine and protecting them from the elements was key.

The Making of Gertrude the Great

Testing is also quite important. Everything has to fit well. If something feels a bit uncomfortable on a test run, the pain at an event can be anguishing given the duration.  Large projects take careful planning, and, as Louis Pasteur said, “Fortune favors the prepared mind.” The Making of Gertrude the Great

To finish the saddle we also created a set The Making of Gertrude the Greatof fake legs from a combination of leather boots and tough cotton pants. This frees my own legs to work on the stilts as if they are Gertrude’s. A casual observer can see what’s going on of course, so we are all playing a fun game of pretend. Being able to interact with a giant balloon creature is so unusual we can set aside our preconceived notions of what a balloon is and just enjoy this special moment with the family.

Yes, this is the glamorous world of entertaining…  Once Gertrude The Making of Gertrude the Greatthe balloon creature is built, it takes a minimum of two people about 20 minutes to assemble and attach every element. Stilt projects usually require the roof of an SUV or Van in order to get assembled; yet, for all the time it takes, Gertrude is worth it. Linda, Gertrude and I had an enormous amount of fun on our first trip out together.

Gertrude is a fully functioning puppet with a workable head, neck and mouth. She is designed to surprise, delight and interact with audiences of all ages. On her first official evening out, we learned that Gertrude is a bit mischievous, sneaking cotton candy when she could and startling parents when they weren’t looking. Gertrude’s movements are very quiet and, as a result, she can slowly lean her head into a parental conversation. Amusingly, these sneaky movements are watched by fixated children, probably because there’s nothing like watching your own parents release a startled squealing jump.

The Making of Gertrude the Great

Gertrude is also very gentle, making sure that the youngest of viewers can give her an affectionate rub. She had a lot of fun with many children that evening, and she even played a real game of Peek-a-boo with a four year old girl. I will remember that interaction forever.

Gertrude is back in her stable now enjoying a break from the public. My youngest son was feeding her some of her favourite red balloons last night. Sometimes I wonder where my larger balloon characters go; much like Pengu’s adventures in Las Vegas, I hope they live on in the minds of others.

Gertrude is different as she will be back, many, many times. Her potential to delight, entertain, and be truly memorable is staggering. We are focused on advancing her character even further with animation and electronics over the coming months. Her next public arrival will be announced.





The Making of Gertrude the Great




Drew Ripley is a full time Professional Balloon Artist, and Kwartzlab member.
He can be reached at:

519 500 6640
Twitter: @DrewRipley Facebook: Drew Ripley Entertainment



Kwartzlab Loves Robots

Kwartzlab member Neil Eaton and Son team up to build a 30lb fighting robots to compete at Bot Brawl, Event #1 takes place at Maker Expo on September 19th 2015!

Bot Brawl just did a feature blog post on Kwartzlab’s very own Neil and his son Ben.

Check it out!

If your interested in being involved with Maker Expo, the exhibitor dead line is July 1st. Apply now before spots fill up!
Likewise, if you want to build a fighting robot join Bot Brawl’s ranks by August 19th!


A year of Robot Club

One late winter evening, a group of a dozen men and women gathered around a couple tables in the cramped upstairs of a hackerspace. It was the inaugural meeting of the Robot Club, and there had already been some lobbying and promoting of projects. It was generally deemed that the group should work on related projects so as to help each other. The front runner, and first project undertaken was the quadcopter.

This was an ambitious undertaking. We wanted these to be able to carry a GoPro, which meant it would be heavier and more expensive than typical learner flight craft. Though we weren’t experienced enough to know this at the time… After a few mad weeks of research, we had a BOM (Bill Of Materials) of something that might, in theory, fly. Ravi provided some much needed expertise with robotics and RC. John and Matt pulled together the specs, hoping that the calculations for propellers, motors, and battery would be okay. Parts were ordered to build 10, and the waiting began…

But while we waited, we invited people in to demo various robots and help us learn what might be needed. Ali demoed a robot from a UW Engineering class that does maze solving using ultrasonic sensors and SLAM (Simultaneous Localization and Mapping). One of the primary challenges of robotics: dealing with uncertain data and the disparity between reality and the model.

Many thanks to Jim, who put together a CopterVm, and presented a lot of research around which FOSS software to use for flight control.

When the parts finally arrived, we were able to assemble and they were able to fly with surprisingly few tweaks. The first few flights were just up, hover for a while, then land. We didn’t really expect it to go well, so it was still impressive…

A year of Robot Club A year of Robot Club

After a few test flights, some UFO sightings were reported. ☺

A year of Robot Club

Many tweaks were simply hacks, like soldering the right battery connectors, which didn’t match. There were a lot of neat innovations stemming from the original project! Ryan demonstrated the importance of not flying indoors. Neil designed a shock absorbing landing gear. Jim outfitted his with remotely dimmable lights. Enrico built an emergency parachute.

A year of Robot Club A year of Robot Club

A year of Robot Club A year of Robot Club

We flashed SimonK onto the ESCs — taking care as we discovered that some of these were the newer models with inferior response time, so we had to wait for a new version that didn’t cause these to melt and fall from the sky. Kanoa replaced the frame with a more rugged one and mounted both a FPV (remote First Person View) and GoPro.

A year of Robot Club A year of Robot Club

After the summer, the projects diversifies a little for two reasons: we didn’t want to fly in the cold and dark, and others were coming out with their robots. Chris has been working on a balance bot. David has made some really cool muscle controlled actuators. Shaun hacked a RC car to turn it into a bot. There have been multi leg walkers and several other robots.

A year of Robot Club


The winter project was a tiny robot, which autonomously does challenges. We only got around to doing some line following, though looked into several other sensors too.

A year of Robot Club A year of Robot Club


Here’s an ESP8266 hooked up to 9 axis sensors (accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer) sending the information to ROS.

A year of Robot Club

We’ve learned a lot about a lot of tech. We’ve used Arduino, Teensy, RaspPi, ESP8266, and MultiWii. Sensors include accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer, GPS, IR reflectance sensor, ultrasonic rangefinder. We’ve used 3D printers and a laser cutter. Software includes: ArduPilot, Robot OS, OpenSCAD, Vagrant, APM Planner, MAVProxy, mavlink, Linux, OpenCV (Computer Vision). Hope to have more frequent updates going forward!

Maker Expo!

Maker Expo is live!
Join Kwartzlab and the maker community on September 19th 2015 downtown Kitchener for an amazing event.

Maker Expo is Waterloo Regions premier maker event. Showcasing makers of all kinds ME will host over 100 makers and attract 10,000 attendees. The call for makers and volunteer’s will go out soon, check out the website and apply to showcase your maker skill to thousands of makers, DIY enthusiast and families alike.

TransitionKW Repair Cafe This Sunday!

It’s that time again folks! Our next Repair Cafe is happening this Sunday, May 24th from noon to 4pm.

Broken things? Don’t throw them away! Bring them into the Repair Cafe and we’ll help you fix them. We’ll have volunteers on hand to help fix computer, electronics, appliances, furniture, toys and more.

Reserve your spot!

If you have something in particular you want us to look at, reserve a spot using the link below — this way we can ensure someone with the skills will be on hand to help you!

Coffee and munchies will be served. Hope to see you out!

TON – Mini bikes and Ancient Craft

Tuesday nights at Kwartzlab are very unique in the city, dare I say country.

Last week Jim Faire fired up a home brew smelting furnace. Built with items found at value village and a little bit of genius he was able to melt down aluminum using a shop vac and BBQ charcoal. Harnessing the ancient craft of metal casting Jim will be able to pour molten aluminum and cast really what ever he likes from metal.
Check it out:

This week at TON Drew Ripley…..well Drew Ripley is a man who saw a bicycle and thought to himself ‘Well thats too practical isn’t it?’ So he set about building a bicycle about the size of a sheet of legal paper. Its certainly possible this was the smallest bicycle ridden in Canada last night….
Check it out:

Join Kwartzlab every Tuesday night at 7pm for a peak into Maker life, you won’t be disappointed.

Getting to Kwartzlab: Road Work edition

We’re really looking forward to the new ION light rail coming to Waterloo Region, but being right next to the line means we’re going to have to deal with construction headaches for the next couple years.

As a general rule, we’d say avoid Charles St and take Courtland to Kent St. But right now, Courtland is completely blocked at Benton. So if you’re coming from the south (or east, as Kitchener directions go), you’re better off taking King or Weber to Stirling and getting to Courtland that way.

Here’s a map.

Kwartzlab detour map

You can also access the Thrift on Kent parking lot from Stirling Ave.

Our Charles St. parking lot has been inaccessible the last few days, so it’s best to plan to park on Kent.