BeagleBone Black project spotlight:
By Tara Stratton
Addie Wagenknecht and Stefan Hachenberger, co-founders of NORDT Labs, have many secret talents. Addie can bake some mean chocolate chip cookies at 15,000+ feet in high winds on a mountain, and she can open a beer bottle with just about anything (like a lighter) thanks to Becky Stern. Stefan, on the other hand, makes the best kiserschmann in Austria, according to Addie. But their most recent project—the Lasersaur—shows their best talent yet.
The Lasersaur is an open source laser cutter. With CAD drawings, circuit schematics, software and a bill of materials available from NORTD Labs, end users can build these laser cutters themselves. The Lasersaur was designed to fill the needs of makers, artists and scientists who want a safe and highly capable machine.
Image credit: NORDT Labs
When Addie and Stefan designed the Lasersaur, they weren’t interested in building the cheapest machine. They were interested in building a platform that is sourceable worldwide, simple to build, reproduce, duplicate and understand, dependable after hundreds of hours of use, and safe. They want the end users to truly own it and have access to all the designs that went into it.
“We had spent thousands of hours on other people’s laser cutters while in graduate school. We depended on the systems, yet they were expensive and frustrating to use,” said Addie. “The software was often horrible. We would have to run some obscure machine, running CorelDrAW, and transfer everything from our OSX or Ubuntu systems to do it. We felt like it could be done better, and for a lot less than what it would cost to buy ready-made.”
As a result of this experience, Addie and Stefan have written the Lasersaur’s open-source software and plug-ins from the ground up, and according to Addie, they “will do things you have never seen before—open-source software or not. It is locally hosted and can run off of any web browser, which means you don't have to install additional software or extensions to get it to cut. It's plug and play.”
Addie and Stefan haven’t fully opened the source for the Lasersaur yet, but hacker spaces in Philadelphia, Dublin and Tokyo; labs at Carnegie Mellon, NYU and the University of São Paulo; and many individuals have already built their own Lasersaur.
The Lasersaur is based on BeagleBone Black, powered by TI’s Sitara AM335x processor. Addie and Stefan chose this computer because they were interested in continuing to work with and support Linux. “Since Ångström was pre-installed, we were able to continue to use Ubuntu for the Lasersar. We found BeagleBone Black plays well with USB peripherals like Wi-Fi dongles. It was rather painless to get the Lasersaur image configured onto BeagleBone Black, so it felt like a shoo-in. As a bonus, it’s globally available, stable, easy to pick up, learn and hack, and the price is right!” said Addie.
Lasersaurs are built to use 40-200 watt carbon dioxide lasers and to have a bed size of 24 × 48 in (61 × 120 cm). They are comprised of both stationary and dynamic parks. The primary building blocks of both the frame and the ganty are T-slot aluminum extrusions bolted together with M5 bolts and T-slot nuts. The Lasersaur is designed around extrusions with 20, 40 and 80 mm side lengths. All of the mount assemblies are built from angle brackets. A few parts are custom-cut 6 mm acrylic (or more recently, aluminum) pieces. CAD drawings for the acrylic parts are freely available and can be made using a laser cutter - and should they fail, they may be replaced with spare parts made by the Lasersaur itself. Aluminum versions of those parts may be purchased from the NORTD Labs store, or users can have them cut somewhere. No proprietary rails and carriage assemblies are used. The Lasersaur carriages are built from standard-sized ball bearings (with nylon coating), cap screws and custom-cut acrylic or metal pieces.
According to Addie, the biggest issue has been funding. “At first we used Kickstarter. At some point far enough into development, we were able to take fellowships and residencies to further fund the project and push it forward. We also put our own money and time into it. At some point, the community support allowed the project to almost become self-sustained. We hope to get the financial and social capital to 100% one day. University builds like that of Carnegie Melon and New York University have been a big help to the exposure of the project.”
For more information about Lasersaur, visit Lasersaur.com. Addie and Stefan have completed many other successful projects. To find about more about them, visit the NORTD Labs website. And definitely stay tuned: they’ve been toying with an interesting idea for an open-source industrial robotic arm!