written by Roy Rosser, Ph.D., Patent Agent
In 1949, two innovators faced a problem familiar to most inventors and entrepreneurs – how to construct a prototype of an idea without spending much money.
Custom engineering – particularly of precision parts – can be horrendously expensive. And making parts that are accurate and reliable without access to a CNC milling machine is beyond the skill of all but a few inventors.
William Sewell and William Glenn were colleagues at the Yale School of Medicine, who happened to have an idea for an artificial heart – but no funding, and little mechanical training. Undeterred, they “borrowed” some standard laboratory equipment – and shelled out $24.95 for an Erector® Set. With this they constructed a prototype artificial heart that kept a dog’s heart beating for over an hour. (Man’s best friend never seems to do well in science experiments). The device was the forerunner of modern artificial hearts and is now on display at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington.
Erector® Sets, and their British counterparts, Meccano® sets, are model construction kits that originally consisted of metal strips and plates perforated with holes, supplied along with nuts and bolts to connect the pieces. Wheels, pulleys, gears, shaft collars and axles were also provided for making more complex mechanisms. The sets were more than a toy: they were educational tools, teaching basic mechanical principles like levers and gearing.
Since their invention in the early 20th Century, Erector® Sets have undergone many changes. To try and stay relevant, they introduced plastic parts and electric motors. In attempting to capture the imagination of the app generation they have unfortunately deteriorated into little more than plastic, snap together car kits.
So what are cash strapped inventors to do in 2013?
Well luckily, robotics has become very popular. The demand for robotic systems is growing rapidly as every new microprocessor makes them cheaper and more capable.
Since 2002, RobotZone, a Kansas based company, has been supplying educational robotic systems to meet this demand. Their customers range from NASA and Boeing to MIT and individual hobbyists, who use their parts to build everything from toy robots to military grade UAV’s (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles).
Recently RobotZone launched a new line: Actobotics™. They describe it as a ball bearing based, precision building system – though Erector® Set on steroids may be more accurate.
Gone are Mecanno’s® ½ inch spaced holes in green painted tin sheet and 5/32 inch British Standard Whitworth (BSW) screws.
In are robust, high grade aluminum and stainless steel components that utilize ball bearings, precision shafting, and tubing, all machined to tight tolerances. Their standardized sizing allows the use of non-Actobotics™ components including servos, motors and actuators, while a unique overlapping hole-pattern enables virtually unlimited mounting possibilities. Perfect for both the experienced engineer and novice hobbyist to design and build projects.
Actobotic’s™ parts are not exactly cheap, but are way – and I mean way – less expensive than custom machining. They are sold as individual components and are available online at:
And PayPal is accepted!
If you have a mechanical invention you want to prototype, check out their site. The items are so enticing that you may have to invent a device that needs their parts just to try them out. That’s what happened to me. Anyone want a barely used “novel circulation-in-fixed-orientation (CiFO) lift engine”?
Seriously though, Actobotics™ components are a tremendous resource for inventors – so don’t delay, visit their website today. (Sorry – some advertising jingles cling to memory more tightly than limpets).