Spinning Tales: My Whimsical Adventure in Arduino Turntable Wonderland

I remember the day I first laid eyes on that clunky, awkward, yet fascinating automated burrito-making machine in the local toy store. It was love at first sight! I knew I had to make it mine, but alas, my piggy bank held only a handful of nickels and a couple of lint balls. Little did I know that my passion for robotics would lead me to a journey full of laughter, tears, and making the lives of hundreds of passionate photogrammetry hobbyists like me easier by creating an affordable DIY Arduino turntable.

Fast forward to 2023, where I found myself rotating an 80 thousand-year-old cave bear tooth by one degree increments and taking 600 pictures, all with just 2 hands (which took me 4 hours and gave me 2 days of back pain) in our college Makerspace. I found myself daydreaming about the kind of robot I would create if only I had the skills of Tony Stark. And then, soon afterward, while I was surfing the internet on how to make photogrammetry pictures better optimized for 3D scanning, I stumbled upon a YouTube photogrammetry tutorial and found out that there was a ”thing” called “turntables.” To my sadness, it cost $150. And that was my light-bulb moment. I thought, “Why not give it a try?” As I saw my Makerspace friends clumsily rotate a plastic hangman for 3D scanning, I had an epiphany – what if I built an AFFORDABLE automatic turntable to do the job for us?

With the enthusiasm of a mad scientist, I proposed the idea to David, our Makerspace program manager and he immediately approved the idea and sent me a couple of resources to start with (thanks, David, for being so supportive). I dove headfirst into the world of turntables that people had previously made. I found Adrian Glasser–a professional computer scientist and a consultant–who had already made an almost similar prototype I was planning to make. Although his project was pretty cool, it needed fancy components which were relatively expensive. I also found Brian Brocken, a passionate maker and 3D printer, whose turntable project stood out and inspired me a lot in the design of my prototype. While these works were a great sense of inspiration, my mind was lingering around the question of “how to make the design and features more efficient while keeping the device affordable and easy to build.”

The journey was fraught with challenges and unexpected twists, but I was determined to build the most magnificent, borderline-overengineered turntable the world had ever seen (just kidding!). I worked iteratively, and my first draft was a very basic model so that I could feel it with my hands and think about the build process I 3D printed a PLA (a type of 3D printing filament) base, a rotating platform , and some gears and bearings. After researching different approaches, I ordered my first set of electronic components and kept the total cost below $60 for this first version. I decided to go with Arduino Uno, a very easy-to-program and flexible microcontroller that will be  the brains of my device. “Easy to build for everyone” was lingering in my mind when I chose the components. I got a stepper motor – which provides incremental motion, compared to a DC motor that provides a continuous motion – coupled with a physical motor driver to enable precise and sequential one-degree rotations with a super-low margin of error. To make the turntable more user-friendly, I added a simple LCD display and a rotary encoder for adjusting the rotation speed. After two weeks of assembly and testing, I had a fully functional circuit. 

Now it’s time to code! The hardest part while coding was finding the library file on the internet that corresponded to my particular stepper motor. It took me 4 hours just to find the library and start coding! Phew…

I kept writing code for a week and then moved on to testing my code. Overcoming the challenges of building my robotic turntable was like conquering Mount Everest. I spent hours troubleshooting the Arduino code, sifting through lines of syntax until my eyes crossed. But, much like a robot phoenix, I rose from the ashes, armed with patience, persistence, and an endless supply of coffee. After a few weeks of tinkering and testing, I finally had a circuit and a working code that I marked as a BIG CHECKPOINT for the project.

The spring semester gradually came to an end, and the turntable project will take a summer vacation. But next semester, the first prototype of the turntable is going to see the bright light of the earth. 

The next steps will include:

  1. Using Fusion360 to design an easy-to-print downloadable 3D model (stl file) 
  2. Using Infra-Red (IR) sensors to automate the camera shutter click with each one-degree rotation of the turntable, so that our Makerspace friends can leave the automated turntable working (extra hours!) overnight **insert cruel laugh**
  3. Sharing the technical details and building process online to make it accessible to other Makerspace groups and hobbyists around the world. This can be done through posting a followup blog with all the technical details. For example, I hope to publish step-by-step instructions, along with the final list of parts (with URLs), my custom Arduino code, link to the software library that corresponds to my stepper motor, and post downloadable stl files for printing my custom 3D models to complete this project.

Finally, I hope to keep the project affordable: my goal is for all costs to be under $70.

During this journey, I learned the importance of patience, collaboration, and perseverance. Building a robotic turntable from scratch is not a one-person job, and I found myself relying on the support and expertise of my fellow Makerspace friends. Together, we shared our knowledge and skills, which not only allowed me to build a better turntable but also contributed to the overall growth and development of our Makerspace community. I enlisted the help of my fellow Makerspace comrades, who offered their own unique brand of wisdom, ranging from programming tips to advice on how to make the turntable levitate. (Note: do not try to make your turntable levitate. It’s a bad idea.)

The Arduino turntable project wasn’t just about creating a cool gadget – it was about embracing my love for robotics and the creative process. In the end, I learned that a healthy dose of humor, imagination, and the willingness to make things up as you go can lead to some truly spectacular results.

Today, my beloved half-constructed Arduino turntable takes pride of place on the little yellow Makerspace table, a constant reminder of progress, the power of imagination, and the beautiful chaos that comes with it. So, dear reader, I encourage you to explore your own interests, whether that’s robotics or any other field that sparks your curiosity. Be open to surprises, maintain a sense of humor when facing challenges, and always remember that amazing innovations often start with bold ideas.


Shall You 3D Print Without Supports?

Printing a brain with supports

Occasionally, I’ve had to print complex objects that require support constructions to hold the main print in place. In the process, I understood how crucial it is to understand the role of supports that 3D printers employ and how they affect the overall print quality.

What are supports in 3D printing?

Supports in 3D printing are the additional elements printed to support the weight of the main print while printing larger models. It offers room for the filament to work and enables the printer to print finer details and overhangs without making any errors.

What are the types of supports?

There are basically two types of supports that are commonly used in 3D printing:

  1. Linear Support 

Linear supports touch the entire ground directly beneath the prints where it overhangs. I found them pretty useful for flat and steep overhangs. But the problem with linear support is that they take a little bit more time and use more filament to print. 

  1. Tree-like Support

Tree-like support is a tree-like structure that supports the overhangs of the object. It only touches the overhang at certain points. I found it useful for printing arches and rounded overhangs. 

How do you print without supports?

If we are willing to give up having things printed in one go, almost anything can be printed without support. Printing items that usually require support is possible by using a slicer to reduce the size and angle of the object sections. Nevertheless, the printing process will become considerably time consuming.

Failed attempt to print a slanted complex object without support

What are the pros and cons of not having supports in 3D prints?

While working on a variety of projects, I have experimented with printing items without supports in an effort to determine whether or not doing so offers any advantages over printing with supports. During the course of the tests, I made the following list of advantages and disadvantages of using and not using supports for 3D prints:

Why not to use supports:

  • Less Filament: It can be difficult to justify using a whole support system for the entire print when filaments are expensive and I am using half of the roll on printing supports that I will eventually toss away (recycle).
  • Quick Cleanup: When printing using supports, a large amount of waste is produced that must be disposed of after printing is complete.
  • Faster Prints: If you have to print a large object that needs support, cutting it up into smaller parts can make the process go much more quickly.

Waste produced from printing supports

Why to use supports:

  • Print Stability: A 3D print’s instability increases in proportion to its size. The 3D prints will be consistently stable if you provide them with enough support to keep them supported and attached to the printing bed.
  • More surface to print: More surface area can be used for printing if supports are used, as there will be more scopes to use a slicer to cut up an object and print it in smaller parts.
  • Strong prints: Due to the increased connectivity enabled by the support, the printed object is significantly more durable, and the time required for the layers to dry in order for another layer to print on top of it is also reduced. The objects achieve better durability by eliminating the chances of sagging and layer displacement during the print. The likelihood of overhanging or separating owing to weight is extremely low.

Printing without supports is possible, and most small projects can be performed quickly and easily. However, as the complexity and size of my projects have grown, I’ve had to educate myself on when and how to make use of supports while printing to get the best output.