Last month, my wife got me an Egg-Bot from Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories for my 40th birthday. It was the perfect gift for a GeekDad–something I wasn’t expecting and might not have bought for myself, but is so much fun that I wish I’d bought one years ago.
I’ve been interested in stepper motors and CNC machines since I first discovered microcontrollers, but the Egg-Bot is my first hands-on experience with one. I had watched with zen fascination many YouTube videos showing CNC mills and printers carving and extruding all kinds of materials, but it is a different experience to click Apply on your own laptop and watch the robot in front of you spring to life, making hundreds of tiny precise movements to achieve a level of detail that would be maddening to attempt by hand.
Assembling the Egg-Bot took me about two hours. I probably could’ve done it faster, but I found myself savoring the build in the same way I sometimes read slower when I’m enthralled by a book. The kit requires no soldering and comes with the few tools that are needed, and the software is the free open-source vector drawing program Inkscape.
Once it was assembled, I printed the Hello World test, which literally prints “Hello World” around an egg. I was so sure my first attempts would be a failed mess that I didn’t even bother to buy a white egg, I just grabbed a cage-free one straight from the fridge. Much to my amazement, the Egg-Bot worked perfectly the first time!
I proceeded through the next example, drawing a yellow-and-black happy face onto a golf ball. Again, this worked perfectly and showed me how to use multiple layers within Inkscape to separate the various marker colors. Assuming I’d have many failures along the way, I had bought a box of 20 golf balls from Big 5 Sporting Goods. Since I don’t golf and the first one worked the first time, I decided to return the box and get my $20 back. I hope a golfer has a great day on the fairway when he pulls out my smiling egg.
My three-year-old daughter is fascinated by robots, partly because I’ve given her t-shirts from MakerFaire and Instructables. She was immediately enthralled watching the Egg-Bot methodically rotate and draw on seemingly impossible surfaces.
“Daddy, if that’s a robot, where’s its head?” she asked.
“Well, some robots don’t have heads,” I replied.
Last week her preschool had a Valentine’s party and the kids were encouraged to bring in cards for their classmates. Thanks to the popularity of beer pong, it is possible to order a gross of ping pong balls from Amazon for $8. That’s right, 144 ping pong balls for less than $.06 each. They are not as round or smooth as the real ping pong balls that Big 5 sells for 30 times more, but they also don’t have a manufacturer’s logo interfering with my printing area. Apparently the balls work fine for throwing into plastic cups of beer or small fishbowls at carnivals, and three-year-olds seem to love chasing them just as much the regulation ones.
In almost no time, I had a box of 30 Valentine’s ping pong balls for her to take to school. Her teachers were fascinated when they saw them and I was told had been debating whether we had somehow hand-drawn them all. The head teacher asked my daughter how we made them and she naturally replied: “No, a robot drew them!”
Looking skeptical, he decided to wait and ask me when I picked her up. I confirmed that there is indeed a simple machine that lets anyone use their computer to print onto virtually any round object.