I’m fortunate to be able to say that I don’t have many regrets in my life. Most of the regrets I do have revolve around those things I wish I had learned more about when I had the opportunity to do so.
Of course, I can still learn about things now, but there seems to be a lot less time to do “stuff” these days. Most of the time I’m running as fast as I can to stay in place. I’m too young for all this excitement.
One of the things I’d like to know much more about is mechanical engineering. We covered some of this in my Control Engineering degree, of course, but—in hindsight—I wish I’d taken the time to plunge deeper into this domain.
On previous occasions I’ve made mention of the book 507 Mechanical Movements: Mechanisms and Devices by Henry T. Brown (the original version was published in 1868, but the link given here is to an unabridged printing of the 18th Edition from 1906).
I also posted a Cool Beans Column some time ago on Rubotix’s Nautilus Sculptures based on the use of Lusciously Lovely Logarithmic Gears.
The reason for my current waffling here is that I just ran across this video that does an awesome job of demonstrating 20 mechanical principles combined into one useless LEGO machine.
I have to say that many of these mechanical motions were completely new to me, starting with the first, which I now know to be a Schmidt coupling. According to the Wikipedia, this is a type of coupling designed to accommodate large radial displacement between two shafts.
Of particular interest to me is the fact that this all came about in 1960 when NASA commissioned Richard Schmidt of Madison, Alabama, to develop a propulsion system for rockets in zero-gravity environments (you’ll have to visit the Wikipedia to learn more). The thing is that I’m writing this column in my office in Madison Alabama, just a couple of miles down the road from the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center.
And that was just the first of 20 mechanical motions. The full list—along with their start times in the video—is given below. It’s well worth watching all the way through to the grand reveal of the finished machine that utilizes all of these motions to perform… well, a useless task, really… but “it’s the thought that counts,” as my dear old mother is fond of saying.
00:00 Schmidt coupling
00:17 Constant-velocity joint (CV joint)
00:30 Universal joint
00:42 Bevel gears
00:53 Slider-crank linkage
01:08 Sun and planet gear
01:25 Scotch Yoke
01:40 Chebyshev Lambda Linkage
01:58 Chain drive
02:13 Belt drive
02:32 Constant-mesh gearbox
02:50 Oscillating direction changer
03:06 Torque limiter (Lego clutch)
03:34 Rack and pinion
03:47 Offset gears
04:00 Uni-directional drive
04:38 Intermittent mechanism
04:52 Worm gear
05:11 THE FINISHED MACHINE