LIGHTHOUSE STUDIO - Interview with Seb Lee Delisle and Paul Strotten
08 August 2014
The Lighthouse Studio has been alive with the sounds of motors, 3D printers and music, courtesy of Lighthouse resident Seb Lee Delisle. We spoke to him and his engineer Paul Strotten about the artistry of engineering and what it's like to collaborate.
Lighthouse: Paul, you’re a mechanical engineer, and Seb, you’re a laser-obsessed programmer. How did you end up working together?
We started working together on Lunar Trails. I’d decided that I wanted to make a big plotter, so I got one of Sandy Noble’s polargraph kits and needed to know about motors. I contacted the Brighton Hackspace, where I’m a trustee, and then Paul got in touch. Initially, he was hesitant…
Well, if you remember, I held back until someone said, specifically, ‘This is you Paul, this would be perfect.’
Paul gets roped into a lot of things because of his particular skill set and general willingness to help. So, after I’d got him on board, Lunar Trails grew and grew to the point where Paul had basically built all of the motor units.
L: So what did you learn from working collaboratively, on a project together?
I learnt a great deal about the digital side of things, because I mainly work with the mechanical. I do a bit of electronics and electrical but I don’t do any coding. Now, from working with Seb, I’m starting to pick a few bits up.
I learnt a ton about motors and electronics. I’d done stuff with Arduinos but nothing on this scale, it was kind of a huge project. Eventually, Paul persuaded me to use a servomotor (a normal, brushed motor with an optical encoder, with specific moderating electronics), so at the end of the project I had learnt something completely new. It was like a levelling up of the skills I’d already started to have.
I’d been going on and on about these servomotors for ages, I think everyone, including Seb, was fed up with hearing about them. I think he initially thought it would be easy, but it’s actually a lot more evolved than that. Seb’s finally grabbed it by the horns.
The reason why we’re working on this is because, at the moment, it’s really expensive to get hold of servomotors with the encoders built in, the drivers themselves are £100 alone, so together you need a couple of a hundred pounds to put one together. Which is weird, because ordinary motors are so cheap, all the separate parts are, even if you have to use slightly different, but similar software for the drivers. So Paul has realised this for a few years now, so we’re working on an open source, cheaper Servo motor which we can eventually mass produce. Then anyone can use a much better motor without breaking the bank.
The other big plus for a servomotor is that it uses a lot less electricity, it only uses power to impose the force against it. With other models, like a stepper motor, the power has to be on all the time, and energised, so that you even know where the motor is. Servo motors also have constant feedback built into them, so that you can use them accurately, unlike other motor models that are unpredictable. Five thousand times a second a servomotor is asking ‘where am I, and where should I be?’ It’s always checking, which makes them brilliant motors to work with.
L: Why is it important to you that it’s open source?
Well, I don’t want anyone else to go through all of this, there’s absolutely no point.
In the future, people will improve on this, just like we’ve improved on others ideas for the benefit of progressing the technology.
L: So what are you working together on at the moment?
Well, apart from building the servomotors, we’re currently working together on a 3D printer, doing more work on the home plotter now that we’ve got our own motors for it. I haven’t actually asked him properly yet but I’m working on a project for Brighton Digital Festival and I need his help!
There’s so many projects. I’m into CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machinery and making gizmos, motor and computer driven stuff. We’re also currently looking at the possibility to adapting the 3D printer so that you have several cartridges, which means you can print objects with more than one colour.
One of the things I’ve really discovered is the level of artistry that Paul has to engineering, if you look at the designs that he produces they are actually very elegant, its not just about having the technical ability to make this stuff, there’s a lot of design that goes on. If you look at the stuff we’ve worked on together, it’s really beautifully engineered. I see parallels between Paul’s work and my work, in coding, that it’s about elegance, and simplicity, and taking things away so that you have the minimum stuff that you need. Paul’s always doing that with his work, and I’m always doing it with my programming. It’s really nice to see the processes that I undertake in my work being manifested in physical things. I think that’s why we get along, because we have a desire to clean things up and make them simpler.
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