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Polargraph

In a nutshell, the Polargraph is a nifty machine and thanks to Sandys vitamine SD kit and all the software he provides with it, it is easy to assemble and to get it running.
It offers a wide field for any kind of experiments, be it with graphics, Arduino and Processing programing or understanding stepper motors.

In December '12, while looking for new Arduino projects with stepper motors, we discovered the Polargraph and felt immediately in love with it. That combines electronics with art - perfect! And we can not think about a mechanical more simple device for drawing: two stepper motors, a string and a pen. And almost no limitation for the size of the drawing canvas. A nice example of such a device is Lunar Trails from Paul Strotten et al.

We did not hesitate to immediately order the Polargraph SD vitamin kit from Sandy in Edinburgh.

Even with this kit, one need quite a lot of bits and pieces (also with the software) to get it running properly. There is endless information available, but it is scattered all over the Internet, in the Instructables, the Polargraph blog and in the Polargraph forum (some of the text here is just copy&paste from those places - just we are too lazy to give detailed references) and elsewhere.

Therefore we decided to document the steps how to get this machine up and running and how to use it. We write this as we go and as we try to understand how it works, therefore some information may be still wrong. It has to be noted that we are pretty new to the Arduino hardware and total newbies with stepper motors. It holds the general rule for the Internet: Never believe what your read there!  And yes, English is not our native language.

This is work in progress. No guarantee for whatsoever!


Update 2014

While the Polargraph is funny machine and Sandy provides excellent support, for us the hole project has an Achilles' heel: The Controller is programmed in Processing 1.5 which is quite outdated. And there is no hope to bring it to version 2 because the controlP5 library (which is used for the GUI) is total incompatible to the previous version 1.5 of Processing and therefore with the controller as well.

In the meantime we got Super Awesome Sylvia's WaterColorBot (which is realy fun) and also have build a XY-plotter from makeblock (which is also fun, but Chinese quality). And some G-code machines are on the waiting list. A little laser engraver is in the queue as well.

So, we needed a "Controller" which reads SVG or pixel files and outputs the vector commands in Polargraph commands, EBB (EiBotBoard) commands and some flavor of G-code as well. In September 2013 we started a re-write from scratch with a completely new and much simpler GUI, parts of the Polargraphcontroller and StrippleGen_2. Basic drawing works now on all those drawing machines, but it is still too incomplete to be published. As things go, it will need an other year to have all those projects and its software on a usable level.

2014-01-22


There are five sections of this documentation:

Hardware

This is how we assemble this beast. Thanks of the vitamin kit this straight forward task.

Server

This is about Arduino and its software and the stepper motors.

Controller

This is the program running on the PC (an OS X in our case) which sends commands to the server. Operating the controller also holds some quirks for a beginner. We are still learning ...

Commands

The communication between controller and server is based on commands. Since we could not find any documentation about it, we reverse engineer on our own documentation. It helps us to understand how the server works.

Vectors

Once the whole thing is up and running, this is how we prepare graphics to be drawn by the Polargraph.