Published on January 13th, 2013 | by John I.0
Guest Post: The Difference Engine to Enhance Your Steampunk Builds
Arduino products have already been used in some fantastic Steampunk builds, but if you don't happen to have seen them you may well still be left wondering just what Arduino is. Well the answer is that they are extremely compact, open source computer boards. Their small size means they can easily be hidden in a seemingly mechanical item, and used to control impressively complicated systems. They are entirely open source, meaning it's comparatively easy to modify or add to them, and there are a range of systems available. They're available ready-built, or as Arduino starter kits. The Arduino kits mean you not only have the fun of putting together yourself, and getting a better idea of how they work, but perhaps modifying them for your needs as you go along.
But just what can – and have – Arduino kits achieve for a Steampunk project. Well for one thing, when combined with motors they can control movement. This is especially important because, considering the Steampunk subculture places such value on mechanical contraptions, it can be disappointing how few projects actually manage to move. One example is a beetle made out of an old violin. Not only does it look like a spectacular mechanical robot, but contains a set-up which gives it an opening carapace and controls the legs. It can even use the legs to cling to your back. Subtler, but still wonderful, examples include a chest with a concealed Arduino-controlled locking mechanism (plus some cogs to make it look clockwork-controlled)
There are also goggles with moving lenses that, while more of a Sci-fi B-movie design, have ideas that are so indispensable to any good Steampunk build that the principle behind it is an obvious fit.
A truly beautiful example is an old-fashioned clock that will look most at home on a mantelpiece. It's fairly plain and not unusual or uniquely Steampunk, but traditional mechanical clocks are one thing that can always find a place in Steampunk, and this one has something very special. Arduino kits can process information from a number of sensors, and this one uses that to detect information on atmospheric conditions. In the right parts of the world, the face of the clock will glow to let you know when these conditions are right to give you the best chance of seeing the Northern Lights – one of nature's most spectacular sights.
And even when these kits aren't adding to the Steampunk design itself, they can still give the project features which just add to your enjoyment. One watch, for example, boasts a beautiful Steampunk design.
This design is detailed, beautifully Steampunk and could equally have been built around any normal watch. But if it had, then it wouldn't have options of analogue, digital, or binary time displays. Neither would it have had a built-in game (a Breakout clone), a 16 bit paint program and the option to easily expand with other features in the future. With any wearable electronics project you need double check and reinforce all the joints, connectors and solder points. It has to sustain considerably more wear and tear than a static item and if you don’t take care, your soldered connections will quickly become a break in the circuit. While you are stocking up on solder wire, it’s worth remembering that solder’s low melting point also enables you to use it as a visual element in Steampunk projects, it works as an excellent replacement for lead and pewter in any 19th Century style design.
Arduino starter kits and ready-built boards are available internationally at extremely reasonable prices. So are expansions, and programs for controlling various different uses. The exact site you would need to buy from depends on where you live, but you can find them all and a wealth of further information if you start by visiting the official Arduino website.
Christopher Parkinson originally studied microprocessor design theory before testing phone lines and repairing faulty circuit boards for a couple of telco companies. His interest in electronics started at an early age when he used a screwdriver to open up a video game cartridge to see how it worked. These days Chris is a home electronics enthusiast who enjoys tampering with the latest a technology particularly if it involves playing with his new solder station.