In the 5th episode of the 1st season of Computer Chronicles in the year 1983 was an episode about Robotics. Lots of interesting speculation about the commercial viability of robotic devices.
Even at this time, robotics in manufacturing, or machines in general were starting to do many of the more dangerous tasks that could easily be replaced by some sort of structured process where robots could excel.
The fear of robots taking away jobs as seen in the early 20th century but the speculation that robots would completely eliminate all jobs doesn’t seem to have come into fruition. I know that today we speculate that automation will replace us in every way. It has in some capacities but I do believe it opens up the world for more skilled occupations. Robots and computers are certainly very disruptive to society, but they also give us new things as well.
Here is the video in it’s video tape recorded glory from 1983.
We all have immutable characteristics, things about us we cannot control about us. That will never make you less of a person
I have previously talked about LeoCAD on openSUSE and it is a pretty fantastic experience. There is a lot of fun to be had with designing or documenting your designs using this application. I also find it incredibly enjoyable, just because it runs so well in Linux. In my case, of course, openSUSE. I have been using the AppImage as of late, mostly because of the reduced hassle in dealing with installing the parts library. It seems that some sets I have downloaded from LDraw.org to recolor (that’s another story) didn’t have the correct geometry. Rather than dink around with that, I decided, the AppImage is the way I will go for now.
I am using AppImageLauncher to manage all the AppImages on openSUSE Tumbleweed with Plasma as my desktop environment. The LeoCAD AppImage can be downloaded from here. The “installation” and menu integration is all handled incredibly nicely by AppImage Launcher, so you can easily forget this is not managed by the system package manager.
I have been running version 19.07.1 of LeoCAD and it matches my system theme perfectly, so my previous reasons for using the native packages really went right out the window.
Since this isn’t my first time using LeoCAD, I am quite comfortable with the interface. It is a bit different than PTC Creo that I use for employment or Fusion 360 that I use for designing personal project but I seem to easily be able to move between the applications well enough. I think that the navigation method LeoCAD uses may now be my favorite… I think… ask me again tomorrow, I will have probably changed my mind.
Since I am perhaps stuck in a bit of a rut, I can’t help but to design and build sets in the vintage (but awesome) Blacktron Space theme from late 1980s. I designed (in collaboration with my kids) a modification to a set called the Blacktron Invader that can carry 6 passengers. The intent of this was like a troop transport but also be like a porcupine and look aggressive to have adventurous battles with my boys or, alternatively, if I am playing Legos with my daughter, to carry all our friends to the shopping mall or equestrian farm. When I started on this design, it was my intention from the beginning to publish another MOC (My Own Creation) on Rebriclable.com.
Creating a little “Story”
Part of the fun of this is to create a little story about your MOC. Using a bit of imagination to explain your MOC. I do with all my MOCs, so far, and some of them get a little feedback, largely because “Blacktron” were the “bad guys” and I have rejected that narrative. I have turned the script a bit to say that they are the good guys.
This is the most difficult part of the publishing. What do you call the thing you created. In this case, I created a variation on a set called the “Invader” and since my design intent was to be an “Assault” module, I called it the Assault Invader. Kind of a silly name, severely lacking in creativity and doesn’t exactly sound like something every kid is going to exclaim to their parents that they want for Christmas but this will do. I can change it if necessary.
Build Instruction Viewer
After uploading the “directions” I noticed (maybe missed it previously) a really awesome build instructions feature in Rebrickable. You can go through, step-by-step the build process in this fantastically executed virtual instruction viewer called the “BI Viewer” (Build Instruction Viewer).
I thought this was so dang cool. Not only can you see each step like modern Lego build instructions with pieces required for each step, it also shows where they go on the model and you can rotate it around and zoom to get a detailed look at it. So incredibly cool. This means, I had to make my uploaded CAD files properly stepped in the timeline tab so that it would be an enjoyable experience to build, should anyone actually do that.
Adjusting the Timeline in LeoCAD
When going through the instructions on the BI Viewer, I noticed that it was a mess. The steps were all kinds of nonsense. You can’t hold pieces in mid-air and build beneath it. So I took the appropriate time to properly order the steps in LeoCAD using the “Timeline” tab.
The process in which I found this worked best was to start with the last step and pick off the top most parts, or take it apart step-by-step to put on a new step at the end of the timeline. This was the most efficient way I found to order the steps quickly.
Uploading CAD file for Inventory
This is an important part of the process so prospective builders can make it for themselves. Here is where I ran into some issues with my models. It appears that LeoCAD has parts that are now considered obsolete; they cannot just remove them from the inventory of parts as it would “break” some designs. That said, Rebrickable lets you know if the parts are not current or correct. Thankfully, they have a way of selecting an alternate part.
I don’t generally have a lot of time to “play” with Legos, either real or virtual. When I do, it is mostly with my kids as a fun, family activity. Using LeoCAD is a great way to document the designs or work out ideas without having all the appropriate pieces and also makes for a great education tool to use with children or adults.
I am able to take time, now and again, to explore my limited creativity and to share it with those that have similar interests on the Internet. Sure, my reach is probably only a dozen or so people scattered around the world that are approximately my age but that is just enough. The positive is, it ensures that when I go to Bricklink.com to order the parts I want, they are not in high demand and I can get what I want pretty reasonably.
I can’t thank enough those that are volunteering their time to create LeoCAD and all the tools that make my openSUSE Linux machine possible. Not to mention the various web services and sites that make sharing possible too. It’s a pretty great time in which we live, especially if you are a nerd.
Fusion 360 is a CAD / CAM application with finite element analysis capabilities. I was going through the Autodesk forums and read a lot of chatter about their position on the Linux client. It appears that for several years, there have been requests but there is no plan to support it.
One user gave a fantastic well thought out, logical reason for building Fusion 360 to work in Linux and he gave the typical reasons for not doing so with answers:
the management sees not enough customers here. It’s a question about cost/income ratio.
I think if done right, there are not much costs (keyword continuous integration)
Number of potential customers. Linux users need to raise there hand and write to Autodesk, so that they can see, there are potential customers. Linux leads already on the server market, and on embedded devices, smart phones and tablets (if you count Android as Linux).
On the desktop, Windows is still the dominating system (88%), Mac (9%), Linux (2%). But this is for the average user, this doesn’t need to be true for engineers and makers using CAD software.
I have no statistic here, but I personally have never seen engineers working on Mac. But I have seen many engineers, software developers and scientists that work on Linux.
Linux users are willing to Beta test and are able to generally figure things out for themselves.
There were a lot of hostile responses from Windows users that were just… hostile. I do think that is a large part of the untold story. There are those that point to Linux and talk of the technological elitism but I don’t think that is a behavior that exclusive to Linux users at all. I can refer to this post for evidence otherwise.
Even though Autodesk has stated that they have no plans to support Linux, it is always with the caveat that of “at this time.” I still have hope that Linux will be supported in the future. It’s inevitable as there are a larger percentage of Linux users in the engineering field, Autodesk does support Linux on the Maya application and since there are more and more professional tools on Linux, I truly believe it will follow.
It took me far too long to complete the write up and video but I must say that the tiling features in Plasma are pretty fantastic. I spent this past weekend doing a lot of administrative work for another job of mine and the tiling manipulation of windows and desktop navigation made the tasks far less painful than they have been historically. I have to emphasis once again that it is important to have key combinations that make sense that are easy to remember that can are quickly intuitive to you.
I made a little video about this with Kdenlive and put it on YouTube. I had a less than stellar comment about my production quality. For that, I can say, I’ll try better next time.
I did a post this last week on my use of Linux in the kitchen. I did appreciate a lot of the great feedback II received from this. I don’t want to understate, at all the value of technology in the kitchen. It is not at all a strange science experiment being shoe-horned into a role in which it doesn’t make sense. Linux and the array of tools make several kitchen tasks more efficiently completed.
For my case, the right hardware was an important part of the implementation as I have a very limited amount of counter space. There were already several software applications I had been using, I just happen to further expand how I had been using them.
How it recently made the Christmas season more efficient…
What would improve Linux in the Kitchen is going to take some real effort on my part. Most of these things will be aided by single board computers or IoT like devices. I need more metrics in order to improve my results when baking. Improved inventory management, improved meal planning. All but the last one will take some serious work and effort in order to implement.
BDLL Follow Up
Fedora 31 challenge. Lot of people were rough on it and in some ways I understand but in others I do not. I have used Fedora periodically and I have always found it to be an enjoyable experience. Fedora is a lot more like getting a Lego set with some instructions than it is a ready-made product. I look at Fedora as being a more industrial grade Linux system that you implement for a specific feature. While distributions from the Ubuntu flavors are more like products that are ready to be used that focus on the out-of-box experience. All the flavors of Linux have a place and a target audience. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions about a distribution experience but I think it is almost a bit unfair to evaluate Fedora in the same way you would evaluate an Ubuntu.
I have decided to use Fedora’s Plasma edition and I am going to give it a fair, but biased, review. My expectations are very focused. I don’t need the “last mile” type polish, nor do I expect that from a Fedora or an openSUSE for that matter. What I do expect is something very easy to work with and mold to my wishes.
openSUSE does a great Plasma. I don’t mean out-of-the-box perfect for my needs. No distribution should ever target me as the core user, that would be tremendously silly. I am an edge case and I am never satisfied, I am a moving target of requirements and expectations for what I want as my personal workspace. I would be a high maintenance target for a perfect out-of-box experience.
wiggle (1.1 -> 1.2) a program for applying patches that ‘patch’ cannot apply due to conflicting changes in the original. Wiggle will always apply all changes in the patch to the original. If it cannot find a way to cleanly apply a patch, it inserts it in the original in a manner similar to ‘merge’ and reports an unresolvable conflict.
bubblewrap (0.3.3 -> 0.4.0) The biggest feature in this release is the support for joining existing user and pid namespaces. This doesn’t work in the setuid mode (at the moment). Other changes include Stores namespace info in status json, In setuid mode pid 1 is now marked dumpable also now build with musl libc. gthumb (3.8.2 -> 3.8.3)
gnome-shell (3.34.2+0 -> 3.34.2+2): polkitAgent, Only set key focus to password entry after opening dialog. The keyboard now stops accessing deprecated actor property. libnl3 (3.4 -> 3.5.0) * xfrmi: introduce XFRM interfaces support xfrm: fix memory corruption (dangling pointer) mypy (0.720 -> 0.750) More Precise Error Locations and the daemon is No Longer Experimental python-Sphinx (2.2.2 -> 2.3.1) python-Sphinx-test (2.2.2 -> 2.3.1) python-jedi (0.15.1 -> 0.15.2) python-mysqlclient python-parso (0.5.1 -> 0.5.2) python-pybind11 (2.4.2 -> 2.4.3) python-typeshed (0.0.1+git.1562136779.4af283e1 -> 0.0.1+git.20191227.21a9e696)
wireshark (3.0.7 -> 3.2.0) bug fixes and updated protocol support as listed
Firefox (70.0.1 > 71.0) Improvements to Lockwise, integrated password manager, More information about Enhanced Tracking Protection in action, Native MP3 decoding on Windows, Linux, and macOS, Configuration page (about:config) reimplemented in HTML, New kiosk mode functionality, which allows maximum screen space for customer-facing displays. Numerous CVEs were addressed relating to memory.
I think we often take for granted the multimedia capabilities of computers today. It seems like someone is always harping about PulseAudio on Linux. I’d say they are likely not using the right distribution, by that I mean openSUSE, I don’t have these issues. The purpose of the section is not to tout the superiority of my favorite operating system when it comes to audio subsystem, rather, it is to talk and reflect about how great we have it today with all things audio on modern computers.
In 1983, the state of digital music was not as rich as it is today. We can enjoy a virtually endless supply of content never before available in human history. Let’s go back in time to an era when the Commodore 64 was the pinnacle in home computer audio. Where audio was entirely programmed, limited to 4 wave forms of sawtooth, triangle, pulse and noise. A multi-mode filter featuring low-pass, high-pass and band pass outputs and three volume controls of attack / decay / sustain / release (ASDR) for each audio oscillator and a few other things I barely understand. Regardless, the capabilities were limited and synthesizing voice was an incredible undertaking that took years of work long after the chip was in the wild. This was one of the first polyphonic sound chips on the consumer market that, to this day, is held in high regard and many still like the sounds this chip produces.
All this said, this was very interesting record of computer generated music that is certainly worth a listen. I find the experimentation and musical education tools used in this perod incredibly fascinating. Today, things are very different. Musical composers and artists use computers in music production and to do so otherwise would likely be considered insane. I now wonder if individuals in the 80s that pushed the art and science of computers in music were considered insane by their peers.
CAD is one of the things I really enjoy doing. I am most adept at using PTC Creo for my employer. I am able to easily “think” and design ideas as easily in that software as I am able to draw it on a piece of paper.
I’m making it a point to get that way with Fusion 360. I don’t think it is as intuitive but if you were to ask anybody that hasn’t “grown up” with Pro-Engineer (Creo’s historical name) they would likely say otherwise
The installation of Fusion 360 is not as straight forward as it would be on it’s native Windows environment. It’s not bad but does require a little effort on your part. Though, I would say no more effort than I have had with other CAD packages on Windows.
Your first step is to install Lutris. For openSUSE
Select the Install button. That will launch Lutris and begin the installation process.
This process will take a while and if you are so inclined, you can watch the process scroll by.
Once it is complete, you are given the option to add a desktop short cut and menu entry. That is all there is to the installation process. Now you are ready to run Fusion 360, but not yet ready to get to designing.
You are going to have to run Fusion 360 twice. This first time, Select to launch the application. The application splash screen will happily greet you.
You will then be required to sign into Fusion 360. Here is the one aspect of Fusion 360 that I am not keen on but I will overlook, this application does need to phone home in order to operate. You can function offline and it will cache locally so you are not explicitly required to be online every moment that you are working in it.
You are required to create an account and in doing so, you will have to identify yourself as an individual for free, non-commercial use. My understanding is that you will have annually affirm that you are using this for hobby, non-commercial use.
Once it is done loading up, you are greeted with this screen and this also tells you that Fusion 360 is not able to properly access the graphics drivers. That can easily be fixed by going into your preferences and change the graphics driver to DirectX 9
Choose apply but select “Not Now” on closing the application. It is known for having the habit of not actually closing out and just hanging. Close Fusion 360 then ensure all Wine processes are closed through the Lutris interface.
Another change you need to make is in Lutris. Right-Click and select “Configure” on the “Autodesk Fusion 360” entry. Select the “Runner options” Tab and Disable DVK, D9VK and Esync. I do not run it in the Windowed (Virtual Desktop) as some of the menus don’t appear.
Now you are ready to do some designing.
This time you run Fusion 360, you are ready to get to designing. That is, assuming you see a grid pattern and the rotation cube in the corner.
If you don’t have this grid pattern and see the Autodesk Fusion 360 logo, this means something is not configured correctly, check again to make sure that you are on DirectX 9 and your Lutris Runner Configuration is correct. It could also be, something else has changed and this is no longer the correct answer too. After all, Autodesk does not support this what so ever.
Designing First Part
This is not a tutorial in part design. There are plenty of those out there. Without any training on using this software, I went to work and started designing. My choice for my first foray into part design was this sewing machine pulley that a friend asked me help him with.
I took the time to measure out the critical dimensions of this part, including counting the teeth. I had to determine the best course of action in how to build this part. I chose to make a revolved feature as my base feature. Since this will be 3D printed, I don’t need to the more complex rib features used for injection molding.
Next major feature is creating the notches for the teeth around the part. This is done by creating one notch and patterning it around the outer surface.
Next was to create the features through the center axis of the part that, presumably, are other critical features that interface with the sewing machine.
The last few features are also presumed critical features based on the my understanding for why they would exist. A flat on the sides of a cylinder are often used to prevent the part from spinning and the notch across the top may be to key the part as well.
The last set of features are the rounds and chamfers. These features should always be at the end of the feature tree in order to have more robustly designed parts.
Rounds and chamfers are important to a part as it adds strength and disburses the stress between the shaft and wheel features.
This process, having never touched this software before only took me about 45 minutes to do. I just had to understand how Fusion 360 expects you to use the design features. Ultimately, it was not difficult to use at all and making changes to parent features didn’t break the child features or cause it to become disjointed. I truly think this was fantastic.
What I Like
Fusion 360 is a great parametric modeler. The feature tools are very comprehensive and they help you along quite nicely with designing the part. The pattern feature is very nicely done and making edits to any feature in the tree is very intuitive. It all just seems to make sense.
I have also used the assembly feature and it works quite well. It doesn’t work exactly how I like to think it should work but I really can’t complain at all. This is the nicest I’ve seen work on Linux in recent times.
The file management system gives you a built in Product Lifecycle Management tool. You can put designs in folders and share them with others through the Autodesk services. I see a lot of advantages when it comes to designing in teams.
Exporting STEP or STL files is a trivial process and does a good job. I have sent the exports of these parts to my friend that needed to replace this sewing machine wheel for 3D printing.
What I Don’t Like
This is not directly supported in Linux. The reality is, using Lutris is kind of a hack and it does make for some less than exceptional user interface idiosyncrasies. There are occasionally some instances when the menus don’t refresh immediately and icons disappear. It’s not a huge issue, and running Creo on Windows has far worse issues after it runs for some time so putting it in perspective of my CAD experiences, this is a mild issue.
This application is very cloud dependent. In general, I do not prefer any applications that are highly dependent on “the cloud”. However, the design and analysis functions of Fusion 360 is so spectacular, that I can make an exception. The processing is all on the client side and you can work offline so designing something on the couch of an an internet-less home is absolutely possible.
The interface is too light. I prefer a dark theme interface to reduce eye stress. I think, perhaps, my excitement in using a quality, full-featured CAD package on Linux seems to have an almost euphoric effect on me and I am just not going to complain at all.
I have really enjoyed using Fusion 360 on openSUSE Tumbleweed. It works very well and if I were to give this a rating, I would give it an overall score of 8 out of 10 stars… or 4 out of 5… I don’t have a rating system. My main complaint, really, is the very white interface. I can look past all the other issues as they don’t inhibit my productivity with the product.
This has me so excited, I am going to be able to design and publish a lot of my designs to share with the masses. I don’t, at this time, need a commercial license for Fusion 360. A subscription to Fusion 360 is a bit pricey but not too bad, as compared to other packages out there. As of today, (January 2020) you can get a one year subscription for $495. As long as I just use this for hobbying purposes, I can continue to use this for free and there is a bit of a concern that Autodesk could pull the rug out from under me. That is the risk in closed source software, especially that which requires a cloud service to operate.
For now, this is my choice in doing any kind of personal mechanical design work. It has freed me up from using my employers hardware and software. Not that I have a problem using it from time to time for a personal project but more so that I don’t HAVE to use a Windows machine to do the work I want to do. I am free to work in an environment with which I am most comfortable.
I really hope that Autodesk can see benefit and value in supporting Linux. Since this application already works quite well in Linux without any of their efforts, maybe they will see that, do some tweaking and improvements to make it work a little better. One can hope.
LeoCAD is an application that I use somewhat frequently. It is available for Linux, Windows and even Mac but I don’t have a Windows or Mac machine of which to compare to Linux. I have written about the joys of using LeoCAD before if you are interested in that blathering and at that time I used the AppImage to run the application. Now am using the openSUSE community repository instead and I installed it from here:
I did have some issue getting LeoCAD to find my library but but renaming the complete.ziplibrary.bin and placing it in the aforementioned location made the parts available for use.
What I particularly enjoyed about using it from the openSUSE repositories is that LeoCAD now respects my dark desktop theme which is much easier on my eyes and more enjoyable in which to “work.” Okay, I realize, I am “playing” and not “working” but it is also a fantastic teaching tool.
The version of LeoCAD I am using at the time of writing is 18.02. It works very smooth, has yet to crash and is a joy to use.
Designing my be a stretch, actually, more like modification of existing designs. A little back story, 8 year old me was incredibly enamored with this LEGO space theme called Blacktron. I didn’t like that LEGO considered them the “bad guys” and that idea has perpetuated with, for what I can tell, no variation on that meme. So, I have decided that I wanted to introduce that idea, that they are not still the “bad guys.” I did this by making a couple Rebrickable.com submissions with a different idea, here.
One of my first “designs” was just making this first Blacktron LEGO set the way I wanted it as a kid. It included reversing the connections and modernizing it with the newer small parts to add more interesting detail that is now available.
Blacktron Invader Refit 2019
One of the features of this and the Blacktron vehicle sets was this modularity that was advertised on the back of the instruction manual. I didn’t like that the Invader connectors were “backwards” from the other vehicles so reversing it was a must which also made for some space to add some other details below the wings.
In changing the direction of the Technic connectors, I was able to make the interaction with the other models more to my liking. The original intent was fine but I just happen to like my revision better.
Since there is this modularity as part of the design with the Invader it essentially giving you two options of play with this set: with the cargo module and without, a “scout mode,” I thought, “what if the Invader was a multi-purpose, multi-role craft?”
So, I took another existing design from another space theme and incorporated the elements into the Invader as a module. Another theme I enjoyed as a child was this M:Tron theme. They had all these cool magnet features that I think was far more popular than what the Blacktron Theme had ever been. The process I used to build this was to cobble together the idea with the parts I had than take the design to the CAD to optimize the design and order more appropriate parts.
Upon receiving the parts, I made the adjustments and the final test was giving it to my 4 year old to see how long it would stay together. The good news is, it appears to be a success and brought a lot of smiles to my kids. The Crane portion does seem to get ripped off a bit more than I would like but no more than the original model, perhaps a little less than the original model but not my much.
I have other “designs” that have been inspired by Star Wars but those will have to wait another day. This blathering about playing with children’s toys has gone on long enough.
Using LeoCAD and the real thing allows me to teach my kids the product design process but in a much shorter cycle and in a more fun way, with LEGO. We will build an idea, take it to LeoCAD and go back and forth between real LEGO to the CAD and back to the LEGO again to test and refine the design. I can demonstrate what it is like going through a product development cycle but with a much, much shorter design validation cycle. That design validation is, will it hold up long enough in the hands of a 4, 6 or 8 year old.
CAD is not only what I do for my profession, I also do it for fun. For personal projects, I have been having a great time with using FreeCAD, a very capable and feature-full parametric modeler. With a recent resurgence of Legos in my house and falling into some web-searching rabbit holes, I stumbled upon this Lego CAD software called LeoCAD. I am currently using the AppImage on openSUSE that works fantastically well. I’m sure it will work on any modern Linux Distribution. It is also available for those “other” platforms. It can be downloaded from here:
The nice thing about AppImages is that there is nothing to do to install it. I created a folder where I keep all my AppImage files. Using Dolphin, I made the .AppImage executable so that you can just double-click to execute the file and run LeoCAD.
Beyond the cool factor of creating Legos in virtual space or loading up those childhood models and modifying them in ways that you didn’t have the parts for as a child, there are lessons you can teach kids with this software.
LeoCAD is not only an extremely enjoyable toy but it is a great tool for teaching my kids the principles of Assembly, Sub-Assembly and Master Assemblies and the some understandings of spacial relations. At the very basic level, using LeoCAD to create, you are putting pieces together to create a very basic “assembly” or model.
To put together a model you create it, much like in real life, piece by piece. There is an extensive library of parts from which to choose. You can search through by category or use the part numbers to more rapidly locate what it is that you need. Those parts can be colored from what you see in the pallet which are, from my understanding, actual Lego colors. Here is a fun fact. On Legos that are made in the 1990s-ish or newer, will have a part number molded into each part on a “non visual” surface. If your eyes are older… you might need a magnifying glass.
Another very cool feature of LeoCAD is the ability to order steps on a model. If you have a desire to create your very own instruction booklet, that can be done with LeoCAD.
Once you have created a Sub-Assembly, or as LeoCAD calls them, “Submodel” you can bring each Assembly / model in together in a “Master Assembly”.
Any assemblies or Submodels can be treated like any other Lego part. Objects are objects whether they are individual pieces or Submodels.
For whatever Submodel Tab you have selected, you can view the parts used by selecting: Submodel > Properties… then select the “Parts Used” tab. This gives you a complete list of all the individual pieces you have used in your model. If you so choose, you can take this list and purchase the necessary pieces to build your creation.
Unfortunately, I was unable to find a way to export this list into a spreadsheet, so that does complicate matters somewhat.
If you want to download some Lego Sets to spin around LeoCAD, check out the Ldraw site. You will need to know the set number to look up to get the CAD files. If you would like to look at this the previously pictured Blacktron Invader, from 1987, see here.
After some playing with LeoCAD, my boy and I began talking about what we should build. We are both fans of Star Wars and he liked all these old 1980s themed Lego space sets so we decided to put two of them together and made a “Blacktron AT-ST”. It was a good way to go head-first in really learning and understanding this software and it’s quirks.
Just building the model in LeoCAD took about a week of work. That was a few hours here and there. Much of the time spent was learning how to effectively navigate the software and fine the proper parts in the library. The actual assembly process of the pieces is pretty intuitive. You do have to play with the snap points when doing less common assembly angles but it is in no way difficult. This was probably a bit too ambitious for a first project but it was completed. There are a total of 428 parts divided into 24 submodels one of which is the Master Assembly (submodel) that all the individual models assemble into.
We took the parts list and went through the Legos we had to determine what was on hand, then we put the rest into a “wishlist” on Bricklink.com where we were then able to order the parts necessary to build it. My boy used this an entry for a craft project for the local county fair. It was fun for the both of us. Maybe me more so than him but this application along with the resources through the Internet is essentially a childhood fantasy come reality.
I want to note that this is not in any way an original design. This is heavily based on an actual licensed model and essentially recolored to look like it could fit with the rest of the Blacktron theme. Now, it is just another Lego model toy on our Lego table.
What I like
Assembling Legos in the virtual space, although not as satisfying as the snap of the genuine article, is fun and can really allow you to flesh out some ideas somewhat rapidly. The benefit is, you can take that virtual model and turn it into a real model.
Another thing I like to do with LeoCAD is documenting changes I make to a design. If I come up with an idea, I like it, I can make it in the LeoCAD and date stamp it. This way, I have the freedom to make the changes to the real model and I have a point I can go back to as a reference.
LeoCAD is very fast and snappy using only the Intel GPU. I have run it on my AMD GPU as well as and I am sure it is performing better but not so much that I can tell the difference.
It is easy to change the colors of parts of the Legos and if you are doing a virtual prototype, it is much easier to swap out the colors of parts on LeoCAD than it it is with Actual Legos.
There are all kinds of 3D models to download, look at and modify to your hearts content from Ldraw.org. If you need to look up set numbers, use this resource: brickset.com.
What I don’t Like
There isn’t much to not like about this software. There are only two issues that I have with it. There is no way to export the Bill of Material / Parts list to any kind of file. Even a way to export to CSV would be fantastic. As it stands today, you can copy only one cell at a time. Hopefully there will be an export feature in the future.
There is no collision detection between parts and pieces. So, it is possible to bury parts within parts. Some kind of “align” and “orient” option would be great too when assembling components.
Lastly, and really, least important, the UI is too light. I would prefer a dark theme. Not a big deal but it would be nice.
LeoCAD is not only a great tool for teaching the concepts of Computer Aided Design but it is an incredibly fun toy with which to play. I didn’t realize what kind of fun-spiral I could fall into. LeoCAD is an incredibly useful tool to teach CAD and many CAD concepts.
If you have a passing interest in Legos or CAD or both, this is worth checking out. Opening up Lego models from your childhood, spinning them around and modifying them like you would have done so many years ago is a great way to spend a weekend where the weather isn’t cooperative. Being able to create, modify and document your ideas is fantastic but the best part about LeoCAD is, at no time will playing with these Legos pose any risk to your feet.