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Building a Studio Scale Death Star Laser Tower Model, Part 3

This month, prop maker David Goldberg shares with us his build of a studio-scale replica of the Death Star laser tower from Star Wars. Previously, David covered sourcing his reference, creating a 3D model, and the core structure fabrication. Today is all about the finer details!

The original models built for the Star Wars films were detailed with hundreds of little parts taken from plastic model kits. These parts were often referred to as nernies or greeblies. This was the first time this approach to adding detail for film models had been used to such a great extent and it was one of the defining characteristics of the realistic "used hardware" look of the film. There are photographs of the ILM model shop back in the day showing entire walls stacked high with hundreds of model kit boxes. Models kits of all types and scales were used for "donor parts" but it seems there was a fondness for models of military subjects, especially tanks and other vehicles.

A great deal of time and effort has been spent by members of the Replica Prop Forum (The RPF), Studio Scale Modelers (SSM) and other online sites analyzing photos of the original models and tracking down precisely which parts from which kits were used for the added details. Some of these model kits are still in production and many more are available on EBay, although sometimes at extremely high cost! Other than purchasing the Mig 21 kit to use for the barrels, I decided I didn't want to spend what could amount to many hundreds of dollars purchasing all of the necessary donor kits, some of which are quite rare. Instead I decided to replicate many of the parts with 3D printing, laser cutting and scratch building. In the end, several 'authentic' parts were donated for use on this project by some of the very kind members of the RPF.

Before applying detail parts some additional layers of plating were needed. Styrene sheet, cut by hand, was used for this plating on the original models but I wanted the benefits of precision and speed that could be achieved using a laser cutter, and styrene doesn't laser cut cleanly, the edges tend to melt a little. Instead I laser cut the plating panels out of a material called Polybak, a cardboard sheeting which has been impregnated with resin to make it water resistant. Polyback is often used to back cabinet panels in moist locations and as a backer for thin wood veneering. It laser cuts beautifully and takes paint well.

I laser cut a series of panels to go on the top of the tower as well as a bunch of randomly sized rectangular panels that I could stick on the casework wherever desired. Before cutting, I applied double-faced adhesive tape to the back of the Polyback sheet so that to attach the parts all I would have to do was peel off the backing paper and stick the parts down. In additional to the plating, several custom parts were laser cut, some with partial surface etching to represent bolt heads and other details.

Testing: Jaybird Freedom Wireless Earbuds

Our favorite wireless headphones from last year were Jaybird's X2 earbuds. These Bluetooth earbuds packed all the electronics and radios in the ear pieces, requiring only a flat cord to connect the two ends behind your head. I thought they were great for bike riding and jogging, and the interchangeable tips (supporting plastic ones or Comply foam tips) made them comfortable for me to wear. The 9 hours of battery life was pretty good, too. But for some people, they X2's design was still too bulky; the weight distribution of the electronics made it necessary to use the "wingtips" to wrap the earbuds around your ear to keep them in place. Jaybird's new Freedom earbuds solve that problem completely.

The new Jaybird Freedoms are significantly slimmer than the X2s, while retaining the same 6mm driver that gave the X2s really good sound quality (for earbuds). It's almost shocking how small the new design is, which now can completely fit into small ears without sticking out and dragging off the lobe. Jaybird (which was recently acquired by Logitech) accomplished this in two ways: incorporating a tapered driver design so that the tips are smaller, and putting all of the battery, electronics, and radio into the volume control module along the cable. The redesigned driver and relocation of the electronics don't appear to have changed the sound quality (and there's still a built-in microphone), and Jaybird is also pushing a new companion app that allows for real-time EQ adjustments and downloadable presets.

Maker Faire 2016: 3D Printed Open-Source Telepresence Robot

We kick off our Maker Faire 2016 coverage with this awesome telepresense robot made by researchers at the Galileo University in Guatemala. The robot's body is based off of the open-source InMoov project, with remote control via an Oculus DK2 headset and Perception Neuron motion capture system. Telepresense with some sense of proprioception!

In Brief: Movie Costume Design Blogs

With Comic-Con coming up in less than two months, I'm wondering what new film costume will be the popular cosplay this year (my money's on the new Deadpool or Black Panther). The appearance of awesome new costumes from this year's superhero films has also brought two blogs back into my feed: Clothes on Film and Tyranny of Style. Both regularly go in-depth with interviews and analysis about the making of costumes for film, and serve as informative complements to detail-oriented fan forums. Where are you favorite places to read about costume design for film?

Tested Builds: Foam Propmaking, Part 1

Welcome to a Tested week of builds! We're joined in the studio by prop and armor maker Bill Doran (Punished Props), who shares with us his techniques for making awesome foam weapons. Throughout the week, we'll be designing, fabricating, and painting foam props that can be used for cosplay! (This first video is available for everyone--watch the rest of the build by signing up with the Tested Premium member community!)

Google Play App Roundup: Science Journal, Air Attack, and Assassin's Creed Identity

Android devices do a lot of neat stuff out of the box, but you can always load it up with new apps to make if do more stuff. And maybe some games for good measure. This is the Google Play App Roundup where we tell you what's new on Android. Just hit the links to head to the Play Store.

Science Journal

Your smartphone is bristling with sensors, so why not use them to do some basic science? Google has released a new app that helps you run simple experiments with your phone called Science Journal. It's mostly aimed at getting students interested in science and the process of running experiments, but everyone can learn a little something.

Science Journal accesses three sensors in your phone: the light sensor, accelerometer, and the microphone. In the main interface, you can switch between each of these outputs to see live data as a single number or a graph. In addition, the accelerometer data is split up into X, Y, and Z axis readings. Of course, the app is a super-slick example of material design with bright colors and cool animations.

Down at the bottom of the screen is a toolbar and timecode. This is where you record your data. Simply hit the record button and the sensor data will be archived. You can organize each data set into different experiments and add notes to them as well. The graphs (both live and archived) respond to pinch zoom gestures.

You might be surprised how sensitive the sensors in your phone are, especially the accelerometer. Because this part is designed to measure g-forces, it reads gravitational acceleration at rest, and it's pretty close to the 9.8m/s^2 number we all learned in school. We often think of acceleration in terms of velocity relative to the ground, but this app encourages you to think about it a little differently. For example, in freefall, the Z-axis reads 0 instead of 9.8-ish. I was even able to use the accelerometer to measure my heart rate by laying the phone on my chest.

At the top of Science Journal is a button that links the app with external devices. You probably don't have any of these, but the Google Making and Science Initiative website lists some kits Google helped to design with companies like Sparkfun that will connect to the app, usually via an Arduino. All the data acquired through the app, via both internal and external sensors, can be exported as a CSV file.

The app is free and fun to play around with if nothing else. If you have kids, you might want to use this as a learning opportunity.

The Best of Google I/O 2016: Android N, Daydream VR, and More

Google I/O is now in its 10th year, and Google brought it back to the Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View where it started. I/O is always big on news, especially in the last few years as Google announced developer previews of upcoming versions of Android. This year, we already have the Android N dev preview, but that didn't stop Google from showing off some cool new features. There are also big changes coming to Chrome OS, messaging, and more.

Let's take a look at all of Google's I/O 2016 highlights.

Android N

The existence of Android N wasn't the big reveal this year. We're actually getting quite familiar with this pre-release OS after two developer previews. The third preview was released at I/O, and Google also talked about some more features coming to Android N.

There were, of course, demos of things like multi-window and the revamped notifications. We knew all about that, though. Possibly the most interesting new tidbit about Android N is the support for what Google is calling seamless updates. If you've ever used a Chromebook, it'll be very similar. In fact, the Android team borrowed some code from Chrome OS to do this.

Right now, getting an OTA update, though joyous, is a pain in the butt. You have to restart your device, wait for the OS to unpack and install, then sit through the app optimization process. Devices that ship with Android N won't have to do any of that. Instead, updates will happen in the background as soon as they're available (like a Chromebook). The next time you restart, your phone or tablet will simply boot into the updated OS and that's it.

So how is this magic possible? Android N will support dual system partitions. The one you're actively using will be online and the other will be offline. When a system update is ready, it will be installed in the offline partition while the device is still in use. Upon reboot, the offline partition becomes online and online becomes offline. Not only is this a faster way to do updates, it provides a fallback in case a bad update breaks something. The device can just boot into the old system and try the update again.

Shop Tips: Save Your Silicone Pads

We're back with another shop tip from Frank Ippolito's new shop space! This week, Frank explains why he saves silicone pads from the bottom of his mixing containers, and how those pads can be used for future projects. Post your own shop tips in the comments below!