There are few toys as beloved across the world as the brick building sets made by LEGO. Since the 1940s when a Dutch company started selling the early precursor to LEGO called Automatic Binding Bricks, LEGO has been virtually ubiquitous in any child’s bedroom. Over the years they have sold thousands of various themed building sets that any kid would love. But a funny thing happened as the original children who played with LEGO started to get older–they just kept playing with them. At this point it is hard to estimate who uses LEGO more, the kids they are marketed to, or the massive subculture that prides itself on finding ways to do new and interesting things with the building brick sets.
One of the most popular LEGO builders around is Jason Allemann, who is the man behind the JK Brickworks blog and YouTube channel that features his unique and innovative designs. Over the years Allemann has built projects as diverse as highly detailed space ships from Star Trek and Star Wars to historical landmarks like the Taj Mahal and the CNN Tower to puzzle games and even a working LEGO keyboard. But by far his coolest creations are his working robotic creations made with the LEGO line of robot build kits, Mindstorms EV3. For his latest project, Allemann decided to build a machine that would scan a 2D image and then print it using small LEGO plates.
Allemann’s LEGO mosaic printing machine is called Bricasso, and it uses a color scanner from the Mindstorms EV3 set to read an image and then automatically build it using 1×1 LEGO plates. Bricasso itself is constructed entirely out of LEGO parts, even down to the clips that hold the image in place, and the “printing head” that grabs each plate and puts it in place.
Initially Allemann wanted to just use a regular image and have Bricasso translate it to a pixelated image, but unfortunately the Mindstorms EV3 color scanner was not powerful enough to correctly translate the image. So Allemann worked around that by using graph paper to color in his own pixelated images that the scanner can detect and reproduce.
Allemann used some rather ingenious methods to make Bricasso work, and he also used some rather simple solutions to solve complex design problems. For instance, instead of developing a grabbing claw of some sort that would pick up parts and place them, he wanted to keep it simple. So Bricasso picks up the 1×1 plates with a simple circular block attached to an arm similar to a 3D printer extruder. In order to get the circular block to release the 1×1 plate the printing head simply rolls off of it, the 1×1 plate stays in place, and the printing arm moves to select another piece. The build platform is a 16×16 plate, which limits the size of the design.
In order to feed the parts to the printing arm, it will grab the correct color 1×1 plate from a gravity-fed dispenser. The dispenser holds up to 450 individual 1×1 plates in up to nine different colors. The printing head knows where to get the correct color of plate because a legend or color key is the first row on the original scanned image indicating which dispenser contains which color. The total print time for each half of the LEGO logo mosaic shown was about 19 minutes and 40 seconds.
Take a look at a video of the Bricasso in action:
Allemann has also posted a series of YouTube videos documenting his design and progress here. The video series explains how the printing head was constructed in more detail, as well as giving a closer look at the gravity feed system and the construction of the nook that the Mindstorms EV3 color sensor is tucked into when not in use. All three build logs, not to mention all of the other great projects on his channel, are full of great ideas for new ways to use LEGO sets.
This isn’t the first 3D printer that has been built out of LEGO parts, and it’s not even the first to use 3D printing technology and concepts to build with LEGO parts. BlueBrick Studios submitted a design to LEGO Ideas for a 3D printer that builds 3-dimensional objects out of LEGO bricks. However, that design was only capable of rudimentary designs that didn’t come close to the complexity of the Bricasso.
Currently Allemann’s Bricasso only prints 2D mosaics, though he is considering developing a design to 3D print more complex objects using LEGO bricks. You can let us know what you think of 3D printing in LEGO over on our Bricasso LEGO Mosaic Printer forum at 3DPB.com.