Jun 8, 2006

Full-up Studlessness, Part I

A couple of folks have asked about studless building: how tough is it, how is it different, is it “better” or “worse” than the conventional (studded) way of building, etc. This is not an answer to that – this is just some ideas and thoughts on the subject, take them for what they’re worth.

There are certainly some difference. Prime among them, I find studless building to often be slightly “sloppier” than conventional LEGO building: often the end structure has more give and play in it than a similar studded structure. That’s a disadvantage when you what high-accuracy mechanisms, for instance. The flip side to this is studless structures often seem less likely to fall apart, due to being held together by pins and axles that are often stressed in shear instead of in tension. That’s a nice advantage, particularly for kids. Although it leads to some problems when you need to make small changes in the center of a mechanism; you sometimes have to disassemble a lot of stuff to “fix” what needs correcting.

Another factor is up, down, & right angles. LEGO studded structures traditionally have a specific top direction (“studs-up”, though they don’t have to) and to consist of almost exclusively right angles (although again, they don’t have to: hinges are often critical parts in getting some shapes for just this reason). With studless construction, these limitations are removed. In fact, quite often a robot ends up with many non-right angles and oddly-“bent” or sloped sections. For instance, for strength, you can often easily arrange to have a triangle construction in a studless build… but that means at least one “non-right-angle” piece, that may be difficult to join to later with the exacting LEGO geometry.

Finally, I’ve got to say that hybrid structures are certainly worth exploring. For some things, studded frameworks have great advantages (rigidity, for instance) while for other studless mechanisms have the upper hand (light-weight, reconfigurable structures). While I’ve recently become locked into a “no studs” mode of building, there’s absolutely no reason why both can’t be used to compliment each other!

Brian Davis


byronczimmer said...

Is the 'sloppiness' from a lack of bracing? I know that 'kit' structures with prepackaged instructions tend to end up with very little play once assembled, and I've noticed that they often 'over brace' in my opinion, but I'm starting to wonder if that's intentional in order to make a more stable model.

The recent technic sets feature a great deal of studless construction and studying those (build them, rip them apart, rebuild them) can easily give insight into 'how' certain structures are joined. Every model has a new use for an old piece while smaller pieces keep getting joined together in small 'modules' that repeatedly make appearances.

And, studless may not have a 'top', but it certainly has 'sides'. One of the biggest challenges is figuring out how to turn the direction of the pins 90 degrees in each of the three planes, since generally they seem to all point roughly the same direction.

Interesting stuff Brian -- keep it up!

Brian Davis said...

You can certainly make things more rigid by using more bracing, but I still find that studless structures have more flex than a very similar studded structure. Pin two studless beams together near the end, and compare it to the flex of two studded beams pined together with a single 2xn p[late on the bottom or top.

The LEGO studless models are amazing - they knit structure and mechanism into a seemless whole, and are an excellent education.

As to the problem of "turning" studless structures 90° in various directions... yep, it's a tough problem. The original four MUP members pointed out this was a serious issue, and at least partially as a result of that LEGO has released a 90° joining piece (some of us call it a "Hassenplug", after one of the MUP members). But it's still tricky.

Brian Davis

Anonymous said...

While awaiting my NXT, I ordered up a few bags of fully-studless stuff, beams, pins, axels and gears, and found a few problems getting things stable while trying to bang out a trebuchet or two. The first problem is empty space - strength could be radically increased if "lift arms" had been downsized to snap into the empty section of a studless arm and then pinned. Pinning itself is difficult, because most studless holes are Free Rotation holes. Without the existence of a snap-in set of X-X-X lift arm plates as imagined above, bolting two pieces means friction pins and bushings, for the most part, and they are going to wobble!

Wigth few SNOT pieces on my re-inherited Lego, some dating to the Samsonite days, I am finding it impossible to securely attach my braced-but-wobbly connections to a base of th standard stuff that could provide stiffness. I hope I can find enough SNOT on the used market when I get my NXT kit with a goal of building, eventually, a "shrimp"-style platform carrying an 802.11n wireless camera on a lift-arm, vid crunching by a high-power machine with Bluetooth signalling back.

INCIDENTALLY - Lego Shop-at-Home has unofficially informed me that the company is phasing out extra parts /supplemental stuff in favor of juust selling more kits where 90% goes wasted. Staff suggested everybody call in for their favorite "unavailable" - mine is the discontinued $28.00 pneumatics kit (someone is offering one on Bricknet for $88! - charming) and pneumatics accessories at less than Lego-DACA's ruinous prices of $5/small cylander or pump! But it seems that soon, even bags 'o bricks will be things of the past, and so anyone needing a couple of 16-hole studless bars will be forced into the seco ndary market, or to buy a kit that just happens to include them Hey, it's a free call!

Brian Davis said...

With regard to the "bags of bricks" being phased out, there is the possibility that this is more of a shift in the marketing to a system based on LEGO Factory, where you can order what you want piecemeal. At least, I hope - Technic stuff has not yet (to my knowledge) been added, but there's been hints and rumors that LEGO Factory will expand.

Brian Davis

Joshua said...

Sorry if this seems a bit late to the party... ;-)

This makes me wonder how well the original friction pegs (phased out in the late 80s) might help to stiffen up studless constructions. I plan to give the question some experimentation time this weekend.

Could it be something that was phased out (quite possibly because they could be tough-as-nails to deal with -- one can damage the pegs trying to extract them from beams) will actually have a very powerful new use now?

It will be very interesting to see...

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