Awesome Stuff: High-Precision Toys

from the turn-turn-turn dept

High-quality precision engineering enables the creation of remarkable tools and machines, but once in a while it gets applied to something more frivolous, with extremely appealing results. This week, we’re looking at a pair of ultimately not-that-useful toys which are nevertheless very cool, thanks to unmatched detail and precision.


This one is sure to make space geeks salivate, though only the hardcore among them will actually part with £300+ to get their hands on one. What makes MOON special? Well, while the non-detail-oriented might think a volleyball makes a sufficient lunar globe, the MOON is there for those who demand more: it’s a completely accurate and faithful 3D reproduction of the moon, not based on 2D photos of the surface but on actual topographical data from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. You can see — and even touch — every single perfectly-rendered ridge and crater, or just watch as they are cast into shifting relief by the ring of white LEDs that orbits the globe to create stark shadows and highlights and accurately simulate lunar phases. The rotocasted polyurethane resin globe comes in a couple of different sizes but, as mentioned, none of them are cheap.


Spinning tops are one of those funny pieces of simple engineering that most people can’t help but find pleasing and intriguing for no immediately obvious reason, and this one might be the top to end all tops. It’s huge — 3 inches tall by 2 inches in diameter — and hefty, made from high-quality aluminum with a precisely machined 2mm tip. After hitting full speed with the help of a kevlar pull-string, it’s capable of some nifty feats for a spinning top: it can spin upside-down or on your fingertip almost as confidently as the normal way on a flat surface, and its high weight and speed make it function like a gyroscope and do tricks like spinning on its side (seemingly defying gravity) while hanging from the launching string. Essentially, it’s an age-old toy made impressive by being engineered like an important machine — and while it’s a slightly more accessible purchase than the lunar globe above, it still carries a $65 price tag (and that’s just for Kickstarter backers — the intended retail price is over $100).

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Comments on “Awesome Stuff: High-Precision Toys”

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Scote (profile) says:

Moon: a cue ball with a revolving light

I like Moon as a concept, but if it is really scale model accurate, the surface depth of the craters will be pretty shallow and the ring light will be too soft a source to bring out the detail. Instead, the Moon model will look like a plain white ball – unlike the actual moon, Moon has no surface coloring. Apparently 300 pounds is not enough money to get more than the shape of the moon.

Leigh Beadon (profile) says:

Re: Moon: a cue ball with a revolving light

Yeah there’s certainly a tradeoff between accuracy and more striking visuals. That said, I don’t think it’s as dire as you’re assuming – the high-res photos give a pretty clear look, and while the texture is shallow, it’s very visible:

Lawrence D’Oliveiro says:

Re: Re: Moon: a cue ball with a revolving light

The real Moon has the advantage of very harsh lighting—the Sun as the dominant key light, with the Earth providing only the weakest of fill lights—to show up its details in high contrast.

This model won’t look like that, unless you put it in a pitch-dark room and light it with a single bulb.

Scote (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Moon: a cue ball with a revolving light

“This model won’t look like that, unless you put it in a pitch-dark room and light it with a single bulb.”

And the smaller the better. The sun is 93 million miles away, which makes it a small point source of light that really brings out the details of the moon when it falls at an angle relative to the observer. The Moon model could use a single LED for sharper shadows, but being so close it wouldn’t create the right shape of the moon phases, so instead they use a ring light that is meant to simulate the parallel rays of the sun, rather than the small point light. That will make the phases more accurate at the trade off of visibility of texture.

Anonymous Coward says:

Does anyone here know how a top works?

The way I think of it (and this isn’t really conventional) is that if you try to balance a non-spinning top any force in any direction will tip it over. But if you spin the top a force in one direction will cause the top to tilt at first. When you apply a force to a piece of the top to push it down the other side of the top gets tilted up. As the top spins the adjacent region next to the mass you pushed down pulls the part that you pushed down up because it’s higher in elevation. In a sense any push against any portion of the top gets averaged out all throughout the entire top as it spins and so the top stays standing up. The momentum of the downward push pulls up at the downward tilted area as the top spins.

Anonymous Coward says:

The MOON needs a mode where the LED light ring doesn’t rotate, but instead the globe does.

Otherwise you face situations where you sometimes get a ring of glaring LEDS facing you, and other times not. And also, it limits placement because you have to make room for both the globe and the radius of the light ring; needing a lot more clearance that if only the globe rotated.

Also, considering how bright the LED ring looks, it might be useful to position the light ring in a static position where the light “leaking out” to the rest of the room is accounted for and made useful – and having that constantly rotating in and out of position would be annoying (along with the idea that a glaring light ring is coming in and out of focus constantly over the course of a day).

Scote (profile) says:

“The MOON needs a mode where the LED light ring doesn’t rotate, but instead the globe does.

Otherwise you face situations where you sometimes get a ring of glaring LEDS facing you, and other times not.”

I was thinking the same thing. Having that on your desk with the light staring into you would be annoying. However, if you just rotate the moon you’ll never see the changing phases. When we observe the moon from the earth, it is as if the moon never rotates but the light around it does. That is what the Moon model with the rotating ring light is trying to simulate.

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