Look at me with your Special Animatronic Eyes

Animatronics for movies is often about making something that works and is reliable in the short term. It doesn’t have to be pretty, it doesn’t have to last forever. [Corporate Sellout]  shows us the minimalist approach to building animatronics with this pair of special eyes.  These eyes move in both the pan and tilt. Usually, that means a gimbal style mount. Not in this case. The mechanical assembly consists of with popsicle sticks, ping-pong balls, film canisters and dental floss.

The frame for the eyes is made of simple popsicle sticks hot glued together. The eyes themselves are simple ping-pong balls. Arduino powered servos control the movement. The servos are connected to dental floss in a cable arrangement known as a pull-pull system. As each servo moves, one side of the arm pulls on a cable, while the other provides enough slack for the ping-pong ball to move.

Mounting the ping-pong balls is the genius part of this build. They simply sit in the open end of a couple of film canisters. the tension from the dental floss holds everything together. We’re sure it was a finicky setup to build, but once working, it’s reliable. Only a glue joint failure or stretch in the dental floss could cause issues.

There are plenty of approaches to Animatronic eyes. Check out the eyes in this Stargate Horus helmet, which just won our Sci-Fi contest. More recently we saw Gawkerbot, which uses a CD-ROM drive to provide motion for a creepy robot’s eyes.

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Gawkerbot is Watching You

While sick with the flu a few months ago, [CroMagnon] had a vision. A face with eyes that would follow you – no matter where you walked in the room. He brought this vision to life in the form of Gawkerbot. This is no static piece of art. Gawkerbot’s eyes slowly follow you as you walk through its field of vision. Once the robot has fixed its gaze upon you, the eyes glow blue. It makes one wonder if this is an art piece, or if the rest of the robot is about to pop through the wall and attack.

Gawkerbot’s sensing system is rather simple. A PIR sensor detects motion in the room. If any motion is detected, two ultrasonic sensors which make up the robot’s pupils start taking data. Code running on an ATmega328 determines if a person is detected on the left or right, and moves the eyes appropriately.

[CroMagnon] used an old CD-ROM drive optics sled to move Gawkerbot’s eyes. While the motor is small, the worm drive has plenty of power to move the 3D-printed eyes and linkages. Gawkerbot’s main face is a 3D-printed version of a firefighter’s smoke helmet.

The ultrasonic sensors work, but it took quite a bit of software to tame the jitters noisy data stream. [CroMagnon] is thinking of using PIR sensors on Gawkerbot 2.0. Ultrasonic transducers aren’t just for sensing. Given enough power, you can solder with them. Ultrasonics even work for wireless communications.

Check out the video after the break to see Gawkerbot in action.

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Raspberry Pi and Alexa Make Teddy Ruxpin Smarter than the Average Bear

Behold the unholy union of Amazon’s Alexa and that feature-limited animatronic bear from the 80s, Teddy Ruxpin. Alexa Ruxpin?

As if stuffing Alexa inside a talking fish weren’t bad enough, now Amazon’s virtual assistant can talk to you through the creepy retro plush thanks to [Tinkernut]’s trip down memory lane. Having located a Teddy Ruxpin on eBay for far less than the original $70 that priced it out from under his childhood Christmas tree, [Tinkernut] quickly learned that major surgery would be necessary to revive the Ruxpin. The first video below shows the original servos being gutted and modern micro servos grafted in, allowing control of the mouth, eyes, and nose via an Arduino.

With the bear once again in control of its faculties, [Tinkernut] embarked on giving it something to talk about. A Raspberry Pi running AlexaPi joined the bear’s recently vacated thorax with the audio output split between the bear’s speaker and the analog input on the Arduino. The result is a reasonable animation, although we’d say a little tweaking of the Arduino script might help the syncing. And those eyes and that nose really need to get into the game as well. But not a bad start at all.

This isn’t the first time that Teddy Ruxpin has gone under the knife in the name of hacks, and it likely won’t be the last. And the way toy manufacturers are going, they might just beat us hackers to the punch.

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Animatronic Cosplay Wings

In recent years, Cosplay as a hobby has seen improvement in the props department by leaps and bounds. Thanks in part due to the rise of the Maker culture and the easy availability of design and manufacturing tools and processes. Case in point is this awesome set of Animatronic Wings that programmer [Nelson Stoldt] built for his daughter who wanted to be Nightmare Moon.

[Nelson] had no idea what he’d gotten himself in to when he answered “Sure, I can do that”. Making motorized cosplay wings that open up to 8 feet wide and close again at the flick of a switch without weighing a ton is not a trivial project. The final rig did end up tipping the scales at just over 9 kgs, but we guess that’s a load that Cosplayers are used to hauling around.

Using a nifty program called Linkage, he played around with a few different design approaches until he found a mechanism that worked well. If you ever want to build one of [Theo Jansen]’s Strandbeest, give this program a spin. Armed with this information, and a spreadsheet to help determine the exact length of each linkage element, he modelled the project in Sketchup. The wings are operated by a scissor mechanism that is driven by a motorized screw operated sliding carriage. Wing position is measured by a potentiometer coupled to one of the wing elements. Basically, he just built a huge, powerful servo.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Real Life XEyes

There’s a lot of tech that goes into animatronics, cosplay, and costumes. For their Hackaday Prize entry, [Dasaki] and [Dylan] are taking the eyes in a costume or Halloween prop to the next level with animatronic eyes that look where the wearer of this crazy confabulation is looking. It’s XEyes in real life, and it promises to be a part of some very, very cool costumes.

The mechanics of this system are actually pretty simple — it’s just a few servos joined together to make a pair of robotic eyes move up and down, and left to right. This entire mechanism is mounted on a frame, to which is attached a very small camera pointed directly at the user’s (real) eye. The software is where things get fun. That’s a basic eye-tracking setup, with IR light illuminating the pupil, and a compute unit that can calculate where the user is looking.

For the software, [Dasaki] and [Dylan] have collected a bunch of links, but right now the best solutions are the OpenMV and the Eye of Horus project from last year’s Hackaday Prize. It’s a great project, and a really fun entry for the Automation portion of this year’s Hackaday Prize.

Droolworthy Animatronic Stargate Horus Helmet

It’s incredibly likely that, unless you own one of the original movie props, your Stargate Horus helmet is not as cool as [jeromekelty]’s. We say this with some confidence because [jerome] got access to the original molds and put in an incredible amount of time on the animatronics. (See his latest video embedded below.)

Surprisingly, a number of the parts for this amazing piece were bought off the shelf. The irises that open and close they eyes, for instance, were bought on eBay. This is not to downplay the amount of custom design, though. The mechanism that moves the feathers is a sight to see, and there’s a lot of hand-machined metal holding it all together. But the payoff is watching the thing move under remote control. The eye dimming and closing, combined with the head movements, make it look almost alive.

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Robo Face Speaks

If you are doing a senior design project in engineering school, it takes some guts to make a robotic duplicate of the school’s president. He or she might be flattered, or completely offended. Us? We laughed out loud. Check out the video below. Spoiler: the nose/moustache wiggle at the end kills us every time.

The project uses a variety of parts including a plastic mask, an Erector set, and the obligatory Arduino with an MP3 shield. There are many articulated parts including eyes, nose, mouth, and wiggly moustache. The face uses RC servos, although [gtoombs] says he’d use stepper motors next time for smoother motion.

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