What’s not to love about animatronics? Just peel back any puppet’s silicone skin to uncover a cluster of mechatronic wizardry that gives it a life on the big screen. I’ve been hunting online for a good intro to these beasts, but I’ve only turned up one detailed resource–albeit a pretty good one–from the Stan Winston Tutorials series. Only 30 seconds into the intro video, I could feel those tentacles waking up my lowest and most gutteral urge to create physical things. Like it or not, I was hooked; I just had to build one… or a few. This is how you built a very real animatronic tentacle.
If you’re getting started in this realm, I’ll be honest: the Stan Winston Tutorial is actually a great place to start. In about two hours, instructor Richard Landon covers the mindset, the set of go-to components, and the techniques for fabricating a tentacle mechanism with a set of garage tools–not to mention giving us tons of real-film examples along the way .
We also get a sneak peek into how we might build more complicated devices from the same basic techniques. I’d like to pick up exactly where he left off: 4-way two-stage tentacles. And, of course, if you’ve picked up on just how much I like a certain laser-cuttable plastic at this point, I’m going to put a modern twist on Landon’s design. These design tweaks should enable you to build your own tentacle and controller with nothing more but a few off-the-shelf parts, some Delrin, and a laser cutter… Ok, fine, a couple 3D printed parts managed to creep their way in too.
In a good-ol’ engineers-for-engineers fashion, I’m doing something a little different for this post: I’m finishing off this series with a set of assembly videos, a BOM, and the original CAD files to make that beast on the front page come to life. As for why, I figured: why not? Even though these mechanisms have lived in the robotics community and film industry for years, they’re still lacking the treatment of a solid, open design. This is my first shot at closing that gap. Get yourself a cup of coffee. I’m about to give you every bleeding detail on the-how-and-why behind these beasts.
The bachelor in question, [drandolph], rightly points out that a $6,000 build that takes up a significant fraction of the floor space in one’s apartment is better attempted without the benefit of spousal oversight. Still, what spouse couldn’t love the finished product? With a custom aluminum extrusion frame (which barely made the trip from China intact) it’s a sturdy affair, and who could deny the appeal of the soft glow of an LED-illuminated work chamber? A custom exhaust system with sound-deadening, a water chiller for laser cooling, an Arduino-controlled status beacon – there’s even a 3-D printed beer holder on the control panel! And think of all the goodies that will come off the enormous bed of this thing. Note to self: make sure wife sees this post.
There are cheaper and smaller laser cutters, but what’s the point if you have the freedom to go big?
Everyone wants their prototypes to look polished, as opposed to looking like 3D-squirted weekend afterthoughts. The combination of Delrin and a Laser Cutter make this easy, especially if you learn a few tricks-of-the-trade that will make your assemply pop, both functionally and aesthetically.
If you’re just getting started in this domain, let me introduce you to two classic techniques for laser-cut prototypes: puzzle-piecing and the T-nut-slotting. While these techniques are tried-and-true, I hope, fearless reader, that they’ll leave you hungry for something cleaner, something more refined. If that’s the case, read on!
The LaserWeb project recently released version 3, with many new features and improvements ready to give your laser cutter or engraver a serious boost in capabilities! On top of that, new 3-axis CNC support means that the door is open to having LaserWeb do for other CNC tools what it has already done for laser cutting and engraving.
LaserWeb3 supports different controllers and the machines they might be connected to – whether they are home-made systems, CNC frames equipped with laser diode emitters (such as retrofitted 3D printers), or one of those affordable blue-box 40W Chinese lasers with the proprietary controller replaced by something like a SmoothieBoard.
We’ve covered the LaserWeb project in the past but since then a whole lot of new development has been contributed, resulting in better performance with new features (like CNC mode) and a new UI. The newest version includes not only an improved ability to import multiple files and formats into single multi-layered jobs, but also Smoothieware Ethernet support and a job cost estimator. Performance in LaserWeb3 is currently best with Smoothieware, but you can still save and export GCODE to use it with Grbl, Marlin, EMC2, or Mach3.
We recently shared a lot of great information on safe homebrew laser cutter design. Are you making your own laser cutting machine, or retrofitting an existing one? Let us know about it in the comments!
Word clocks are cool, but getting them to function correctly and look good is all about paying attention to the details. One look at this elegant walnut-veneered word clock shows what you can accomplish when you think a project through.
Most word clocks that use laser-cut characters like [grahamvinyl]’s effort suffer from the dreaded “stencil effect” – the font has bridges to support the islands in the middle of characters like “A” and “Q”. While that can be an aesthetic choice and work perfectly well, like in this word clock we featured a few months back, [grahamvinyl] was going for a different look. The clock’s book-matched walnut guitar back was covered in tape before being laser cut; the tape held the letters and islands in place. After painstakingly picking out the cutouts and tweaking the islands, he used clear epoxy resin to hold everything in place. The result is a fantastic Art Deco font and a clean, sleek-looking panel to sit on top of an MDF light box for the RGB LED strips.
The braided cloth cable adds a vintage look to the power cord, and [grahamvinyl] mentions some potential upgrades, like auto-dimming and color shifting. This is very much a work in progress, but even at this point we think it looks fabulous.
FreeCAD is a fairly sophisticated, open-source, parametric 3D modeler. The open-source part means that you can bend it to your will. [Alexandre] is working on a module that lets him easily add tabs, finger joints, and t-slots to models (YouTube link, embedded down under).
Right now the plugin is still experimental, but it looks usable. In the video demo, [Alexandre] builds up a simple box, and then adds all manner of physical connective pieces to it. You’ll note that the tabs look like they’re pieces added on to the main face — that’s because they are! He then exports the outlines to SVG and erases the lines that separate the tabs from the sides, and hands these files off to his laser cutter. Voilà! A perfect tab-and-t-slot box, with only a little bit of hand-work. ([Alexandre] mentions that it’s all still very experimental and that you should check out your design before sending it to the laser.)
Homebrew laser cutters are nifty devices, but scorching your pals, burning the house down, or smelling up the neighborhood isn’t anyone’s idea of a great time. Lets face it. A 60-watt laser that can cut plastics offers far more trouble than even the crankiest 3D-printers (unless, of course, our 3D printed spaghetti comes to life and decides to terrorize the neighborhood). Sure, a laser’s focused beam is usually pointed in the right direction while cutting, but even an unfocused beam that reflects off a shiny material can start fires. What’s more, since most materials burn, rather than simply melt, a host of awful fumes spew from every cut.
Despite the danger, the temptation to build one is irresistible. With tubes, power supplies, and water coolers now in abundance from overseas re-sellers, the parts are just a PayPal-push away from landing on our doorsteps. We’ve also seen a host of exciting builds come together on the dining room table. Our table could be riddled with laser parts too! After combing through countless laser build logs, I’ve yet to encounter the definitive guide that tells us how to take the proper first steps forward in keeping ourselves safe while building our own laser cutter. Perhaps that knowledge is implicit to the community, scattered on forums; or perhaps it’s learned by each brave designer on their own from one-too-many close calls. Neither of these options seems fair to the laser newb, so I decided to lay down the law here.