Pixar Style Robots Are Treasure Trove Of Building Tricks

[Alonso Martinez] is an artist working on virtual characters at Pixar so it’s no wonder that his real life robots, Mira and Gertie,  have personalities that make them seem like they jumped straight out of a Pixar movie. But what we really like are the tricks he’s used inside to bring them to life that are sure to get reused for the same or other things.

Mira's head rotation mechanism
Mira’s head rotation mechanism

For example, Mira’s head can rotate in yaw, pitch and roll. To figure out how to make it do that he recalled having a joystick called the Microsoft Sidewinder Pro that had force feedback. That meant it might have had motors in line with the motions, much like what he wanted. To see how it worked, he bought one on eBay, took it apart, and improved on it to come up with his own design. But besides making use of the design in joysticks and heads, we can imagine it used to make robot eyeballs rotate in their sockets too. And as a side note, he’s running the robot off a Raspberry Pi, but notice the clever, space-saving way he’s mounted the whole mechanism to the Pi’s four mounting holes.

What also piqued our interest are the two tiny servos used in the head mechanism, two HD-DSM44 digital servos. These are even smaller than Tower Pro SG90s and with the added advantage of being metal geared.

Gertie's delta jumping legs
Gertie’s delta jumping legs

To make the eyes blink he had to overcome the fact the head was a thin-walled sphere sliding over the body, and the eyes had to fit in the thin wall without contacting the body. His solution was to make them out of OLED screens with acrylic hemispheres for the protruding eyeballs. The circuit boards talk to the screens through ribbon cables that are around 32 connections per inch, which made for some careful soldering. And to further create a thin profile he even sanded the solder points flat.

His other robot, the yellow and green Gertie, jumps to move around and its internal mechanism is also a joy to examine. To swivel and hop, it uses much the same design as a delta 3D printer, with three legs that can move the upper body in any direction, and compress like a spring before leaping. We like how his method for determining the appropriate thickness of 3D printed PLA parts such that they wouldn’t break was simply trial an error, taking advantage of the rapid prototyping possible with 3D printers. He did cheat on one main part of each leg though, and that was to go with RC car tie rods for the lower half of each leg — but we won’t tell on him if you won’t.

And that’s only a small sample of the neat tips and tricks you’ll find in the video below (they start looking inside the robots at 7:35).

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Pixar-style lamp project is a huge animatronics win

pixar-lamp-animated-procedurally

Even with the added hardware that lamp still looks relatively normal. But its behavior is more than remarkable. The lamp interacts with people in an incredibly lifelike way. This is of course inspired by the lamp from Pixar’s Luxo Jr. short film. But there’s a little bit of most useless machine added just for fun. If you try to shut it off the lamp shade is used to flip that switch on the base back on.

[Shanshan Zhou], [Adam Ben-Dror], and [Joss Doggett] developed the little robot as a class project at the Victoria University of Wellington. It uses six servo motors driven by an Arduino to give the inanimate object the ability to move as if it’s alive. There is no light in the lamp as the bulb has been replaced by a webcam. The image is monitored using OpenCV to include face tracking as one of the behaviors. All of the animations are procedural, making use of Processing to convey movement instructions to the Arduino board.

Do not miss seeing the video embedded after the break.

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Anthropomorphizing an Ikea lamp (like Pixar but in real life)

ArduinoArts is animating an inexpensive Ikea lamp as a contest entry. Seeed Studio’s Toy Hacking Contest calls for the competitors to work their magic using the Grove Toy Kit, which is an extensible sensor connection system for the Arduino. Most of the items in the kit were used to add interactivity to the lamp. Check out the video after the break to see the motion that two servos provide. The lamp can move its shade back and forth as if shaking its head, and the whole arm assembly can rotate in relation to the base. The sensors detect when you’ve repositioned the lamp head and the device will yell at you if it doesn’t appreciate its new pose. It also reacts to noise and motion, switching on the LED that replaces the original bulb in both cases, and asking: “Are you Sarah Connor”  when motion is detected. These basic modifications really make for some fun animatronic behavior.

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BAMF2010: Look sir, droids!

Ask any engineer what originally sparked their interest in technology, and almost universally the response will be a Hollywood film or TV robot — Star Wars’ R2-D2, the B9 robot from Lost in Space, or Short Circuit’s Johnny 5, to name a few. Engineers need a creative outlet too, and some pay homage to their inspirations by building elaborate reproductions. At this year’s Maker Faire, droid-builders had their own corner in the center hall, their work ranging from humble craft materials to ’bots surpassing their film counterparts in detail and workmanship.

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