Taking Halloween to the Next Level with JARVIS

As an avid “Haunt Hacker”, [Steve Koci] knows a thing or two about bringing high-tech to Halloween. Wanting to build a mobile robot that could accompany him to conventions as a demonstration of the sort of animatronic mechanisms and controls he uses, he came up with the idea of JARVIS. The original plan was to make a more traditional robot, but with the addition of an animated skull and some Steampunk-style embellishments, JARVIS is definitely the kind of thing you don’t want to run into on an October night.

Construction of JARVIS started in 2016, after [Steve] saw the Agent 390 tracked robot chassis from ServoCity. With the addition of extra wheels and a custom track, he converted the Agent 390 into a triangular track arrangement which he said he’s had his eye on since “Johnny 5” sported them back in Short Circuit.

There’s a dizzying array of electronics required to make JARVIS move and talk, not least of which is the “Banshee” prop controller. This device is made to simplify the construction of animatronic heads and provides not only organic-looking randomized movement but automatic jaw synchronization. Using a wireless audio connection, [Steve] is able to talk through a speaker mounted on the chest of the robot, while the skull automatically matches its mouth to his speech in real time. Combined with the GoPro in a two-axis gimbal, this allows JARVIS to function as a fairly robust telepresence platform. Much to the delight/horror of those it’s used on.

Getting JARVIS to move requires not only the two beefy motors and a dedicated controller supplied by the Agent 390 platform, but no less than thirteen servos for the head, arms, and grippers. There’s even a linear actuator used to tilt the skull up and down, presumably for terrifying people of various heights and ages. JARVIS even has a pair of Adafruit’s electronic eyes mounted in the skull, as if you thought you would be spared the horror of seeing glowing eyes following you in the dark.

To control all this hardware, [Steve] uses two RC transmitters in conjunction with a smartphone displaying the video feed coming from the GoPro. It takes some serious finger-gymnastics to get JARVIS doing its thing, which [Steve] says he’s still trying to master.

As many projects that have graced these pages can attest to, hackers seem to delight in coming up with new and exciting ways to terrify the young and old alike. Sometimes they can’t even wait until Halloween.

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Live out your inner animist with animatronic cat ears

While having a great white shark as your spirit animal may sound cool, we’ve found walking around in public wearing a gigantic set of mechanical jaws to be a bit of a hindrance. [abetusk] doesn’t have that problem; he can wear his awesome animatronic cat ears anywhere he pleases.

The build was inspired by these extremely Japanese animatronic ears loaded with EEG hardware to read the emotional state of the wearer. [abetusk] decided that tearing apart some brain scanning hardware was too much work for not enough benefit, so he decided servos controlled by push buttons would be just fine.

On the electronic side of the build, servos attached to a head band are controlled by an ATtiny13. A single button goes through three states for the ears: a long button press is surprise, a tap followed by a long hold is angry or sad, and tapping three times is an ‘ear wink.’ All of the code is up on GitHub, and you can check out these cat ear emotions with [abetusk]’s lovely assistant in the video after the break.

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