A man next to a robot with animatronic eyes and a CRT display showing an audio waveform

Animatronic Alexa Gives Amazon’s Echo A Face

Today, we’re surrounded by talking computers and clever AI systems that a few decades ago only existed in science fiction. But they definitely looked different back then: instead of a disembodied voice like ChatGPT, classic sci-fi movies typically featured robots that had something resembling a human body, with an actual face you could talk to. [Thomas] over at Workshop Nation thought this human touch was missing from his Amazon Echo, and therefore set out to give Alexa a face in a project he christened Alexatron.

The basic idea was to design a device that would somehow make the Echo’s voice visible and, at the same time, provide a pair of eyes that move in a lifelike manner. For the voice, [Thomas] decided to use the CRT from a small black-and-white TV. By hooking up the Echo’s audio signal to the TV’s vertical deflection circuitry, he turned it into a rudimentary oscilloscope that shows Alexa’s waveform in real time. An acrylic enclosure shields the CRT’s high voltage while keeping everything inside clearly visible.

To complete the face, [Thomas] made a pair of animatronic eyes according to a design by [Will Cogley]. Consisting of just a handful of 3D-printed parts and six servos, it forms a pair of eyes that can move in all directions and blink just like a real person. Thanks to a “person sensor,” which is basically a smart camera that detects faces, the eyes will automatically follow anyone standing in front of the system. The eyes are closed when the system is dormant, but they will open and start looking for faces nearby when the Echo hears its wake word, just like a human or animal responds to its name.

The end result absolutely looks the part: we especially like the eye tracking feature, which gives it that human-like appearance that [Thomas] was aiming for. He isn’t the first person trying to give Alexa a face, though: there are already cute Furbys and creepy bunnies powered by Amazon’s AI, and we’ve even seen Alexa hooked up to an animatronic fish.

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Realistic Animatronic Eyes Are An Easy DIY Build

It’s not Halloween yet, but if you’re planning a technically-complicated costume, it might serve you well to start building now. To that end, here’s a guide from [Ikkalebob] on how to produce a compact animatronic eye mechanism.

The eye is inspired by mechanisms used in professional animatronics. However, that doesn’t mean it’s hard to build. Complex machining is done away with in favor of readily reproducible 3D-printed components. The eyes are able to look in different directions and can move realistically, and the build includes working eyelids that have a great blinking action to them that feels very natural. An Arduino Uno is charged with running the eyes, paired with a bunch of hobby servos and an Adafruit PCA9685 servo driver. A hefty 5V, 4 amp power supply is on hand to deliver enough juice so the servos move smoothly without stuttering.

It’s the kind of thing that’s perfect for your spooky familiar, or installing eyes in the back of your head. It would be perfect to hide behind a window or in the bushes, too. Video after the break.

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Peep These Ultra-Real 3D-Printed Eyeballs

For humans, life is in the eyes. Same deal with automatons. The more realistic the eyes, the more lifelike (and potentially disturbing) the automaton is. [lkkalebob] knows this. [lkkalebob] is so dedicated to ocular realism in his ultra-real eyeballs that he’s perfected a way to make the minuscule veins from a whisper of cotton thread.

First he prints an eyeball blank out of ABS. Why ABS, you ask? It has a semi-translucence that makes it look that much more real. Also, it’s easier to sand than PLA. After vigorous sanding, it’s time to paint the iris and the apply the veins. [lkkalebob] shaves strands of lint from red cotton thread and applies it with tweezers to smears of super glue.

Here comes our favorite part. To make the whole process easier, [lkkalebob] designed a jig system that takes the eyeballs all the way through the stages of fabrication and into the sockets of the automaton. The hollow eye cups pressure fit on to prongs that hold it in place. This also gives the eyeball a shaft that can be chucked into a drill for easy airbrushing. In the build video after the break, he uses the eye-jig to cast a silicone mold, which he then uses to seal the eyes in resin.

Don’t have a printer or any desire to make human automata? It doesn’t take much to make mesmerizing mechanisms.

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Eye See You.

So you want to add animated eyes to your next robot? Now you can.. Using ping-pong balls, some scrap plastic and 6 servo motors [Chris] has created these animatronic eyes along with some nifty animated eyebrows. To get motion emulating realism [Chris] created a 2 axis gimbal using plastic rings and some nuts and bolts. The eyes (ping-pong balls) are held in the gimbal and actuated using two servos each. The eyebrows use another pair of servos and some tubing covered in electrical tape as the actual eyebrow.

[Chris] Kindly goes through the entire build process including information for beginners such as servo motor control. The whole thing is controlled using a PIC 18F452 and circuit diagrams and code are all available on the site. Check out the video after the break to see the eyes in action, you will also find more videos describing the build process if you follow through the tutorial.

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