While the Hackaday reader likely knows all about Nikola Tesla and his incredible body of work, the same can’t necessarily be said for the average passerby. Even a child can be counted on to know the names of Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell, but as [Daniel Springwald] laments, the name Tesla is more often associated with the line of sleek electric cars than the brilliant Serbian inventor they were named for.
Hoping to level the playing field a bit, [Daniel] has come up with a way for the great man to plead his case. This custom designed robotic facsimile of the alternating current aficionado is able to speak about Tesla’s life and accomplishments in an interactive, if rather creepy, format.
There isn’t a lot of technical detail on this one yet, but what we can glean from the image gallery and video below is that there are an incredible number of OpenSCAD-designed 3D printed parts knocking around inside Mr. Tesla’s head. Add into the mix a healthy dose of springs, linkages, and servos, and you’re just a mustache short of a museum exhibit.
Most of the animatronic projects we’ve covered in the past have been based on animals, so it’s certainly interesting to see what goes into approximating human mannerisms mechanically. We’re not sure if this talking Tesla head will help educate the masses, but it’s certainly an impressive technical achievement.
Continue reading “Animatronic Nikola Tesla Sets The Record Straight”
Join us on Wednesday, May 20 at noon Pacific for the Animatronics Hack Chat with Will Cogley!
While robots have only a made a comparatively recent appearance on the technology timeline, people have been building mechanical simulations of living organisms for a long time indeed. For proof, one needs only to look back at the automatons built by clever craftsmen to amuse and delight their kings and queens. The clockwork mechanisms that powered fanciful birds and animals gave way to the sophisticated dolls and mannequins that could perform complex tasks like writing and performing music, all with the goal of creating something that looked and acted like it was alive.
Once the age of electronics came around, the springs that drove the early automatons and the cams that programmed their actions were replaced by motors and control circuits. New materials made once-clunky mechanisms finer and more precise, sensors and servos made movements more lifelike, and the age of animatronics was born.
Animatronics have since become a huge business, mostly in the entertainment industry. From robotic presidents to anachronistic dinosaurs to singing rodents designed to sell pizza, animatronics have been alternately entertaining and terrifying us for decades. The fact that they’re not “real” robots doesn’t make the melding of mechanical, electrical, and computer systems into a convincing representation of a real being any less challenging. Will Cogley has more than a few amazing animatronic designs under his belt, some of which we’ve featured on Hackaday. From hearts to hands to slightly terrifying mouths, Will puts a ton of work into his mechanisms, and he’ll stop by the Hack Chat to tell us all about designing and building animatronics.
Our Hack Chats are live community events in the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, May 20 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have got you down, we have a handy time zone converter.
Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io. You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.
Continue reading “Animatronics Hack Chat”
Of the 43 muscles that comprise the human face, only a few are actually important to speaking. And yet replicating the movements of the mouth by mechanical means always seems to end up only partly convincing. Servos and linkages can only approximate the complex motions the lips, cheeks, jaw, and tongue are capable of. Still, there are animatronics out there that make a good go at the job, of which this somewhat creepy mechanical mouth is a fine example.
Why exactly [Will Cogley] felt the need to build a mechanical maw with terrifying and fairly realistic fangs is anyone’s guess. Recalling his lifelike disembodied animatronic heart build, it just seems like he pursues these builds for the challenge of it all. But if you thought the linkages of the heart were complex, wait till you see what’s needed to make this mouth move realistically. [Will] has stuffed this pie hole with nine servos, all working together to move the jaw up and down, push and pull the corners of the mouth, raise and lower the lips, and bounce the tongue around.
It all seems very complex, but [Will] explains that he actually simplified the mechanical design to concentrate more on the software side, which is a text-to-speech movement translator. Text input is translated to phonemes, each of which corresponds to a mouth shape that the servos can create. It’s pretty realistic although somewhat disturbing, especially when the mouth is placed in an otherwise cuddly stuffed bear that serenades you from the nightstand; check out the second video below for that.
[Will] has been doing a bang-up job on animatronics lately, from 3D-printed eyeballs to dexterous mechatronic hands. We’re looking forward to whatever he comes up with next — we think.
Continue reading “This Animatronic Mouth Mimics Speech With Servos”
Even in a world that is as currently far off the rails as this one is, we’re going to go out on a limb and say that this machine learning, servo-powered prayer bot is going to be the strangest thing you see today. We’re happy to be wrong about that, though, and if we are, please send links.
“The Prayer,” as [Diemut Strebe]’s work is called, may look strange, but it’s another in a string of pieces by various artists that explores just what it means to be human at a time when machines are blurring the line between them and us. The hardware is straightforward: a silicone rubber representation of a human nasopharyngeal cavity, servos for moving the lips, and a speaker to create the vocals. Those are generated by a machine-learning algorithm that was trained against the sacred texts of many of the world’s major religions, including the Christian Bible, the Koran, the Baghavad Gita, Taoist texts, and the Book of Mormon. The algorithm analyzes the structure of sacred verses and recreates random prayers and hymns using Amazon Polly that sound a lot like the real thing. That the lips move in synchrony with the ersatz devotions only adds to the otherworldliness of the piece. Watch it in action below.
We’ve featured several AI-based projects that poke at some interesting questions. This kinetic sculpture that uses machine learning to achieve balance comes to mind, while AI has even been employed in the search for spirits from the other side.
Continue reading “Silicone And AI Power This Prayerful Robotic Intercessor”
At this point, society has had over three decades to get used to the Blue Man Group. Maybe that’s why we’re less disturbed by [Graham Jessup]’s face-tracking Watchman than we should be. Either that, or it’s because it reminds us of Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Frankly, this is just way too cool to be dismissed out of hand as creepy.
The Watchman finds faces via video feed from a camera module positioned in his forehead as a third eye. The camera is connected to a Pi Zero that’s wearing a Google AIY vision bonnet. The Pi translates the face locations into servo positions and feeds them to an Arduino UNO located in the frontal lobe region to move the eyeballs and lids accordingly.
[Graham] had a bit of trouble with tracking accuracy at first, so he temporarily replaced the pupils with 5 mW lasers and calibrated them by tracking a printed stand-in of his head to avoid burning out his retinas.
This project builds on previous work by [Tjahzi] and the animatronic eye movements of [Will Cogley]. We can only imagine how awesome the Watchman would look with a pair of [Will]’s incredibly realistic eyeballs. Either way, we would totally trust the Watchman to defend our modest supply of toilet paper in the coming weeks. Check out a brief demo after the break, and a whole lot more clips on [Graham]’s site.
Continue reading “Watchman Watches You Watching Him Watch You”
Fair warning for the squeamish: some versions of [Will Cogley]’s animatronic heart are realistic enough that you might not want to watch the video below. That’d be a shame though, because he really put a lot of effort into the build, and the results have a lot to teach about mimicking the movements of living things.
As for why one would need an animatronic heart, we’re not sure. [Will] mentions no specific use case for it, although we can think of a few. With the Day of Compulsory Romance fast approaching, the fabric-wrapped version would make a great gift for the one who stole your heart, while the silicone-enrobed one could be used as a movie prop or an awesome prank. Whatever the reason, [Will]’s build is a case study in incremental development. He started with a design using a single continuous-rotation servo, which powered four 3D-printed paddles from a common crank. The four paddles somewhat mimicked the movements of the four chambers of the heart, but the effect wasn’t quite convincing. The next design used two servos and complex parallelogram linkages to expand each side of the heart in turn. It was closer, but still not quite right.
After carefully watching footage of a beating heart, [Will] decided that his mechanism needed to imitate the rapid systolic contraction and slow diastolic expansion characteristic of a real heart. To achieve this, his final design has three servos plus an Arduino for motion control. Slipped into a detailed silicone jacket, the look is very realistic. Check out the video below if you dare.
We’ve seen plenty of animatronic body parts before, from eyes to hands to entire faces. This might be the first time we’ve seen an animatronic version of an internal organ, though.
Continue reading “Be Still, My Animatronic Heart”
[Will] wanted to build some animatronic eyes that didn’t require high-precision 3D printing. He wound up with a forgiving design that uses an Arduino and six servo motors. You can see the video of the eyes moving around in the video below.
The bill of materials is pretty simple and features an Arduino, a driver board, and a joystick. The 3D printing parts are easy to print with no supports, and will work with PLA. Other than opening up holes there wasn’t much post-processing required, though he did sand the actual eyeballs which sounds painful.
Continue reading “This Arduino Keeps Its Eyes On You”