Kinetic Wire Animatronics Bend It Like Disney

The House of Mouse has been at the forefront of entertainment technology from its very beginnings in an old orange grove in Anaheim. Disney Imagineers invented the first modern animatronics in the 1960s and they’ve been improving the technology ever since, often to the point of being creepy.

But the complicated guts of an animatronic are sometimes too much for smaller characters, so in the spirit of “cheaper, faster, better”, Disney has developed some interesting techniques for animated characters made from wire. Anyone who has ever played with a [Gumby] or other posable wireframe toys knows that eventually, the wire will break, and even before then will plastically deform so it can’t return to its native state.

Wires used as the skeletons of animated figures can avoid that fate if they are preloaded with special shapes, or “templates,” that redirect the forces of bending. The Disney team came up with a computational model to predict which template shapes could be added to each wire to make it bend to fit the animation needs without deforming. A commercially available CNC wire bender installs the templates that lie in the plane of the wire, while coiled templates are added later with a spring-bending jig.

The results are impressive — the wire skeleton of an animated finger can bend completely back on itself with no deformation, and the legs of an animated ladybug can trace complicated paths and propel the beast with only servos pulling cables on the jointless legs. The video below shows the method and the animated figures; we can imagine that figures animated using this technique will start popping up at Disney properties eventually.

From keeping guests safe from robotic harm to free-flying robotic aerialists, it seems like the Disney Imagineers have a hardware hacker’s paradise at the Happiest Place on Earth.

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Wonderful Sculptural Circuits hide Interactive Synthesizers

When it rains, it pours (wonderful electronic sculpture!). The last time we posted about freeform circuit sculptures there were a few eye-catching comments mentioning other fine examples of the craft. One such artist is [Eirik Brandal], who has a large selection of electronic sculptures. Frankly, we’re in love.

A common theme of [Eirik]’s work is that each piece is a functional synthesizer or a component piece of a larger one. For instance, when installed the ihscale series uses PIR sensors to react together to motion in different quadrants of a room. And the es #17 – #19 pieces use ESP8266’s to feed the output of their individual signal generators into each other to generate one connected sound.

Even when a single sculpture is part of a series there is still striking variety in [Eirik]’s work. Some pieces are neat and rectilinear and obviously functional, while others almost looks like a jumble of components. Whatever the style we’ve really enjoyed pouring through the pages of [Eirik]’s portfolio. Most pieces have demo videos, so give them a listen!

If you missed the last set of sculptural circuits we covered this month, head on over and take a look at the flywire circuits of Mohit Bhoite.

Thanks [james] for the tip!

Flywire Circuits at the Next Level

The technique of assembling circuits without substrate goes by many names; you may know it as flywiring, deadbugging, point to point wiring, or freeform circuits. Sometimes this technique is used for practical purposes like fixing design errors post-production or escaping tiny BGA components (ok, that one might be more cool than practical). Perhaps our favorite use is to create art, and [Mohit Bhoite] is an absolute genius of the form. He’s so prolific that it’s difficult to point to a particular one of his projects as an exemplar, though he has a dusty blog we might recommend digging through [Mohit]’s Twitter feed and marveling at the intricate works of LEDs and precision-bent brass he produces with impressive regularity.

So where to begin? Very recently [Mohit] put together a small wheeled vehicle for persistence of vision drawing (see photo above). We’re pretty excited to see some more photos and videos he takes as this adorable little guy gets some use! Going a little farther back in time there’s this microcontroller-free LED scroller cube which does a great job showing off his usual level of fit and finish (detail here). If you prefer more LEDs there’s also this hexagonal display he whipped up. Or another little creature with seven segment displays for eyes. Got those? That covers (most) of his last month of work. You may be starting to get a sense of the quality and quantity on offer here.

We’ve covered other examples of similar flywired circuits before. Here’s one of [Mohit]’s from a few years ago. And another on an exquisite headphone amp encased in a block of resin. What about a high voltage Nixie clock that’s all exposed? And check out a video of the little persistence of vision ‘bot after the break.

Thanks [Robot] for reminding us that we hadn’t paid enough attention to [Mohit]’s wonderful work!

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On-Demand Paper Clips

3D Printers are great for printing out parts or items you need, but can they really help if you run out of paper clips? Yes, the all important and extremely overlooked bent metal fastener can put a serious damper on your day if not readily available. There is a solution to this problem, it’s called the Paper Clip Maximizer 1.0. The only consequence of using such a machine may be the destruction of mankind.

The machine takes a spool of wire and methodically bends it into a paper clip shape. Just like an extruder on a 3D Printer, there is a knurled drive wheel with a spring-loaded bearing pinching the wire. This drive wheel is powered by an RC servo that has been modified for continuous rotation. After the drive mechanism, the wire passes through a sturdy guide block. Upon exit, the wire finds the bending head, also powered by a servo. There is a bearing on the end of the bending head that is used to bend the wire around the guide block. After making several bends to form the paper clip, the bending head swings around to cut off the newly manufactured clip with an abrasive wheel. Unfortunately, this part of the process doesn’t work well. The cutoff wheel motor is powered directly by the Arduino that controls the entire machine, the power output of which is not enough to easily cut the wire. It can also leave a sharp burr on the cut wire which is not a great feature for paper clips to have. But we just see these as future fodder for hacking sessions!

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Helix Turning Tool Born From Necessity

helix turning tool

Sometimes while working on a project there comes a point where a specialized tool is needed. That necessary tool may or may not even exist. While [Fabien] was working on his DNA Lamp project he needed to bend a copper wire into a helical shape. Every one of us has wrapped a wire around a pencil and made a little springy thing at some point. While the diameter may have been constant, the turn spacing certainly was not. [Fabien] came up with a simple gizmo to solve that problem.

The tool utilizes an 8mm rod that will ensure the ID of the helix is indeed 8mm. We’ve already discussed that was the easy part. To make certain the turn spacing is not only consistent but also of the correct amount, a wooden frame is used. The frame has holes in it to allow the 8mm rod to pass through. Adjacent to those rod holes are much smaller holes just a bit larger than the copper wire that will become the helix. These holes are drilled at an angle to produce the correct turn spacing. [Fabien] figured out the correct angle by taking the desired turn spacing distance, helix diameter and wire diameter and plopping it in this formula:

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World Maker Faire: We annoy the DIWire crew

diwire

Last year at Maker Faire we ran into the folks from Pensa Labs, the crew behind the very cool DIWire CNC wire bender. They were back again in full force this year with a new, improved, and soon-to-be commercially launched wire bender.

The first time we saw the DIWire it was a very cool piece of kit, but something that might not hold up to the rigours of a production environment. The latest version, a 14×8.5×5.5 inch machine designed to be set into a table, allowing for rapid manufacturing of nearly any shape imaginable bent into 1/8″ and 1/16″ steel wire.

Making any shape with the DIWire is extremely simple: if you have an SVG file, just import it into the software, define a few points along a path, and slip in a length of wire. One of the guys from Pensa was able to re-create the Hackaday logo is a few minutes.

It’s an impressive piece of kit that a few makers, hackers, and architects are using to build structures that can’t be made any other way. The DIWire will soon be released to the public, so check out their site for updates.