Iron Man costumes have been extremely popular lately and the number one question I am most often asked is "How can I add animatronics to my suit?" My friend Greg wanted to add animatronics to his MkIII fiberglass suit so he asked for my help and for this suit we went all out.
We wanted to add as many functions as seen in the movies as possible, which wasn't easy given that most of those sequences were not done using practical effects. The other issue was how should all of the functions be actuated? After considering several options we used RFID tags in the gloves to trigger the shoulder rocket pods, hip pods, forearm missile, back flaps and helmet. The helmet has wireless control via XBee radios. The boots light up and make sound while walking by using an infrared distance sensor in the boot to trigger the effect.
Here's a video that shows all of the suit functions-
This is certainly not an easy project but if you know your way around an Arduino and can wield a soldering iron this instructable will show you how to do it.
Be sure to click on any picture to get a larger version.
Update: I've also created an animatronics forum where people can go to get help with their costume and prop projects. I get so many messages for specific project help from people that I decided to create a dedicated forum where everyone can get help and share ideas!
Let's get started!
The suit is basically broken down into three systems: left side, right side and boots.
The left hand has two RFID tags that trigger programmed sequences for the helmet, hip pods and back flaps. The right hand RFID tags trigger programmed sequences for the forearm missile and shoulder rockets. The boots have an infrared sensor that triggers the boot lights and sound effect as soon as the boot is lifted from the ground.
The single most difficult thing about this build is that the suit fits like a glove- there's no room in it! The helmet has less than 1/2" of space around the head, there's about 1" depth for the shoulder rocket pods and the hip pod area has less than 1" depth available so the packaging of the mechanics and electronics is really tight. Another issue is that there's almost no flat surfaces so mounting servos and hardware gets really interesting.
The system is Arduino based and uses four ProMinis- one for each side, one for the boots and one in the helmet. Since we wanted the helmet to be easy to take on and off we decided to make it wireless using XBee radios to send the control signals. For the point to point wiring running from the electronics mounted in the back to the arms and feet we used Ethernet cables and jacks so they could be easily disconnected. The sound effects for the boots are handled by a WaveShield that sits on a Arduino Pro.
If you are not familiar with Arduino and XBee radios then please read through this instructable. It will explain a lot of the basics and you'll be up and running in no time!
Another issue with systems like this are the different voltage and current requirements so we thought it best to power the servos separately using AA batteries, primarily for ease of availability if the suit is to be worn at conventions.