Here's how to add lights, sound and action to your favorite Halloween project using the open source Arduino microcontroller. Arduino is easy to learn to use and it opens up a whole new world for costume builders and creature creators. If you want to learn how to connect wires, servos, LEDs and use sound effects to add that something special to your latest project then this is for you.

p { } I'll show you how to make a neat little compact Arduino servo controller board with built in servo connectors that is perfect for costuming and haunted house applications. There are multiple code examples, wiring diagrams and I'll show you how to connect sensors and even how to connect two controllers using wireless radios.

Here's a little movie clip of what is easily possible- an animatronic Predator cannon with laser sight, cannon firing sound and head tracking motion control.

Here's an Iron Man hand repulsor with servo to open the forearm missile compartment. Follow along and find out how to make your awesome costumes more awesome...

Update: My instructable for showing how to make an animatronic Stargate helmet is here-

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!

Note- While this instructable is written for the beginner, this tutorial assumes you know how to use a soldering iron and other assorted tools like wire strippers and wire cutters. Please be sure to take proper safety precautions, wear safety glasses when using cutting tools and have adequate ventilation when soldering. If you aren't yet comfortable soldering small surface mount components don't fret- I've posted links in the reference section that will help you become a soldering champ in no time.

Step 1: First You Need an Arduino

Arduino? What exactly is Arduino?

Arduino is an open source microcontroller- essentially it is a small computer with an easy to use cross platform programming language. It allows you to create interactive objects based on sensory inputs (physical computing.) You can use it to do something simple like make an LED fade or have a servo move when you push a button or have it do something very complex like control a robot by processing sensor inputs, send the inputs to a computer over a wireless network and then send commands back to the robot. The applications are really limited only by your imagination and there are thousands of examples of cool projects all over the Web. There are several books about Arduino and its capabilities and I've listed a few in the reference section.

Which Arduino to use?

There are several variations of the Arduino controller available so which one do you use? It depends on your application. Some have more input pins than others if you need a lot of sensor inputs. For the purposes of this instructable you really can use any Arduino you like as the information presented applies to most every version. Here is a spreadsheet that shows most of the current variations available-

If you are going to use an Arduino Uno or Mega or any Arduino that has built in USB then you can skip to the getting started section.

Building a servo board

Since my focus is mainly on costume building I decided to use the Sparkfun Arduino Pro Mini and then build a compact servo application board for it that has multiple servo outputs, analog inputs and digital outputs. I also added a socket for an Adafruit Xbee wireless radio adapter as well as a charging circuit for a single cell LiPo battery to power the controller.

The reasons I really like the Pro Mini are its very small form factor, low cost and low power requirements. It operates on 3.3V, which means it can be powered by a single LiPo cell and that makes it easy when connecting sensors that run on 3.3V.

The latest version servo board has eight servo outputs, four digital outputs and six analog inputs. The servo outputs are also digital outputs- they're just configured to make it really easy to connect hobby servos. The earlier version seen in the photos has six servo outputs. Each servo output has three pins- ground, power and signal. The analog inputs are configured the same way- each input has three pins- ground, power and signal. This configuration makes it super easy to connect individual sensors. The board measures 1.75" x 2.30" so it's pretty small.

The board has a circuit for charging the LiPo cell that powers the controller. There is a mini USB port for 5v input power. Simply connect the battery and then plug in a USB cable and the battery will automatically charge. There is a charging indicator- the LED is on when the battery is charging and then it will automatically turn off when the battery is fully charged.

The mini USB port will also power the controller, even without a battery connected. The mini USB port is only used as a power source connector while charging or during times when a LiPo battery is not available- there is no data transmission using the mini USB port and you are limited by the amount of power a USB port can provide.

Code is uploaded to the controller using a USB to serial adapter (more on this later.) This adapter can also power the controller over USB without the need to connect the battery. This comes in really handy when you're testing code and you want to power the controller without having to connect the LiPo battery.

I'm providing all the necessary EAGLE files so people can modify the design to suit their own needs.

EAGLE can be downloaded here- http://www.cadsoftusa.com/

WOW It's fun~!Like it
<p>Okay I have no idea how to even get half of the things you used there, but I LOVE LOVE LOVE the Predator costume and I'm going to a costume party in May and Im wondering what it would cost me to have you do those things for me? It would be awesome! Seriously! I'd be the coolest girl there for sure! And/or maybe you can just make some nice sound and lightning effects for me if that would be easier? Please let me know and send me an email to Maria.marlean@gmail.com</p>
Sorry but I can't take on any more work right now!
I am interested in buying a Predator cannon with head tracking movement so I can put it in my bio helmet my email address is joe.r.moreno.1969@gmail.com if anyone has one for sale I will really appreciate it thank you
<p>hello honus , is it possible to have the plan and component name for the hand repulsor , please , thanks my mail , leeloan@hotmail.com</p>
I'm not sure I understand. Everything you need is shown in the instructable.
<p>hello honus , is it possible to have full plan and component for build the hand repulsor ? as i'm not expert electronic but will try to buy and build it myself , my mail leeloan@hotmail.com</p>
Hi man. That canon is awesome. Would you be able to make the basic assembly as shown in the 15 steps. I will build into medi pack and add the canon onto the white bracketing<br>I have a suit and would love this accessory
Thanks- glad you like it! I'm sorry but I can't take on any more work right now.
My suit
My suit
And we'll paid for your time. No rush at all for finished article
Awesome stuff. Can't believe I haven't discovered your stuff sooner. Do you have a email contact?<br>What is the best way to get your some of your pcb boards made? servo, transistor, led boards.
Oh and just with the servo and the blinking LEDs, nothing else
You mean like in Step 7? You can add another servo to any digital output pin and then just copy the code for the existing servo and change the output pin number.
Ah ok cheers
I like this a lot thanks for posting! Can someone tell me how I could add another servo to it, on the same breadboard?
<p>HI, you mentioned possibly building and assembling an Arduino animatronics board at a price. I'm not sure if this is something i could successfully build on my own, but I would be interested in building an adruino board with an Xbee chip that would power my repulsors and Unibeam with sound, helmet opening/closing with eyes lit up flickering when closed, and mini gun movement (spinning and movement tracking for my War Machine costume, I would be really interested in getting some pricing on what it would cost to build. If that is something you may have time or be interested in building, please let me know. Sincerely, ~greg my email is thegovernor08@yahoo.com</p><p>And thanks again for all of the helpful information.</p>
Honus, <br><br> Absolutely amazing work and I want to thank you very much for all the effort that has gone into this as well as taking and answering questions and comments! <br> I am just getting started with arduino and hope you can help me if at all possible. I'm planning a project for Halloween that includes a &quot;Nullifier Ray&quot; attached to the ceiling. I would like to have the body of the ray drop (tilt) down from level with the ceiling, and swing (pan) to the right to point at an object on a table. Then, I'd like the barrel to begin to spin and ultimately activate several super bright LEDs to simulate a &quot;blast&quot; from the ray. Sound would be great but isn't necessary. <br> Does this sound possible for a beginner such as myself and if so, would it be possible for you to help me work parts of your code to make it happen? <br> Thank you for any advice or help you can provide. I'm overwhelmed by all the information in this instructable!
Thanks! Of course your project is possible to do and I'm happy to help. Just work up a drawing or schematic with the specifics of what you want it to do and message me. The important things you need to figure out is the range of movement you need, how heavy it will be and how you want to power and activate it.
<p>Thank you for all the time you out into this, especially the purchase links. I'll be sure to share projects that result from the info.</p>
<p>Honus,</p><p>I'm wondering if I need a voltage regulator with the Pro Mini. Reading on the Arduino website, it says:</p><p>&quot;The Arduino Pro Mini can be powered with an FTDI cable or breakout board <br> connected to its six pin header, or with a regulated 3.3V or 5V supply <br>(depending on the model) on the Vcc pin. There is a voltage regulator on <br> board so it can accept voltage up to 12VDC. If you're supplying <br>unregulated power to the board, be sure to connect to the &quot;RAW&quot; pin on <br>not VCC.&quot;</p><p>I'm trying to figure out how to connect a G4 LED light which is rated to 9-15V DC to the Pro Mini to use in my IM gloves with a flex sensor to turn them on and off. I'm testing with my mega 2560 and have the flex sensor figured out but am trying to figure out how I am supposed to connect the light and the flex sensor and the battery to the pro mini. It sounds like I should be able to use an E23A battery which is 12 volts, but I don't want to fry the board, and have no idea how to wire all of these together as I'm just getting started with the electronics stuff. Any hints?</p>
There's a few different ways you can do this. You could use a 7805 voltage regulator to drop the voltage from your battery to 5V to power the ProMini and connect it to the VCC pin ( assuming you have the 5V version ProMini ) if you're worried about frying it. Some batteries are rated at maybe 12V but at full charge they can overshoot this by a fair amount. <br><br>Then you can also connect your 12V battery to your LED light using a transistor to turn it on and off- the ProMini will not be able to provide enough current to drive it so it cannot be directly connected to an output pin. You can use something like a TIP120 transistor to turn the LED on and off. <br><br>Just let me know if you need a wiring diagram! It's pretty simple to do. :)
<p>Hmm. Well, I bought 4 of the 3.3 volt Pro Minis to use in various parts of the suit, but may be able to return them to SparkFun as they haven't been opened. I got them because I figured fewer batteries to power the boards would save space. Would you recommend doing that or is there a workaround? And a diagram would be awesome! Can't tell you how many times I've poured over your tutorial and am just amazed at what you've done. </p>
<p>You can still use the 3.3V ProMinis- just connect the power out from the regulator to the RAW input. I do this all the time since I run servos with a ProMini from single power source. I'll get you a wiring diagram asap.</p>
<p>Cool. Thanks Honus.</p>
<p>Here you go. Just let me know if this doesn't make sense!</p>
<p> Thanks Honus. You are awesome! It totally makes sense.</p>
<p>Thanks to you I got the sensor, G4 light, and pro mini all working off that little 12V A23 battery. Thank you! Thank you! I had issues with the board not wanting to talk to my laptop to upload my sketch, and realized it was the cable of all things. The first 2 I tried wouldn't allow an upload, the third and 4th ones did. Did my first through-hole soldering to get wires hooked up.</p>
<p>Awesome! So happy you got it to work! :)</p>
<p>Wow awesome Instructable! very nice Project! </p><p>Do you have a Video of it working in final state? :-)</p><p>vlg Stefan</p>
<p>Thanks- glad you like it! </p><p>Video of what in it's final state?</p>
<p>I meant the Predator Gun and Helmet with painting and Costume ;)</p>
Have a look here-<br> <a href="https://www.instructables.com/id/Building-a-killer-Predator-costume/" rel="nofollow">https://www.instructables.com/id/Building-a-killer-Predator-costume/</a>
<p>Cool! Thank you!</p>
Wondering if there is another place to buy your PCB? <br>
You can upload the board files to several different PCB manufacturers and have them made. I haven't made any more of them as I'm going to make a simpler version of the board- I've found I rarely use the rechargeable LiPo and I'd like it to be a bit smaller to make it easier to fit in my projects.
Honus, <br>If you aren't using the LiPos any more, what are you using?
I've been using NiMh cells to power everything. Much more durable inside costumes. The biggest problem with using LiPo cells (especially when using multiple cells, like 2s packs) is regulating them in regards to low voltage cutoff since RC packs don't usually have any type of protection circuitry. There are also severe shipping restrictions on LiPo packs so if you have to ship a costume somewhere it's a real pain.<br><br>Unless you have a specific application where you need the energy density of LiPo cells due to weight and/or space restrictions they're just not worth the hassle in my opinion.
Great! <br>Favorited!
Thanks for this great instructable! <br> <br>I'm planning a very similar thing as the Predator shoulder cannon and have one question: <br> <br>I'm not much of a Wii gamer so I don't know exactly how a nunchuck behaves. But wouldn't the motion sensor still also be triggered when you move and walk around and not only when you turn your head? How did you make the cannon only follow your heads movement no matter where your whole body moves and turns to?
Thanks- glad you like it!<br><br>The sensor from the nunchuck is an accelerometer and it's mounted in the helmet so it only senses when the helmet moves (with respect to gravity.) It only senses when the helmet tilts ( X and Y axis ) so you can walk around all you want without it being affecting. Also have a look at the FAQ section- I explain a bit more there.
I looked at the FAQ first, but didn't understand it all. My first idea before reading your instructable was actually using two gyros (one on the head and one in the cannons base) like you described but that seemed very complicated to me. I think I'll try it with your method and experiment a bit :). <br> <br>I don't want to use a Nunchuk since there are some affordable accelerometer modules out there like this one: <br>http://www.ebay.de/itm/ADXL345-3-axis-Digital-Tilt-Sensors-Acceleration-Module-For-Arduino-/181185887400?pt=Bauteile&amp;hash=item2a2f853ca8 <br> <br>Or would it be advisable to get one with a gyro like this? <br>http://www.ebay.de/itm/MPU-6050-3-Axis-Gyro-Gyroscope-Accelerometer-Sensor-Module-for-Arduino-/181018466904?pt=Bauteile&amp;hash=item2a258a9a58
Pretty much any of the Analog Devices ADXL accelerometers would work. I really don't see the need for a gyro in this application but if you want to incorporate one to try and improve the rotation performance then I say go for it! :)
What would it take to adapt this setup to be used in your Horus helmet rig? I just ordered an arduino board to get started and would love to be able to track my own head movements to the bird's head.
I've had a few people ask about this. The problem is that you can't really move your head that much while wearing the Horus helmet. The great bit with the Horus helmet is that your head stays still and ONLY the bird head moves. The lower part of the Horus helmet really does not move- the movie helmets only had a few degrees of rotation between the lower part of the helmet and the neck collar.
hi um i was wondering about animatronics and what i would need to go to college for in order to buld,design,and program animatronics and i noticed what you made was cool. so do you have any tips on what schools to go to or what programs to take?
I would look at mechanical engineering, robotics, 3D design/CAD, electronics and classes that involve physical computing. Animatronics covers a wide variety of disciplines- molding, casting, fabrication, mechanics, hydraulics, pneumatics, electronics, programming, etc. There's a lot of problem solving that involves thinking about how you want things to move and then making mechanisms that fit within a limited volume.<br> <br> There are classes and workshops for Arduino to get your feet wet in the electronics area and Stan Winston School has videos you can watch that cover all aspects of creature fabrication. They specifically have a couple of videos by Rick Lazzarini of The Character Shop that covers radio control animatronics. Check it out here-&nbsp;<a href="http://www.stanwinstonschool.com" rel="nofollow">http://www.stanwinstonschool.com</a><br> <br> Rick Lazzarini also teaches people here- <a href="http://www.animatronicsinstitute.com/" rel="nofollow">http://www.animatronicsinstitute.com/</a><br> <br> If you have any other questions just let me know!
Thanks so much...all of this makes alot of sense...I know what I want but no idea how to get there and have never done anything like this before. Sadly I have not even found anything prebuilt out there that does what I want either (my 2nd resort is always to cannablize anything premade). <br>I think it would be amazing if the eyes lit up when the sound effect when off...you are going to have to email me or else this post will get very long, but a list of parts would be a fantastic start. As far as sounds I would love a Wolf howl and growl/snarl too but I may be well overstepping my novice skills
It's definitely possible to do everything you want. :) just message me your email and I'll help you put it together.

About This Instructable




Bio: I'm a former bicycle industry designer turned professional jeweler. I like working with my hands and am happiest when I'm in the shop ... More »
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