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Arduino animatronics- make your awesome costumes more awesome!

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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-
http://www.instructables.com/id/Animatronic-Stargate-helmet/

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.

 
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thegovernor082 months ago

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

And thanks again for all of the helpful information.

Honus,

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!
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 "Nullifier Ray" 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 "blast" from the ray. Sound would be great but isn't necessary.
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?
Thank you for any advice or help you can provide. I'm overwhelmed by all the information in this instructable!
Honus (author)  The Tinkerers Apprentice3 months ago
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.
Partybot6 months ago

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.

TryChick7 months ago

Honus,

I'm wondering if I need a voltage regulator with the Pro Mini. Reading on the Arduino website, it says:

"The Arduino Pro Mini can be powered with an FTDI cable or breakout board
connected to its six pin header, or with a regulated 3.3V or 5V supply
(depending on the model) on the Vcc pin. There is a voltage regulator on
board so it can accept voltage up to 12VDC. If you're supplying
unregulated power to the board, be sure to connect to the "RAW" pin on
not VCC."

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?

Honus (author)  TryChick7 months ago
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.

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.

Just let me know if you need a wiring diagram! It's pretty simple to do. :)
TryChick Honus7 months ago

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.

Honus (author)  TryChick7 months ago

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.

TryChick Honus7 months ago

Cool. Thanks Honus.

Honus (author)  TryChick7 months ago

Here you go. Just let me know if this doesn't make sense!

LEDdiagram.jpg
TryChick Honus7 months ago

Thanks Honus. You are awesome! It totally makes sense.

TryChick TryChick7 months ago

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.

DSC_8667.jpegDSC_8666.jpeg
Honus (author)  TryChick7 months ago

Awesome! So happy you got it to work! :)

Stefan-Xp10 months ago

Wow awesome Instructable! very nice Project!

Do you have a Video of it working in final state? :-)

vlg Stefan

Honus (author)  Stefan-Xp10 months ago

Thanks- glad you like it!

Video of what in it's final state?

Stefan-Xp Honus10 months ago

I meant the Predator Gun and Helmet with painting and Costume ;)

Honus (author)  Stefan-Xp10 months ago
Stefan-Xp Honus10 months ago

Cool! Thank you!

bitbyte691 year ago
Wondering if there is another place to buy your PCB?
Honus (author)  bitbyte691 year ago
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.
TryChick Honus11 months ago
Honus,
If you aren't using the LiPos any more, what are you using?
Honus (author)  TryChick11 months ago
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.

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.
Raphango1 year ago
Great!
Favorited!
StrangeDos1 year ago
Thanks for this great instructable!

I'm planning a very similar thing as the Predator shoulder cannon and have one question:

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?
Honus (author)  StrangeDos1 year ago
Thanks- glad you like it!

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 :).

I don't want to use a Nunchuk since there are some affordable accelerometer modules out there like this one:
http://www.ebay.de/itm/ADXL345-3-axis-Digital-Tilt-Sensors-Acceleration-Module-For-Arduino-/181185887400?pt=Bauteile&hash=item2a2f853ca8

Or would it be advisable to get one with a gyro like this?
http://www.ebay.de/itm/MPU-6050-3-Axis-Gyro-Gyroscope-Accelerometer-Sensor-Module-for-Arduino-/181018466904?pt=Bauteile&hash=item2a258a9a58
Honus (author)  StrangeDos1 year ago
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! :)
Snarkticon1 year ago
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.
Honus (author)  Snarkticon1 year ago
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?
Honus (author)  MechAtronicsMan1 year ago
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.

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- http://www.stanwinstonschool.com

Rick Lazzarini also teaches people here- http://www.animatronicsinstitute.com/

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).
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
Honus (author)  spyderskiss1 year ago
It's definitely possible to do everything you want. :) just message me your email and I'll help you put it together.
Email me at spyderskiss@gmail.com
I found an online dealer who had the led lights prewired to 9voltr cap with switch so I have them but will still need help on the sound and synching the eyes up to the sound. I am very tempted to just order an animated halloween prop that seems to have most of what I want..but would need to disassemble the whole thing and cannabalized the animatronics. (lunging cemetary dog prop)
email me anytime with the list @ spyderskiss@gmail.com.
Thanks again for the help. I can't wait ti get started.
That would be so great. Any suggestions on where I could pick up the parts I would need? Then if you can show me how to wire it up I would be so grateful. I am just totally lost when it comes to this type of thing.
Honus (author)  spyderskiss1 year ago
Adafruit is one of my favorite companies- they have Arduinos, battery holders, LEDs, etc. I can definitely help you wire it up. :)
If I get a chance in the next day or two I'll make a parts list for you- basically you want an Arduino Uno, Wave Shield, 9V battery/holder, a couple LEDs and a couple fingertip switches to activate your sounds.

What I do is write a list of what I want my costume to do and then make a plan from there. So How many sounds do you want? Do you want the eyes to light up with the sound or independent of the sound? That kind of thing. Make sense?
i really want to make my werewolf costume either growl or howl this year but i am really unsure how to do any of this> i did thought i could simply get some little led lights to put behind the eyes to make the glow but again pure beginner>
Honus (author)  spyderskiss1 year ago
That's pretty easy to do. You can use a WaveShield from Adafruit for the sound. Use a fingertip button to activate it. You can even have multiple sounds. Putting LEDs in the eyes is easy- I can show you to wire it all up.
okay. I know nothing about boards but I would love to have one with sound and simply to light up my costumes eyes. Is this really idiot and budget friendly to do? I could really use some advice from other costumers.
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