Picture of Arduino controlled animatronic wooden head (reading lamp)
This head is a reading lamp which can be adjusted for direction of lighting, and dimmed as required.

This Instructable combines Arduino programming, some simple electronics, carving with hand and power tools, mechanical control and a bit of woodwork. Apart from the Arduino and a few components it is mostly made from reclaimed materials.

I am rather pleased with it.

What's in this instructable

I have included the main circuit and controlling Arduino programme (the sketch), and issues that arose, but I have also tried as much detail of the other (physical) making processes involved, so hopefully some of that stuff may be useful if you are building something in a  similar way.

This project includes:
  • the Arduino details, such as type of board, file type, the full Arduino sketch that controls the head, etc., and acknowledgement of included code such as the servo.h library.  
  • how the eyeballs and sockets were developed using prototypes, their construction from roll-on deodorants and the mechanism that controls them
  • how the wooden head was developed using crude rapid-prototyping in polystyrene laminate sheets and how they were then used as templates to transfer the 3-d design to MDF boards and create the final casing
  • the carving methods using hand and domestic power tools
  • some discussion of the use of domestic materials such as garden wire and recycled objects to save on costs
  • testing various LEDs for eyeball lamps and overcoming the power limitations of Arduino outputs using a simple transistor amplifier circuit 
  • more detailed discussion of the Arduino code and how it works to manipulate and translate analog inputs to the positioning servos and eyeball lamps
  • details of the construction of the wooden base unit and controls, some simple boxmaking and woodturning without a lathe
  • how a plastic power supply was converted into a wooden supply
  • handy tips that might be worth considering in similar projects

 There is also a lot of further information about this and other things on my blog: "Making weird stuff"

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Great post indeed...May I ask you how much hours you spend to do it? it would be useful to compare to others..please comment ?

rosemarybeetle (author)  goldenshuttle1 year ago

Hi. thnaks.

To be honest, I can't remember exactly. Quite a lot.

I think I made it over a few months, but doing a few hours here are there.

p0laris1 year ago
Very nice. Thanks for sharing it!
rosemarybeetle (author)  p0laris1 year ago
Thanks. I've had great feedback on here. Glad you like, and feel free to reuse any ideas, etc :)
Bub_el_jefe2 years ago
creepiest thing ever
rosemarybeetle (author)  Bub_el_jefe1 year ago
Thanks. It does have a creepy charm. though this one may be creepier...
gdomantic2 years ago
OMG. you've made Putin! ;D
great project:]]]
rosemarybeetle (author)  gdomantic2 years ago
Thanks, and actually, you're right. It does look a tad like Putin.
saravananaj3 years ago
ok superrrrrr
This whole project seems amazing. Except for the wooden power adapter. Thats just downright dangerous.
rosemarybeetle (author)  ghostbust5553 years ago
Thanks. It was fun. I learnt a lot!

What is your concern about the power adapter being dangerous?
Rarely but occasionally when something is plugged in it creates a visible spark. Now its unlikely that this would ignite the wood but if it had gotten hot prior to that (say its running and there is a power surge that causes a spark) it could ignite. Basically it seems like a fire hazard to me but I could be wrong
rosemarybeetle (author)  ghostbust5553 years ago

your right to think about the risks when hacking kit, but I think we're safe here.

I'm pretty relaxed that the wood won't catch fire. The plug is oak, and that wouldn't easily catch from a lit match, let alone a spark.

The sawdust on the cable might appear more risky - sawdust can smoulder and catch if it gets a decent spark on it. However, here it is encased in latex, and is not actually exposed to the air, nor any spark diectly, so it is protected.

Effectively, the sawdust is sealed off from the risk of any spark and latex doesn't catch fire from a spark.

So, I think there is no more risk of this catching from a spark than the original plastic (which actually can burn but doesn't catch from a spark).

Having said all that, you are right to check and glad you liked it. I had such a laugh making it!
ecsaul233 years ago
congrats on the arduino challenge
rosemarybeetle (author)  ecsaul233 years ago
hey thanks. liked your animatronic doll. the video in the park is awesome. could have a lot of fun freaking passers-by with that!
thanks :) I just recently started playing youtube videos of chucky talking through the bluetooth speaker in the doll's back pack. I need to take it out to test it on people soon :)
rosemarybeetle (author)  ecsaul233 years ago
ha ha ha - excellent. I'm sure that it would be rather freaky to find a moving doll speaking in a psychotic voice, whilst skipping happily through the park!
skrubol3 years ago
Couple mistakes on your units and math.
It doesn't look like you're using a switching step-down converter to power your LED, so the voltage across the LED should be around 3.3v rather than 5v in your power/current calculations.
you state resistance = voltage/power, should be resistance = voltage/current
then your units are wrong in the next line. Should be 5V/0.6A not 5V/0.6V.
rosemarybeetle (author)  skrubol3 years ago
aha - you are indeed right about the units. It should have read A.6A - In fact I also put resistance = voltage/power, which is even worse - it should have read voltage/current - yipes!
Thanks for spotting this.

You are undoubtedly right about the LED. I have to say, it's 25 years since I studied electronics. I have also not accounted for the small voltage drop across an LED either.

I have to say, I generally go for as close as I can to accurate, and if it works, just get happy like a dog with a bone. Not very scientific I concede :)

Anyway, thanks again for this. I have amended the unit typo accordingly
I just looked at it a little more carefully.. Your current is actually going to be (5v-vdrop)/r. Vdrop for white LED's is at least 3v generally, plus there will be some drop across the transistor, so you're really looking at more like 150-200mA total, or 75-100mA each.
Also, specifically when dealing with LED's (especially power,) you should run each of them with a series resistor, rather than one for the pair. Running well below their rated current it doesn't matter so much, but if you wanted to push these, you'd be best off using a power transistor or FET with the emitter/source tied to ground, then two resistors (about 2 ohms each) to the collector/drain, then connect one LED cathode to each resistor and the anodes to +5v. The LED's would need sizeable heatsinks, and you'd need to use 2+ watt resistors in this configuration though.
You can make a head using this instructable: http://www.instructables.com/id/Making-a-cardboard-head-with-a-secret-hiding-spot/

It seems to be perfect for this...
rosemarybeetle (author)  Antzy Carmasaic3 years ago
Wow - that is an awesome job they have done on the cardboard. Really impressive.

I toyed with doing thinner layers, but didn't have the laser cutting kit, so it would have had to have been by hand. I also like the carving process so I deliberately only used the layer sample as a general aide/guide, not a definitive copy. I like the idea that in theory I could make anothercopy from the original templates, but it would be subtly different, because it is then hand finished.

I'm off now to patch them for that. It's really great. It deserves credit
Thanks for sending the link
Yup. We all dont have access to a laser cutter. And most of the awesomest instructables coming out require that...
katzmatt3 years ago
what brand of roll on did you use? im planning on replicating your eye mechanism and your mechanical control idea is really brilliant all the other techniques i have seen use some sort of gimbal this is exactly what i am looking for thanks so much and do you have any better images of the attachment points for the servos between the control rods and the brake wire?
rosemarybeetle (author)  katzmatt3 years ago

glad it was helpful. I struggled with this in a few prototypes, so if you don't have too, then that's a bonus.

The make of deodorant probably doesn't matter too much. i suspect they are all made by one big factory with different labels. I tried several (just because I had a few I had collected over time) and they all worked the same. I suspect, just cheapest supermarket own brand is fine. Just use two of the same make, so they match.

Photos are here:

some are already in Step 8 of this instructable but there are a few extra ones. For the wire and servo, think of an old steam train wheel with the drive rod, but in reverse - It needs to transfer the rotary action to up/down:


Hope it all goes well
wawa14743 years ago
i would have used a skull and red leds that would be epic
Or make something like Crypt Keeper from Tales From The Crypt - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m-e8ATuFpIc

The eyes would go well in something like this http://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&feature=endscreen&v=Q0lecWPcMU4
rosemarybeetle (author)  yellowcatt3 years ago
rosemarybeetle (author)  wawa14743 years ago
That coud work. I have to say, that I quite liked making it look like a (fairly) normal head though. It's more unsettling :)
papagun3 years ago
More accurately a wooden head with animatronic eyes... yes? When I saw he title, I had so hoped the head/face would move, especially when I saw the slices.

Maybe next time.
rosemarybeetle (author)  papagun3 years ago
I guess that's a fair point! Sorry to dissapoint. This was a first attempt, so I deliberately tried not to push it to far.

Since completing this one, I have had been pondering mouth controls - some sort of sound to motion controls which move the lips etc based on sound. I've done it with Flash before, but not physically.
. For outputs, it would need the basic mouth shapes to be worked out and then made possible with controls, and for the inputs, I was wondering if it could be driven by the audio out from any iPod/mp3 player, etc. It would be funny to have a head that detected the voice part of a song, and "sang along". It would, of course need to do so in a slightly bizarre and unsettling way :)

I need to lie down and rest before I start that one though!

You would probably get some great ideas from this video which has prostatic singing heads. Not my creation but I wish it was!
rosemarybeetle (author)  bricabracwizard3 years ago
That is awesome. Thanks, The heads don't actually move - it is projected video, but it looks amazing. I have done this with multiple over lapping unsynced super 8 projector loops (yes film, I am that ancient!), and it is really surprising how effective it is.

A shot of how that was set up showing retro-tech (even in the 1990s, this was way old kit!!)
Now my bubble is burst! I should have noticed that! The best one I have seen is a face projected onto a tree at night and only the eyes were moving!
rosemarybeetle (author)  bricabracwizard3 years ago
They are still amazing though. It took me several views to work it out, and I bet they scared the proverbial out of anyone who turned up!
rosemarybeetle (author)  bricabracwizard3 years ago
The link would be useful - here it is
That's quite a gallery you've got there. You got me at fries and strawberries. You've nailed Punch! Love giant bird and the gargoyle chair is awesome! Did you make all of these? Was that a picture of you in the seventies with long hair?
rosemarybeetle (author)  bricabracwizard3 years ago
Hi. thanks. I'm flattered.

Yes I did. The chips tasted even better than they look - yum

and, yes - that is me with long hair sticking out of half a very large bird. It was the nineties though, not seventies

Great build! I've emailed my partner about this, hopefully she'll let me create one for us!
rosemarybeetle (author)  bricabracwizard3 years ago
Thanks - the links you sent below were great too. The steampunk blog was amazing
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