I wanted to create a animatronic head for a costume I'm constructing. I wanted it to be entirely self contained- no exposed wires, etc. and unlike many animatronics used in movies, I didn't want to use radio control due to complexity/control issues. I also couldn't afford a commercial animatronics controller.
Enter the MAKE controller! This piece of hardware allows you to connect readily available hobby servos (as well as motors, lights, etc.) to simple analog input devices (I'm using flex sensors) to control movements. I have this set up running the controller in POLY mode, which doesn't require any computer programming and is very easy to configure. Of course you can always program the controller later on to maximize its potential- it's a pretty amazing piece of hardware.
Here's what the finished animatronic armature looks like (it's mounted to an old welding helmet as a test rig) along with a movie clip and what the finished costume will look like- it's a Horus guard from Stargate.
Here's a video of it working-
There are a ton of possibilities using this controller for animatronics:
Make a Predator costume with animatronic head and shoulder cannon
Build a giant dinosaur with a moveable head, eyes and tail that reacts to movements or goes through a pre programmed routine
Create interactive displays and haunted house attractions
Follow along and I'll show how the mechanism for the Horus head is constructed and maybe you'll be inspired to create your own animatronics....
UPDATE: Makingthings.com, the manufacturer of the MAKE controller has removed the POLY mode firmware necessary for this instructable from their website and it no longer is included in the firmware for the controller. If I can find an earlier version of the firmware necessary I'll post it here. They have also removed all tutorials regarding the POLY functions. Bummer. I have started working with the Arduino platform due to it's lower cost, smaller size and ease of use and have created another animatronics tutorial here:
Step 1: Materials and tools
Hobby servos- I'm using Hitec HS 300 and HS 605BB standard size servos. Many standard size servos are available on eBay for under $10 each.
MAKE controller kit- available from Making Things: http://www.makingthings.com
Materials for armature- I use printed circuit boards (PCB's) for the main construction along with some plywood, brass and aluminum.
Power source- I use a 9.6V battery to power the controller and a 4.8V battery to power the servos.
22ga wire- three seperate colors are needed
Flex sensors- these are available from Jameco (part #150551): http://www.jameco.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/ProductDisplay?langId=-1&storeId=10001&catalogId=10001&productId=150551
Miscellaneous hardware- brass hinges, small screws/bolts, zip ties, heat shrink tubing
Miscellaneous servo hardware: http://dubro.com/hobby
Dremel tool or saw to cut servo mounting boards and aluminum
Tap to cut threads in aluminum
Small phillips screwdriver