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I'm seeking advice on making a remote-controlled linear actuator (for a prank tv show) Answered

Hi all,

I'm working on a hidden camera prank tv show and some of the pranks call for things (bookshelves, statues, a tv wall mount) to suddenly fall apart. I've been trying to figure out how to build a small, powerful actuator into the breakaway props, something that I can control remotely. My idea is that the actuator will retract and thereby pull a pin out of something that it is holding up, causing the thing to fall. I'm seeking your advice!!! :)

Ideally I would love it if the entire system was small enough (batteries, receiver and actuator) to hide in the props. Do you know any good websites to look at? Any specific products I should check out?

Any advice would be appreciated!




Hi I’m in Shelburne an hour or so north of Toronto.

IR remote can be easier and safer than radio remote control in public.

As to the actuator there is worm gear, solenoid, and push rod.

Worm gear for heavy, push rod for medium, and solenoid for light articles.

thanks very much for replying, I'm going to research the different types you mention! Also, please correct my potential misunderstanding, but would the IR remote need to "see" the receiver? Ie, would I still be able to completely hide the apparatus within the prop or do I need to have some piece sticking out to pick up signal from a transmitter? (understanding the need for a unique ID code in public)


IR remote is the same as a TV remote, in fact you could use a TV remote as your transmitter and just build the receiver. The receiver needs at least an opaque window and it will tolerate a small % of no line of sight. A lot of it depends on the IR sensor some are so sensitive they can pick up a signal through a concrete wall but they are expensive. .

Hey Joe, I've been digging around online and found this set up on Amazon: (here)
I'm going to order it and see if I can get a trunk popper solenoid to run off one of those 12V Energizer batteries...? (here)
Meanwhile, I want to look into making a receiver for a tv remote - have you ever done this before? Any tips?

Thanks again!!


I like the key chain remote it is radio but it should not need line of sight, at 12 volts 6 amps output should run electric car lock solenoid no problem.

The battery is 12 volts 55 mAh to 6 volts may not be strong enough look for 12 volts 1 Ah.

I should have thought of car parts, electric windows, windshield wipers, door locks, and electric car seats. From one wreck you could get 12 different trip mechanisms.

Yes for the TV remotes you can use a circuit like the ones in this Instructable give me a day or two to come up with a tweak.


I think you might like this .

The remote works well and it is so small you can conceal it in your hand with the same technique as a magician or with a smaller 3 volt button battery and holder it can be concealed in a large ring.

The receiver works and is so small other than the batteries it will fit in a match box this one could work better so I am tweaking it still working on adding a oneshot.

Remote 0.bmpRemote 1.JPG

Hi there, I'm a little late to the party but I thought I'd leave this here in case somebody else is looking for this type of solution in the future. Good, simple setup for around $100.


If you want a professional, quick, off the shelf solution for the actuator, they are pretty easy to get.

Hey Steve, many thanks for the feedback! Do you recommend any particular systems over others? Specific brands, etc?



You can make a linear actuator for very little.

Using a simple toy motor some threaded rod (This could be a long bolt)

A suitable nut for the bolt Glue a block of wood to the nut - This should be big enough to stop the nut turning

Drill a hole through so the threaded rod passes through the wooden block.

Drill a hole in the top of the block so the actuator rod can be glued in.

Make a simple U shaped bracket from scrap aluminium or even a tin can or even wood. to a suitable size to mount the motor, the threaded rod and the actuator rod as in the diagram.

This can be controlled by a simple on off switch and is very powerful - a push of over 1 Kg is easily attained. you can make it any size you like.

See diagram Image uploader isn't working so you can see the diagram here

This is really cool! I remember a book called Electric Mischief that uses a similar system to automate a "robotic" hand - very cool!!!