Animatronics Update

A look inside the animatronic morphoids.

I’ve been hard at work working on the animatronics project.  HARD at work.  It is a huge challenge, but slowly but surely, I am making some progress.  I am having to rework my ideas and rework my solutions as I go, as sometimes what I think will work best does not work hardly at all.  I am learning a lot and am getting some serious experience in problem solving, especially as it relates to electronics, mechanics and building things.

Making things in electronics takes five times as long as any other process.  There is no doing things halfway, or fudging your skills.  Unlike many other making techniques, electronics either works or it doesn’t.  Unlike, say, sewing, where your skills will develop as you go, but if you want to make something specific as a beginner, you will manage to make something as a beginner.  Not perfectly, but if you had intended to make a shirt, you would have a shirt.  With electronics, you have to get things absolutely right.  For instance, if I’m intending to make a Morphoid move, I have to make a Morphoid move, or it’s just a collection of fabric, stuffing, and electronic parts.

I think that working with soft things (fabric sculpture, versus, say, something made of wood) presents a unique set of obstacles.  It is tough to get any kind of traction on things- the stuffing has too much give.  Sometimes, although it is moving on the inside, it is tough for the moving parts to be obvious on the outside.  This is interesting to me, as everything I’m working on with this comes out much more subtle than I intend, which is actually kind of interesting and strangely appropriate.  I have a couple of things that I almost can’t tell if they are on and working right away.

Anyway, I’m in the process of tweaking, or making version 2 for the Morphoids I’m animating…. hopefully there might be some video soon(ish).

The photo is of the insides of one of the Radiolaria.  I used plaster to cover a child’s ball to make a hollow form for the servos to move a weight around in, which gives it just a twitch of movement.  You can see the battery packs, circuit board that I soldered and the Arduino on the top, and the whole contraption will soon be going inside a ‘Radio’.

Animatronics Project- Nephropoleon

Here is the first semi-successful attempt at animating one of the Morphoids – Nephropoleon.

Nephropoleon panel

And a little about Nephropoleon.  As you can see, the awkwardness is appropriate, but I am still debating whether or not I will attempt to make the movement more efficient.  It could be more efficient, but right now, I’m not totally sure it’s worth the effort.  The nice thing about working with Nephropoleon (and Arduino, actually), is that I have more than one, so could make a second version without destroying this one.  Arduinos are infinitely re-programmable, so I can tweak as much as I need, and re-use the ones I no longer need for another morphoid, or another project.

This particular part of the project has taken me some considerable effort, even though it may not look like it.  I needed to figure out how to build a sufficient structure to hold the mechanical parts so that they would work the best they can.  I had to figure out how to program the Arduino to control the servos to move as they should, in the range and timing that they should, and how to get it to pause the program when there is not enough light- as in, when someone approaches the morphoid.  (This is not evident in the video, but it’s an important part of the project.)  Also, how to deal with seemingly simple things, such as how to turn the power on and battery changes.  It is important that there’s not an obvious opening on the outside, so I’ve actually sewn the battery packs right inside, and needed to come up with a way to have access to the power switch (and be able to find it!) without it being really obvious from the outside.  Also, a big challenge with these is the fact that they’re stuffed- the stuffing interferes with the mechanics on the inside- the resistance is enough to overpower the servos.  I had to rig up a few different ‘guards’ to keep stuffing away from places it might cause problems. I also went through a couple of days of frustration when I kept having a problem where one of the servos wouldn’t work- trying everything, replacing hardware, reprogramming, redoing the circuit, etc.  All the components seemed good, and nothing helped. I only got past it when I started over from scratch, although I still have no idea what the problem was, so hopefully it doesn’t return.

I am learning a lot.

Soft Robots

I’m not sure if I’ve shared this before, but Matthew Borgatti, over at Har.ms has been working on making soft robots. I wish I had the facilities to look into doing something like this for the Animatronics Project, but I think even if I could, the components would take up way too much room to fit inside a Morphoid, even a large one. A girl can dream.

I am making slow progress in my own way, hopefully I’ll have something to post about that soon.  (Essentially right now I’ve got parts of things, mechanics and code, all in pieces all over the place, but not lined up and working properly yet.  I’ll share when I’ve got something that will be easy to see what I’m doing, rather than all this research and pieces of things and code that probably looks like gibberish to most people.)

Animatronic Morphoids!

IMG_8554

I’ve been awarded a production grant from the Alberta Foundation of the Arts, to develop some of the Morphoids into ‘living’ creatures over the next few months.  To do this, I am using Arduinos, electronic circuitry, servo motors, sensors, and developing the mechanics for the inside of the Morphoids to make them move and interact with their environment.  As you can imagine, this is a little complicated, so I’ve been starting with a lot of reading, and a few experiments.

IMG_8550

I’ve been playing with the Arduino, and servos, and using sensors to control them.  It’s quite the learning curve (but I can handle it).  The mechanical part is going to be a challenge too, especially since the Morphoids are soft.  I ran into an unexpected roadblock when I was trying this stuff before, in that the stuffing provided enough resistance inside to interfere with the motor. I will need to be aware of that, and figure out ways to get around it.  I’m up for the challenge.

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This is a project I’ve wanted to do for some time, but haven’t been able to find the time or money for materials, so the grant is much appreciated, especially in that sense.  The other nice thing about this project is that I see these skills being useful in future work- it’s a great time to focus on this and expand my skills.

You might remember this animatronic Morphoid from the opening of The New Alberta Contemporaries.

And this shows the internal circuitry.

I’ll be posting updates as I go, but I don’t know how interesting it will be until I’ve got something more concrete to show.  The goal is 3-5 animatronic Morphoids by the end of July. Stay tuned.