Animatronics Hack Chat

Will Cogley

Wednesday, May 20, 2020 12:00 pm PDT Local time zone:
Hack Chat
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Will Cogley will host the Hack Chat on Wednesday, May 20, 2020 at noon Pacific Time.

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Join Hack ChatWhile robots have only a made comparatively recent appearance on the technology timeline, people have been building mechanical simulations of living organisms for a long time indeed. For proof one needs only to look back at the automatons built by clever craftsmen to amuse and delight their kings and queens. The clockwork mechanisms that powered fanciful birds and animals gave way to the sophisticated dolls and mannequins that could perform complex tasks like writing and performing music, all with the goal of creating something that looked and acted like it was alive.

Once the age of electronics came around, the springs that drove the early automatons and the cams that programmed their actions were replaced by motors and memory circuits. New materials made once clunky mechanisms finer and more precise, sensors and servos made movements more lifelike, and the age of animatronics was born.

Animatronics have since become a huge business, mostly in the entertainment industry. From robotic presidents to anachronistic dinosaurs to singing rodents designed to sell pizza, animatronics have been alternately entertaining and terrifying us for decades. The fact that they're not "real" robots doesn't make the melding of mechanical, electrical, and computer systems into a convincing representation of a real being any less challenging. Will Cogley has more than a few amazing animatronics designs under his belt, some of which we've featured on Hackaday. From hearts to hands to slightly terrifying mouths, Will puts a tons of work into his mechanisms, and he'll stop by the Hack Chat to tell us all about designing and building animatronics.

  • Hack Chat Transcript, Part 2

    Dan Maloney05/20/2020 at 20:04 0 comments

    Will Cogley12:36 PM
    would the object being touched need to be conductive though?

    Yeah, and it'd get pretty grubby pretty quickly

    Matt Michalka12:36 PM


    These $10 Sensor-Packed Gloves Could Give Robots a Sense of Touch

    Machines are mastering vision and language, but one sense they're lagging behind on is touch. Now researchers have created a sensor-laden glove for just $10 and recorded the most comprehensive tactile dataset to date, which can be used to train machine learning algorithms to feel the world around them.

    Read this on Singularity Hub

    yawar12:38 PM
    Touch is great, but having the ability to feel as if you have grabbed a hard cube by maybe restraining the give movement is SciFi I guess

    Will Cogley12:38 PM
    You could just slide the glove right over the bionic hand !

    Matt Michalka12:38 PM
    That's what I was thinking XD

    Nathan Boyd12:39 PM
    Disney did published some recent research about accurate sensing in soft systems (at least for positioning. It can be extrapolated to pressure).

    Will Cogley12:39 PM
    I remember seeing a design once where there were some servos on the wrist with cables attached to the fingers, and they locked up to restrict the motion of the fingers

    yawar12:39 PM
    Like batman Cape kind of thing

    scott.e12:40 PM
    A mechanism that restricted finger motion based on what's in the bionic hand's grip would seem akin to trying to handle objects when your hands are "asleep". No direct contact sensing, just position limited.

    So we've been talking about the hand so much, I don't want to forget about your other great stuff. How's the terrifying mouth going?


    This Animatronic Mouth Mimics Speech With Servos

    Of the 43 muscles that comprise the human face, only a few are actually important to speaking. And yet replicating the movements of the mouth by mechanical means always seems to end up only partly convincing. Servos and linkages can only approximate the complex motions the lips, cheeks, jaw, and tongue are capable of.

    Read this on Hackaday

    Will Cogley12:40 PM
    Nathan thats interesting, I wonder if that technology could be used in a silicone skin?

    Nathan Boyd12:41 PM
    Yeah it could. That's kinda the point. You can technically extrapolate their optimization pipeline for other sensor setups.

    Will Cogley12:41 PM
    Thanks the mouth is going well, currently it takes a typed sentence and converts it into phonemes using a python script. I'd love to try using it with motion tracking too sometime, I've been looking into open source mouth motion tracking

    rob.palmer123412:42 PM
    the mouth is great! i finished building it last week! my goal is to hook it up to a raspberry pi, running alexa. and have a sort of animatronic alexa

    Jarrett12:42 PM
    what do you do with those old projects? Is it just sitting on a shelf, ready to talk at people?

    Will Cogley12:43 PM
    Nathan Yeah that's interesting because it could potentially also be used to find the joint angles in the fingers, which would eliminate the need for a rotary sensor in all the fingers

    Will Cogley12:43 PM
    Rob that sounds great I'd love to see it working with an alexa

    Will Cogley12:44 PM
    Yeah at the minute my mouth is in its rabbit sat on my desk looking at me :) Often I break them down and recycle the parts though

    When I was researching that article, I was amazed to see how few muscles the human face actually has. You'd figure there's be more given the number of degrees of freedom a face has, but you might actually have more servos than muscles there.

    Will Cogley12:46 PM
    Yeah I know what you mean but the muscles can move in really interesting ways, like the lips can protrude forwards but also retract back to expose the teeth, so I'd need more servos than muscles to get the same degrees of freedom


    Read more »

  • Hack Chat Transcript, Part 1

    Dan Maloney05/20/2020 at 20:03 0 comments

    OK, let's get started. I'm Dan Maloney, I'll be the moderator today. I want to welcome everyone to the Hack Chat today, especially our host, @Will Cogley, who does some really cool stuff with animatronics.

    Will, can you tell us a little about your background and how you got into this?

    Will Cogley12:01 PM
    Sure! I’m Will, and I make 3D printable animatronics designs and publish them open-source. I’ve had a lifelong fascination with robots, but also the human body and biology. My main long-running project is a biomimetic hand that I hope will have the same movement and functionality as a real human hand. I’d love to answer any questions!

    Brando joined  the room.12:01 PM

    Here's the hand Will is referring to:


    Mechatronic Hand Mimics Human Anatomy To Achieve Dexterity

    Behold the wondrous complexity of the human hand. Twenty-seven bones working in concert with muscles, tendons, and ligaments extending up the forearm to produce a range of motions that gave us everything from stone tools to symphonies.

    Read this on Hackaday

    scott.e12:02 PM
    When do you decide between stepper driven and servo-driven solutions?

    John joined  the room.12:03 PM

    Brando12:03 PM
    When do you think you will work on the hand again?

    anfractuosity12:03 PM
    wow, very impressive re. the hand!

    Will Cogley12:03 PM
    Most of my projects are done on a tight budget so I almost always use hobby servos. With my bionic hand I'm currently starting from scratch and trying to optimise each element, stepper motors are definitely something I'm considering atm!

    Brando12:04 PM

    Will Cogley12:04 PM
    I'm actually working on the hand right now (relatively speaking), I'm going to release a video about it hopefully next week

    John12:05 PM
    What is the biggest design challenge you face atm?

    It's been a while since I watched the hand videos - remind me what technique was used to make the plastic pieces? They don't look 3D-printed.

    Will Cogley12:06 PM
    I'm trying to make my projects as accessible as possible so I'm using an FDM printer to make all the mechanisms and parts. Most of the parts in my new bionic hand design are so small they're kind of pushing the limits of what I can print reasonably so I'd say thats the biggest challenge I'm having right now.

    Brando12:07 PM
    Can you see the hand being completed and if so what would be the next step after you have a fully functioning hand.

    scott.e12:07 PM
    ...and your preferred filament type? PLA? PETG? ABS?

    Will Cogley12:07 PM
    Yeah on that hand I used acetone-smoothing to get the ABS looking nice and shiny, it was actually kind of a nightmare since all the parts started to sag because of their thinness so I had to switch to hand polishing so they didn't totally collapse!

    Wow, they came out great! Almost look injection molded. Gotta say, the hand looks bad-ass!

    de∫hipu12:08 PM
    or rather bad-palm

    Ba-dum tiss

    Will Cogley12:09 PM
    Yeah I think I'm going to have a good working prototype relatively soon, there will always be room for improvement I imagine, but I'd really like to work on some different control methods next. Originally I used a control glove, and now I'm considering motion detection. The main goal would be mind-control though haha!

    scott.e12:09 PM
    Gotta hand it to him. they look great

    de∫hipu12:09 PM
    I'm sure other body parts will follow ;-)

    morgan12:10 PM
    only if you walk backwards /ducks

    Brando12:10 PM
    Have you ever looked at the vr hand thingy to controll it? I meant more like after a goo hand prototype would you consider mocing upwards and maybe develop an arm?

    Will Cogley12:10 PM
    I've used mostly PLA up until now, mostly because of my printer's limitations, but I've recently been using ABS and its proving to be much better for sliding surfaces

    Well, I mean that brings up a good point. Doesn't some of what animatronics attempts to do bleed over into prosthetic...

    Read more »

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