Animatronics & DMX and RC cars

Before more modern advanced robotic toys like the Robosapien cam around …we had RC remote control cars and planes and boats and drones.

Much of the same technology in an RC car like its wireless transmitter and motors and steering can be used to make animatronic characters and at a fast glance one could assume that the creation is also robotic.

To determine if it is robotic and not just a disney type animatronic one would have to see if it has some kinds of sensors to allow it to move somewhat autonomously. Perhaps edge detectors on the body or vision sensors on the head or at least a sound sensor that makes it back up when you clap your hands.

Its easy to pick up cheap older rc cars and use the motors or wheels and other parts in constructing other robots….its considered a form of hacking to make something better out of electronic parts.

You could use the front wheel assembly from a rc car, motor and its wireless joystick controller (49 hz or 2.7hz) to create the moving eyeball mechanism for a humanoid robot. Or just use the mechanism and add the arduino microcontroller and software to make it move.

At that point you would have created a basic animatronic eyeball moving character until you add the sensors so it will be able to behave autonomously.

The Tonka richochet remote control car has an amazing mid section that bends to allow it to do various trickt movements on very rough terrain.

The mechanism that it has seems very much like the shoulder or waist movement in an older Robosapien V2 so perhaps this mechanism could be used to cheaply create an upper torso on a humanoid robot that moves with the built in motors.

Another neat tow is the REV (Robotic Enhanced Vehicle) car which came out in 2014 by the Wowwee company.

They sold new for about $80 and came as a pair and basically they were cars you could control with an app that you downloaded and the magic was that they had a form or AI where you would drive one car and the other one would use its sensors and AI to track your car and try to destroy it.

Personally I spent 5 minutes with it and although the technology seems great I couldn’t really get into the playability of it but I am no kid which is who it was designed for way back in 2014. It is now 2021.

But these very sexy looking and heavy(batteries on bottom) 7 inch cars have what they call Beacon sense GPS tracking which certainly sounds like a hackable feature to put into some other robotic creation.

I picked up a pair at a thrift store for $12 and of course one car had wheels that weren’t spinning…so after disassembly of the wheels I could see a common site with wheeled toys….hair or rug particles got jammed in there.

They have bluetooth which allows you to get the app to start and operate the cars and then they will really quickly zip around a large area (a school gym is ideal) chasing each other .

This is why you must determine the environment where you robot will operate….outdoors or in….rain and cold will destroy your servos and batteries unless you can somehow waterproof or water “resistant” them…indoor operation still has to watch out for car fur and rugs and falling down the basement or being stepped on by a 200 pound relative.

Perhaps you could create some kind of a robot bounty hunter where your bot chases down the other and I would probably add some gears in the gearbox to slow them down or perhaps reduce the number of batteries so it could advance more stealthily.

So look for parts in old RC cars or boats or airplanes and even consider the bigger motors and batteries in the kids ride on cars that can be found used and broken at thrift stores for $20 or new for $500.

They used to be powered by SLA gel lead acid batteries 12volt or 18 volt and had a shifter with two forward speeds and a reverse direction and an on off foot pedal switch.

You can do a fair bit of tinkering and changing of motors and changing of gearboxes with these things and making them move an arm of your life size robot or do other things. Of course we would want to make it controllable by an arduino or Raspberry pi in a proper project.

Now lets go to the topic of animatronics like you would see at a Disney land location or at your average haunted house exhibit or at the average persons house on halloween or christmas.

Now professionally done animatronics used to be controlled with DMX units like the kind used in a music bar to control the light show on stage.

You can buy these things at various stores on line and you could use a basic rotating light DMX controller to move a robot head left and right.

Check out these websites and see how you might be able to use some of this gear in your project.

Disney and Jim Hanson productions has been at the forefront of amazing animatronics for the last perhaps 40 years.

The latest thing with Disney and project Kiwi, is creating a child size robot that will eventually be able to move around its theme parks interacting with kids. (the company doing this work is technically called Walt Disney Imagineering).

They had to create special hi speed actuators that are torque limited and back drivable.

They decided to go small size since they would pose less dangers to the actual children if something went wrong due to them being so small and light in weight.

Its also much easier and cheaper to design small humanoid robots that can lift their legs without huge heavy and high torque motors and they can fall without breaking a lot of expensive internal equipment.