3D Printed Animatronic Dragons | MatterHackers


Rusty Atkeisson, our August Hacker of the Month, takes us contained in the imaginative course of behind his 3D printed animatronic dragons.

Posted on August 7, 2017


Visitor Contributor Rusty Atkeisson

Constructing dragons could also be a kind of conditions the place you’re coaching your self as a lot as your creature.  In the midst of respiratory life into Vogal, Zeichen Zwei, Saphira, and the opposite dragons, I’ve discovered innumerable abilities and tips from past the classroom and even past the just about limitless reaches of YouTube and Google.  I nonetheless have an extended street a head of me in creating much more lifelike creatures however this is a little bit of a break down of what I’ve gone by means of, classes I’ve discovered, and helpful ideas to assist the aspiring puppeteer alongside the way in which.  Though, puppeteer would not sound fairly proper on this mild; perhaps we had greatest name ourselves a sorcerer’s apprentice.

All proper, so let’s crack open this grimoire of data! Besides, there is a small downside; this e book seems clean.  Firstly, the entire concepts have been nonetheless in my head, and there wasn’t actually a magic ‘methods to’ e book on creating animatronics with a 3d printer and an Arduino.  Earlier than I dug into the Arduino and electronics, I began filling my e book with sketches.  Sadly, my drawing abilities should not as inventive as Rembrandt, however from the sketches the proportions of the dragon might be locked right down to get the final look.  Then there have been all of the doodles, making an attempt to determine what all of the motions this little man would have, whereas making an attempt the reply the query “What does it take to make a lifelike dragon?” The reply was copious quantities of time and persistence. The arithmetic for each motion weren’t locked down at this level, however begin and end positions of every life-inducing motion turned clear after the entire sketches.  A minimum of now now we have a couple of pages stuffed on this grimoire.

Now now we have some fairly footage in our e book, but when this pet was made proper now, all it will do is flop about in a not very lifelike method.  That is the place that evil math sorcerer begins to sneak in.  The pinnacle actions and the wings all transfer with the aide of 4-bar mechanisms, that are just like the linkages used to lift and decrease the bucket on a skid steer. One of many hyperlinks is hooked up to the stationary ‘floor’ object (on this case the torso of the dragon), one other hyperlink to the ‘output’ (like the top), after which the 2 different hyperlinks join the bottom hyperlink to the output hyperlink.  If our connector hyperlinks are parallel to one another and of the identical size, then the output hyperlink follows an arc and stays on the identical angle to the bottom hyperlink.  This can be a neat idea, however in observe appears to be like mechanical and lifeless. So as to add a bit extra flare and emotion, one of many connectors is shortened, inflicting the output hyperlink to rotate because it lifts or lowers.  That little little bit of geometry is sufficient to make the top emote not less than two emotions: when lowered, our dragon appears to be sulking or drained, when raised, our dragon appears mischievous or cocky. Now this dragon is displaying a little bit of perspective!

        4-bar mechanisms for head and wing motion

After all, 4-bar hyperlinks solely cowl so many alternative motions.  There’s additionally what is called a tentacle mechanism (or snake mechanism, or elephant trunk mechanism as some individuals choose).  This technique consists of a sequence of chain-like vertebrae the place one finish has a pair of strings related that feed by means of the edges of all the opposite vertebras and out to some sort of pulling machine.  If each strings run straight up both aspect of the ‘backbone’ of the chain, we will power the mechanism to twist to 1 aspect or the opposite.  If these strings cross and swap sides someplace within the center, then the tentacle will curl up in an S form. Preserving the strings straight was sufficient to make the tail appear life-like for the primary dragon, Vogal.  Nonetheless, if the dragon had an extended tail, the strings might be crossed to offer the dragon a spicy perspective.  There are methods to have the tail transfer in additional than two instructions, however merely swishing left and proper was sufficient to offer Vogal a enjoyable however relaxed perspective.

Tentacle mechanism used to make Vogal’s tail life-like

Making a dragon appear clever surprisingly did not take a really superior controller.  As becoming as it will appear to take a excessive finish multi-core snap dragon processor out of a cellphone, all it actually takes is a 16Mhz Arduino microcontroller to offer this scarecrow a mind.  Vogal was my first stab at making a stand alone management system.  His mind began as an Arduino Uno with all of the connections to the servos and distant (made with the joysticks off a Sony PSP) soldered to a perforated circuit board.  As small because the Arduino Uno is, the shape issue proved to be a bit cumbersome, particularly when a set of AAs operating the Uno and a 3 cell LiPo battery pack operating the servos have been squished into his small physique. 

Battery pack operating the servos

The unique programming didn’t assist the cumbersome really feel both.  Utilizing the MAP command within the Arduino program editor to narrate the enter indicators on to the output indicators gave the dragon the motion vary wanted, however because the enter sign tended to drift, the actions have been jerky and sporadic.  Fortunately, after assembly some superb individuals on the native makerspace, MakeICT, we have been in a position to enhance the indicators by placing the enter indicators into an array and use the typical from the array to be the enter worth for the MAP command.  Now Vogal’s actions have been easy and lifelike, however I nonetheless felt like one thing higher might be accomplished wuth the cumbersome batteries and Arduino.  Once more, the fellows on the makerspace got here to the rescue with a fast tip: the Vin pin on the Arduino may tolerate the identical voltages because the servos, eradicating the necessity for the AA batteries.  To make extra room, the pockets sized Uno was changed with a thumb drive sized Trinket Professional and a circuit board milled out of a copper clad board at MakeICT.  Not surprisingly, the brand new setup was much more dependable, and felt extra like manufacturing high quality, particularly after changing the selfmade cable to the distant with a Cat5e cable and connectors.

At this level within the story, our dragons have skeletons, tendons, and brains however they’re lacking muscle.  In my haste, I figured “Oh that is straightforward, simply slap in some servos off an previous r/c automotive and be accomplished with this mess.” To my chagrin, I found not all servos have been created equal.  Skipping forward to offer you context, the primary dragon Vogal was all shined up and charged for his first renaissance faire, however sadly in his first encounter with a youngling midway by means of faire he misplaced. The plastic gears within the fundamental servos used stripped and left Vogal as a one-winged dragon for the remainder of faire.  Fortunately, the native interest outlets have been in a position to train me a good bit about servos and helped me discover a finances pleasant metallic gear servo that will stall earlier than failure. The following faire noticed different encounters with younglings, however this time Vogal took the abuse in stride.  Just a few occasions later, and a future time on show throughout an artwork present, discovered that one of many different servos wasn’t fairly as much as the duty by itself.  Vogal’s head was simply too large for his personal good!  Two hours of steady use on the artwork present and that finances pleasant servo launched its smoky grey dying flag!  This time, as an alternative of investing in an much more highly effective and excessive priced servo, the servo was given some aide within the type of an virtually too itty-bitty torsion spring from an area surplus retailer.  The spring is robust sufficient to take the burden off of the servo, however not fairly sturdy sufficient to raise Vogal’s prideful head by itself.

Spring on the neck to scale back pressure on servos

There have been different ways in which Vogal may have flexed his muscle as nicely.  His tail is pushed by a servo which moved the tail a bit, however not as dramatically as I’d have appreciated. A few dragons later, the fundamental servo was changed by a constantly spinning servo.  The brand new servo labored nicely, however discovering the lifeless zone (the world the place the servo wouldn’t transfer) proved to be troublesome and thus would usually activate whereas making an attempt to regulate one of many different capabilities. On the most recent model of the dragon, that servo has been changed by a excessive torque metallic gear micro DC motor.  Surprisingly, the DC motors are smaller, simply as highly effective, and a considerably extra finances pleasant than the servo was.  Though the DC motor now takes up 2 I/O pins as an alternative of 1 like a servo, the benefit is that the DC motor doesn’t require a PWM sign to run, so the DC motor frees up PWM enabled pins for different enjoyable duties. A number of the different actions in improvement for the following flight of dragons additionally make use of micro solenoids.  Actions the place you solely care about being at one extent or the opposite can simply be dealt with by a solenoid, such because the motion of the mouth, or making eyelids that blink.  Fortunately, micro solenoids are about as finances pleasant because the micro DC motors and once more, don’t take up a PWM enabled pin on an Arduino.

Nowadays, Vogal is a contented little dragon dancing round on my shoulder, however there have been a couple of snags alongside the way in which! The perky, charismatic dragon would fall again to sleep after solely being out for round an hour.  It seems the thick 11.1v 1300mAh (milliAmp hour) 3 cell LiPo battery and regulator weren’t very nicely matched for operating the dragons.  After once more taking a lesson from an area interest store, I picked up an inline Present Micro Sensor.  The little machine measured a variety of helpful knowledge usually meant to be recorded whereas flying an RC airplane.  It is ready to detect the utmost present draw and common present draw throughout a sure time span.  From the sensor, I used to be in a position to uncover that every of Vogal’s 4 large servos have been sucking down about .4amps of energy below full load, however throughout precise use the complete system averaged a present draw of about .25amps.  With this info, the interest store was in a position to assist me discover a 7.2v 2200mAh 2 cell LiPo battery and regulator mixture that’s not solely about the identical dimension because the previous battery, however gave me an 8hr run time on one cost!

3D printed animatronic dragon

The science and math behind making every part transfer is now current, however there may be additionally an overwhelming inventive aspect that (fairly actually) covers all of that calculator clacking and pencil pushing.  Turning these crude sketches into good 3d fashions surprisingly adopted the identical course of as a sculptor would making an attempt to make a clay creature.  These crude sketches all had very invaluable info in them: the scaled dimensions for every phase of the arms, the legs, the wings, and every part to make the armature of the dragon.  The sketches have been all on commonplace 8 1/2 by 11 items of notice paper, however by understanding the dimensions of all of the servos and electronics, the size from the sketches might be scaled as much as accommodate every part that will find yourself going contained in the dragons.  Once more like a sculptor, the following step blocked out and created a tough strong across the armature.  At first,  all of this clay work was being accomplished in one among my favourite CAD applications, Alibre. Thruthfully, Alibre is a program actually made for mechanical design and isn’t greatest fitted to organic issues, so to actually give the limbs a extra lifelike look, the elements have been despatched over to a special software program program, Blender.  There I used to be in a position to regulate curves and radii to look much less mechanical and even play with the textures a bit to offer a extra reptilian really feel to the surfaces.  Though difficult the primary time, the teachings discovered from modeling an arm 4 or 5 other ways made it doable to maneuver by means of the remainder of the elements actually rapidly, and undoubtedly helped give them a extra lifelike look.

Skinning a dragon is just not fairly as straightforward as skinning a cat.  There are a number of methods I’ve tried, and nonetheless a number of extra I wish to strive, however weight, flexibility, and stretch appear to be crucial elements in selecting a pores and skin.  Vogal’s first disguise would have been leather-based however after a fast check on the leather-based retailer, even the lightest leather-based they’d proved to be extra weight than the servos may deal with.  So his first pores and skin ended up being felt cloth.  The felt labored for a man with no stitching expertise and reasonable abilities with E6000 cloth glue. After trying to find a while, I lucked upon a little bit of reptile print vinyl cloth with a cotton backing.  Sadly this cloth was too fragile to resist my stitching abilities,  so once more the pores and skin was glued collectively.  The glue held up for a number of exhibits, however as Vogal has extra outings, the glued continues to offer method and the material has begun to tear.  Thus the search continues on for the proper mild weight cloth, and even probably a way for casting a latex pores and skin.  Within the meantime, for the opposite dragons, my abilities have improved sufficient that their skins have been sewn from a double stretch waterproof Lycra cloth (the identical materials utilized in swim fits).  The lycra cloth stretches and strikes nicely with the wings, however sadly doesn’t have that reptilian feel and appear.  That is a kind of areas nonetheless being improved on Vogal, however there may be hope that at some point he’ll stay in that uncanny area the place is tough to differentiate between handmade and an actual residing factor.

Vogal – the 3D printed animatronic dragon

The extra Vogal made it out and concerning the extra enjoyable we had and the extra consideration we obtained. Sadly, that additionally meant the extra restore work that wanted to be accomplished.  Though the dragon squared off pretty nicely with the younglings, there have been occasions that nature and his klutz coach had the higher of him. Nonetheless,  every time Vogal misplaced, we discovered a method to make him higher.  Being over six toes tall myself, one of the vital frequent issues he is run into is the nefarious low hanging tree department, particularly in a renaissance faire environment.  How the elements failed decided how the elements have been redesigned.  The redesigns did not at all times imply merely thickening up the elements. Generally the redesign concerned including extra materials across the fasteners or making a whole half wider to deal with a torsion load that brought on the unique half to delaminate. Different occasions, the redesign was so simple as reorienting how the half was printed, for instance with lengthy finger like particulars.  Initially, Vogal’s claws have been printed with the claws pointing downward, however after an incident the place a talon broke off utterly, a much better half was created just by rotating the print in order that the claws printed sideways.  The prints have been a bit harder to take away the assist construction this manner, and didn’t look as finely detailed, however after testing the brand new claw by pounding the talons with a hammer, I may relaxation assured that the talons wouldn’t break off once more.

As extra dragons have been solid, by means of all of the efforts, they’ve every in some way whispered their names.  Vogal the courageous hearted, Saphira of the waters, Rote Erde from the fields, and Zeichen Zwei from the quarries. As quickly as I knew their names, there appeared to type this intangible bond, and impulsively these lumps of plastic turned mischievous dragons who had a earlier lives hiding in nature away from man’s eye. Though the backstory looks like an irrelevant addition, it tends to be one of many greatest questions I’m requested about Vogal: “How did I meet him?”  At first, I’d inform those that he was 3d printed, however then it dawned on me that they have been asking concerning the fantasy behind how Vogal got here to reside on my shoulder.  I’ve had loads of possibilities to craft his story and now the fable of Vogal snatching an arrow from flight captivates each the younglings and busy adults.

Though it looks like this grimoire are filling up rapidly, there are nonetheless many extra clean pages but to be stuffed.  As expertise advances, shrinks, and turns into extra inexpensive, there could also be much more methods to make a dragon appear extra lifelike. Nonetheless, as expertise stands right now, there may be a tremendous potential on the market for the following younger Jim Henson to get his or her begin.  Amazingly, expertise doesn’t appear to be the limiting issue a lot as somebody’s creativeness.  The primary try could also be clunky, nevertheless, as we hold making an attempt, the designs change into extra awe inspiring.  The outcome won’t at all times be solely one particular person’s concept, however the end result of the various nice minds round them.  As we shut this grimoire for the day, could these tales open your thoughts to what’s doable.

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