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Meet Artemus
by Kathi Stringer

What can Artemus do?  He speaks out the chilling opening of Disney's Haunted Mansion as head moves up and down.

Click here to see him move [about 12 megs]

Animatronics Level: Beginning

Artemus was named after Artemus Gordon from the TV show, "The Wild Wild West."  The TV show "Artemus" was a man of a thousand disguises.  Since I'm new to animatronics, (I'm an engineer & machinist by trade), it only makes sense that my first animatronic, robotic head will go through a lot of changes in the 'learning curve' before I settle on a configuration for the multiple axis servo head.  (Keep in mind this is REAL simple stuff to a professional.  I'm nowhere near that mark and maybe that could be an advantage since I could cover stuff a pro would just shine on).

I took several pictures of Artemus that shows some of his construction.  I bought a cheap animated Halloween prop at a store and cannibalized it for the skull that had a hinged mouth.  For his frame to house his servos, I milled out clear Plexiglas and mounted that to a small tripod. (click on the small picture on the left to enlarge for a better look at his robotics). 

 I figured that would be perfect to get me up and running with experimentation with Mouth Synchronization.   

Click on Small Thumbnails Pictures of Robotics Below to EXPAND

 
         

I played around with different servo control boards.  Since I have some experience writing programs in Visual Basic, I thought getting a servo board that used basic would be a good start. 

My main focus was trying to get a servo timed to mouth synchronization. Using basic language, I used the 'For - Next' loops to slow down the servo commands for opening and closing the mouth.  Even though this was okay for getting a hand on how servos work, I'd NEVER want to program an animatronic for any period 'speaking' using this method. 

Next, I was considering some of the boards out there that use "Auto Talk" technology.  However, Aaron Fechter of Creative Engineering, founder of the popular animatronics Rock-afire Explosion indicated that even though Auto Talk works to a certain extent, it won't look professional, but rather a bit sloppy.  

Next, I looked to Brookshire Software for their "Visual Show Automation" (VSA).  This concept looked attractive because it used a graphic interface as a programming method.  Basically, what you see, is what you get, rather then having to deal with the tedious task of timing servo motion with writing program loops. 

I decided to use the The MiniSSC II servo control board built by Scott Edwards Electronics because it was compatible with the Visual Show Automation" (VSA).  The MiniSSC II is pictured above mounted on Artemus tripod.  VSA user graphic interface shown below.  I opened a sub-window below that illustrates the event properties for servo control.   It really is pretty cool stuff. 

My next task will be to hook up the The Pontech SV203X as recommended by Brookshire Software, developers of the VSA , so I can control small LED's for added effect.  I have the The Pontech SV203X, but haven't figured out how to complete this next step.  When I do, I'll be back :-)