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The Foxee Animatronic Robot Project Blog

Archives for: January 2006

Gearing Up, Part II: Preparing to Build Foxee's Frame

Posted by: The Mad Scientist

Greetings Foxee fans! I'm taking a break from cleaning up all of the strange contraptions and implements of destruction scattered around my mad scientist laboratory to give you a quick update on my ultimate project of insane greatness, building a moving, talking, and singing robotic blue fox! I have been extremely busy the last two days running my mad scientist bank account into oblivion, or in other words finishing what I started at the Wheaton Hamfest last weekend by buying up all of the supplies, parts, and tools that I need to start constructing Foxee's metal wire frame. That's right! You heard me correctly! After months and months and months of me talking about all of my insanely great ideas and how my animatronic fox is going to revolutionize the world with her cuteness, I am actually almost ready to start putting my money where my mouth is and start building something! After all of this time it's hard to believe, isn't it?

I've had quite a shopping spree over the last couple days! In that time I have been to RadioShack, Michael's Art Supply, Home Depot, Wal*Mart, American Science and Surplus, and finally RadioShack again! After my success with finding some of Foxee's parts and components at the Wheaton Mid-Winter Hamfest, I decided to keep on going. To make sure I didn't buy anything I didn't need and to make sure that I got everything that I did need I consulted my animatronics mentor, the venerable Kitt Foxx, and had him fill me in on some of the parts and supplies that he used with building his on animatronics creations. Here is a rundown on most of the things that I purchased over the last two days, along with why I picked them up:

From RadioShack:

  • 1-lb. of 60/40 .062 diameter Rosin-Core Solder - Under my current plans, Foxee's wireframe body is going to be constructed out of galvanized steel wire. This is the solder that's going to hold all of that wire together!

From Michael's Art Supply:

  • Fiskars "Softouch" Multi-Purpose Scissors - For cutting fiberglass cloth and metal mesh
  • 22-gauge and 26-gauge Florist's Paddle Wire - Florist's wire was recommended as a great thing to use to temporarily bond the pieces of your wireframe together until they can be soldered by Adam Rigg's Critter Costuming book.

From Home Depot:

  • 10-lbs. Coil of 9-gauge Galvanized Steel Chainlink Fence Tension Wire - This very strong and very heavy gauge wire is what I intend to use to build Foxee's wireframe with. Using this particular kind of wire for building wire frames with was recommended by Adam Rigg's book, Critter Costuming. I actually got a kick out of asking for this wire at my local Home Depot because it is in the construction materials section of the store where you can find all of the huge burly flannel-shirt wearing construction worker type men hanging around. Imagine how shocked they were to see a mad scientist wearing a 2600 Magazine t-shirt hanging out in their section of the store! Just let this be a lesson to you-- when Foxee is built, while she may look cute, fuzzy, and adorable on the outside, on the inside she will be built burly flannel-wearing construction worker tough!
  • Channellock 10.5-inch Fence Tool - This heavy-duty tool contains a staple puller, staple starter, wire cutters specifically meant for steel fence wire, wire stretcher, hammer, and wire splicer. In other words, this tool makes me a tougher man just by owning it, whether I actually use it or not! And I will be using it, because as of right now it is the only tool that I have that can cut through that steel fence tension wire!
  • Stanley PowerLock 5-meter/ 16-foot Tape Measure - I'm planning on building Foxee with metric dimensions, not because this mad scientist has any love for the Europeans or their SI system, but because it just so happens that Foxee approximate dimensions work out nice with metric whole numbers. However, since I am based in the U.S., it's nice to have standard measurements on the tape measure as well so that I can do conversions on the fly when needed.
  • All-Purpose Goop Contact Adhesive and Sealant - For pieces of metal that I don't want to solder together I have this stuff to glue it with instead. I don't really intend on using this stuff very much, and I bought it purely as a backup alternative to soldering. Goop adhesive was yet another material recommended for wireframe construction by Adam Rigg's Critter Costuming book.
  • 3M Emery Cloth - Good 'ol Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing! Those guys make everything from industrial fluoropolymers to Post-It Notes, and here they have done it again by making emery cloth just so that I can abrade metal! Thank you 3M!
  • 3M 60-Grit Aluminum Oxide Sandpaper - I got this to sand down excess epoxy resin and fiberglass shards when I am working with fiberglass. Actually, Kitt Foxx recommended that I get 80-grit sandpaper to do this job, but I couldn't find any. As far as I am concerned, the 60-grit sandpaper that I did get will just get the job done faster, or at least that's what I hope will happen!
  • AOSaftey Fiberglass Respirator - The hope is that these will keep me from inhaling tiny particulate fiberglass shards into my lungs, which I would assume is a very good thing because the last I heard huffing fiberglass didn't give you any kind of radical superpowers!
  • AOSafety Economy Twin Cartridge Respirator - These will keep me from killing myself through asphyxiation while working with noxious adhesives and solvents. Hopefully the fact that this twin cartridge respirator is labeled as an "economy" model isn't something that I should be worried about!
  • Latex Gloves - Protects my hands from bonding them to something that they shouldn't be bonded to with epoxy resin!
  • Sharpie Marker - To label and mark things with, of course!
  • Stanley 24-inch 2000 Series Toolbox - A place to keep all of my great and cool-looking new loot, er I mean "tools" in! Yay!

From American Science and Surplus:

The battery that will be powering my Foxee robot

  • Two 12-Volt 12Ah Sealed Lead Acid Batteries - These two sealed lead acid batteries are going to provide the power for my darling little fox robot, and with dimensions of 5-7/8" x 3-3/4" x 3-7/8" and a weight of 8.6 pounds apiece these two batteries are whoppers that pack some serious punch! While there is a good chance that using batteries this big are overkill, I am going to be running all of Foxee's systems from her servo motors to her internal speakers to her circuit boards to her CD Player off of a single power source, so I wanted to make sure that I had more than enough power to run all of these devices, and I wanted to make sure that Foxee would be able to do multiple performances off of a single battery charge since lead acid batteries take a while to be recharged. I bought two of these batteries so that I could keep one as a charged extra and swap it into Foxee if need be. Since I don't really have any idea how much power Foxee will draw at this time, to get a very rough idea I asked Kitt Foxx how much current his Georgia Belle animatronic fursuit draws during a performance. He answered that Georgia most likely draws no more than a single amp at one time, and that he was able to power Georgia over the course of the entire Further Confusion convention weekend on only one set of AAA batteries. Now AAA-sized batteries on average only carry about 1.05Ah, which means that Foxee with her big 12Ah battery will have almost 11-and-a-half times the battery current capacity that Georgia Belle has!!!! Start your Tim Allen style grunting now, because Foxee will have more power! Having all of this extra power to draw upon is very important, because Foxee will have 6-times as many servo motors as Georgia Belle, and will be powering all of her other systems off of that one battery too!
  • Lifelike Replica of a Coyote Skull - I know what you're saying-- you're going, "What the heck! A coyote skull? What the heck does he need that for!?" I purchased this lifelike molded resin anatomically correct model skull for two reasons. The first reason is that it could be of some use to me when it comes to designing Foxee's jaw and how it moves, but more importantly it will serve as a performance prop for when Foxee and I do our act together on stage after she is built.
  • Mariner brand Saftey and Welding Goggles with Interchangeable Lenses - These circle-framed goggles are the exact ones you see every single mad scientist wearing during their maniacal experiments in monster films from the 1930's and 40's. In short, these goggles are completely awesome looking, and even better, they're the real thing and not some stupid flimsy costume prop. Unless I suddenly take up welding, these goggles will only be a stage prop to go along with my "Mad Scientist's Union Local #3.14" lab coat and heavy lineman's gloves in completing my mad scientist's costume.

Ah, the American Science and Surplus store, the mad scientist's super store! As you can see, I got a whole bunch of neat things from here for my projects like I do every time that I go. You know, you would think that with me buying mad scientist's goggles, heavy duty batteries, a morse code key, a coyote skull, and all of the other weird things that I get there each time that I go you would think that I would catch a few stares, but not there! Every time that I go I ask the owner of the place if she has ever see such a weird combination of purchases as the ones that I just made, and the answer from her is always the same-- that I am one of the more normal people that go there! Go figure!

While I always have a great time going to American Science and Surplus, this time it was even better because I finally filled up my "Surpie" membership card with purchase stamps, meaning that I got a free $15.00 gift certificate from them! How cool is that!? I think I already know what I am going to get with part of that gift certificate too, because they have a Benjamin Franklin action figure there that I have had my eyes on for some time.... Come on-- my main man Franklin's the coolest! Not only do I think that Franklin could kick the other founding father's butts with some serious smack down, but he was a serious pimp with the ladies back in his day too! And if that isn't enough to convince you to go out and buy his action figure right now, it even comes with awesome Franklin battle accessories such as his fabled kite and key! Awesome!

To get back on track, now that I have purchased the items above I have now finally gotten everything that I need to start building the first parts of Foxee's wireframe. I will be installing servo motors, pan and tilt kits, power regulator boards, and other such components as I go along with the construction process. I plan to start at the very least practicing with bending and sculpting wire tomorrow, and if I am successful at it I may start building the frame for Foxee's head! We'll have to see how things go, and hopefully they'll go well! As always, comments are always welcome!

Gearing Up at the Wheaton Mid-Winter Hamfest!

Posted by: The Mad Scientist

I have had a really wild weekend this weekend! While for most guys my age that would probably mean that I had a wild time at some bars getting plastered, for this man of mad science that is not the case. Yesterday I went to the big Chicagoland Fishing, Hunting, Travel and Outdoors Show that took place at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, Illinois, with one of my fishing buddies, and more relevantly today I went to the Wheaton Mid-Winter Hamfest that took place at the DuPage EXPO center in St. Charles, Illinois. For those of you who may not know what a "Hamfest" is, the term "ham" is a term given to people who are licensed amateur radio operators such as myself, and a "hamfest" is a huge amateur radio, computer, and electronics flea market where hams get together to talk face to face and to buy and swap equipment. Why is this important to my Foxee animatronic robot project? To put it simply, when it comes to building homebrew electronic devices ham radio operators are some of the most active homebrewers out there, building everything form transceivers to antennas to computer interfaces on their own. As a result, a hamfest is one of the greatest places around to get some of the fancy pieces of test equipment, tools, and parts that I need to build electronics projects like the internal components of my animatronic robot fox!

I have been to a hamfest once before, but that was 9-years ago after I first got my Technician-Class amateur radio license back in Junior High School. Because my last hamfest experience was so long ago and because the one hamfest that I did go to was a different one, I didn't quite know what to expect from the Wheaton Hamfest when I got there. They did have a lot of strange and interesting-looking equipment, tools, and parts there, with me not even having a clue about what most of the pieces of equipment were or what in the world they did, but sadly I found that 90% of everything that they had there fell way out of my limited budget. However, I did find plenty of good buys there, and I ended up spending literally every single dollar in my wallet that I had on me, and then digging through my pocket change just so that I could pick up a little more!

For my Foxee animatronic robot project, I pretty much only bought some desperately needed tools, supplies, and one piece of equipment. Upon the venerable Kitt Foxx's suggestion, to aid in my building my Foxee animatronic robot last month I purchased the book Critter Costuming: Making Mascots and Fabricating Fursuits by Adam Riggs. While the book is meant to teach you how to build your own fursuit animal mascot costumes, it covered the basics of metal wireframe construction that I needed to learn how to build Foxee's outer frame. The book recommended that I use steel chain-link fence tension wire to build the frame with, but to work with such heavy wire (the stuff that my local ACE Hardware sells is 9-gauge) you need to have some serious tools. While I was planning to go out to ACE Hardware and Home Depot this week to pick these tools up, luckily I found most of these tools at the hamfest for less than half the cost!

First of all, to cut the heavy steel wire I bought the biggest pair of diagonal cutters that I have ever seen-- this sucker is 10-inches long! If this monster of a tool doesn't cut through that wire, than I will probably need a hacksaw! Secondly, the critter costuming book recommended that you use heavy linesman pliers to bend your wire into shape. I saw two different pairs of linesman pliers available at the hamfest, with one pair being 8.75-inches long and the other being much heavier and 9.5-inches long. Since I have never worked with heavy steel wire before, I had know idea which of the two sizes of pliers would be better suited for my task, so I ended up buying both pairs. I also bought a small pair of needle-nosed pliers to help me with some of the more delicate work, some precision screwdrivers, and 1,000 nylon cable ties, which according to the Critter Costuming book are good for temporarily binding your wireframe joints together before you are ready to solder them.

I also bought one piece of equipment that will assist me in my holy quest to build my own talking and singing robot fox: a Batteries America 12-volt lead acid battery smart charger that charges batteries at 1 battery Amp-hour per hour. When I wrote my original Foxee animatronic robot proposal back in July, I had no idea how to power the thing. Many of the components, circuit boards, and motors required different voltage amounts to work properly, and many had battery clips for their preferred style of battery already physically attached to the circuit board. As a result, it looked like my robot was going to be an electronic mess with a dozen different nickel cadmium and alkaline batteries located throughout the robot. That would have been a logistics nightmare because it would have been nearly impossible to keep all of the batteries fresh and charged, and would dramatically increase the possibility of having a battery fail during a performance or a demonstration, which would be a very bad thing!!!

Since I learned how to build my own DC regulated power supplies last summer however, the possibility now exists for me to be able to run Foxee from a single 12-volt power source and use voltage regulator IC's to provide the appropriate voltages to the appropriate components. With that idea in mind I recently decided to go with a 12-Volt Sealed Lead Acid (SLA) battery for power. They are very inexpensive compared to Nickel Cadmium and Lithium Ion Batteries, are relatively easy to recharge, and provide a lot of Amp-hours of power compared to their cost. I found some extremely cheap Surplus 12-Volt 12-Amp-Hour batteries that were originally from power scooters, and I plan to buy two of them (the second battery will be a spare) to power Foxee with. While I don't have a clue at this time about how many Amps of current Foxee will end up drawing while she is performing in font of an audience on stage, I am guessing that a 12-Amp-hour battery will give me a few hours of power at least, and possibly a lot more than that. We'll just have to see, and if worst comes to worst I can always buy a more powerful battery later. In any case, thanks to today's hamfest, I now have an inexpensive lead acid battery smart charger!

I also bought several things having to do with my ham radio hobby at the hamfest today! Last week on eBay I was able to pick up a Radio Shack HTX-10 mobile 10-meter band transceiver for a good price, and while it came with a SWR/ Field Strength Meter and an external speaker, it did not come with an antenna. So one of the things that I picked up at the Ham Fest today was a magnetic mount 10-meter band mobile whip antenna. Also at the Hamfest I picked up a new 2-meter band mobile radio, a very used Azden PCM-2000. Since that needed a mobile whip antenna as well, I picked up a 5/8-wave stinger for it that could screw into the same magnetic mount base as the 10-meter antenna. Since it is unlikely that I will be operating both of these radios in the same location at the same time, for now the two antennas can share a magnetic base and I can swap between them. Naturally, I would prefer to have a separate magentic base for each antenna, but since the magnetic bases are expensive and this mad scientist is quite poor, this was the only way I could afford to purchase both antennas. Along with the 2-meter moble transceiver and the two antennas I also picked up a MFJ Versatuner II antenna tuner, some dipole antenna insulators, and some essential (yet unfortunately very expensive) cables and adaptors to power all of my new ham radio toys and make them work together so that they are not all just really expensive paper weights!

While I did have a very neat time at the hamfest today, unfortunately today wasn't all fun and games. My Heathkit OS-01 Oscilloscope, the one featured in my blog post "My Life in Stereo", started to malfunction today. The CRT beam focus now no longer works, leaving the signal line on the scope very wide, dim, and blurry. While this oscilloscope was only my backup scope and all I was doing was playing my stereo system through it, it was still one of my favorite toys and I would really love to get it working again. While I have learned quite a bit about solid state electronics over the past year from my building an Apple I microcomputer replica and working on this Foxee animatronic robot project, I am completely at a loss when it comes to working with vacuum tube-based electronics such as this ancient Heathkit oscilloscope. As a result, I decided to ask the members of the "Night Patrol" net on Argonne National Laboratory's W9ANL repeater if any of them knew what was wrong with my oscilloscope and what I could do to fix it, but no dice. None of them could tell me what was a matter with my oscilloscope off hand, and the best that they could reccommend was to check the unit for blown vacuum tubes, which was something that I already knew that I most likely would have to do. *Sigh* Now I need to find someone with a vacuum tube tester who will be able to check my tubes for me, and I don't even know where to start.

While having my first oscilloscope casualty today was a real bummer, overall today was a fantastic day and I got a real head start with buying a lot of the tools that I am going to need to power Foxee and to build her metal frame. While since last fall I have been unable to do much work on my Foxee animatronics project due to the extreme lack of funds caused to me by Midwest Furfest, I recently obtained some more funds that I could put towards my Foxee project from doing some Information Technology consulting work and from doing some electronics repair work for people on the side. Because of this I have once again started rolling forward on this project, and it is a very good thing to because I was starting to get cabin fever from not working on my Foxee animatronics project for so long! This week I plan to purchase everything that I need to start building Foxee's frame, including 10-pounds of 9-gauge steel fence tension wire, 22-gauge paddle wire, her SLA battery packs, and possibly some plywood and an electric jigsaw. The bottom line is that I have been inactive on this project long enough, and I would really like to try to start building her frame before the month of January is up! As always, any comments aout my project or this post are welcome!


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