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Post details: Foxee™ Animatronic Character 2005 Midwest Furfest Variety Show Act Proposal

Foxee™ Animatronic Character 2005 Midwest Furfest Variety Show Act Proposal

Posted by: The Mad Scientist


I have a very ambitious act that I would like to try and perform for the 2005 Midwest Furfest Variety Show. In a nutshell, the act would involve Foxee™, an animatronic robot female arctic blue fox that I am currently constructing, either moving and singing by herself or talking and singing with a human actor on stage for about three to four minutes. The Foxee™ robot when completed will utilize technology similar to that of Kittfoxx's "Georgia Belle" animatronic fursuit that performed in two skits during the 2004 Midwest Furfest Variety Show with the exception that Foxee will be a stand-alone animatronic robot with no human operator instead of an animatronic fursuit.

Foxee's Design and Projected Capabilities

The Foxee animatronic robot is currently only in the design phase. However, most of the hardware and electronics that are going to be used with the robot has already been determined, and based on that I can give you an overview of what her design and capabilities will be. The design for the Foxee animatronic robot will be based off of my Foxee the arctic blue fox animated cartoon character, who has been the flagship character for my sole-proprietorship animation studio for the last two-and-a-half years. Because the robot will be based off of a cartoon fox instead of a real one, it will have a cartoony appearance and will be larger than a real fox.

The Foxee robot will permanently sit upright and be about 27-inches tall. The robot's primary frame will be constructed out of grade A-A plywood and wood dowels, and this frame will provide the support structure, internal compartments, the basic shape of the robot, and something to anchor the servo motors against. On top of the wood frame will be a sculpted wire frame made of low-gauge aluminum armature wire or steel wire. This wire frame will give Foxee her feminine vixen shape and provide the hinges for her mouth and access panels. On top of the wire frame will be a metal or plastic mesh, which will provide something to hot glue her outer fur to. This is the solution I have found to be best based on my robotics and costuming research, however I have little to no experience with using any of these materials, so if any experienced fursuiters or robot designers have any suggestions for better frame and super-structure construction methods and materials, I am open to input.

Foxee, like Kittfoxx's Georgia Belle, will run pre-recorded programs off of a specially formatted audio compact disc using a Sony portable CD player, a Buffington Effects CD2Serial board, and the Servo Animator 1.2.0 software. For a servo motor controller board I have decided to go with the Lynxmotion SSC-32, which is MiniSSC II compatible, can control up to 32 servos, and has open source firmware. A combination of standard and mini-sized Hitec and Futaba servos will be used for the robot’s movement. I plan to use at least 9 servo motors in Foxee, and more will be included if I have the money and the time to install them. The projected servo layout will be as follows:

  • 2 standard servos to control the vertical and horizontal motion of Foxee's neck via a Lynx B pan and tilt kit
  • 1 or 2 micro servos to control the blinking of Foxee's eyes
  • 2 micro servos to control the horizontal and vertical direction of Foxee’s eyes
  • 1 micro servo to control Foxee's mouth
  • 1 micro servo to control Foxee's eye brows
  • 1 standard servo to allow Foxee to wag the tip of her tail up and down

My current design for Foxee calls for her front legs to be static and permanently positioned in front of her as she sits. However, if I have the time, money, and required skill, I would love to attempt adding 4 mini servos and a pan and tilt kit to each front leg so that she could move and manipulate her front legs and paws to use for arm and hand gestures. That would make her seem much more life like, dynamic, and entertaining.

Proposed Acts

My original act idea was to have my animatronic Foxee character sing a duet with KittFoxx's Georgia Belle animatronic suit. The song I have chosen for the duet is a Lee Ann Womack and Alecia Elliott duet country western song called "One Dream," which would be perfect for Georgia Belle because her character is supposed to be a country western singer! The song deals with two girls singing about their competition over a guy, and that rivalry can be acted out between the two characters while they are singing on stage. The song is only three minutes and twenty-one seconds long, which could hopefully be short enough to eliminate the possibility of the skit becoming repetitive or boring. I have not yet proposed this idea to KittFoxx because the e-mail address I have for him bounces back my messages to me, and because my robot is not far enough along in development for me to start making plans and commitments with other people. I need to see if I can actually build this robot in time for the Variety Show first! And if worse comes to worse, I can always try to do this particular act at the 2006 variety show. I hope to have two robot foxes built by then, which would allow me to supply my own duet without having to draft Kittfoxx and Georgia Belle into my act.

If Foxee has to go out on her own without the support of another animatronic character or puppet, I could either have her sing a short song on her own or I can write a script where she interacts directly with me with some kind of short funny conversation. I have been a professional comic strip cartoonist for the last three years, so I am used to writing sharp and funny dialog. I am currently still working on coming up with ideas for such an interactive skit, however if you have any suggestions feel free to volunteer them.

Foxee's Current Development Status

As of the time of this writing, only design work on Foxee has been done and no actual construction of her frame or electronics has been started. I am still in a phase of researching robot design methods and learning how to use the tools and materials needed for construction. To effectively learn how to use a new tool or material, I complete a small practice project using that tool or material. Currently, I have used how to use electronic tools such as a soldering iron, chip puller, chip inserter, multi-meter, and logic probe by building three 555-timer IC based servo controller boards and a working replica of a 1975 Apple I microcomputer. These projects also taught me the purpose of basic electronic components, bread boarding, and how servo motors work and can be controlled.

My next scheduled project is to build an ASCII keyboard and a custom wood case for the Apple I (just like Apple I owners had to do in the 1970's) to teach me how to use a circular table saw and a jig saw, both tools that I will have to master to be able to construct Foxee's complex wood frame. Yet another project will be to create a small stuffed animal replica of Foxee to teach me how to use an electric sewing machine and to design and cut patterns in fur to cover the exterior of my robot. While these mini-projects are time consuming and somewhat sidetracking, the fact is that I will be spending well over $1000 in parts and tools to build this robot, so I would rather take the time to learn how to use all of the tools and materials correctly than risk making a very costly mistake on the robot itself.

Current Obstacles

  • A am currently having trouble locating a reasonably priced supply of General Instruments AY-5-2376 ASCII Keyboard Controller IC's. The AY-5-2376 is a special DIP IC that was manufactured in the 1980's to control ASCII keyboards. At least 2 of these chips are required for my Apple I case project. While I have found multiple suppliers of this out-of-production chip, they either want a $100 minimum order, which is ludicrous, or they will not return my phone calls or e-mails at all.
  • I am having trouble finding an IBM PC-compatible laptop that is within my tight budget that I can use for controlling my Foxee robot and for giving on-site demonstrations of my Foxee Microsoft Agent character. The laptop needs to fit the following minimum requirements:
    • Intel Pentium III running at 450mHz or faster
    • 128MB of RAM, any speed
    • Functioning color screen
    • Graphics card capable of 16-million colors and at least a 800 x 600 resolution
    • 5GB or greater hard drive
    • A DB9 or DB25 RS-232 serial port
    • An external monitor VGA port
    • A PS-2 port for mouses or keyboards
    • A headphone jack for external speakers
    • A microphone jack for microphone input

    Most laptops that are about 4 to 7 years old will probably fit those specifications. I am currently a recently graduated and unemployed university student who is playing the dangerous game of living without health insurance, so I currently unable to afford the price that laptops of this caliber for what they go for on eBay. I wish that I could utilize a less powerful machine, but the multimedia used by both the Foxee robot and Foxee animated Microsoft Agent character require some serious RAM and processing power behind them. If anyone has an old laptop that fits or comes close to these requirements that they would like to either donate to the cause or sell, feel free to e-mail me privately.

Potential Obstacles

  • The Possibility of Lack of Funds – Since I am currently unemployed, my Foxee robot is currently draining my savings account, which alone isn't nearly enough to complete the project. If I am able to find a well-paying job between now and November this should not be a problem, but the risk is there that I could run out of funds before the project is completed, which may render me unable to provide an act for the Midwest Furfest variety show.
  • The Possibility of Lack of Skill – Before I started this project, I had almost no prior knowledge of electronic soldering or electronic circuit design, and I still have no practical experience with sewing, hot gluing, making stuffed animal fabric patterns, wire sculpting, or woodworking. I am learning these things as I go along, and while I have confidence in my ability to learn new skills, there is always a possibility that I could always fall short of my needed abilities and not be able to learn a skill in a capacity that is high enough to complete my robot. All I can say is that I will try my best!
  • The Possibility of a Poor Robot Design – While I have currently bought several books telling how to build digital and analog circuits, robot chassis, and robot power trains, I am still doing a lot of educated guessing while I am designing Foxee's frame and determining where to place her servo motors, control rods, and moving parts. I am a Computer Science and Biology student by education, not an Electrical or Mechanical Engineer, so there is no guarantee that the design I am working on will even function after it is built. I just have to try my best here too!
  • Meeting the Midwest Furfest Variety Show Deadline (November 18, 2005)– I am steadfast and determined to get the Foxee animatronic robot constructed and programmed to perform an act in time for the Midwest Furfest Variety Show, however not everything concerning the construction time of the robot is within my hands. One primary concern is the shipping time and availability of some of the parts and supplies needed to construct the robot. I do not have the funds to be able to buy all the parts I need to complete the project from start to finish all at once, and because of that I have to buy whatever parts that I can afford as I require them for the building process. Unfortunately, this opens the possibility that if a certain part is unavailable or takes an excessive amount of time to ship that it could halt my progress and throw me behind schedule. I will plan ahead as best as I can and try to reduce this risk to a minimum, but due to Murphy’s Law I cannot eliminate this possibility completely.

Why I am Doing This

During the course of this project many people have asked me why I would take on such a large, difficult, and expensive project with a high risk of failure at a time in my life where I could barely afford to do it. To explain, ever since I was a little kid, one of my attractions at Disneyland was the Enchanted Tiki Room in Adventureland. This Disneyland attraction was the very first audio-animatronic attraction built at the theme park, and it featured talking and singing tropical birds, tiki masks, and plants. When I was a very small child I literally thought that Jose the parrot and all of his other enchanted tiki bird friends truly were alive, and I was completely awed by them. When I returned to Disneyland when I was high school aged I was still awe inspired by the tiki birds, and couldn't believe how well done and lifelike those characters were. I didn't know how at the time, but I swore that I would get my own tiki bird someday!

At Midwest Furfest 2004 I once again was awed by the performance of an animatronic robot. The robot was the animatronic Georgia Belle worn by Kittfoxx, and when I first saw her perform in the 2004 Midwest Furfest variety show my jaw dropped and hit the floor! Georgia Belle was absolutely fantastic, and I once again told myself how I had to one-day build such an animatronic robot myself! The possibility was opened to me when Kittfoxx handed me his typed essay "Electronics for Fursuiters 101." While the paper didn't go into how the frame of Georgia Belle was built or how her servos, push-rods, and other moving parts were positioned, it did go into the circuit boards that she used as well as some of the basic tools and materials needed to construct her. With that paper in hand, I swore that I was going to build an animatronic robot of my own someday!


Comment from: another crazy costumer [Visitor]
Sounds ambitious! I'm currently working on a costuming project that involves getting as many as 7 animatronic heads talking if not actually to each other, than a reasonable amount of time after each other. I dont have any knowledge of servos or connections to do this so i'm looking around for 1985' teddy ruxpins to cobble together new heads, bodies, and voices for. I read this just from coming apon it in a search for "animatronic" stuffed animals and only wish the craptop I have met your requirements. I hope it works out for you.
Permalink 09/17/06 @ 12:05
Comment from: The Mad Scientist [Member] ·

Dear Another Crazy Costumer,

Thank you very much for leaving a comment on my Foxee Animatronic Robot Project Blog! It sounds like your own project involving hacking Teddy Ruxpins to create a 7-figure animatronics show is a very ambitious idea as well! Teddy Ruxpins are definitely a fascinating piece of technology, and I too at one point or another have looked at them for inspiration. The American Science and Surplus Store, a kind of "Mad Scientist Super Store" not too far from my own evil lair actually sells surplus 1986 WoW Teddy Ruxpin Tape Recorder/ Servo Controller Board units, and I actually bought a few a year back to look into the possibility of reverse engineering them. After looking the Teddy Ruxpin components over, I decided that going with a CD-Player based solution such as the Buffington Effects CD2Serial board would be more advantageous.

If you plan on modifying Teddy Ruxpin dolls for your own project, you are probably still going to have to learn about how servo motors and push rods work because the animatronics in Teddy Ruxpins are powered by servo motors as well. The original 1985 WoW version of Teddy Ruxpin has 3 servo motors in his head (eyes, upper jaw, lower jaw), the later 1987 WoW version had two servo motors (eyes, both jaws simultaneously through a springback mechanism), and still later versions used only one servo motor and a series of belts and pulleys to control everything. I unfortunately do not have a complete Teddy Ruxpin doll so I can't tell you exactly how the whole system works and how hackable it is, but I have found some very good and informative websites that may help you with your project:

History About How Teddy Ruxpin was Developed:

Teddy Ruxpin Information

Teddy Ruxpin Hacking

Best wishes to both you and your project, and feel free to e-mail me about your progress! I would love to hear how this endeavor turns out for you!
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