Unfortunately, WordPress won’t allow me to upload the short video I’ve taken of my animatronic, but I’ve entered the final stage of creation for my project: Finishing the program for it’s little show.
One of my classmates has noted my animatronic’s resemblance to a low-budget version of WALL-E, the robotic star of PIXAR’s movie of the same name. WALL-E is a character of few words, which is perfect, since my animatronic will only be capable of saying a few words! Or, rather, I only have time to program him to say a few. So, my previously unnamed animatronic will be christened, however belatedly, as WALL-E II.
I found, when fiddling around with Max (more on that below) some interesting ways to get my program to unfold. At first, each new movement of my animatronic was controlled by a small clock (or metronome, as Max calls it), each step in the program following the last at a set interval. This was not exactly ideal. Since each new action was triggered at the same interval as the last, no action could last longer than what the metronome was set at. Actions that took less time would cause the animatronic to move, then pause noticeably before the next set of instructions were delivered to the servos. Since I needed my animatronic to pause and move at different rates, this would not work.
A different solution presented itself. I needed each action to follow the last right after the previous had ended. Was there a way to do this? Luckily, yes. By removing the metronome and connecting the output of the servo instructions back to the counter (which was what moved between steps in the instructions), the end of each action would trigger the next one in the series. This was far more satisfactory. Now, I could have an action that lasted several sections, followed by several which lasted only fractions of a second. In short, my animatronic is now capable of far more nuance and expression than he was before.
A few weeks ago I had felt I had reached a roadblock with programming. It was very easy to control a single servo directly, and giving it instructions via Max was not difficult at all. My main problem was in commanding more than one servo at a time, which I found difficult to do. Max seemed to only want to control one servo at a time. It turns out that there was a simple fix available, and my professor would supply it to me, but in the meantime I thought it necessary to look at some other software that might do what Max wasn’t.
Hence Gilderfluke. Gilderfluke and Company is a firm that designs and manufactures entertainment electronics, including animatronic controls and components. They do a lot of work of Disney, Universal Studios and all the other big names in animatronic entertainment. And almost all of their stuff is far out of my price range. Except for a bit of free software that Gilderfluke offers to hobbyists. I downloaded this free software and found that it was far too detailed for my little project. Although a comprehensive program, Gilderfluke PCMACS (the name of the program) was not exactly beginner-friendly. It took me the better part of an hour to find what I think is the programming tool. It is immensely detailed, and with it one could program an entire show’s worth of animatronic characters.
It’s also much less intuitive than Max 7, and rather less user-friendly (PCMACS was originally designed in 1999, and it shows). At the point when I realized that PCMACS would be almost unuseable in the time frame I had to learn it, my problem with Max was solved. Good thing Gilderfluke just gives this program away.
If this explanation was unclear, don’t worry. My animatronic will be complete next week and soon after I put a complete after action report about it, including an illustrated guide to the patches in Max that I used (as well as some developmental ideas, and stuff I would’ve like to implement if I’d had another month or two).
WALL-E’s talkin, but I wouldn’t expect walkin’.
Scott W.E. Dickinson