(In Progress)
The question comes up again and again ..
What should I use to control my pneumatic, servo, motrized figure display etc.?
sO I typed up most of the options in order of complexity / capability that I could think of...
(Hope I didn`t leave out anything major)
(feel free to email additions that you think i might have missed : )

(still contains notes to self etc.)
mention seperate track of thinking for movies etc.

The definition of Animated means to make it move ..then Animatronics comes from the Walt-Disney term Audio-Animatronic which usually means to be syncronizing the movement with audio etc.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - CONTROL SYSTEMS - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

RELAYS (Direct Control from PC)
This is probably the best place to start because i`m always thinking that since it`s pretty easy to get a PC to put 5-volts out the various pins of the parallel-port (and serial port?) it`s easy as a first step to drive relays directly with some basic basic programming.
Theoretically you could take a Solid-State-Relay (SSR) and just connect it directly to the pins but i`ve heard that could burn-out the parallel-port etc. ..so the next option is to drive whatever relays you`d like with a transistor in-between to protect the computer. (or just use transistors on their own)
I`ve seen a kit (sold at
www.MPJA.com ..and a few other places) ..which has a circuit-board with 8 relays and transistors etc. that you simply plug into the parallel-port of your computer..then program with software that`s included ...it`s a Really really easy step to send the signals out the pins though ..you can just start-up something like Q-Basic and type the address of the pin ..then "OUT ...something" (.. i forget ..a number or something) ...but that`s it ..hit RUN and it does it ...so if you want to trigger sequences of events you can just type everything in BASIC and run the relays etc. ...if you`re Really good maybe you can get it to run with a WAV. file playing ..DOS is easy to send the signals out ..in WIndows you need to have a DRIVER and i never got that far in Visual-Basic ..the big troubles "i" had was to get a timer to run while I did anything else etc.

Vox system
for mouth instead of audio-sync (i`ve noticed the problem of delay with pneumatics etc. buT if you ran the audio through a delay unit that`d take care of the problem)

(include paragraph from scarymary)
PIC`s (Periferal Interface Controller)
(Good for making Prototype Gaadgets or devices to run servos, digital outputs while responding to input signals ..usually don`t have much memory or audio storage etc.)
I`m only mentioning these in case you reeeally want to create your own animatronic system entirely from scratch.
They`re basically made for anyone who wants to build anY type of programmable, electronic controllable gadget.
They usually come in the form of a programmable chip with various useful inputs and outputs.
Would require some form of programming in BASIC (or maybe C-language or others if preferred etc,) and will come with a manual that shows all the specific syntax etc.)
Various types in different price-ranges ..but overall pretty inexpensive ..and the nice thing is they don`t usually seem to need much of any electronic parts added (well you-know ..relays and maybe some transistors to protect the chip if you`re trying to drive big electrical things directly etc. ..but it`s nice that it`s not like the old days where you`d get this cooL chip from radio-shack etc. ..and you`d have to get a board and expect to solder a few resistors, capaicitors, transistors etc. etc. ...then sOmewhere there`s a cold solder joint i dunno where ..and am i even doing this right ..hey look the atari`s looking lonely ..next project.
It`s pretty common in the robotics community to program them to work with servos as well as relays etc. etc. and bAsically if you can tackle the programming end of everything you can prObably eventually just build your own system entirely and make anything happen that you`d need
Good example manufacturer is
(The Lego RCX Programmable Brick is an example of a well packaged PIC)

MINI SSC`s (Mini - Serial Servo Controllers)
These are made specifically to run servos but a few dO include optional digital-outputs and Most of them are made to be controlled from a pc or other device through the serial-connector ..bUt there Are also a few that have onboard memory.
Example links ..
http://www.seetron.com/ssc.htm (original designer / manufacturer)
http://www.lynxmotion.com (32 channel version)
www.pontech.com  (little bit of memory onboard .. along with infrared control etc.)

It Used to be tough to get things to sync-up with audio OR Even just program in Real Time because of the limitations of the software! .BUT there`s Finally been a nice increase in the programs capabilities out there and now this might be the simplest / cheapest control solution if you don`t mind having everything connected to a pc ..which in harsh condtions ..weLL y`know even without harsh conditions the pc tends to be the "weakest link."

Example software . .
Brookshire Software
Reynolds Electronics
Roscoe Robotics

Miscellanious Other Various "MotorDriver Cards"
There aRe other driver cards that are built to drive relays, servos, stepper-motors, etc. etc.
It`s kind of hard to give an overview because there`s such a range of products that come from the manufacturing control industry, robotics, hobby arenas but it`s worth menetioning that there aRe alot of miscellanious cards that drive motors and often come with some kind of software ..but the software is usually for a specific purpose and probably doesn`t include any kind of significant movement-editing or syncronization to audio etc.
(You could create your own software though ..but often the other side is that they might also only run a few motors etc.).
Stepper-Boards - 
Handyboard -
MIT's board for creating robotic projects http://www.HandyBoard.com (precurser to Lego Rcx Brick)

Programmable Christmas Lighting Control Systems
Ever since that commercial (and YouTube vid) of the house with all the christmas lights flashing in an elaborate pattern syncronized to orchestral music (forget the name) there's been a few competing companies making Programmable Christmas Light Controllers.. Basically the systems control power to electrical outlets so it'd be possible to control other things ..just watch out because some of the control options include making the power "flicker" or "fade" the lights etc. .. so don't plug something in that wouldn't appreciate some interesting power-modulations.

Wizard Boards
Nice that they`re a complete system on a board, a liiiiittle expensive (kiiinda) ..BUT they might do what you need if you don`t need alot of movement (will run a few relays and a few servos etc.)..and they usually include onboard audio recording etc. not sure about the sound-quality but at least it` something.

RECORDED TONE METHODS - - - - - - - - -
I grouped these methods because they all involve recording some kind of control-tones or data onto one of the tracks of a tape or cd etc. ..it makes for a nice compact system where everything stays in sync with the audio because the control-signals are coming off the same tape ..the down sides are that you lose an audio-track and also have to worry if the recorded signal changes speed or loses quality etc. etc.
(still need to edit  it) (this is where you get nice little - - - - chips at radio-shack that respond to different frequencies (when the chip hears a specific tone it closes a circuit) ..then all you do is record (mix) the different frequencies onto an audio track. There`s a nice complete story about how harD it was to mix that many freqencies onto tape in the early beginnings of disney (with audio-cables snaked down stairways etc. ..interesting story)
FSK (Frequency Shift Keying)
Teddy Ruxpin Style
DTMF (Dual Tone Multi-Frequency)
This is the touch-tone system that phones use which can be recorded and played back ..then be used to trigger devices with a few chips deciphering the tones (radio-shack probably still has chips that'll do it ..if not then
www.jameco.com is a good next bet)

(Sync Tones)
Pilot Tone

Primarily used to be supplied primarily Mediamation (
www.mediamat.com for $245) or PAVO?(now distributed by www.electrovoce.com?)..but recently (FinaLLY) there`s been some cheaper versions for about $60 from http://www.j-omega.co.uk..
They all seem to run 8 servos (or lots and lots of relays) using whatever music device or computer will put out a MIDI signal (which is greaT for animatronics because there`s piles of equipment out there that you can use to record, edit and play back audio and MIDI-data) the negative part about using this type of setup is that you don`t find much out there that will let you simply hit a button and have everything run instantly ...you usually would have to start a pc, load a program, then load whatever song-data then hit play etc. etc.
(Which is fine for personal projects etc. ..i`m planning on using a MIDI system for my own projects ..but if you`re getting ready to build projects for other people or businesses then you probably need something that`s a "turnkey" system (which basically means you power it up ..hit a button and everything runs)


Many are "Proprietary systems" meaning that if you use their system you`ll have to use theiR software ..at least in the less expensive systems ..sometimes when they get a little more expensive they also get more versitile and more able to be controlled by outside sources etc. (such as other software or lighting desks or equipment etc.) which also helps them integrate more into any other equipment.
Alot of systems are starting to migrate towards DMX (Lighting control protocal) which means it gets easier to intergrate with other show-control equipment and easier to find usable controlling software and hardware.
Gliderfluke -
Probably the least expensive of all the full-featured control systems
Simon Kaoli
RA Grey
A V Stumpfl
And Others

Christmas Light Control Groups ?

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Data Formats] - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

SMPTE (Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers)
This is one of the original time-code formats that was basically made to syncronize video and audio equipment, sometimes if you look at the black bar between the frames on a video you might see little white dots bouncing back and forth ..thAt`s the smpte-code ...it looKs like binary to me ..i think it`s basically just counting off frames.
(It`s really cool to see someone click a button on one vcr and see a studio full of equipment suddenly trigger and run all together)
This isn`t something you`ll likely be working with unless you`re syncronizing to video etc. ..even then i`d imagine that the smpte would actually run a system that would be putting out something else that an animatronics engineer would have an easier time dealing with)

DMX (Digital Multiplex)
(512 Channels of control data on a single line)
Mostly used for lighting sytems ...if you see a huUuge cool lookin lighting desk at a theater etc. it`s probably running all the lights by putting out dmx control signals to the lights around the stage ..then the lights either understand the signals themselves ..oR there might be a dimmer-pack etc that understands the signals ..then all the lights just plug into the pack.
(It`s just alolt better than having piles of wires running all the way to the stage with actual 110-220 voltage running through them)
Now that DMX is so standard there are quite a few animatronics systems that assume you might want to use it for control (..the standard also seems to be growing in popularity)
(If you look at DJ equipment catalogue it also can give you taste of what kind of cheep dmx-gadgets are out there)

MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface)
This is the protocal that`s primarily used to syncronize musical-instruments and drum-machines and sequencers and computers etc. ..it often goes hand-in-hand with a smpte sytem if it`s being used in a production facility ..with the smpte handling the video end and the midi handling the audio end.
(MIDI is usually primarily used to transmit "note-data" (as in notes going on and off in a song, the velocity each note was hit, pressure on the keys, volume pedal amounts, pitch wheel movements, song start-stop-and-position if there`s a sequenced song
It gives you ..128 (i think) parameters that you can multiply across 16 different channels ..it runs with serial data running down a single line in a 5-pin round connector though ...so if you try doing eVerYthing at once it can really choke on the data ..although usually when i see something choking on the data it has more to do with the old 1980`s keyboards i got not being able to handle all the extra velocity and pressure information the newer equipment is putting out nowadays etc.)
AnYways ..
(The way you can use it is that Mediamation (
www.mediamat.com) and _ _ _ _ _ _ and Pavo (www.electrovoce.com?) or http://www.j-omega.co.uk have MIDI-to-Servo or MIDI-to-Relays Interface cards where you can control 8 servos or multiple relays with music software etc. ..by making the software think it`s controlling 8 synthesizers pitch-wheels or volume-knobs etc. ..then it`s nice because the software is friendly when it when it comes to dealing with the audio and editing movements along with it.
(Update: Right now 2008 it looks like
http://www.yostengineering.com might be the lest expensive for midi-to-servo cards).

MSC (Midi SHow Control)
This is a newer version of the MIDI standard (since it got so popular and gained such wide usage) that`s designed more for overall control use rather than specifically for musical instruments

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Physical Motion Systems - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

(starting with the smallest first ..go ahead and skip the first few if you`d like)
Nintol Wire
Ocasionally people think about trying Ninitol Wire or Flexinol Wire for some kind of animatronic application when they`re starting out for something like eyelids etc. ..problem a: is that they bend quickly from heat when powered ..but the return is alot slower from the natural cooling ..and over time the point they 'relax to' changes so I don`t think it`s really something you`d rely on over time ..BUT ..if you`re experimenting with super lightwieght robotics etc. then it can have it`s uses ..possibly the Lightest wieght of the actuators out there.
Editing In: Y'know I typed that a few years back and low and behold..someone then uses it to make the lightest servo-actuator out there (
the Toki BioWire 1g Micro Servo) (LiveWire Sub Micro Servo?) even plugs into a standard rc-connector... .

(Oh Ok)
ElectroActive Polymers (and ElectroActive Polymer Gels)
(I just love sayin stuff like that ..makes me sound smarTz nyuk nyuk)
(It`s unrealistic to even mention these here buT just because it`s interesting I figured i`d throw them in to cover the micro end of things)
These are still in the scientific-study phase but it`s a fun thing to mention in case someone also wants to play with some micro-miCro-robotics.
Someday these will probably be common and cheaper ..basically you take a sheet of the stuff (plastic) ..and stick some electrodes on it and it BEnDS ..ALL Over the pLAcE : ) (bUT not from heat ..it`s from a chemical reaction triggered by the electrons..AND if you reverse the polarity the sheet will bend the opposite direction!) ...They actually even have an idea of making a plane out of the stuff so it won`t even need ailerons or a rudder etc. ..everything will just BenD!
(check out the vids at ..
And there ARE already alot of uses when it comes to extremely miniature actuators..such as a tiny tiny bending brush actuators to clean internal cd-dvd lenses etc. ..the gels can be used as tiny tiny valves or encapsulated into expanding & contracting pistons.
Right now there`s examples of uses for nano-technology for making tiiiiny robotic wings flap etc.etc.
Right noW though ..I bought a sample that was 1/4inch by 1inch and it cost FreaKin $25 + shipping : ) lol
(AND i STiLL don`t really have it working right : ) lol ...ugh
(The Formula for electroactive-polymer-gel is even oN the net in case you want to make your own ..but my sister said looking at the formula it was a:very hazardous and b: one of the chemicals clears out a room if you even get one drop on the floor etc. ..i think i`ll leave it to the pros).

(little pistons that get pulled or pushed when you send some power to their electromagnetic coil)
I don`t think i`ve seen solenoids on anY animatronic figures really unless it had some real specific need ..ExCept that I heard that Mannetron used solenoids for the eyelid blinks and that it had a nice realistic effect.
Mostly limited uses though prooobably because the power to wieght ratio is pretty low .

AC Motors (Alternating Current Motors)
The most common motor probably ..plug one into a wall and it runs ..everything from vacuum-cleaners to airconditioners.
One thing that surprised me when selecting motors for the first time though was that the Torque level of AC motors is usually aLOT LOWer than DC Motors! ..it takes a HUGe AC motor to 'out-do' a sMALL DC motor when it comes to strength ..ANd they tend to generate aLOT more heaT
(Some will let you change their direction and some wont)
Often you`ll have to connect a capacitor (probably supplied or already attached) to make the motor start.
Often the speed is also set because of the rate that the voltage alternates (60hz in the US) so if you need speed control you might need to figure out some trick oR gearing etc.

DC Motors
(Direct Current Motors)
Easy to change the direction ..no capacitor ..stronger for the size ..easier to vary the speed etc. etc. etc. ..
BUT ..the oooone trade-off is that the longevity could be lower simply because usually DC motors have brushes rubbing up against the center shaft inside to transfer electricity an eVentually they`ll rub themselves down (as opposed to alot of AC motors being "brushless")
... BUT it`s great unTil then : )

Usually used in printers, plotters, scanners, vcr`s etc. ..anything where Very Precise control is needed down the the exact number of rotations ..and a direct connection to complex circuitry isn`t a problem.
Extremely Precise variable speed control you can go from _ _ , _ _ _ RPM for 1 second ..then slow own to 1RPM for a certain amount of rotations .. then reverse to whatever speed etc. ..really amazing to see ..BUT ..the torque level is usually pretty small for the size of the motor..AND in order to control the motor with that precision the motor itself usually has about 6 or more wires that need high speed on/off signals running into them to activate the individual coild in rapid succession etc.

I Kind of jumped over to this because this is actually a different waY to use whatever motors you may have ..AND it`s (or WAS) a common way to make figures move in complex patterns without having to stress a bunch of different motors or actuators .
Just run one biG motor to rotate a shaft with cams on it ..then have a bunch of levers being actuated by the cams ..then run cables from the levers to the different parts of whatever figure or automata you may have.
The gooD thing is that it`s a simple system to design overall (with a few neuances here and there of exact location of the rollers, cams etc.)
The baD thing is that when the system is designed to pull on cables to make things move and there`s springs etc. to pull the parts back into place ..you`re never just pulling with whatever strength it takes to make something move ..you`re pulling with the strength it takes to make the part move AND stretch the spring that`s there to pull it back ..PLuS a little more for when the grease works less and less over time ..so the cables are constantly pulling 3 times more force than some other type of system might.
(Unless you come up with tricks to using two cams for harsh movements ..maybe one to pull the part one way ..then an opposite cam to pull it back.

Servos (Hobby Servos, Sub Sub Micro Servos, Larger servos, Robo One Servos)
(Usually when people mention servos in animatronics they're talking about the type of servos used in Radio-Control Airplanes and Cars etc.) (I'm kind of cheating in this section because they're also actually a geared-down dc-motor that responds to a pulse signal (usually from a radio-control reciever ..or also from whatever circuit-boards you can find designed to control rc servos) ..instead of the final gear on the outside of the housing rotating and rotating it only rotates about 60degrees back and forth according to the frequency of the pulse signal it gets) .. (unless you buy a servo that's packed differently or is geared differently .. there's more varieties popping up every year)

Commonly used in motion pictures for variable controlled movement in models and animatronic creatures etc. etc... you usually see them in the form of little 2inch long rectangular boxes made small and light-enough to not wiegh-down a flying model-airplane or racecar etc. . with a wheel on top that moves back and forth according to how you're moving a lever back and forth on a transmitter or controller etc.
(Usually I wouldn`t say to consider the regular hobby-style servos for anything that was going to have to last and last ..But Surprisingly the people at .
AnimalMakers.com  for example have used them in their characters meant for theme-park use and are getting longevity out of them) ..
(in 2005: Hitec seems to have won out in the tests they conducted against maybe every other brand)

Standard Consumer Servos have gone through a quite a boom recently because..
a: Radio Control Model Airplanes have both been getting HUGE physically (to the point where I dunno why people don`t just go an extra 30% in size and just climb in)  (There`s also a trick i`ve seen where they sell brackets and levers to gang 3 servos together so when you send the signal to all 3 of them to move the same way ..they all pull together for more power.)

b: Radio Control Toys have also been becoming Minitaurized with transmitter-reciever technology, battery technology and motor technology becoming more miniaturized. You can now get Sub Micro Servos (under an inch long) new for under $4.

c: The increase in popularity of the "Robo-One" Robots. (Biped Automated 12inch high Fighting Robots)
(Editing in: Everything typed in the rest of this section might be wrong ..I thought robot servos had 5 wires but now i'm only seeing 3 so i need to do some research)
These servos are basically the same size and work basically the same as hobby servos except for the fact that they`re geared differently and information of the main-gear position actually goes back to whatever circuit-board is controlling them through the electrical connector (so there`s 5 wires going to them rather than the usual 3) ..thAt way when a robot puts down it`s foot ...it can set the foot down ..get an idea of what angle the terrain happens to be from the feedback from the servos ..thEN start sending signals to the servos to make the feet move accordingly (if the robot didn`t have the feedback from the servos it would just keep making the feet level-out etc. instead of accounting for rocks etc. etc. ..hypothetically) (..i hope i got that right)
(a few ?3 wire examples at..
http://www.hitecrobotics.com )

Standard servos are usually housed in about a 1" x 2" x 2" housing ..but now there's a sub-micro format (about half the standard servo size) ..and a few very flat in-wing designs .. as well as a few specialized sub sub sub micro designs such as the ..
Toki BioWire 1g Micro Servo (LiveWire Sub Micro Servo?)
The Light Servo 2.0 / 2.4 / 3.0
Global Cirrus CS-3 Micro Joule servo
Falcon servos - Bob Selman Designs (open frames)
Gasparin/Didel GDW micro servos (open frames)
MicroInvent  servo (more like a variable solenoid)
DWE (Dynamics Unlimited) “Lightning” (teeny tiny but i think they're out of business)
(..sorry none of that's very useful for animatronics but it's nice to have the section complete)

There`s been some larger servos available for quite a while (such as the Tonegawa Servos ..
http://www.tonegawaseiko.co.jp ) which have 1000inch-lbs of torque and take the same pulse-signal that the hobby servos take .
(I'm pretty sure these were the ones used in johnny 5's Arms)

In any case it depends on the use .. it tends not to be a great idea to use any sort of gearmotor directly in a Theme Park type of Animatronic project that has to last a long long time just because of the overall situation that if there`s a repetitive move that the motors would have to make 1000 times a day..the same few teeth on whatever internal gears would keep taking the worst abuse again and again and again
(You get the same problem if you're running cams with a gearmotor or gear-reducer ..you need to design so specific teeth don't keep getting repetitive abuse)
(..probably lots of exceptions though)

(Show images of Hitec Robo Servos, Tonegwa servo)

Motorized Linear Actuators
Usually a gearmotor rotating a threaded shaft (leadscrew) that extends he shaft a certain distance.
Usually very slow but sometimes you can get some surprises.
Circle-K and Firgelli are the two manufacturers that come to mind.

(show firgelli actuator and circle k)

Air-Muscles - Pneumatic and Fluidic
A variation on Pneumatic Pistons ...Air Muscles are basically rubber tubes that tend to shorten when you pump them up with air. (they include an outter mesh to keep them from overexpanding ..and actually thinking about it I guess the MESH is actually what shortens when the tubes expand
As far as I know
www.shadowrobot.com  basically invented the designs  .. another manufacturer is http://www.festo.com

Pneumatic Pistons etc.  (via. Solenoid Valves / Mac Valves)
Easy to design for since the movement is usually linear..also all you need to do for more power is turn up the pressure on the air-compressor which is nice.
Very Common usage especially for people creating Haunted Houses.
Common among medium to low-cost anmatronic characters ..sometimes associate with jerky movements since the control is primarily from on/off pressure control from Solenoid Valves.
Not many moving-parts overall ..the weakest link (AND most expensive component) is the compressor (especially if it`s undersized for the job)

This should also be the place for a plug for "Mac Valves" ..very common in pneumatic animatronics because of the reliability and quiet operation.

(valves, servo valves, valves with voice coils etc.)
The next step after Pneumatics ..basically the same as pneumatics when it comes to mechanical structure ...differences are mostly in the pumps etc. ...but the primary purpose to upgrading to Hydraulics woul be either for Strength if it`s a hUGE project ..or for precise control that can come with the addition of Servo-Valves and Position Feedback from the Pistons or mechanics etc...which adds aLot of more control for smooth movements etc...but also adds to the price BigTime. ($1000 for 1 servovalve?)

(ok to be fair i should check that price on ebay right now if i`m going to type about it... ..hm .oh..well ok $600 ..$200 ...hmm ..there`s one for $24 from a car ..dunno what thAt`s about )
(..just still more expensive than $5 mac-valves : )

anyways ..
GooD side - Lots of power and precision
BaD side - Expense Expense Expense and the potential for a devastating mess : ) lol

(Mannetron even tried a system with water instead of oil which is a cool trick for cleanliness etc. ..the only down side is that when using oil it also keeps everything lubricated while water tries to get things to rust etc.
(I should mention so sOmeone does that in farm equipment and trucks etc. there`s a new trick of trying Vegetable Oil? instead of crude-oil etc. since it`s easy to obtain, clean-up is always easier and better for the environment etc. etc. and it`s EasY to change over (just basically draining the one type and filling with the other?)
(I think most of the research and usage is being done at Purdue while using it in the equipment and trucks etc. right now ..but I havn`t really checked on it yet (..should be building a robot righT noW as a matter of fact : ) lol

Mention definition of Compliance

Ask Terry Sandin about CNC , standard ways to do movies etc.

Edge Effects (was: Johnson XFX)

For the Most parts just about every product you buy has it`s own software to go with it ..there`s a few small 3rd party programs out there to run the SSC`s or the Parallel-Port-Relay-systems ..All the Chips that`re on the market have software or software examples or resources that go with them specifically ...Gilderfluke, SImon Kaoli, Hensons system, Mannetrons system, Disney, the Mediamation Smartbox etc. etc. All have their own software systems to go with their products.
I think the only real generic software that would be an advantage to learn (other than Music software to run some of the MIDI interface boards) would be any general show control program that can run DMX etc.