How to make a shoulder-mounted animatronic light-up robot in 15 days

The School of Creative Arts was approached by creative agency, Ralph, which had proposed an idea to their client 2k Games for a shoulder-mounted animatronic light-up robot that would answer questions and perform live at Gamescon.

Visiting Lecturer, Professor Mark Bloomfield was asked to undertake this mammoth task in just 15 days.

Business Challenge

Time was of the essence with this project and meant that conventional hand processes could not be used to drive the project forward. The only option to ensure deliverability to deadline was 3D print. Mark started with pencil and paper, identifying and working through each problem as a series of quick sketches. He had to take into account:

  • how the robot would sit securely on the shoulder
  • how the head was going to turn
  • how it would be operated
  • how many parts would be needed and how they would fit together
  • how the cables would be connected
  • what electronic components would be required
  • and finally, how a worn metallic finish would be achieved.

How the University helped

Mark considered each of the areas for consideration and came up with a series of solutions before modelling them using his 3D software. He found that using the software to 'rough out' components virtually, then printing them out was a very efficient way of working. Suddenly the virtual robot was becoming real. Problems could be resolved as part of the making process and parts could be revised then reprinted and replaced.

To assemble the robot, Mark used a small desktop 3D printer, the UP+2, printing in white ABS, set to print fast with a 0.4mm layer thickness. The customer wanted a worn, scratched metallic grey and red finish so surface quality was not important. The stepping could be disguised with filler spray and sanding. This meant that all the parts were printed relatively quickly and Mark could concentrate on putting them all together. Once he was certain that the parts worked, Mark began to finish them by spraying, sanding and painting to achieve the final look.

The final product

The robot was secured to the operator's shoulder by using a fully adjustable back pack with aluminium armature fixed onto a 3D printed platform for the robot to be bolted on to. He wired up a circuit for LEDs to be used for the eyes and mouth and to secure all the components and metres of wire: the LED mounts, wiring channels and resistor clips were all 3D printed.

A 3D printer hand held controller housed electrical switches for the LEDs and a mechanical cable controller to move the robot's head, the cables then connected to the shoulder mounted platform and into the robot's body. This enabled the robot to be simply controlled by the operator's hands bringing it to life and allowing it to perform live at the event.