Miniature Motorized Mechanical Circus
In preparation for Maker Faire 2011, I decided to rebuild the circus project from scratch. I’d originally envisioned a round ring, a cleaner look, and more movement. I redesigned the mechanisms and decided to keep them as simple as possible: two rotating gears and two racks and pinions. I chose to do this because the beauty of these mechanisms is that they are very simple, and the opportunity for creativity is to make the simple back-and-forth motion interesting by adding characters and a storyline. This iteration of the project took about two weeks to build, from start to finish. For this project, my friend Luis Daniel (now also an ITP student!) collaborated in the entire fabrication process and some of the electronics. The vector files are open source SVGs minimally altered for the ITP laser cutter.
To illustrate this point, let’s talk about the tiger. In this circus reborn, which I am calling “Miniature Motorized Mechanical Circus”, the number of circus acts (mechanisms) has been reduced from five to four: an elephant, a tightrope walker, a group of dancers, and a tiger jumping through a hoop. The tiger mechanism is very, very simple: a rack and pinion pushes the tiger back and forth, but the addition of a hoop makes the movement a simple story. Suddenly the tiger isn’t just moving forward and backwards, but jumping through the hoop and then returning to its original place. The elephant mechanisms is just a rotating arm on a motor, but the addition of an elephant at the end of the arm creates the illusion that the elephant is “walking”.
I wrote all the Arduino code based on Tom Igoe’s examples and using his stepper library. Each circus animal is mounted on a stepper motor powered by Arduino. Since the Arduino can't move the motors and listen for input at the same time, I had to use one Arduino for each motor. Each circus animal is also connected to a roller switch that, when pressed, moves the motor back and forth 200 steps, thus animating the circus act.
Here is a video of the circus in action:
Miniature Motorized Mechanical Circus from Gabriela Gutierrez on Vimeo.
The circus won an Editor's Choice award Maker Faire 2011. It was on display at the Arduino Tent on Sept 17 and 18, 2011 at NYC Maker Faire hosted by the New York Hall of Science.