Build log: Animatronic wings

Work in progress
in the meanwhile you can visit my facebook photo albums for the progress while I’m working on a version 3

This is actually version 3 of my animatronic wings. The first version was built end of 2017 and has seen some revisions since then to the structure!

The basics are the same though: I base my wings on the same structure as a double layered umbrella, only flat and with only two arms to each side. The ‘umbrella’ movement is moved using a linear actuator. But you can adjust this for a pulley/rope system for example! Which would be lighter and no fiddling with electronics, but the weight on larger wings is not suitable for manual control (can be up to 20kg in strength).

All my wing joints are 3d printed. You can find hardware replacements for it instead if you don’t do 3d printing, but it may be difficult to apply it to your frame the same way. My 3d print files for this project are my own, as this is a build log and not a free how-to. It’s important to bring some own vision to undertake this project if you plan to make this!

10 meters each of 5/8″ and 3/4″ electrical piping (preferably the ‘good’ sturdy ones)
16x M5 bolts 40mm
16x M5 locking nuts
64x M5 large washers (act as bushings)
Some ABS plastic or wood sheet

12V Linear actuator 100mm stroke length (150N-200N, speed 45mms)
12V 2-channel remote control set, rated 10A or more
3x 18650 battery pack + 3x 18650 batteries with appropriate charger
12V battery with appropriate charger
Some electrical wire (preferably 22 gauge or lower)


Q: Can I purchase those 3d printed joints or purchase the STL files?
A: The files are currently not available, this is a build log on how I did mine, not an exact tutorial for your own pair copy. I think it is important for anyone to practice and experiment when building things like these and not imitate or copy other’s work exactly without actually learning anything. 3D printed DIY kits may be sold in the future.

Q: Can I purchase a bare frame or finished pair of wings made for me?
A: No. Due to the risk of malfunction, risk of injury and size of these, I don’t plan on selling them. There may be DIY kits in the future but this is very far away.

Q: How heavy are these kind of wings?
A: The frame weighs about 4 kilograms. A finished pair of skinned (demon style) wings weighs 4.5kgs. A pair of feathered wings weighs 6kgs. Of this weight, 1.5kg is the motor only.

Q: Why don’t these wings fold tighter? It looks better and less wide to move around.
A: It is very hard to skin artificial wings and even harder to fold this skin properly. So it looks better for the skin, easier to make the skin, looks better for pictures as well if folded wing pictures are taken. The wings move 90 degrees to my back to move through smaller spaces and avoid hitting people. Also, the shorter the actuator, then you have more space for power and speed of the folding motion.

Q: Why not choose aluminum?
A: I purposely do not choose aluminum because I think it creates very stiff wings, it adds more weight than PVC, and it is more difficult to work with. And pvc is cheaper.

Q: Why not use a pulley/rope/brake line?
A: I haven’t tested ropes, but one downside is that a rope will either tighten up or release. When released (to fold the wings) it will still hang or not fold as tightly when a tight system is used.

Q: Your wings flap to the back, will you motorize this?
A: No. I like the way they move to the back and front using the angle of my own body, it gives it more natural look. A motor would remove this look.

Q: What is the electrical circuit like?
A: Linear actuators are very simple: you feed 12V to the positive and negative line, it extends. When you revert the polarity (red to min, black to positive) the linear motor retracts. It stops and shuts off current automatically when maximum positions are reached, locking the position in place.
Using a 2-Channel remote control, you can use one channel to provide a positive current, and the second channel to revert the current. This is also called a “H-bridge switch” if you want to look into it. The battery is connected to the remote control and directly feeds the necessary current through the remote control, so make sure your switch is rated for at least 10 amps.
The actuator in this project will consume 3-4 amps of current when on, strong and proper wiring is highly recommended since a short circuit may result in dangerous situations. Lithium ion batteries are also very volatile!

More coming soon…