Help me Rock-afire my living room
November 1, 2008 9:27 AM   Subscribe

What's the best way to get started in building my own Rock-afire Explosion (the robot house band from Showbiz Pizza)?

I remember going to Showbiz Pizza when I was a kid and being fascinated by the Rock-afire Explosion (RAE). Not in the "look, a talking gorilla!" kind of way, but more "wow, I would love to see how those things work." I kind of forgot about them for a couple of decades, but now there are fans out there who have managed to procure a partial or full set of the RAE robots for their own homes and are writing new programs, making the band perform contemporary hits (search YouTube for "rockafire" and you'll see what I'm talking about). This RAE renaissance has re-ignited my interest.

I had always assumed the building and / or maintaining these types of things would be far too complicated and cost-prohibitive for me to ever even consider pursuing it, but now I'm not so sure (at least about the "complicated" part).

My question is: what's the best way to get started building my own small-scale robots? I'm thinking I'd like to use pneumatic power (like the RAE bots), but if someone can explain the advantages of instead using servos, etc., I'm all ears. Are there books or websites that I could look at that would break this down for me on a pretty basic level? My searches so far have resulted mostly in resources geared toward people who already kind of know what they're doing. I've considered starting by trying to hack a dancing Santa (like they sell at Wal-Mart around Christmas) or something, but I think I would learn more doing it all from scratch (plus the Santas don't run on air, they're all electronic).

Just for a little background, I am familiar with (very) basic electronics, I can solder, and I have a small (2 - 3 gallon, I think) air compressor. Don't be thrown by my use of the word "servo" above - I barely know what a servo is, so I'm coming from a pretty limited understanding of the components that would be involved.

I should possibly mention that Aaron Fechter (the guy who created the RAE) has recently come out with an "Animatronics Experimenters Kit" ( that allows you to build a simple (?) pneumatic robot head, but it costs $300 + shipping. This seems excessive to me. If I had a general idea of what I needed to build this, couldn't I buy the components and make my own for considerably less? Or am I kidding myself about how expensive this kind of hobby really is? Granted, this kit also includes a control module that converts tones to signals, so that might account for some of the cost.

Speaking of the controlling of said robot, I know that is something else that must be considered (because, after all, what is a robot if you can't program / control it?). For the sake of any projects I might undertake, I am probably more interested in controlling the robot's mouth (or whatever) in real-time with a MIDI controller or something, but again, I'm open to other suggestions. Creating a program that gets saved and can be played back (like the RAE) is probably not as important, but I might be interested in having that down the road.

Any tips / resources anybody could provide would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!
posted by illflux to Technology (3 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Just found this, which I didn't find before I posted (sorry!):

Please help me learn how to build my robot

If anybody has anything to add that you feel might be helpful, I'd appreciate it!
posted by illflux at 11:09 AM on November 1, 2008

Best answer: Just for purposes of learning about microcontroller and/or programmable pneumatics, some Lego robotics kits that have pneumatics would be a heck of a learning tool. I have some myself for... um... research purposes. Or when children come to visit.

Yeah, that's it.
posted by rokusan at 11:18 AM on November 1, 2008

Best answer: 1) The Robot Builders Bonanza - a pretty good here, there and everywhere kind of robotics book.
2) Halloween Forum - particularly the props section. Lots of fun animatronics stuff there.
3) In a similar vein, these guys will have some stuff you're interested in under find and coarse animation.
4) Poke around the Make Magazine blog. Lots of cool stuff there that will interest you. They link to a lot of arduino microcontroller stuff which will definitely apply.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 3:28 PM on November 2, 2008

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