Adorned With Tech
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Adorned With Tech

Motor Study: We Attempted to Encase an Arduino with Fabric

And in theory, it should have worked.

I worked with my classmate Linnette Martinez to think of servo motor applications. We thought it would be smart to team up because we both think differently. Linette has more skill with computing while I have a little more experience working with fabric and thinking about how an item might sit on a body.

But our interests overlap in the realm of cosplay. We both go to comic book conventions and we love the culture and artistry that goes into making an outfit. We also liked the idea of adding some tech to cosplay outfits to enhance an effect.

Moving Cat Ears

One of our first ideas was to use two servos to make cat ears that twitch. These are common items at conventions, and all over, but we thought that making one move would be an interesting take and was pretty simple.

However, when we started to think about how we might mount this on our heads with the supplies available scale came into play. We may have been able to make it work with a mini microcontroller like the Adafruit Gemma but given the time constraints and factoring in shipping, we didn’t want to risk losing the time.

We also lived in two different states, and while I had a wearable microcontroller that could be sewn in, Linnette didn’t, so we tabled the idea of the cat ears for now and started thinking about other applications.

Source: Toy Store Finds on Etsy

From Ears to Tails

The cool thing about cosplays is that you can literally turn into just about any character so we decided to push the animal aspect a little bit further. We turned to the Arduino Project Hub for inspiration and were instantly drawn to this project of an animatronic tail.

And then immediately said, “How do we simplify this and not articulate each vertebra?”

That led us to look at other projects that used animatronic trials for inspiration including this one from Adafruit.

We liked the idea and knew it would be simple to attach that type of tail to a human being with a belt, but then thought about how we could take it a little further and give the twitching tail an embodiment of its own.

From a Tail to Another Being

We turned to Disney princesses and their sidekicks. We thought about how we might use a tail on a creature that would give a character guidance on their quests and began to do a search for short-tailed animals whose tails have movement.

We discussed how the tail of a bunny, a dog, and a chinchilla would look, before iterating on a dog’s tail. Two that really stood out were the pug, who has a small curly tail, and the corgi.

Ultimately, the deciding factor became which dog’s butt would we enjoy looking at more and that’s when we settled on a corgi; largely because we happened to find a bakery in Japan that sells filled corgi but rolls.

Source: Ceasar’s Way

Circuit Prep

With our subject decided Linnette and I went to work. Linette tested the code for the Corgi adding a function that would allow a cosplayer to interface with the toy by tapping it on its nose.

Rough drawings of ideas for the corgi body.

With a rough circuit drawn and knowing that we would need to ultimately hide a breadboard, I decided that we would use that as the base. In an ideal situation, we would attach some elastic to the bottom of the toy so it could be worn on a user’s wrist with a costume, but early on Linnette found that we would need a bigger power source.

Knowing this, I prioritized the construction of a body that would hide the electronics.

Linnette and I communicated over Discord. She shared her circuit build and code with me and I uploaded it on my end and reconstructed her design. (With many problems.) Once the basic circuit was working I used a bunch of scrap fabric to construct a rough body.

Designing the Corgi

I had made sketches earlier in the week of a corgi lying on its belly. I suspected that we may need some additional wire to attempt to hold the shape of the body and give the wires some room to breathe.

Typically, when making a stuffed animal I would tend to use a Polyfill but I didn’t have any Polyfil on hand and when you order polyfil you typically get a lot of polyfil so I decided to use cotton balls instead.

Construction required four legs, a head, a body, and a tail. I prioritized the head and body since they had the technical components immediately at hand. I made a tail out of some scrap yarn using this tutorial on how to turn yarn into fur.

It was somewhere around this point where I decided to affectionately name my Franken-Corgi, Muffin!

Integration Issues

Earlier in the week, I ordered some male-to-female wires on Amazon so that the button could be supported off the breadboard, but my wires didn’t seem to want to transmit the input to the servo.

Tested circuit with the trimmed tail.

I was using a rubber band to try to keep the wires since they were unstable but even when I double and triple checked the position of the wires the input didn’t register. So I undid the long wires and proceeded to go back to putting the button back on the breadboard to see how we could mount this servo and get the desired effect.

My original thought was to mount the servo to a piece of cardboard that would sit inside the body of the corgi and the Arduino and breadboards would sit in there too covered by a mass of fabric which would probably have to be built with wires.

I made a rough elastic strap attached with tape, but it was too small so I can’t actually wear it, but you can get an idea of how the buddy might attach to a wrist.

Things I Learned

  • It’s a lot harder to encase something in a malleable material than you think it is.
  • Tiny rubber bands need to go on my shopping list for projects like these.
  • More thoughtful patternmaking would have helped this go faster, it is also not something that could be done in a week. Lesson learned.
  • Curious about how this would work with soldered connections and a milled board, I would like to explore this more.

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