UNDERSTANDING, DESIGNING & CONSTRUCTING ROBOTS & ROBOTIC SYSTEMS
■ BY VERN GRANER
THE DUNGEON KEEPER
BOO! Don't look now, but it’s almost that time
again! Before you know it, those little trick or
treaters will be ringing your door bell demanding
their treats. I feel the very least we can do is give
them a scary good time, eh? So, how about we
make an animatronic body for our talking skull
and put him in a creepy coffin so he can beckon
them forward with a flickering candle? Though this
may sound like a pretty big project, it's actually
rather straight-forward and, if you start now, you
should be able to have your own Dungeon Keeper
ready to thrill the kids and wow the parents for
this Halloween! I had to invent my own talking
skull, but if you already have the Talking Skull kit
featured in the September ’08 issue of Nuts &
Volts, you literally have a head start!
THE HAUNTED TOWER
In the fall of 2003, my family and I had just moved
into a new house in a new neighborhood. We thought we
might be able to meet our neighbors if we really put on a
show for Halloween as the area was teeming with kids.
We came up with a design for a "renaissance" haunt motif
simply using some black landscaping plastic and some
■ FIGURE 1. The large-scale tower facade.
(inset) The Haunted Tower facade in place.
white paint to create the facade of a castle tower. We
prototyped the concept in a doorway of the house and it
came out very cool (especially in the dark when back-lit!).
So, we took the concept and ramped it up, painting a
two-story tall piece of black plastic and then hanging it up
on the front of our house (Figure 1). We called it "The
Unfortunately, inside our very scary Haunted Tower
was a rather non-scary contemporary front door. I decided
to replace it with a home-built "dungeon door" that had a
speak easy type of sliding peep hole to allow us to
interact with visitors (Figure 2). The speak-easy peep-hole
was large enough to allow someone in costume to interact
with the trick or treaters (Figure 3), but I didn't like the
idea of some guy in a mask (likely me) getting stuck with
poking his head out the door to say "boo!" all night.
I wanted to try my hand at a fully animatronic character.
I figured a "talking skull" type creature would be perfect so
I went on a quest for a decent model skull I could convert
into my Dungeon Keeper.
GETTING A HEAD
Back in 2003, when I first envisioned creating a