Tag Archives: parrot

Plutarch: 148 Days until Halloween

Longtime readers of the blog will recall the first mention of Plutarch the parrot some time ago. To recap: I’m building an animatronic parrot as part of my recurrent pirate costume. I’ve had some success this weekend getting Plutarch’s proof-of-concept to the next level.

Plutarch 1.0 is not yet a robot: he currently lacks any way to percieve the world around him and relies entirely on a user with a remote control to direct his movements. Eventually he’ll get some sensors and some programming that will let him interact with the world, but for now he’s not much more than a remote control servo, an Arduino, and 4 AA batteries crammed inside a 3D printed body. One shudders to think of the wacky magnetic fields created by the rat’s nest of wiring inside his shell.

parts

I wrapped his RF reciever in a Ziploc bag and secured it with a rubber band. It works, but hoo doggies is it ugly.

rf

(The remote control is this nifty little guy from Adafruit.)

TODO: Stability and order! The purpose of this test was to ensure that Plutarch’s magnetic feet would be strong enough to keep him perched on my shoulder even with the torque created by whipping his head back and forth. He passes the test (barely) but it’d be nice to have a more reliable connection between man and parrot.

He’s got to stay on my shoulder for a couple of hours at a crowded Halloween party, which gets to be more and more precarious a proposition as the grog starts a-flowin’ and people are maybe not paying quite so much attention to where they’re going.

inside

Changing his batteries requires removing his head and digging out the Arduino and the battery case, which puts some physical strain on the electrical connections. One of them broke.

stress

Boooooooo.

The on/off switch on Plutarch’s back is also frustratingly flaky, a discovery which I of course made after epoxying it into place. I’ll have to get a new one in there before showtime.

Also it’d be really funny if he had a functional USB port in his cloaca.

While I’m waiting for some parts to arrive (I found a dozen replacement switches for the price of a latte) I can catch up on some much-neglected cosmetic additions to our hero. Plutarch’s body will mostly be covered in feathers someday, so there’s no need to worry about the layer lines created by 3d printing for most of his surface.

His beak is another matter entirely. Painting it directly will leave the print layers intact, which is going to look fugly. Instead, I masked out the beak with some painters’ tape and spread a thin layer of silicone caulk– the stuff you use to seal your bathtub– on the surfaces that will be exposed to outside observation.

silicone beak

Pro Tip: gently wipe down the caulk with a wet finger to get it really smooth.

I had some flourescent pink spray paint left over from painting Brenda the Tardigrade, so into the garage went Plutarch’s head for a couple of coats.

masked

Removing the tape reveals that our currently featherless friend is going to need a little touch-up before he’s fledged. Note the difference in texture between the coated beak and the raw plastic. Nice.

final beak

Once he’s stable, functional and unlikely to short himself out, I’ll start attaching feathers, and then Plutarch 1.0 will be done and I can move on to planning Plutarch 1.5 for Halloween 2017.

The Agony of The Feet

plutarch on rail

If, bit by bit, you replace the parts of a store-bought pirate parrot with 3D printed components and electronics, is it still the same parrot in five years?

Another Halloween has come and gone, and no, I did not festoon the house with an Arduino-controlled lightshow as I had planned to do in July.

Nor did I design and print that glowing Riddler sword cane I’ve been wanting to get to, and I also failed to make any headway on that EL wire and fog-machine witches’ cauldron I was so pumped up about two years ago.

What I did manage to do was stay married to the lovely and talented Mrs. Zheng3, who in addition to being lovely and talented also had the foresight to order us up a couple of relatively inexpensive pirate costumes from some online retailer.

See, here’s the thing about Halloween costumes. A store-bought costume is all well and good, but I gots ideas, man. Next time you and I are having a beer ask me about my plans for a two-person piñata donkey costume. If you whack us with a stick we’ll drop a bunch of candy out through a trapdoor in the belly. It’s-a-gonna-be-awesome.

pinata

Of course, I don’t have the time to make this. I also must make peace with the idea that I will never, ever, learn how to do DIY vacuum forming and craft myself a suit of Dr. Doom armor. The probability of my constructing an animatronic tarantula the size of a Great Dane approaches zero. Halloween’s an annual exercise in abandoning fun projects before they get started.

But you’ve gotta have a costume, right? Especially since we annually attend a spectacular haunted house/halloween party thrown by good friends of ours out in the boondocks of Hortonville, Wisconsin. Can’t show up there wearing my usual costume of cargo pants and free trade show T-shirts.

As she’s done so many times in the past, the lovely and talented Mrs. Zheng3 pulled my bacon out of the fire with an assist from Amazon prime and MasterCard, and now we’ve got pirate gear aplenty.

But what about next year? And the year after that? We’ve decided that our best option is to commit to the pirate life completely and upgrade our costumes by degrees. This year’s our baseline, and at some point in the next twelve months I’ll buy a nice set of leather boots to replace the cheap vinyl boot-tops that go over my dress shoes.

(The costume has a little tag on the inside that says, I kid you not, DO NOT WASH. Need to replace the shirt ASAP.)

do not wash

Maybe next year I’ll find a flouncy pirate shirt that can do double duty at the renaissance faire. And the year after that I can fall off my wallet and get a nice steel cutlass. And so on and so forth and in five years I’ll have a really great pirate costume just hanging in the closet.

We also bought a polystyrene parrot accessory. He doesn’t look too bad for $10 but the UX could use some love. At the most basic level, it’d be nice if I didn’t have to worry about my bird falling off to join the choir invisible every time I reach for the guacamole.

Plutarch’s original feet have two problems. First, they look nothing like actual parrot feet. Parrot feet are weird, and these are clearly sparrow feet repurposed by an overworked factory manager in Guangzhou.

original feet

Second, the feet don’t ship with a convenient way to attach to the wearer. Plutarch ships with a shoelace-like strap that’s halfheartedly hot-glued to his sole, intended to loop under his owner’s armpit. You’ll see from the Amazon reviews that this is a less-than-optimal solution.

Magnets are my go-to solution for holding things together. A while ago I bought a passel of tiny neodymium magnets for some long-forgotten purpose, and I still have about fifty of them left. A few minutes tweaking a cube in Maya gets me a pair of parrot feet with little sockets for the magnets. The magnets are friction-fit, but being a belt-and-suspenders type of hominid I’ve super glued them in.

feet magnets

A steel tuna fish can lid, easily hand-bent to be convex, hides under my clothing. I’ve covered the lid in athletic tape because it’ll be under a white shirt eventually and I don’t want it to show through.

feet pauldron

Besides, I’m nursing a rotator cuff injury, again, and have no other use for my athletic tape for at least a month. Feh.

Also, Coco gives approximately 6.02×10-23 f_cks about this parrot.

These feet are printed flat in ColorFabb signal yellow PLA/PHA, which is easy enough to deform post-print with a little bit of heat. A few months ago I bought this great little heat gun for heat-shrink tubing and it does a fine job helping me mold Plutarch’s toes to my shoulder.

plutarch shoulder

In the long term I’d like to put some motor control into Plutarch’s head so that he can swivel to look at stuff. And a webcam. And a speaker. And wireless control so that I can control the parrot from across the room.

I’ve already got a wee servo on order from Adafruit, so that’ll be next weekend’s project.

Like I said, I gots ideas. Check back in a year and we’ll see how far I’ve gotten.

Why Plutarch? Ship of Theseus, grandfather’s axe, and all that.

Lao Zheng out.