At one time or another, probably just about every little boy has dreamed of having his own version of C-3PO or Robby the Robot. Well, while affordable close-to-human-sized toy robots are still not a reality, TJ* at least offers up the most expressive part of one – the head. About three-fifths the size of an actual adult human head, TJ* incorporates three user-controlled micro servos, that move its eyeballs up and down, left and right, and that open and close its mouth. Some interesting extra features are also in the works.
TJ*’s open-source controller is based around that favorite of electronics tinkerers, the Arduino microprocessor. Using a joystick and four buttons on that controller, users can operate the puppet’s facial features in real time. Techy types can also write their own code for a series of preprogrammed movements – just like many mobile toy robots can be programmed to travel along predetermined routes.
Mechanical engineer Jeff Kessler originally designed TJ* as a one-off creation, for use in a film. Now, he’s raising funds on Kickstarter to turn the device into a commercial product. He has already far exceeded his funding goal, so it should likely be making its way to the marketplace.
The base model is made mainly from laser-cut fiberboard, although buyers can upgrade to opaque or transparent colored acrylic plastic. For people who don’t like TJ’s skull-like appearance, Kessler is also working on a variety of paper “skins,” that can be wrapped around the puppet to give it a more personable, three-dimensional appearance. For users who want it to look scarier, however, a set of glowing LED eyes is also on its way.
The next version of the product, known as Emotive TJ*, will feature two more servos. These will allow it to smile and frown, and raise and lower its brow.
Once enough TJ*s are in customers’ hands, Kessler plans on starting up a YouTube channel where people can post videos of their robot heads mouthing lines from movies, doing their best Christopher Walken impersonations, or otherwise being goofy.
A pledge of US$120 will get you a complete TJ*, once they’re ready to go. More information is available in the pitch video below.