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TJ* Anamatronic Puppet - a remote-control human head


April 3, 2012

TJ* (seen here with an optional paper "skin") is a robotic human head that is controlled in real time or in response to code, provided by the user

TJ* (seen here with an optional paper "skin") is a robotic human head that is controlled in real time or in response to code, provided by the user

Image Gallery (3 images)

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.

The basic model of TJ*, without a skin

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.

Source: Kickstarter

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

Could be a good tool for teaching facial expressions in a language class and perhaps to autism sufferers.

Mel Tisdale

Interesting project ... with roots at least back to 1908 (see "Balsamo") http://www.magictricks.com/bios/j/joseffy.htm

Stan Sieler

The first picture reminds me of "Achmed" the dead terrorist puppet of Jeff Dunhams.

Stuart Anderson
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