While attending the amazing XOXO Festival last year, I happened to mention my interest in make soft robots to Surj, who I had just met. I really want to learn how to make robots with working arms and legs which I can cover with knitting or needlefelt. Surj recommended trying to find and repurpose ActiMates, the discontinued interactive Microsoft toy from the 90s.
Surj posed that since these toys were for kids, they could put up with some rough treatment as well as hold up to some washing. Perfect for my needs.
So, when I got home from Portland, I started searching for ActiMates. I have not yet had the chance to scour the shelves of my local thrift stores, but on eBay you can find quite a lot of ActiMates. Unfortunately the Barneys & Teletubbies are the most pricey. I feel little remorse in tearing apart Barney, but doing it to an Arthur doll does give me pause. Which is probably why I have not taken Arthur apart yet.
ActiMates are mostly just a weighted body with a head and arms that move. There is no leg movement, but there are pressure switches in all the extremities.
Also, I am truly shocked that I cannot find more about hacking these toys on the web. I was expecting to find a lot of info on how to do this. I did find some amazing examples of folks who have reprogrammed discarded animatronics from Chucky Cheese. (See Rockafire’s YouTube vids for 4 Minutes and Do It For Love.)
Here are the Barney and Arthur ActiMates I have acquired. This particular Barney was cheap because his battery pack is fried – batteries were left in it too long and started leaking. This is fine by me – gives me the opportunity to figure out how to put in a better power source.
So far, I am planning to put off dismantling Arthur. Hopefully I can figure out what makes Barney tick and can use Arthur pretty close to as-is.