Animatronic Raven DIY Kit
$255–$375, Mr. Chicken’s Prop Shop, chickenprops.com
Pololu Mini Maestro Servo Controllers
$30–$50, Pololu Robotics and Electronics, pololu.com
Here’s an awesome small-batch kit that’s got all the hardware and feathers you need to assemble a well-articulated animatronic raven that would fit into any imagineer’s menagerie. Includes laser-cut acrylic chassis parts, vacuum-formed styrene body shells, latex bird-leg sheaths, and (in the Deluxe kit) five good quality Hitec servos.
Thanks to excellent video documentation by kit maker Jasper Anderson (aka Mr. Chicken) it’s an easy build — I assembled the robotics portion in an afternoon and evening, and had the servos jumping the next morning. Pretty much a screwdriver and needlenose pliers and you’re there. Oh yeah, you’ll need to drill a few holes in thin brass stock for the wing armatures, but that was easy too.
The trickiest part was bending bits of tough piano wire to form linkages to the servos, but even that was relatively easy as Jasper provides a scaled scan of his linkages so you can get all the lengths and bends right.
Once powered up, the raven’s mouth opens, its head nods and also swings side to side, the wings move up and down, and the entire body rocks at the hips, so you can choreograph cool corvid moves or goofy dance routines.
To finish your raven, the kit includes carefully selected feathers and fake fur — I didn’t do that part, because it’s a gluey job, I doubted my first-time bird cosplay skills, and honestly who has time to do anything lately with kids home “remote schooling” (holy hell this is crazy), but mostly because I returned the kit after review and I wanted it to still be useful to Jasper and not glopped up by my hasty plumage sculpting. Trust the videos, the finished bird looks fantastic, glossy and sleek like the real thing, and I’m sure with patience you’ll get good results applying feathers and finish, judging by how well Jasper guides the mechanical parts of the build.
The Animatronic Raven DIY Kit does not include a microcontroller or driver board to run the servos. You’re on your own there, but Jasper recommends Polulu’s Mini Maestro servo controllers as a starting place. I ordered one assembled (you can also get it as a kit), along with a suitable power supply to run the servos through it (be sure and get the barrel jack adapter that plugs into the board, so you don’t have to cut off the barrel plug and splice jumpers like I did).
The Mini Maestro turns out to be a super capable little servo driver, thanks in part to Pololu’s config/control software Maestro Control Center (Windows and Linux, but doesn’t work on Raspberry Pi). It lets you code motion sequences, tweak servo speed and acceleration for smooth movements, and flash your routines to the chip via USB. Then you can initiate your routines from whatever triggers or microcontrollers you want to use. Jasper provides a sample Maestro routine of some realistic raven moves, but of course you can create your own animations and add sound, voice, lights, or whatever else you want to trigger from your own board (yes there’s an Arduino library).
Jasper notes that the raven’s eye is the same size as a 10mm LED, so I suggest you add a couple and run your raven from any board that’ll do PWM on an I/O pin, so you can dial in a dim, spooky glow.
To get tips on building and programming, and to see how other builders are using this kit, it’s really helpful to check out the Mr. Chicken’s Raven Kit Builders group on Facebook. Happy haunting.