48 SERVO 03.2016
Project Concept and Design
• Ask for help. Find a mentor to pass on some of their
knowledge to help you along.
• Spend some time making a plan first! A little extra
time spent at the beginning of a project will save lots of
time and headaches later.
• Learn new skills. Check out your local community
college. Their classes are widely available and teach many
skills you will find useful.
• Spend time researching. Take advantage of all the
resources that are available on the Web. Make sure to
bookmark any interesting sites or videos even if they are
not related to a current project. They may come in handy
for a future idea.
• Attend conventions, events like Maker Faires, or local
group meetings. Many cities have robotics clubs,
woodworking groups, or Halloween gatherings. All of these
have something to offer the DIY animatronic builder.
• Join an online forum. No local groups that fit your
schedule? There is a plethora of online forums filled with
people who enjoy doing the same things we do. Find one,
join, and introduce yourself. In fact, why not start by
joining our own Animatronics forum at
• Have a backup plan. Or two. Or three.
• Make checklists, parts lists, to do lists. Writing it
down will help assure that important steps are not
• Take notes — lots of notes! Keep an idea book and
use it! Jot down ideas, no matter how outlandish they
seem. You may one day have the skills to turn those crazy
ideas into a reality. Another resource I use is Google Docs
which allows me to update my ideas no matter which
electronic device is handy. My phone is usually with me, so I
can conveniently record and retrieve ideas even when away
from my computers.
• Make sure you have adequate electrical service for all
your needs. Decide early how you will provide power for all
those cool projects you think up. Some things to consider
Let's face it. Getting started with a new hobby can be daunting. There
is new vocabulary to learn, unfamiliar techniques that need to be
mastered, and tools and parts that need to be purchased. So, what
should you learn first and where should you start?
Have no fear! Others have already traveled this road and are willing to
share their expertise. There is no need to reinvent the wheel, plus you
can learn from their mistakes (although you will still make plenty of
I have compiled a list of some nuggets of information and hope they
will speed up your learning curve if you are a beginner. If you are a
seasoned builder, I hope there are a few ideas here that are new to
you, as well.
By Steve Koci
Tips of the Trade