I've been putting off adding electronics to my costumes, even though at least one of them (Darth Malgus) would have benefited. However, I'm now at the point with the Ithorian build when I've got to add some motion control. And, there are a lot of features I'd like to add that will require additional electronics.
But here's the thing. A big part of my career has been building electronics, and I've been pretty burned out on it. It's hard to have my hobby so closely match my work. Although currently my work has been mainly software engineering, I come from the early computer revolution: designing and assembling digital circuitry, embedding microcontrollers and firmware into equipment, and working in the robotics industry. My graduate work was in Electrical and Computer Engineering since UCSB didn't have a software track (remember, I'm an elder geek). Ever since I was a child I did a lot of hobbyist electronics (analog), and as an adult I built a lot of home robots (digital). But after many years, I burned out on it all. I occasionally solder a few wires or check continuity on some circuitry, but I never dive deep into the latest SBC or other electronic project.
Now though, I need to add some servo motors to the Ithorian costume in order to move the eyes and the eyelids. I'd like to flash some lights on Malgus' control gauntlets and chest plate. So it's finally time to face the current maker zeitgeist and explore what's available for the hobbyist.
The main building blocks are: power, sensors, actuators, wiring, and logic. Of them all, the logic is the central component that will have a significant impact on all the other components. So I'll start there.
Sitting around my office are the two most popular control cards currently available for the hobbyist maker. The first is from the Arduino family of controller cards, the Arduino Uno. Arduino is open source and has been popular for many years now. The system seems easy to set up and program, is small enough to be embedded in any costume project, and has a lot of community support as well as multiple manufacturers of add-ons and accessories.
Also, I have a Raspberry Pi. The Pi is a relatively recent development, but it already has a huge support base and user community. There are a lot of additional peripherals and components that can be purchased from third party suppliers. It's a little more difficult to set up, but it is very powerful.
Which one to choose? I don't know, so I'm going to learn and work with both of them initially. At some point, i'll make a decision on which platform to keep for my particular needs, but I may find that I need different systems for different applications. I'll post my progress with both, as well as the bits and doo-dads I need to add to accomplish a particular task.
First up, blink and eye movement using servo controls!