Finn, 5 axis robot. (Project3)


Note: the above video is NOT real time speed. This was a timelapse with 10 second intervals on moth machines.

Finn is my latest robot.

6 Degrees of Freedom
1) Pan
2) Tilt
3) Slide
4) Focus
5) Zoom.
6) Aux

Finn is the first of a series of Dragonframe compatible robots I plan to build. The challenge behind this was to see if i could build a Dragonframe ready photography Robot for under $500. The initial goal was to have Pan, Tilt, Slide, Focus and 2 auxiliary ports to control 2 more motors for various purposes.  One of those I turned into a Zoom control. This is a plug and play system with Dragonframe, simply plug a USB from the robot to a computer running Dragonframe, and plug in the 12v power supply and you now have motion to add to your stop motion animation or timelapse. This is designed to be a studio system, but can be taken out in the field if needed.  If anybody is interesting in one of these, contact me at I will be happy to build them for $1500 for a four axis rig with the ability to control 2 more motors. That is less than half the price for many other systems that have less capability.

It would be made to order, so we can discuss dimensions and requirements to ensure it suits your needs. Being made-to-order there is a little bit of a turnaround time, depending on how many I am currently trying to build and the availability of some parts.

If you are reading this, I am still building. So feel free to contact me.

If you are feeling up to the challenge, look below for the history on the project and a list of parts.  If you decide to build one and run into issues, shoot me an email, ill be happy to provide guidance.

Project3  ($500 DIY Robot )

Under $500 for a full robot??? Get outta here!!!!!!!!
This is a killer rig. No doubt about it. Excellent movement resolution, well designed, well built, and an extremely simple plug and play system for Dragonframe. Just plug it in the computer via USB and plug in the power (AC Adapter or Battery, this system takes very little power). This system can be controlled by any moco system that runs steppers, OpenMoCo, NMX, etc. This would be excellent for anyone who wants to do studio timelapse, or toi add inexpensive Moco to their stop motion animation. 

If you are interested in owning one and want me to build it for you email me, I will do it for $1500 + shipping for a finished rig powder coated in and color you want and built to your specifications. If you want it without the rail, or minus focus, we can discuss that. These would all be made to order, so expect a little while before the system would ship. Contact me, lets chat.

Goals and Requirements for Project3

1) Under $500 build price (parts only, not including shipping)
2) 4 Axis of motion. Pan/Tilt/Slide/Focus
3) Dragonframe compatible. (this will also work with any system that can drive stepper motors)
4) Capable of meeting/exceeding the studio performance of $2500+ Moco systems
5) Constructed using no expensive specialized equipment. This means no CNC routers or mills, no 3D printers, etc. This must be able to be assembled with regular hand tools, and common garage tools to include a basic drill press, miter saw with aluminum blade, soldering iron, and a Tap + Die kit.

Related Posts specific Project3

Part 1 (8/3/2017)
Part 2 (8/12/2017)
Part 3 (9/10/2017)


Parts List (Updated9/3/2017, Final)

Pan Tilt Head
1×2 Inch rectangle tubing (3 feet)
$6.66 (sale) 
1/2″ ID x 1 1/8″ OD Flanged Ball Bearing (2 pack).  $2.99 (x2)
Clamping Hubs, 0.770″ Pattern  $5.99 (x3)
Dual Pinch Bolt Clamping Hubs, 0.770″ Pattern %5.99 (1)
1/2″ Aluminum shafting (2 inch) Two inch shafts $1.99 (x1)
1/2″ Aluminum shafting (3 or 4 inch)  $3.39 (1)
Shafting and Tubing Spacers (12 pack)  $1.99 (x1)
Motor Mount – Swivel Clamp (37mm) $5.99 (x2)***
Motor Mount – Swivel Mount $3.99 (x2)
Nema 17 Stepper Motor Bipolar w/ Gear Ratio 27:1  $25.66 (x2)***
Camera Screw $4.99 (1)
Camera Release Plate 15.99
Aluminum Bar 1/4 x 2  x 12 inch $9.90 (Camera Cradle)
Aluminum Bar $10.30 (1) This is the route I used to create the camera base. Aluminum is fairly easy to drill out, you might want some 90 degree clamps t hold it secure while you drill and tap the screw holes on the 90 angle.

***Note, on the stepper the Nema 17’s end up being a bit heavy. A good alternate would be these 19;1 Nema 14 motors for $29.30 and that would require purchasing the 32mm Swivel clamp instead of the 37. In retrospect that is the route I should have taken as there are no advantages to the larger ones aside from price. The smaller ones use less power and weight about half as much and have more than enough power unless you are planning a heavy load. However, keep in mind if going smaller the shaft diameter goes from 8mm to 6mm, So you will need to replace the “Small Gear” below with THIS ONE***

Lens  Gear 13.94
Small Gear (x2) $7.63
Large Gear (x2)  11.28
Belt (x2) 6.73

Screws 6-32 button head, 1/2 inch (x4)
Screws 6-32 button head, 1 inch (x4)
Screws 6-32 button head, 3/8inch (x8)
Socket head screws to attach to rail (size depends on the rail)

Focus Motor Assembly
Nema 8 Stepper Motor Bipolar w/ Gear Ratio 19:1 $44.05
Motor Mount – Swivel Clamp (22mm) $5.99 (x1)
Motor Mount – Swivel Mount $3.99 (x1)
Aluminum Motor Mount B  $5.99 (1)
Hose Clamp $3.66 (1)

Linear Slide
1204 Ball Screw CNC Linear Slide Stroke 400MM Long Stage Actuator Stepper Motor $
Aluminum Bar $6.59 (this is for the bracket to connect the rail to the tripod, between 1.5 and 2 inches wide is fine, needs to be 1/2inch thick and maybe 4-6 inches in length)

Current Total $381.41
Remaining :  $118.59

Controlling the Robot

You have several options here at this point. The fact is this is where it gets a bit hairy. You can either go with a system like Dragonframes DDMC-16 or DMC+, you could check out the NMX stuff from DP, as well as the MiniDF Moco from A1net, or even using the guts of an eMotimo. Basically any system can drive this robot.

Of course, I have an option too, the BDIU.

Biolapse Dragonframe Interface Unit (Click for Info)



Update History

Update 9/3/2017, Project3 is complete, and the parts list has been updated.

Update 8/4/2017
I ordered the first round of parts today. I moved from using a near complete Actobotics system to using a mix of Actobotics and raw materials. The large reason I deviated was due to the cost. By moving to some raw materials and doing my own cutting and drilling, I can knock the material costs down about 40%, without adding a whole lot of work, and still no expensive equipment required.

I will hold off on ordering any further new parts until these come in.  This should provide the L frame, the rotational axis portions, and the motor mounts. Once these arrive and are worked and fitted I will make the decision on the next parts.

I am feeling pretty good though, about 60% of the budget spent, and this already covers the motors, the frame, the linear slide, the focus system, BDIU and such. This is a majority of the expensive parts.

What is left is the pulleys, gears, belts, and extra parts that will be required to attach Part As to Part Bs.


Linear Slide. 8/4/2017
I went ahead and bought the rail I have been looking at. It is similar in style to the Chronos rails Kyle and I used to sell, and at $89.99 its actually quite a bargain. The Pan Tilt will mount directly to the carriage. The rail is pretty short, only 500mm, just under 20 Inches in length.  The total travel is 400mm, which is right around 15.75 inches.
At this moment many of you are probably wondering why I would chose such a short rail. Basically, long rails just suck for this kind of work. Ive never understood the need for a 6 foot rail. I have used a 1000mm rail for this work, and STILL found it to be too big and bulky.  I have a Chronos Lite Micro rail on Lil’ Wayne and generally never move the camera more than 10-12 inches. So 15.75 inches of travel on this one is perfect.