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Let me start by saying that I know nothing about robotics.

My wife goes a little crazy with Halloween decorations. She judges success by how many children she can make cry. Last year I built her a coffin with a hinged lid that we prop a skeleton in. I'd like to punch it up this year and have the lid open with some actuators.

I have no idea what parts I would need to make this work. I'm thinking I need something weather resistant and powerful enough to lift a wooden lid. I'll probably attach a skeleton prop to the underside of the lid so it looks like he's sitting up when the lid opens. For controls I'd like just a switch that we can turn on/off or maybe get fancy and add a motion sensor.

Any help you can give is appreciated. Thanks in advance.

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You can use a heavy-duty linear actuator paired with a simple motor controller board (such as the Polou one) and a vibration motor to make the skeleton move. A PIR, passive infra-red, sensor and an Arduino can do the job, so that whenever someone drops by, the coffin will be lifted and the skeleton tremble and shake.
Some nice additions could be RGB leds and sound effects, the latter easily integrated using a sound board (like this one).

As a reference, this is a linear actuator.

a linear actuator

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    $\begingroup$ I found the gear you were talking about. Installing the mechanics is easy for me. Programming is another language to me though. I spoke with my software engineer neighbor today who has the Arduino side totally covered and we geeked out over getting this project done. Thanks for the direction and good ideas. $\endgroup$ – KJM76 Sep 29 '17 at 2:55
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I think the easiest way would be to attach a rope that pulls up the lid. You then just need a motor to wind up the rope. If you have no idea of hardware, this can also be done manually if your development fails and you need to have something working at Halloween.

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