Thursday, November 30, 2006

Automata Book Store - Huge Update

The Automata / Automaton StoreI've added 45 more titles to the books section of The Automata / Automaton Store that I've set up through I've selected books on these topics: automata-making, paper automata kits, the history of automata, mechanisms, woodworking, animatronics, autonomous robots, whirligigs, puppets, wooden toys, mechanical toys, wooden puzzles, carving, paper engineering, and the engineering process.

It's basically a reading list to get your Ph.D. in contemporary mechanical automata. I'm less than half way there myself.

Please visit The Automata / Automaton Store to further your education...and my own!

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Makers: Gift Card with Purchases at Northern

Free Gift Card With Purchase At
For those of you that make stuff -- automata or otherwise -- Northern Tool is running a special promotion where you get a gift card with your purchase. Type in this promo code on the Address Verification page: 94660.

The offer applies to orders over $100 bucks, but this time of year, that's easy to do. They have pretty much every tool under the sun from a $2 strap wrench to a bulldozer that goes for $21,800!

Don't take my word for it...see if there is a tool you cannot find at Northern Tool + Equipment.

(If are unable to find a tool, post it as a comment here.)

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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Swiss Watches and Objects with Automata

The photographs are too darn small, but you really must take a look at these watches and clocks with integrated automata. The site says they date from 1770 to 1850.

The cursor doesn't change when you roll over it, but the text that says "Full printable version" is a link that will open a small window with a photograph of the item.

Most unusual is the derringer that is really a small clock with a singing bird automaton. That's got to be one of the strangest combination of things I've ever heard of. Funny, beautiful, clever, incongruous, and chock full of man-hours. Yup, you guessed right: I love it.

See this Collection of Swiss Watches and Objects with Automata

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Automomous Solar Robots

Of all robots, BEAM robots are the most clearly associated with automata -- in my mind, at least -- because they are fully autonomous. They don't even require batteries. Robots like the Cybug Solarfly will seek out bright areas to recharge, and avoid obstacles on its own. There is no program controlling it; its behavior is either a function of its physical structure or hard-wired electrical responses.

You can see a few of the autonomous solar robots I made a few years ago, before I discovered contemporary automata.

The Cybug Solarfly and other BEAM robots are available at Edmund Scientifics

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Saturday, November 25, 2006

Industrial Materials and Tools from

Did you know that has a new product category? Amazon Industrial and Scientific offers a huge selection of metals, plastics, mechanical components, fasteners, wire, springs, tools, and safety equipment.

Here's a link to the associated blog

Here's a link to's Amazon Industrial Supplies

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Thursday, November 23, 2006

A Moving Exhibit - Article on Automata Exhibit

Here's a nice little article about the Charles River Museum of Industry exhibit that examines motion toys and automata.

This is the exhibit in which I have a piece on display.

Here's a link to the article: A moving exhibit

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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

20 Antique Automata Sold from Merritt Collection

Sale Of Mary Merritt Museum Dolls And Toys Nears $2.5 Million

From the article:
Approximately 20 automata by premium name manufacturers were offered. Leading the group, a circa 1875 Roullet et Descamps boy on a clockwork tricycle earned $34,100 against an estimate of $15/18,000. A rare 29-inch-tall girl automaton holding a toy theater and accompanied by a cat in a wicker basket, also by Roullet et Descamps, handily surpassed its estimate at $20,900.

Here's a link to the full artcle about the Merritt Collection Sale

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Book: Living Dolls by Gaby Wood

Elsie Or has a interesting mini-book review on her blog entitled "Oh My Gooshiness".

The book in question is Living Dolls by Gaby Wood.

Here's her blog post with the review of Living Dolls

Here's the Living Dolls book(used, I think) on


Not Your Father's Erector Set - Interactive Robot

This Erector set builds 6 ultra-cool robots that can be motorized and programmed. The Sleek and futuristic design comes with 2 motors. The new Erector assembly system is faster and easier than ever and includes a power tool that doubles as an additional motor. The set comes with over 500 plastic and metal pieces

This is not your father's Erector set!

Check out the Erector Interactive Motorized Robot Speedplay Set

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Monday, November 20, 2006

Wood or Paper Santa Automaton for the Holidays

You may just have time enough to find Woodcraft magazine (Holiday, 2005) and make my exercising Santa automaton.

If that's too ambitious, why not make Rob Ives's paper Santa automaton?

Though it's for sale in Pounds, the amount in U.S. Dollars will come out to about $5.75. Once you pay, you can download the pattern immediately. Open it in Adobe Acrobat Reader (free, if you don't have it already), print it out on some good paper and away you go. This is a great way to keep the kids busy during the pre-holiday -- in school or out!

Visit the Flying Pig page for the Laughing Santa Automaton

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Sunday, November 19, 2006

Another Autonomous Dinosaur: Roboraptor

Mark Tilden the former NASA scientist behind Robosapien, also created Roboraptor, this programmable robotic dinosaur.

Roboraptor is one astonishing, programmable RC dinosaur. He is fully controllable and programmable by radio control but also fully autonomous in free-roam mode.

Roboraptor has multi-sensors to allow this 32" bipedal beast to see, hear and feel the environment around him. He has multiple touch sensors in his head and tail, while sonic sensors detect sound and direction. He even has three distinct moods: hunter, cautious and playful. Go near his face when he's hunting and he'll behave aggressively; touch him when he's playful and he'll nuzzle your hand.

Now I want both a Roboreptile and a Roboraptor to see which one would win in a fight!

There's good video of the robot here: Roboraptor

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Saturday, November 18, 2006

LEGO ™ Mindstorms NXT Robot Kit

LEGO ™ Mindstorms NXT Robot KitDear LEGO: feel free to send me your newest robot-building kit, with 32-bit command center, large LCD, USB 2.0 and Bluetooth interfaces. I will be happy to review it (and keep it!). Sincerely, Dug North

  • Intuitive GUI and drag-and-drop icons are PC- and Mac-friendly
  • Touch and light sensors, sound sensor, and ultrasonic sensor
  • Three motors for smooth, reliable operation
  • 6-wire digital cables for precise connections
  • 5 main themes(8 different models - Vehicle: Roverbot, Animal, Scorpio; Machine: Robotic Arm; Human: Humanoid; Gadgets: Clock, Music, Game and Movers
  • Models are built with the LEGO Technic System
  • 571 pieces
  • Quickstart Guide - build a robot within 30 minutes
  • Model-specific building instructions, tips and tricks, testing methods and programming options
  • Easy-to-use software
  • Test panel

Learn more about LEGO ™ Mindstorms NXT Robot Kit

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Friday, November 17, 2006

Exhibition from the British Toymakers Guild

From November 16th to December 3rd, 2006, the British Toymakers Guild returns to, London, to show and sell hand-crafted automata, dolls, puzzles, games, puppets, hobby horses, wooden toys and more.

The work has been created by over 30 makers from all over the British Isles.

Here's the official TOYS@OXO web page

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Thoughts on Automata

What are automata on the larger scale of things?

The answer has changed over time. Initially (Heron), they were explorations into the use mechanical principles to amuse and amaze. This held true for hundreds of years, even up to the time of Jacqeut-Droz. At that point, they were meant to amuse and amaze, but there were two other roles. First, they served as advertisements for the show how masterful he was at his craft and to sell more clocks and watches. Second, there was a growing mindset -- following Descarte and Newton -- that all of creation was a machine. By creating very realistic automata, I believe they hoped to learn more about the actual systems of the body -- about life. So they had something of a scientific motivation as well. Vaucanson's duck would be a prime example.

As time passed, automata continued to serve as entertainment, but to different social classes. Initally, the finest automata were shown to royalty, in the late 1800s they were high-end amusements (i.e. Robert-Houdin, Vichy, Roullet and DeChamp) and eventually came to the masses with the advent of mass production. This trend continued to the point where plastic toys are the modern day equivalent. So there is another trend from adult to child as the primary audience.

What can we say about automata in general, then? Automata are mechanical devices that have some ability to act on their own to represent living objects (people, animals, and plants).

Contemporary automata -- the type made by CMT and myself -- are a swing of the pendulum back to adults as a audience, back to hand-crafting, back to higher prices. They are not unlike comics in that they are typically funny and often make some form of social commentary. Their popularity, I believe is in their humor, the sense that they were made by a person, and that their workings are comprehensible to almost everyone. People like to laugh, to see human ingenuity, and to understand how things work. Contemporary automata are empowering in some small way.

The continuum from toy to automata has no hard dividing line. Who is it made for? How was it made? How many were made? How much does it cost? I can charge a lot more for an "automaton" than I can for a "Wooden Mechanical Toy", so there is an element of marketing spin involved.

The scientific aspect now belongs to the roboticists and the computer scientists. Where is the divide between robot and automaton? I would say simply the addition of electronics in the automaton itself.

I seems like I should makes some diagrams to show some of these concepts visually.

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Autonomous Roboreptile

Discovery Channel Store Exclusive RoboreptileWho doesn't want their own 2 1/4 foot fully autonomous reptile with two aggressive biomechanical gaits, stereo sound sensors, color-shifting skin, whipping tail, snapping jaws, rear sensors, infrared vision sensors, touch sensors and hood to fit over its face to subdue it during aggressive moods?

Rumor has it that everyone in the audience of Ellen Degeneres Show will receive one free tomorrow, Thursday November 16th. That's going to be chaos!

Check out the Flash video of The Discovery Remote Control Chromashift Roboreptile

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Dug North - Santa Automaton on Display!

If you live in Massachusetts or New England or are planning on visiting the Boston area, you can see one of my automata in person. I've allowed the museum to let people turn the crank themselves.

My automton Training for Christmas featuring Santa Claus doing exercises, is on display at The Charles River Museum of Industry in Waltham, Massachusetts, USA. The exhibit shows automata through time and has a section featuring automata that visitors can operate. My piece is on display among a number of others by automata artists you may know, and some you may not know, but should.

The museum has lots of other things of interest to the mechanically-minded: engines, machine tools, pocket watches, bicycles, and a car from 1907!

Here's a link with contact information and directions to The Charles River Museum of Industry.

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Sunday, November 12, 2006

Nemo Gould Featured in Make, Nov. 2006

Nemo Gould was featured in their "Made on Earth" section the most recent issue, vol 8, page 25.

Most of what he makes are what he calls "Fauxbots" -- mechanical sculptures inspired by popular conceptions of robots. Mostly metal, his work is made from found materials.

Here's a link to the Make site and here's a link to the

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Friday, November 10, 2006

Ernie Fosselius in Make Magazine Print Edition

Automata Maker Ernie Fosselius is featured in a two page spead in the latest print edition of Make magazine (vol. 8, O'Reilly).

The spread features photos of eight of his automata and a short article.

From the article
"I'm creating little characters, situations, and stories that hopefully make people laugh".

Well, said!

Check out an interview with Ernie Fosselius at Make Zine and his entry on Wikipedia

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Thursday, November 09, 2006

Peeking Pirate Paper Automaton

Here's a great paper automaton from Flying Pig Paper Animation Kits.

From the website:
Turn the handle on this intruiging model and watch as the not so jolly pirate peeps surreptitiously from within his barrel of rum.

It never ceases to amaze me what Rob Ives can do with scissors, ruler, white glue, and a sharp knife.

Visit the Jolly Roger automata kit page

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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Schylling - Wind Up Mechanical Tin Toys

It warms my heart that Schylling is still making classic tin toys. While my preference is for wood and hand-cranking, I love retro metal toys that you wind up.

Some of them are very clever...and no batteries required.

I dealt with their customer service folks once and they were really nice. I broke a crucial piece on my Balancing Bear Ernestand they shipped me a new part, free of charge!

Check out a bunch of Schylling Tin Toys

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Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Arthur Ganson Show in North Carolina

In case you missed the post on The Mechanical Blog last month, a gallery show of kinetic sculpture by Arthur Ganson began on November 4th in Charlotte, NC.

From the McColl Center for Visual Art web site:
Arthur Ganson creates contraptions composed of a range of materials from delicate wire to welded steel and concrete. Most are viewer-activated or driven by electric motors. All are driven by a wry sense of humor or a probing philosophical concept.

I've seen some of his work at MIT. It's really cool!

Here's the link to Machines and Mechanisms: Kinetic Sculpture by Arthur Ganson

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Monday, November 06, 2006

Wooden Writing Automaton

Here's a link to a video of a 19th Century wooden automaton that writes kanji on a sheet of paper. Simply amazing.

View the Kanji writing automaton on YouTube [via Make, via Brass Goggles]

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Sunday, November 05, 2006

Scholarly Chapter on the History of Automata

The book is entitled Crescendo of the Virtuoso: Spectacle, Skill, and Self-Promotion in Paris during the Age of Revolution by Paul Metzner.

Though chapter 5 is titled, "Robert-Houdin and the Vogue of the Automaton-Builders", it actually covers a much broader swatch of history including Robert-Houdin's predecessors.

This is a 28 page chapter with a few illustrations and a long list of endnotes.

Read about Robert-Houdin and the automaton-makers before him


Automaton Maker Profile: Pablo Lavezzari

I was recently contacted by Argentinian automaton-maker Pablo Lavezzari. He directed me to his web site, which I had not found on my own. Here is a beautiful site featuring the work of a talented automata maker. Be sure to check out the "Galeria de fotos" where you can see images of his work. The artist has informed me that videos are on the way, though he already has a number available on YouTube.

Visit Pablo Lavezzari's website

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