Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Mechanical Toys - Automata/Automaton Store

Just in time for the holidays...tons of cool mechanical toys! There has been a HUGE update to The Automata / Automaton Store. An entire section of mechanical toys has been added.

Under the Mechanical Toys heading there are many subsections:
* Tin Toys - Robots
* Tin Toys - Vehicles
* Tin Toys - Animals
* Tin Toys - Games
* Contemporary Wind-Ups
* Motorized Mechanical
* Wind-Up Flying Toys
* Mechanical Banks
* Balancing Toys

There are also sections dedicated to:
* Robot Kits
* Robot Toys
* Construction Toys

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Monday, November 26, 2007

Automaton Kits - Make Your Own Wood Automata

Automaton Kits have been added to a page on Several wood automata kits from Timberkits are available online. The lower portion of the page also has links to some paper animation kits from Flying Pig Paper Animation Kits.

Kits are a great way to begin building automata. With all of these kits, the tricky design details have already been worked out. You can concentrate on the task of building something you know will work. From there, you may choose to design your own. If you do, these automata related books can help.

Check out the automata kits page on

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

Dug North's List of Top 12 Robotic Toys for 2007

I scanned for a hours in search of the coolest robotic toys. The slideshow above shows you 12 of my top picks (in no particular order). Many of them have video on Amazon so you can see what they can really do.

1. LEGO Mindstorms NXT

2. Pleo Dinosaur - A Ugobe Life Form

3. WowWee Robosapien Version 2 Humanoid Robot

4. WowWee Roboraptor Robotic Dinosaur

5. Tomy I-SOBOT Robot

6. i-Que Personal Robot

7. WowWee Robotic DragonFly

8. Robone Fully Articulated Robot

9. WowWee Robotics Roboquad

10. WowWee Robosapien RS Media

11. Tyco R/C N.S.E.C.T. Robotic Attack Creature

12. Hitec 77002 Robonova I Ready-To-Walk Humanoid Robot

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

PROXXON Miniature Power Miter Saw

PROXXON Mini Miter Saw ModelI own two Proxxon miniature power tools and they are both amazing. Not "amazing for their size" -- just plain amazing.

The mini miter saw is a great addition to any model-maker's or automaton-maker's tool collection (or any work area where space is tight). This miter saw is great for cutting 90 degree and 45 degree cuts in a variety of materials. There are detents every 15 degrees for cutting a range of angles.

The saw has a really clever integrated clamp to hold the material and ensure that your cut stays on the mark. There is also a built-in stop to help you cut a bunch of pieces to the same length. Nice.

As with Proxxon Miniature Table Saw, these miniaturized tools are clearly not toys; they are solid and exceed one's expectations in terms of performance. Seriously, the mini table saw can make a clean cut in 3/4" hardwood and it's barely bigger than a toaster.

The truly handy thing about owning the miter saw AND the table saw is that they use the same blades. You can get a variety of blades for slitting, cutting wood, and cutting metals. I have found the miter saw mounted with an abrasive blade for non-ferrous metals to be a great way to cut brass rod and bars to length.

Check out all the details on the Proxxon Mini Miter Saw and the Proxxon Miniature Table Saw

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Counting Sheep - New Paper Automata Kit

The new paper animation kit from Flying Pig Animated paper kits is officially available.

The piece is called Counting Sheep. When the handle on the box is turned, the sheep jump, and a counter is incremented.

A classic ratchet-and-pawl mechanism to drives the counter. Not an easy mechanism to engineer in paper!

Flying Pig offers printed kits and downloads. Order the kits you like, download the file (PDF), print them on card stock, cut them out, and glue them together with white glue. Each kit comes with complete instructions.

Check out Counting Sheep and the other paper animation kits.

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Saturday, November 17, 2007

Featured Artist: Michael Pflueger

Michael Pflueger is a Germany-based mechanical sculptor, maker of interesting metal art, and designer of useful household items.

This is a clever interactive piece in which the viewer/user is pecked at by the mechanical bird. It is amazing that a few mechanical parts can create such a lifelike motion.

Check out some of his other works at [Thanks Falk!]

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Musee Mecanique: The Zelinsky Collection

The Musee Mecanique is one of the world's largest privately owned collections of coin-operated mechanical musical instruments and antique arcade machines.

A collection of over 300 items including orchestrions, coin operated pianos, antique slot machines, and animations, small bird boxes and even a steam-powered motorcycle were collected by the late Edward Galland Zelinsky (1922-2004).

The good news is that the majority of this vast private collection is on public display and you can see the machines in action!

If you are visiting the San Francisco area, The Musee Mecanique is located on Pier 45 at the foot of Taylor Street in San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf. And hey...admission is free.

The Musee Mecanique has an excellent web site providing some history of the collection, an online shop, and many wonderful photos of their attractions.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

CeraCera Paper Automata Blog

Though not updated in a while, the folks over a CeraCera Paper Automata Kits have also created a blog.

The blog gives a candid look at the process of designing paper automata -- both the failures and successes. There is much one can learn on this site about paper engineering, and how it applies to automata.

Check out some of the posts on CeraCera Design Notes blog. It's fascinating stuff, so hopefully, they will be adding some new posts soon.

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Sunday, November 11, 2007

Dug North Monster No. 1 Work-in-Progress

I am thrilled to be part of a an exhibit in my home town called: Made in Harvard.

The show is being put on by an organization called "For Art's Sake", an association supporting art in the Harvard schools and community.

I will be showing a functional mechanical prototype of a piece with the working title of Monster No. 1. The automaton features a small, but presumably nasty little monster who is struggling to break free of the chains that keep him from creating who-knows-what-kind of havoc.

The card of the front of the motorized display case reads:
Monster No. 1
being a model conceived & created for use in the evaluation of
form, design, performance, et cet. of divers examples to follow

by Mr. D. North - MECHANICIAN

Stay tuned for a short video clip in the near future!

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Friday, November 09, 2007

Featured Artist: Gina Kamentsky

Gina Kamentsky has been creating automata and kinetic sculpture for a long time. She has also invented toys, worked on animated films, and teamed up on projects with the MIT Media Lab. She is now on my list of personal heroes.

She has recently launched a web site that features her work. The site is easy on the eyes and has tons of video clips of her amazing contraptions.

While the piece shown above entitled Cranky Banky has been sold, the site features many, many pieces that are available.

Check out the wind-up, wall mounted, and larger works by Gina Kamentsky at

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Thursday, November 08, 2007

Reader Contribution: Dogs Washing a Cat

This week's Reader Contribution is once again from dedicated reader Tony.

Tony's sense of humor shines through in full force on this one.

The piece features three dogs watching a cat spin around in a washing machine. Their tails wag in joy. Very funny, indeed.

For more on making automata check out my hand-picked list of books that can be found at The Amazon Automata / Automaton aStore.

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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Paper Engineering Blog by Rob Ives

Rob Ives, the genius behind Flying Pig Animation Kits (automata made of paper), has started a blog that chronicles his development process.

Entitled simply Workshop Notes, the blog posts cover his new models, models in the process of being created, his sources of inspiration, and other material of interest to paper engineers.

The picture above is of a nearly completed paper automaton called Counting Sheep.

Visit Workshop Notes to see what Rob Ives is working on now.

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Monday, November 05, 2007

New automata by Atlanta based artist Tom Haney

Atlanta based automaton-artist Tom Haney has added a number of new pieces to his web site. Among the new pieces is Fruition, seen in the movie clip above.

From the Artist's Site:
I wanted to continue to explore the idea of "experiments with electricity and electric lights." I had the idea to have a figure "switching" a bulb on and off by touching together two brass contact rods. The antique case, which has glass on 5 sides, lets lots of light in, but also serves as a protective container that allowed me to add intricate detail to the scene.

All of his new works can be found at the bottom of Tom Haney's home page.

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Sunday, November 04, 2007

Drinking Bear Automaton by Roullet et Decamps

The estimates valued this drinking bear automaton between $600 and $800 dollars. In ended up selling at auction for $2233!

It is a clever mechanism, indeed. The bear pours a drink with real liquid. When he raises his arm to drink, the liquid drains down a hidden tube and refills the decanter for his next drink.

Learn more about the makers, Roullet et Decamp, in Christian Bailly's book: Automata: The Golden Age 1848-1914.

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Saturday, November 03, 2007

Wood Works with David Marks on Amazon has recently added Unboxed Videosto its product lineup. What is an Unboxed Video? Simply put, it is a video download of a show or movie that can be purchased or rented and then viewed on PCs, Portable Media Players, or TiVo DVRs.

I did a search and found that season 7 of David Marks' TV series Wood Works is available at $1.99 per episode. For less than two dollars, you can watch an episode on more than one PC or TiVo DVR, keep it in your library, and make a backup disc.

This seem like a pretty good idea: No VCR to program, no tapes to buy or store, and the ability to quickly scan through the video to watch and re-watch particular sections. Each one has a description of the episode, running time, and a short video preview.

If you find other video related to automata, please let me know!

Check out this new online resource to learn about woodworking: Wood Works shows from Amazon Unboxed Videos

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