Thursday, January 31, 2008

Spiders in the Attic Wall-Mounted Automaton

Here is another clever work by artist Anthony Lent. I am growing more and more fond of this wall-mounted format. As you see in this piece, entitled Spider in the Attic, the format opens up a lot of interesting possibilities.

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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Hummingbird Automaton with Scalloped Cam

Here's an interesting use of a scalloped-edged cam to create a very fast reciprocating motion of a lever. The lever, in turn, pulls a string to cause the humming bird's wings to beat.

[Thanks Charles!]

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Monday, January 28, 2008

Engine-Powered Mechanical Horse

I was going to write a post about the giant mechanical puppets in France, which are totally amazing and mindblowing. However, in doing some research on the subject became totally and completely infatuated with something else. That something else is what you see in the photo above -- a motorized mechanical horse that can be ridden.

I have no idea if this thing really worked, if it could carry more than a fez-wearing boy, or even if this photograph is entirely genuine. (It has a somewhat painterly quality to it.) All I know for sure is: I want one of my own.

This is another gem from the Modern Mechanix blog from an article originally printed in 1933.

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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Miniature Workbench to Work on Small Parts

Working on miniatures or any small part can present a unique set of challenges. Sometimes the job requires small tools. Other times, you just need a way to hold the piece so you can work on it in comfort and safety.

Here is a solution that I wish I had thought of years ago.

This little bench is 13-1/2" high with a 1" x 3-1/2 x 8" top. You can't really see them in the photo, but the top has a row of nine 1/8" x 5/16" miniature dog holes. The whole thing can be clamped in a vise or to the surface of a larger bench. The third option, shown here, is to sit on the splayed wings that form the base. Two bolts in the top act as screws for the wooden end vise.

Read more about this and more elaborate arrangements in this article on miniature workbenches.

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Saturday, January 26, 2008

Beautiful Hand-Cranked Orrery

Take a look at this beautifully made orrery by artist Eugene Sargent.

Here is Eugene Sargent's web site. [via MAKE]

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Friday, January 25, 2008

Madame Radora Wireless "Automaton"

This interesting bit of history comes to us via the Modern Mechanix blog. Pictured here is a radio-controlled fortune teller from 1924. I think this might fall under the category of "faux automaton".

From the article:

Reading Thoughts by Radio

Can thoughts be read by radio? "Madam Radora" seems to prove that they can. Madam is not a human being, but a life-size automaton shown at the Permanent Radio Fair in New York. Her "thoughts" and movements are controlled entirely by wireless; no wires of any kind are attached to the table whereon she rests, and a liberal reward is promised the person who can prove that this is not true. Persons desiring to ask questions simply stand before "Madam Radora" with their hands resting on a special pedestal carrying a number of electrical contacts. Radora then bends over her crystal, and answers the questions put to her in a clear, feminine voice.

See the article in it's print form at the Modern Mechanix site.

Found via BoingBoing Gadgets.

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Automaton Artist: Anthony Lent

The automaton in the video above is the work of master jeweler and automaton-maker, Anthony Lent. This piece is entitled Vespa Inhorgenti.

From his site:
Mr. Lent has taught at New York's Fashion Institute of Technology for thirty-one years, serving as chairman of the Jewelry Department from 1990-2001. He has also pursued the fascinating world of automata, creating magical and intricately built pieces that delight and beguile the eye and the mind. His work, including intricately hand-crafted watches, has been shown in numerous venues in America and Europe. He has won international awards

Visit Anthony Lent's web site and automata page to see more of his gorgeous work.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Automaton Building Video: How to Make Automata

Here is an instructional video on how to make wood automata by one of the UK's top automata artists, Keith Newstead. It is a very helpful video. My only regret is that it is not longer!

From the site:
Making automata is hard. It requires a wide range of construction skills and an understanding of certain mechanical and engineering principles...The first half of the tape is divided into the following sections: Levers, Cranks, Linkages, Cams, Shafts & Bearings, Ratchets, Gearing and Drives...The second part concentrates on some of the ways the mechanisms can be put together to make automata.

Here is the link to the video on How to Make Automata
Note: Those in the USA will want the NTSC version.

Here is a book that is also very good: Automata and Mechanical Toys.

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Book: Make Your Own Working Paper Clock

I remember seeing this book at a friend's house when I was a teenager. Neither he nor I had the patience to undertake the project. Years later, this books seems like an amazing way to learn about clocks, clock-making, mechanics, paper engineering...and patience.

The reviews on Amazon about the book/kit/project are illuminating. Among some of the tips I read were the following:
  • Consider getting two copies in anticipation of needing to make/remake certain pieces
  • Use glue sparingly
  • Try a tacky type of glue
  • Use an X-acto knife and many X-acto blades
  • Work in many short sessions over time
  • Work when you are up to it and can be careful
  • Have small clips, weights, clamps, and cross-lock tweezers
  • Be especially careful when constructing the main gears
  • Certain parts might benefit from a hardening coat of white glue or Mod Podge
The comments reveal that the people who were happy with this project were the ones that really savored the process of building. It is clear that this not an afternoon project. If it is approached as a challenging, educational exercise -- you cannot really fail.

Order the book Make Your Own Working Paper Clock

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Video of CarveWright Wood Carver in Action

UPDATE: It appears the Woodcraft is no longer selling the CarveWright system. As an alternative, you should consider the CNC Shark Routing System or the really capable CNC Shark Pro Routing System.

Here is a video of CarveWright computerized woodcarving system in action. It's a woodworking robot.

CNC routers are nothing new. But, as I mentioned in a previous post, this system's price doesn't make it totally out-of-the-question for the personal wood shop.

In this video you get to see how the machine is set up and used, how bits are changed, and the basic CAD-like software it comes with. It sounds a bit noisy, but is a power router after all!

Here is more detailed info on the CarveWright at

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Monday, January 14, 2008

Make Your Own Robot...With a Soda Can!

This little kit includes a plastic body, wire wings, wire legs, motor with wires, screws, and detailed instructions...almost everything you need to turn an empty soda can into simple robot bug that skitters across the floor. You supply the batteries, soda can, and the time it takes to put it together.

Check out the Make Your Own Soda Can Robug Kit.

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Sunday, January 13, 2008

How to Build Rubber Band Powered Cars & Toys

I don't own this book, but it looks like it has good step-by-step plans for making rubber band powered cars and toys.

The book's table of contents lists at least eight different projects. The excerpt pages I saw on suggest that the book uses lots of clear photographs to show how to make each project. The projects use easy-to-find materials and tools such as rubber bands, cardboard, pencils, push-pins, white glue, and scissors.

Sounds like some cheap, easy, DIY, mechanical toy fun to me.

Check out the book Amazing Rubber Band Cars: Easy-to-Build Wind-Up Racers, Models, and Toys

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Friday, January 11, 2008

Roullet et Decamps Leopard Automaton Video

Michael and Maria Start have been performing high-quality restorations of automata and singing birds for 12 years. I love the action of the this creeping leopard by Roullet et Decamps.

Michael Start is a trained Horologist, winning several awards for his practical and theoretical clockwork.

Maria Start is a trained sculptor and artist, specializing in perfect color matching and replacement body parts. Maria uses traditional techniques and materials, with authentic papier mache and gesso recipes.

Visit their site entitled AutomatomaniA.

You can learn a bit about the restoration of antique automata in the a chapter of the book Automata: The Golden Age.

Seen on the MAKE blog

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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Maillardet's Automaton at Franklin Institute Draws

The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia -- home to Henri Maillardet's drawing automaton -- has recently updated their site.

In addition to the video seen above, there is some (remarkable) history about the piece, images of drawings that the automaton creates, and shots of the intricate clockwork brass mechanism.

Learn more about Maillardet's Automaton at The Franklin Institute.

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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Good Deal on I-SOBOT Robot by Tomy

Amazon is selling the Tomy I-SOBOT for just over $200 USD now -- that's a savings of $97.03 off of original retail.

The price seems to have jumped back up to $242 -- still a savings, but only of about $57.

From Amazon:
With unbelievably smooth robotics, the i-SOBOT walks more like a human than a robot. This fully-functional and fully-assembled robot features 17 custom designed actuators and gyro-sensor, allowing it to keep balance and freely move joints for impressive performance, vivid movement, and incredible flexibility. Other main components include a built-in speaker unit and built-in microphone with a voice recognition chip. With built-in clutches and metal gears, the i-SOBOT offers up to 220-degree movement. The two infrared transmission bands allow the robot to be operated with an LCD remote control.

See all the details of the Tomy I-SOBOT Robot

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Sunday, January 06, 2008

15 New Robots from WowWee

Head over to the MAKE magazine blog to see their roundup of reviews for toymaker WowWee's new line of robots.

Here's an article on the new robots from PC Magazine's coverage of the 2008 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

I'll be updating the robot toys section of The Automata / Automaton Store, once these new toys are available through Amazon.

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Saturday, January 05, 2008

PhantasieMechanik Exhibition at phaeno

Head over to The Mechanical Blog to read their recent posting about an upcoming exhibition in Wolfsburg, Germany.

The show will include 40 pieces from Cabaret Mechanical Theatre and 18 from American artist Arthur Ganson. There will also be works by Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre, Eduard Bersudsky, and Norman Tuck.

Read all of the details about The PhantasieMechanik Exhibit.

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Thursday, January 03, 2008

CarveWright CNC Woodcarving Machine

I take pride in the hand-crafting that goes into making each Dug North Automaton. Still, there is a tool addict side of me that cannot help but dream about the possibilities of a machine like this one: The CarveWright CNC Woodcarving Machine.

While less robust than full-fledged CNC router table, the price of this machine is so much less, it is in a class of its own. I won't go into the technical details of this automatic wood carving machine here...they are too numerous.

Just consider this for a moment: automata building more automata. Wow.

Check out the CarveWright Woodworking System.

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Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Animated Pop-Up Cardboard Theatres

Check out these beautiful little cardboard theatres. There are small pull-tabs that allow you to animate the characters or elements of the scene.

There are three scenes available: the Garden Theatre, the Nutcracker Theatre, and the Santa Theatre.

Visit Hestia House Miniatures to see all three animated pop-up cardboard theatre models.