Monday, March 31, 2008

Jaquet-Droz Writing Automaton: First Computer?

Here is nice video of the internal mechanism of Pierre Jaquet-Droz's writing automaton.

The text to be written by the automaton could be programmed. By some people's definition, The Writer is an early -- perhaps the first -- version of the computer, having an input method, programmable instructions, and an output display.

Computer or no, this is a work of unparalleled craftsmanship. That it still works today, hundreds of years later is a testament to its excellent design and construction.

This and two other Jacquet-Droz automata are on display at the Musée d'Art et d'Histoire of Neuchâtel, in Switzerland.

This video is from TIL Productions, by Director Philippe Sayous of

Labels: , , , ,

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Reciprocating motion from an axle rotating on same axis

Mechanism for converting rotary to reciprocating motion along the same axis

One reader of The Automata / Automaton Blog wrote to me with an interesting question. He wrote: "I'm looking for a simple mechanism to convert rotational motion to reciprocal motion along the SAME axis as the rotation, not perpendicular."

I decided to investigate potential solutions in one of my favorite books on mechanisms, Five Hundred and Seven Mechanical Movements. Below are some of the solutions I found listed by the numbers that appear in my copy of the book (Astragal Press, 1995).

  • 95. Oblique disc imparting rectilinear motion to rod resting upon its surface
  • 106. & 107. Uniform reciprocating rectilinear motion produced by rotary motion of grooved cams
  • 136. Crown tooth gear with rod pressed against rim
  • 143. Sliding worm screw and toothed wheel
  • 165. Circular to rectilinear motion via waved-wheel (or cam)
  • 167. Drum or cylinder with endless groove and follower
  • 237. Crown-ratchet (driven by crown, not pawl)
  • 272. Beveled disc with follower on its circumference.
  • 351. Partially toothed pinion and rack with return mechanism

507 Mechanical MovementsI have probably missed a few in the book, and there are certainly many more possible solutions.

Order your own copy of Five Hundred and Seven Mechanical Movements: Embracing All Those Which Are Most Important in Dynamics, Hydraulics, Hydrostatics, Pneumatics, Steam Engines...

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Robot Lizard Kit - Electronics Meets Mechanics

Here is neat little lizard robot kit designed to teach the basics of robotics, electronics, and mechanics. Never mind all that learning just looks cool.

The design combines a single motor, crank system, and a gear box to create a reptile-like walking motion. Sounds you make start and stop the robot's motion and cause its Light Emitting Diode (LED) eyes flash. The clear body allows you to see what's going on inside the little beast.

All components and parts are included to assemble a working lizard robot. Good, clean fun for about $20.

Order your own Lizard Robot Kit.

Labels: , , ,

Robert-Houdin's Home - La Maison de la Magie

One of my top five heroes is Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin. He is widely regarded as the father of modern magic, having taken it from the streets and into the parlors for respectable European audiences.

Trained as a watchmaker, he developed a passion for magic. He produced some of the most amazing mystery clocks and automata ever.

His home in Blois, France is open to the public as a museum and theater. Here is a short promotional clip of the Maison de la Magie (House of Magic).

There are many books by or about Robert-Houdin. Dover published an inexpensive reprint of his memoirs that you can probably find used. Steer clear Houdini's book on The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin, unless you are interested in exploring Houdini's misguided attempt to defame Robert-Houdin.

Labels: , , ,

Friday, March 28, 2008

DIY Music Machine - Programmable Gloggomobil

Programmable Music MachineI published a post not long ago about an inexpensive Programmable DIY Mechanical Music Box that uses paper strips to program the song to be played.

Here is its upscale cousin -- the Gloggomobil, made by Naef, a swiss company.

The wooden barrel is spun by means of a hand-crank on the side. Small pegs are inserted into pre-drilled holes in the barrel to determine what note plays and when. The music plays on a small-scale metallophone or Glockenspiel (like a xylophone but with metal tuned bars rather than wood).

Where you see more than one peg on a line, the instrument will play a chord. It looks like it comes with pair of mallets for composing or non-automated playing.

The Gloggomobil will set you back over $1000 USD, but I am told it is of excellent craftsmanship and that they are made in limited quantities. This design cries out for a DIY version.

Once again, my thanks goes out to Falk Keuten who tells me he has had one of these amazing musical, mechanical gizmos for 30 years.

Check out a few more details on the Gloggomobil.

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Graceful Papercraft Kinetic Horse Sculpture

This extraordinary piece conveys three important concepts in automaton making.

First, just look at what can be done with paper as the primary material. This could either be a prototype for something later made in metal or wood, or this could be the finished product. Worried about longevity? I have seen a paper/cardboard automaton from the 18th Century that works just fine today.

Second, behold the power of well-considered linkages. The entire complex sequence of motions is driven from a single offset crank in the center of the horse. Very subtle movements, such as the head, are secondary motions. The interdependence of large and small motions gives the horse a very lifelike quality.

Third, while automata may be made of tangibles such as wood, paper, and metal, there is good reason to consider Computer Assisted Design (CAD) when creating them.

Check out some books on Mechanical Linkages, Paper Engineering, and Learning CAD.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Making Wooden Mechanical Models

Making Wooden Mechanical Models bookNot for automata makers specifically -- the mechanisms found in Making Wooden Mechanical Models could well be used for automata, provided the reader has a bit of ingenuity.

The models themselves are nicely proportioned and well designed. Any of these models would be a welcome addition to the desktop of a mechanically inclined person.

I have read this book from cover to cover and browsed the drawings for inspiration. Beautiful color photos in the center of the book demonstrate the skill the authors have great in fabricating with wood. I have found this book to be very useful in this regard. Note: some of the projects in this book are best accomplished with a lathe.

Should you choose to buy this book and make the some of the models, you will find that it contains good project lists and plan drawings from which to work.

Amazon has a nice "Search Inside" this book feature for this book to let you preview the book's contents.

Take a look at Making Wooden Mechanical Models: 15 Designs With Visible Wheels, Cranks, Pistons, Cogs, and Cams.

Labels: , , , ,

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Programmable DIY Mechanical Music Box

Make Your Own Tune Music BoxMost small music boxes use a cylinder with metal studs mounted to a metal cylinder. As the cylinder rotates, each stud "plucks" a little finger that sounds a corresponding musical note.

Player pianos used a similar principle, but the notes were recorded on large sheets of paper, where a holes were punched in the paper to indicate which note strikes and when. By carefully coordinating the arrangement of holes, entire songs can be composed. Some consider this technique -- especially when it was applied to automated looms -- to be the world's first software.

This music box kit works like a miniature player piano. There are no pins, but a strip of paper, into which you punch holes yourself. That's right... you punch your own songs! You can replicate your favorite tunes or compose new ones. The possibilities are endless. In theory you can program your music box to play everything from classical, to country, to heavy metal, to TV commercial jingles.

In this kit, you get the music box mechanism (2 octaves in the key of C), the specialized hole punch, "Happy Birthday" pre-punched song strip, 3 blank song strips, and instructions. You can order additional paper strips for your magnum opus. A very novel, but at the same time historical, mechanical music toy.

Here is where you purchase your own DIY Programmable Music Box.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, March 24, 2008

Featured Mechanical Artist: Jason Lane

Here is a piece by artist Jason Lane entitled Dragon With Flapping Wings.

He has created a series of mechanical sculptures ranging from hand-propelled works to a large scale human hamster wheel which generates electricity and plays old fairground organ music. Pretty cool.

Check out a portfolio of Jason Lane's work. Discovered via

Labels: , , ,

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Highly Configurable Remote Control Robot Kit

Here is a cool looking robotics kit, which includes four motors, 24 gears, steel braces, an extendable arm, a grasping claw, six rubber tires, and a digital camera -- 300 parts in total.

This kit allows you to build a huge variety of robot configurations to suit your interests or application. (It looks like the ones the bomb squads use, doesn't it?)

This version also has a belt-driven tank tread kit and an additional motor and joint that allow the extendable arm to rotate.

The robot is controlled by a six-channel radio transmitter with a 150 foot range. The 6 channel radio gives you a lot of control over any robot you design with this system.

The included digital camera can be mounted to the robot, allowing you to wirelessly transmit color video directly to a television.

This looks like a great value as a platform for remote controlled robot projects.

Check out all the details of this Remote-Controlled Robot Kit.

Labels: , , , ,

Saturday, March 22, 2008

FLEXCUT Starter Kit: 17 Carving Tools & Wood Box

FLEXCUT Starter Kit imageHere's a post for the automaton-makers and aspiring makers. Flexcut offers a set of carving tools in a starter kit. If you don't already own carving tools, this could be a great first set.

The kit comes with the most important carving tool of all -- the standard carving knife with a ergonomically designed handle. We're off to a good start.

In addition, the kit offers interchangeable carving tool tips of every conceivable shape that fit into a handle. This could be a bit a hassle if you need to switch blade types frequently. Flexcut wisely decided to give you TWO handles in this set. This is a simple and wise solution in my view. With the standard knife and two blades mounted in the palm handles, blade changing should be minimal.
Flexcut carving tool box setThe kit also comes with Flexcut's unique SlipStrop. A strop is a surface (often leather or leather-like) on to which you put a fine abrasive compound (also included). You run the tool over the strop to give it a fine, polished edge. What makes the SlipStrop so useful, is that it has a series of ridges shaped just like common carving tools. There are other ways to hone a carving tool, but this is very convenient. I have used one for years.

Finally, keeping track of all those interchangeable blades could be a burden, but the kit is packed in a nice wood box, which should protect your set and keep it organized.

Get a full list of the tools included in the FLEXCUT Starter Kit.

Labels: , ,

Automata's Darker Side: Bunny's Bad Dream

Kinetic sculpture artist, Gina Kamentsky directed my attention to this piece by Aaron Kramer entitled, Bunny's Bad Dream. Kramer creates beautiful pieces using found materials.

From the Artist:

"The project was to create a piece of art from an instrument provided by the Zimmer Children's Museum. My interest in musical mechanical automata goes back to my childhood on the south side of Chicago. I remember standing in a penny arcade watching a mechanical orchestra, mesmerized by the cacophony of all the parts working in concert. Here I've created my own automata. In his cage a wind up velveteen bunny waves and plays a lull-a-bye. Crank the handle and a wheel turns a vintage tin clinker, that spins another music box mechanism riveted to a coffee can and that turns yet another. These play while a crank-arm turns circular movement into an up-down pumping action for a German tin toy top that plays a tune as it spins. After the riotous noise subsides the melody continues until the bunny is still. I chose several tin musical toys primarily because most of the cool looking instruments were chosen already.(violins, brass horns...) The final piece has 5 musical elements. The bunny that I found on ebay for a buck is a wind up and plays rock a bye baby."

Here is a link to Aaron Kramer's amazing flickr set.

Labels: , ,

Friday, March 21, 2008

Clockwork Dragonfly Made from Silver and Brass

Take a look at this photo of a completely handmade clockwork dragonfly. The wings flutter when the tip of the tail is turned. What craftsmanship!

From the Etsy Description:
The internal mechanisms, gears and moving parts were painstakingly hand-milled and hand-calibrated with absolute precision from 14k gold. The body, mechanical frame and wings were handcrafted from Argentium Silver, far superior to Sterling or fine silver. The body opens up to reveal the intricate inner movements, and fine details that just could not be left forever covered up! The eyes are each large 10 carat Swiss Blue Topaz cabochons and the 14k gold bezel on the tail contains a 4mm Amethyst bullet shaped cabochon.

Here is the listing for the dragonfly on Etsy. Found via the MAKE Blog.

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Automaton by Pablo Lavezzari: Facing a Fake Foe

The latest automaton from Pablo Lavezzari is fantastic. Simply amazing.

The scene depicts an armored knight fighting a mechanical dragon which is controlled by a goblin behind the scenes. Not only is the piece meticulously detailed, but it also has an integrated smoke effect...that's not just for the video clip! The dragon also roars.

Just when you think this automaton could not possibly get any better, there is more. A monster hidden in a tree is exposed by turning a rock that makes up part of the scenery. Finally, the small crossbow prop is more than a prop: it is a functioning miniature crossbow.

I am impressed on every level. Facing a Fake Foe has humor, ingenuity, novel features, hidden tricks, and details that exceed expectations.

Visit the KINETICDREAMS blog to read more about the piece.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Automaton Video: Artist Aquio Nishida's Automata

Here is a great collection of video clips of automata created by Aquio Nishida.

I included his book, Automata: Movable Illustration, in my list of essential automata books for The Athanasius Kircher Society.

Labels: , , , ,

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

More Video of Boston Dynamics Big Dog Robot

I posted earlier this week about an impressive biomimetic insect robot. I've also posted in the past about Big Dog. Here is more video of this impressive four-legged robot.

The video is a bit long, but I encourage you to watch at least as far as when the robot slips on ice. You will immediately recognize its efforts to stay upright as pure biological motion.

I expect soldiers will have robotic mules based on this design running next to them in a few years time.

I must credit BoingBoing Gadgets for bring this to my attention.

Labels: , , ,

Mechanical Artist: Casey Curran

Looking for something different in the way of wall-mounted automata/mechanical art? Take look at the work of Casey Curran, who blends text, illustration, and mechanics into his works.

Shown here is a piece entitled The Birds and the Bees. One can clearly see the books used as the background and framework for the piece. One can also see the hand crank on the left hand side and what looks to be a number of ball-and-chain driven wire-frame pulleys. I'm not altogether sure of the motions that are produced by the mechanism, but the piece is clearly rich with media and meaning.

From His Artist's Statement:
"My work confronts ...structural relationships and departs from the readily available patterns of literature, art, mechanics and mathematical notation. By fusing the signing systems of each of these 'vocabularies' a new vision of 'reality' is expressed. It is my hope that through participation and critical analysis each work creates a new symbol to a more expansive sphere of thought."

Visit the Viveza web site to see more of Casey Curran's mechancial art.

Labels: , ,

Monday, March 17, 2008

Miser's Deathbed by Paul Spooner & Matt Smith

Here is a short video clip of The Miser's Deathbed automaton by two of my favorite artists - Paul Spooner and Matt Smith. The video gives you a sense of the humorous scene. Timing is everything!

Visit The Fourteen Balls Toy Company web site to see some great close-up photos of The Miser's Deathbed.

Labels: , , , ,

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Brassy Dragon Automaton by Keith Newstead

Keith Newstead's Brassy Dragon AutomatonTake a look at the beautiful metalwork in Keith Newstead's classic dragon automaton. The piece is available once again at the Cabaret Mechanical Theatre online store.

Labels: , , , ,

Soldering: A Basic How-To for Automaton Makers

Tools used for soldering metalsThe photograph shown here features some of the essential tools used to solder metals together: a fan for blowing away fumes, protection for the work surface, water for cooling, a torch, solder, and flux. The photo should also show emery cloth, steel wool, or Scotch-Bright pads for cleaning the metal surfaces -- a very important step.

Charles Mak writes:
"I was looking for soldering info, since soldering, I believe, is a technique an automaton-maker should be familiar with. In fact, some works by Neil Hardy require soldering for their mechanical parts. I came across this site which offers more than just soldering technique but also a wealth of (free) information on materials, preparations, sources, etc. It's all free to view and print, but for those who prefer a 16-page color book, they can order it or download it for a fee."

Most online tutorials assume you want to solder electronics. While the principles are the same, the process is a bit different. Here is the site with free soldering and metal-working tips. (You'll need to scroll down a bit to find the start of the article.)

For a comprehensive reference to metal-joining techniques, you might take a look at Soldering, Brazing and Welding, which looks to be a great book on the subject.

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Biomimetic Insect Robot with Uncanny Movements

Biomimicry ("bios" - meaning life and "mimesis" - meaning to imitate) may be relatively new to robotics, but has a long tradition in automata. Still, I cannot recall seeing an automaton succeed in imitating biological motion to this degree.

This six-legged robot is uncanny in its motions. I find it both beautiful and spooky (as when I am startled by the first-sight of an insect).

This project, by creator Kare Halvorsen, is called "Phoenix". He has achieved an amazingly lifelike motion using hobby servos and an off-the-shelf servo controller. Here is a video clip of the Phoenix in action:

Let's all hope Kare continues to use his technical prowess for good and not evil.

Visit the Trossen forum to learn more about the Phoenix robot. This gem comes to us by way of the MAKE blog.

Labels: , , ,

Friday, March 14, 2008

Classic Automata from Skinner Auction, July 2006

Take a look at this generous video clip of a variety of classic automata by many of the famous French automaton makers.

I especially like the Monkey Duet tableau and the fact you get to see the workings of the piece.

You can learn more about many of the makers of these automata from Christian Bailly's book: Automata: The Golden Age.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Wooden Gear Clocks - Kits and Patterns

Ascent Wooden Gear ClockBy now you know I can't resist anything with wooden gears. And so, I turn your attention to Wooden-Gear-Clocks -- a business run by Jeff and Marcie Schierenbeck. They have been selling wooden gear clocks, clock kits, and clock plans since 2003.

They offer two models as kits or as plans -- The Ascent (top) and The Serpentine (bottom). Honestly, I can't decide which one I like better. They are both fascinating and beautiful.

The only non-wooden parts of the clocks are a few screws, some nylon washers, the string, and some metal shot contained inside the weight shell. The clock frame, gears, and all other parts of the clock movement are made of wood!

Serpentine Wooden Gear ClockThe clock kits include all components needed to build these wooden clocks. All components are fully machined -- no cutting or drilling is required. No special tools or skills are required to assemble the clock kits. You will need a screwdriver, hammer, wood glue, and sandpaper -- but that's it.

Under fairly even environmental conditions, these clocks will maintain accuracy to within one minute over the course of several days to a week.

Visit to learn more about these wooden mechanical clocks.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Tin Toy: Sir Ian Bluebird Land Speed Car Schylling

Here is on of the many cool retro wind-up mechanical toys still offered by Schylling as part of their Classic Tin Toys Collection. The Sir Ian Bluebird Land Speed Car is a wind-up toy that is just under a foot long (11 inches).

One of the best things about Schylling toys are retro-looking boxes that each toy comes in! I own several wind-up toys from them and end up displaying the box right next to the toy on my bookshelf.

This one is part of a numbered limited edition and is sold with certificate.

Check out this and other wind up toys in The Automata / Automaton Store.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Jan Zalud Wood Acrobat Automaton Video

Enjoy this video of an acrobat by artist Jan Zalud - a contemporary wood carver specializing in wooden automata, puppets and other wooden crafts.

This video shows the crank, cam, and ratchet mechanism in fine detail.

He has a very distinctive style and wonderful imagination. He is very good at integrating the mechanisms with the rest of the piece.

Visit Jan Zalud's web site to see more of his beautiful work.

Labels: , , ,

Featured Automaton Artist: Paul Boyer Automata

Take a look at artist Paul Boyer's skill with animating horses in this great video clip.

Labels: , ,

CNC Shark Routing System - Autonomous Carver

UPDATE: Rockler is now also offering the enhanced CNC Shark Pro Routing System too, which is definitely worth a look!

I posted a while back about the CarveWright automated carving system. A new model of Computer Numerically Controlled (CNC) router has entered the market at a similar price point -- well below more established, larger machines. The new one is called the CNC Shark Routing System.

Photograph of the CNC Shark Wood Carving System
This CNC machine is designed for routing wood, engraving plastics, and even etching or cutting tile.

Like the CarveWright, the CNC Shark is a fairly small, portable machine. Unlike the CarveWright which uses a media card to transfer information from your computer to the Router table, with the CNC Shark, you connect the USB cable from your computer directly to the controller box.

Another difference is that the CNC Shark uses a conventional palm router mounted to it to do the cutting. The CarveWright routing system uses a specialized flexible shaft attached to an on-board motor. The CNC Shark's system allows you to use a router you may already own (like the Bosch Colt Palm Router), or may choose to use on its own. Since this is the part that will get the most wear and tear, I think this is a brilliant approach. The palm router can be fixed or replaced. Bits for the palm routers are easy to find too.

Unlike the CarveWright, which uses its own proprietary software, the CNC Shark can be used with a range of established CNC programs used in the industry. There may be a learning curve here, but it's probably worth it for greater control.

The last important difference that I can see is that this machine moves in all three axes of motion (X, Y, and Z). The CarveWright moves side to side and up and down. For lateral motion, the CarveWright uses a friction belt (i.e. sandpaper belts) to move the workpiece itself. This seems like a potential area for slippage which could ruin a carving. The CNC Shark never moves the work piece -- only the cutter moves, ensuring that registration is on target.

From the product literature:

The CNC Shark is the best value for a complete CNC system. This impressive has power, speed, accuracy, and ease of use. We also have a technical support system to help you with any questions regarding the and any of its software. CNC Shark has a high quality design and its parts have been CNC'd to ensure its highest accuracy. The Shark's construction of steel, aluminum and high-density polyethylene make it robust, and it can take accidental impacts that would normally damage or destroy other machines.

The CNC Shark is offered through the Rockler stores in the lower 48 United States. Take a look!

Labels: , , , ,

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

CAM-10 Micro Walking Robot

Take a look at this tiny bipedal robot. What's the big deal, you ask, we've had walking wind-up toys for ages.

Well, apparently this little robot walks with more natural walking gait than the old wind up toys. This robot shifts its weight from one leg to the other as it takes a stride. Here is a video clip of this little guy in action.

As you can see, the robot also swings its arms and moves its head back and forth as it walks. I'm thinking: very hackable! The Cam-10 stands 4 inches tall and uses 1 N size battery (included, thank goodness!). Your choice of "Stealth Black" or "Invisible Clear".

Check out the CAM-10 Micro Walking Robot

Labels: , ,

Monday, March 10, 2008

Ingenious Mechanisms for Designers & Inventors

The title alone basically ensured that I would buy these books one day. I mean, just by owning them, it's like I am a bona fide inventor. The title says so!

There are lots of multi-component mechanisms described in great detail in this four-volume set. For automata makers, it may be a lot to digest, but there are hundreds of mechanical elements that could be used.

These books offer multiple solutions for each category of machine. The organization of the material is a little funny; you will need to browse all four books to cover all the possible solutions.

The drawings are very good -- clear and well labeled line art reminiscent of patent drawings.

Be prepared to do some reading...these books require some careful reading of several pages to understand how a given device works. It's not exactly a quick reference.

I have not used much from these books directly in any of my projects, but I feel that they have greatly improved my understanding of complex machines.

The machines depicted are of an historical nature. This is not a shortcoming, however. Mechanisms of the sort found in these volumes were state-of-the-art at one time. They are a testament to a certain real-world ingenuity that most of us can't comprehend.

These book make an impression on one's bookshelf. Seriously: a numbered set of four hardcover books in bright orange. It's impressive and sure to attract attention.

Learn more about Ingenious Mechanisms for Designers and Inventors (4-Volume Set)

Labels: ,

Pleo, The Automomous Animatronic Dinosaur

Pleo is a animatronic baby dinosaur. Pleo is programmed with sets of complex behavior routines that are triggered in responds to different stimuli. This give each Pleo something of a unique personality.

Pleo has a impressive sensory system. The robot's sensor array is made up of a color camera, two sound sensors, two infrared sensors, 14 servos, 106 gears, eight touch sensors, an orientation sensor, and four foot switch sensors.

The animatronic dinosaur is responsive to light, sound, and touch making more autonomous and interactive than most robotic toys on the market.

The creator is a famed inventor Caleb Chung, who insisted that Pleo's bio-mechanical skeleton and servos deliver natural movement. Watch this video clip and I think you will agree he has succeeded.

Pleo is the Winner of the prestigious Nuremberg Toy Innovations Award.

Check out Pleo - The First Animatronic Dinosaur.

Labels: , , , ,

Sunday, March 09, 2008

The Internal Mechanics of a Monkey Automaton

Chomick + Meder Monkey AutomatonThe team of Chomick+Meder create figurative art and automata. They have a very large and interesting web site. Of particular interest is a page that documents the process of creating the monkey automaton shown here.

The page contains many great photographs of the piece as a work-in-progress. They also describe in some detail the method of constructing the brass crank shaft. You have got to respect the fact that such a beautifully crafted part isn't even a visible part of the piece!

An excerpt from their page:
What initially started as an experimental prototype design became this one-of-a-kind Monkey Automaton, the first of a series. The internal crankshaft design enables the brass hand-crank mechanism to operate at varied speed, in forward or reverse. The Monkey figure moves in a rhythmic side-to-side motion with alternating leg kicks. The loose jointed arms are secured to the legs which creates the illusion of more movement without having to add to the mechanism.

Visit the Chomick+Meder prototype automaton page to learn more.

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Automaton in Wood by Aritst Paul Boyer

Take a look at the skill with which artist Paul Boyer handles a horse in motion in this great video clip of his automaton.

Labels: , , , ,

Friday, March 07, 2008

Automaton of Magician Doing a Levitatation Trick

I adore and admire the work of automata maker Pierre Mayer. Here is one of his recent pieces depicting a magician levitating from his stool. Simply amazing!

From the Cabaret Mechanical Theatre:

Fechner's Levitation on Stool Automata

The latest piece from French magician/automatist Pierre Mayer, this piece is based on the cigar smoking magician Fechner, who levitates above his stool, even more puzzling is that the arms raise during the levitation without any links to the mechanism -- many magicians have already been fooled by this!

Do visit the CMT online shop to see Fechner's Levitation on Stool Automata and MANY superb automata.

Labels: , , , , ,

Fuel Cell Car and Experiment Kit

Fuel Cell Car KitThis is one of the coolest mechanical toy kits I have ever seen.

During any sunny period, photovoltaic cells perform electrolysis on water, dividing it into its constituent elements -- oxygen and hydrogen. At some later time, you can feed these gases into the fuel cell to get electricity to do work (like power the motor on this little car). The byproduct of all this wizardry is just a bit of water!

Now you can have a fuel cell of your own with which to experiment. This is a big deal. Fuel cells are one of the most promising forms of environmentally-friendly energy on the horizon. Learn more about fuel cells from this article on Fuel Cell Basics.

Go for it, check out The Fuel Cell Car and Experiment Kit

Labels: , , ,

Retro Wood Pinball-Style Baseball Game

There is something charming about how direct everything is in this retro pinball-style baseball game.

Based on the picture, I gather that the "pitcher" uses the plunger at the base of the machine to launch the ball up and around so that it comes out the hole in center field.

The "batter" then uses the bat-like flipper to hit the metal ball. Where ever the ball ends up determines the outcome of the play.

I've seen a few of these online. This one seems to have a few more ramps, holes, and details than the others.

From Back to Basic Toys:
"Award Winning Old Century Baseball....Crafted with aged woods and metals, this exquisitely detailed pinball-style table top game pays homage to those golden years of baseball... Use the flippers to hit doubles, triples, and homers; scoreboard and score book let you keep track of the action! Comes with three marble-sized steel balls. Size 21"l x 22"w x 12"h."

You can also upgrade your machine to feature the Major League team of your choice on the scoreboard. I wish they had obscure retro Minor League team names too.

Check out the
Old Century Baseball pinball style baseball game.

Labels: ,

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Steps to Fix Your Broken Portable Power Tools

When a power tool stops working, a broken electrical part is the likely culprit. Don't throw that tool away! Fix it! Better yet, pull one out of someone else's trash and bring it back to life.

Though there is a huge variety of electric power tools, the basic electrical components -- cords, switches and brushes -- are similar regardless of the tool's purpose or manufacturer.

From the article:
"(The) procedure for tracing problems begins with testing and examining wires, then switches and finally brushes. The only special tool you will need is a multi-tester, available from an electronics shop for about $25. With it, a host of problems can be traced right to the source. Many electrical components on power tools can be replaced for $20 or less if you do the repair work yourself."

Here's a link to the article, Basic Repairs for Portable Power Tools

Labels: , , , ,

Easily & Safely Cut Small Parts on the Table Saw

In previous posts, I mentioned the value of having miniature power tools for small scale projects. I find them to be less intimidating and more appropriately scaled for small scale work. They are also great space-savers if your shop space is limited.

But what about using traditional woodworking tools? You may already these tools or want to buy them to work on full-scale home and woodworking projects. You can still cut small pieces on full size tools with some proper planning and helpful jigs.

One such jig is the one shown here. This simple sled allows you to use a full size table saw to rip very thin pieces of stock safely, easily, and uniformly.

The sled is simply a piece of melamine that been ripped to a 10-in. width. After ripping the sled to width, a small block is glued on it to act as a hook to hold and push the material being cut.

Take a look a the full article on the Small Parts Sled from the folks at Woodworkers' Journal. [Thanks Charles!]

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Deluxe Arcade Style Animatronic Fortune Teller

Zoltar is an animatronic fortune teller housed in a wheeled cabinet made of oak with birch veneers, painted trim, and three panes of tempered glass.

The full-size figure bust is detailed with a handlebar mustache and beard, a gold head wrap, gold shirt, paisley vest, and jewelry.

When you to approach him, Zoltar acknowledges your presence. Once you insert a quarter, Zoltar nods his head up and down, his crystal ball lights up, and he sweeps his hand back and forth.

Zoltar then delivers one of 16 different spoken fortunes and dispenses one of 23 different printed fortunes in the form of a paper card dispensed from the front of the cabinet.

Check out Zoltar the Animatronic Fortune Teller at Hammacher Schlemmer.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Cubical Warfare Goes Medieval/Mechanical

Wooden kits of trebuchet, catapult, and bastillaThinkGeek is selling these working scale replica kits of Medieval siege engines. Seen here (clockwise from the right) are a Trebuchet, Catapult, and Bastilla.

"These kits let you bring back all the fun of flinging. Each one can assemble in just a few hours, and provides a fantastic scale model of an actual war weapon of yore. The catapult is perfect for chucking balls of paper and other small objects over cubicle walls. The trebuchet is better for long range targets (like the water cooler or networked printer). And, all you need to put them together are some strong fingers (or pliers), a cutting tool, and glue (not included). All three kits are perfect for showing your love of retro weaponry."

Sounds like fun to me!

Visit ThinkGeek cube warfare toys section to see all of these awesome wooden kits.

Labels: , , , ,

Monday, March 03, 2008

Automata Mechanisms and Pegasus Automaton

Here is a nice video of several useful automata mechanisms including a crank and piston, a ratchet, and a Geneva mechanism.

The latter half of the video features a beautifully done Pegasus. The piece appears to be driven by the music box movement. I am told that this piece is part of a collection on display in Guma, Japan and is by artist Minoru Takahashi Akira Murakami. Look at all those gears! Well done.

To learn more about making mechanical toys and automata, check out Making Mechanical Toys.

Labels: , , , , ,

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Encyclopedia of Automatic Musical Instruments

Encyclopedia of Automatic Musical Instruments by Q. David Bowers must be the definitive reference on this subject.

Published in 1972 by The Vestal Press of New York. Printed in hardcover, this book weighs in at over 1,008 pages with hundreds of black-and-white photographs, advertisements, and reproduction company brochures.

I don't own this book, but it is highly-rated by buyers and reviewers on Amazon.

Here's a link to the text of Vestal Press original advertising text.

 • Preface
 • Introduction
 • Cylinder Music Boxes
 • Disc Music Boxes
 • Player Pianos
 • Reproducing Pianos
 • Coin-Operated Pianos and Orchestrions
 • Organettes and Player Organs
 • Fairground Organs
 • Dictionary of Automatic Musical Instrument Terms
 • Bibliography
 • Index

Take look at the book Encyclopedia of Automatic Musical Instruments

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Automaton of Leonardo's Mechanical Hammer

Leonardo's Mechanical Hammer AutomatonHere's a nice looking model from the folks at PaperPino. This is a paper model made up of 44 parts that can be assembled without glue. A system of removable interlocking pins holds the model together.

From the PaperPino Site:
This is one of the simplest machines designed by Leonardo in order to improve the human performance. A lever connected to the hammer is moved by means of an eccentric cam. At each turn of the handle, the hammer gives a stroke. As a matter of fact, the real hammer is supposed to be powered by a water paddle-wheel. An implementation with a paddle-wheel powered by sand is planned for the next future.

Check out Leonardo's Mechanical Hammer paper model.

Labels: , , , ,