Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Huge Automaton from Museum in Osaka, Japan

Huge Automaton from Museum of Science in Osaka, JapanIf you didn't happen to catch it, BoingBoing Gadgets had a post today about this giant automaton in Osaka, Japan.

Housed at the Osaka Municipal Museum of Science, it has recently been restored. Apparently, it is some 80 years old. I am not at all sure what it does, but would love to know.

Here is the link to many great photos of the Giant Automaton in Osaka, Japan.

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Match-Lighting Automaton Alarm Clock on eBay

Match Lighting Man Automaton ClockThis 10 inch tall man is both an alarm clock and an automaton.

Here's the really clever part: if you put a match in the man's hand and hit a switch, the hand sweeps up, rubbing the match against a piece of metal -- thus lighting the match! That's pretty slick.

The creator was even thoughtful enough to integrate a match storage box on the base and the man's hat can hold the spent matches.

Check out a bunch of other photos of the Alarm Clock Match Striker Automaton on eBay.

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Hand-cranked Drum Machine Like The Gloggomobil

I posted a while back about the programmable music machine called the Gloggomobil.

In that post, I noted the high price tag of the Gloggomobil and suggested that a homemade solution was probably very doable. we have a excellent little drum machine that uses the same barrel-and-peg system to create a nifty little beat. Kudos!

This comes to us via a post on the Make Blog.


i-SOBOT: The World's Smallest Humanoid Robot

i-SOBOT humanoid robot toy If you had asked me a few years ago if I would ever own a bipedal humanoid robot, I would have laughed out loud. I was lucky enough to receive this little wonder as a gift last year. Hammacher Schlemmer is selling i-SOBOT for under $200 now.

The i-SOBOT is just 6 1/2" tall and has amazing articulation. The robot is made up of 17 very small servomotors and two gyro-sensors for balance. The 23 points of articulation include the neck, arms, wrists, legs, and feet. One disappointment: no hand or thumb motions. Yet.

i-SOBOT has four modes: manual control, special actions, programmed sequences, and voice command. The robot has 180 preprogrammed individual movements, a 200-word vocabulary, and responds to verbal commands (in voice mode only). The preprogrammed actions are pretty impressive and mostly humor-oriented.

The robot is programmable allowing you to record sequences of moves. Without much in the way of a sensor array, it is more of an automated playback than an autonomous entity. Still, if set up carefully, you can do some pretty fun stuff with this robot.

I think the greatest promise of i-SOBOT lies in what hackers and moders out there will add to this robot. I know some people have started to hack the device. As a platform for humanoid robotics, this has got to be one of the best deals around.

Get more info and see a video of the i-SOBOT at Hammacher Schlemmer. They have the best price currently online.

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Monday, April 28, 2008

Vichy Automaton of a Drunkard on Park Bench

Here is a short video of an automaton by Vichy depicting a drunken man on a park bench. I find the figure's movements very convincing: the sloppy swaying and shifting, the heavy eyelids, the silently muttering to himself.

Vichy was known for the subtlety of motion their automata possessed. Vichy showed several automata at Paris Universal Exposition of 1878. One observer noted that, "...Vichy's automata are distinguished by the flexibility and precision of their gestures...". One hundred and thirty years later, I can't argue.

Vichy is one of one of several French automaton makers covered in the large format hardcover Automata: The Golden Age 1848-1914

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Sunday, April 27, 2008

Automaton Pocket Watch with Animated Figures

Here is a beautiful automaton pocket watch (of unknown make) on eBay:
automaton pocket watch
Here is photo of the watch's skeletonized back. I like the back even better than the front.
pocket watch automaton back
From the eBay Listing:
"Quarter hour repeating, automaton pocket watch in the large 17 size! The early 19th century watch, which has a wonderfully skeletonized back and partially skeletonized (open escapement) dial is in a hallmarked, silver case. We have been unable to identify its tiny hallmark. The dial ring is of white porcelain. When activated this amazingly detailed automaton movement strikes 3 different mock bells by three different automated figures on its gorgeously crafted and finely detailed dial."

For you aspiring bidders out there: I'll warn you's not cheap. There are many additional photos on the eBay listing that are worth seeing. I would love to know the maker of this timepiece.

Here is the eBay listing for Automaton Pocket Watch with Figures & Skeletonized Back

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Vintage Speaking Book Uses Integrated Bellows

Here is a antique children's story book with integrated animal sounds. Presumably, the sounds accompany the story.

The nine unique noises are produced by small mechanisms attached to small air bellows and paper cones.The book also attempts the to make the sounds "Mama" and "Papa". Tricky, and very clever, indeed.

This is another gem from the folks at

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Saturday, April 26, 2008

Morbier/Comtoise Barber Shop Automaton Clock

Morbier/Comtoise Barber Shop Automata ClockHere's an interesting automaton clock currently on ebay.

The clock measures 17" high and 13" wide. As the barber shaves, a boy peeks in a window then disappears as the barber's arm moves up and down while shaving the customer. The motions of the characters are regulated by the swinging motion of the clock's pendulum. Cool.

Here the ebay posting for the Automated Morbier Wall Regulator Clock.

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Proxxon Micro Plunge Router for Miniature Work

Proxxon Micro Plunge RouterI haven't tried a router this small (1/5 HP), but it sure does look like a good size for model and automaton making. This little router allows you to round-over, slot, counter bore, and remove stock from wood and other materials.

Some details on the router from Woodcraft:
* Depth adjustment of 0.008" increments
* Easy router bit changing with the shaft lock button
* Support columns are positioned so you can see as you cut
* Integrated suction device for connecting to a vacuum
* Parallel and circle jig made of die-cast aluminum
* Die-cast aluminum base and smooth gliding polycarbonate face
* Includes 6 pc. collet set
* Comes in plastic case
Here's more info on the PROXXON Micro plunge router

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Geneva Mechanism, Maltese Cross or Geneva Stop

The Geneva Drive is also called the Maltese Cross or the Geneva Stop.
Animated Geneva mechanismThe Geneva mechanism was originally invented by a watch maker from Geneva to prevent the spring of a watch from being over-wound.

The most common use of the mechanism is to convert a continuous rotary motion into an intermittent rotary motion. In operation, a drive wheel with a pin enters into one of several slots on the driven wheel and thus advances it by one step (or "station"). The drive wheel also has a raised circular disc that serves to lock the driven wheel in a fixed position between steps.
Steps in motion of a Geneva mechanismHistorically, this mechanism is was often used in movie film cameras and projectors to increment the film one frame at a time. Many automata use the Geneva mechanism for various purposes. In my own piece, The Birthing Engine, I used a 4-station Geneva wheel to control the appearance of the four babies that emerge from the mother.

Here is an 3-D animation of a shifter system that uses a Geneva mechanism:The mechanism in the animation above is patented by Barloworld CVT Technologies and is used in their positive drive CVT as a ratio shifting mechanism.

Here are some books that show various forms of Geneva mechanisms:

Five Hundred and Seven Mechanical Movements
Mechanisms and Mechanical Devices Sourcebook
1800 Mechanical Movements, Devices and Appliances
Pictorial Handbook of Technical Devices
Machine Devices and Components Illustrated Sourcebook
Cam Design and Manufacturing Handbook

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Friday, April 25, 2008

Mechanisms from The Sands Mechanical Museum

Coin-operated arcade mechanismsThe Sands Mechanical Museum -- restorers of coin operated arcade machines -- contains coin-operated games, pinball machines, horse race games, arcade video games, and shooting games.

They mean it when they say "those things hidden from the player are almost as fascinating as the things visible. The motors, gears, electrical wiring, and gadgets have an appeal all their own."

Indeed, they offer an extensive section called Mechanisms Explained in which they have documented, photographed, animated, and described how a wide range of arcade machine mechanisms work. They offer mechanism explanations for the following:
• Ball bearing baseball "runners"
• Bingo display screen (mechanical)
• Various coin payout devices
• Coin counter units
• Coin rejector workings
• Coin slide mechanisms
• Credit recording unit
• Gear box based hunting game
• Photo booth camera with Geneva mechanism
• An early score keeping unit
The Sands Mechanical Museum is an extremely well documented online mechanical reference source.

Thanks bhaaluu!

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Mechancial Toy: Flying Space Marines Duel in Air

This is the kind of mechanical toy I could only dream about as a kid.

Dueling Space Marines Flying Copter Toy Set

From ThinkGeek:
"This Dueling Space Marines Copter Set gets you a set of two mini r/c helicopters with infra-red laser tag style battle action. Take to the air from the palm of your hand then use the shoulder button on the remote unleash a plasma blast your opponent copter. Each shot causes the gun of your space marine to flash with simulated gunfire. The first hit causes your enemy to spin. The second makes the enemy copter lose power... the third cuts rotor power completely as your opponent plummets to the ground and you gloat in victory."

Get a lot more information about the Dueling Space Marines Copter Set at the ThinkGeek site.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Huge Automaton Clock Sculpture @ London Zoo

Master mechanical artist Tim Hunkin has created a giant automaton clock for the London Zoo. This amazingly complex kinetic sculpture is base on the theme of Victorian Era attitudes towards the animal kingdom.

The artist has a section of his site devoted to the London Zoo Tropical Aviary Clock. The pages show his photos and sketches (he's also known for his cartoons) of the automaton, rejected design ideas, technical aspects of the piece, and various other factors that influenced him along the way.

It is wealth of information, a fascinating look at one kinetic artist's creative process, and very entertaining. The video is a few minutes long, but only because the sequence of the automaton is so elaborate. Well worth it!

Here the page devoted to the London Zoo Tropical Aviary Clock. Here is the page about the design of the clock.

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Monday, April 21, 2008

Clockwork Mechanical Art by Gina Kamentsky

You have got to love the playful mechanical sculptures by Gina Kamenstsky. This video should give you a sample of what I mean.

A reminder: her solo exhibition, Gina Kamentsky: Mechanical Confections, will be on exhibition in Fuller Craft Museum through November 9, 2008.

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Automata / Automaton Blog has Search Feature

Automaton BlogThe Automata / Automaton Blog is pleased to inform its readers and subscribers that the site now has a search feature. The search box is located in the upper right portion of the site's sidebar.

Now you can find posts on particular topics without hunting through the archives or guessing which label it might be filed under.

Once you have entered a term and clicked the "Search this blog" button, you will be directed to a results page. Sadly, the titles are almost always the name of the blog itself, but the descriptions beneath are accurate and helpful. Should you wish to search again, you can use your back button, or click on the blog title at the top of the page.

The new blog search feature is not to be confused with the Automata-Specific Search Engine, which searches many different automaton related sites. This Search Engine can also be added to your iGoogle homepage as a Google Gadget which is pretty cool.

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A History of the Quest to Make Mechanical Life

Edison's Eve: A Magical History of the Quest for Mechanical LifeOriginally published in the United Kingdom as Living Dolls, this book will be fascinating to those interested in the history of automata. As suggested in the subtitle –– "A Magical History of the Quest for Mechanical Life" –– the author explores the motives of people who have made automata, androids, and robots through the ages.

This is a very well-researched account of humankind's ongoing efforts to simulate, emulate, and duplicate living things in mechanical form. A rich intellectual and cultural history, this book provides a context for understanding why automata have been created in the first place.

This book was included in my Kircher Society Essential Library of Automata list.

You can search inside many pages of Edison's Eve: A Magical History of the Quest for Mechanical Lifeon

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

Animatronic Frankenstein Machine Comes to Life

This elaborate animatronic Frankenstein scene depicts the monster coming to life. Frankenstein's monster shakes violently as he is jolted to life, then he bolts forward unexpectedly. It comes complete with integrated sound and an air compressor to power the monster.

Imagine having this in your house on Halloween! Sadly, not all of us have $7000 to spend on a huge, detailed haunted house prop. Perhaps, though this can serve as inspiration for a small scale automaton or encourage you to make your own animatronic holiday displays.

Visit The Fright Catalog online for this and other animatronic Halloween props.

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Saturday, April 19, 2008

Wooden gear clock plans: Clayton Boyer Designs

Wooden Clock PlansMy recent post on a video about making a wooden gear clock drew some attention from the MAKE magazine blog. I received a several emails and comments asking where to get the plans for the clocks shown in the video.

I found out that the two clocks shown are both from Clayton Boyer Clock Designs. The two clock models in the video are the Swoopy and the Solaris. Shown here is the Vortex.

What exactly do you you get when you order these plans?

All of these clock plans are drawn in CAD and sent as paper patterns (no electronic files or transfers are included).

Included in the clock plans are full size drawings for most of the parts. All of the major components, like the wheels, pinions, and spacers are given as full size patterns. The drawings can be cut from the plans, glued to the appropriately sized stock, and cut to the line.

All of the clock plans come with a full set of instructions and a materials list. Each page also has instructions for each of the parts, and there are a couple of pages that show the completed clockworks.

Visit the Clayton Boyer Clock Designs for over a dozen different wooden clock plans.

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Friday, April 18, 2008

Video: So You Want to Make a Wood Gear Clock?

Here's a low-pressure introduction to making a clock from wooden parts -- gears and all. Along the way, you learn many important techniques that could be used for automata making as well as clock making. The narrator discusses tools, specific methods of work, and the construction process in general. The film gives you a good feel for what you are getting into if you decide build a clock of your own. Don't rush this it for when you have a few minutes to savor this charming video.

You may also want to learn how to fix existing clocks, so take a look at Clock Repairing as a Hobby: An Illustrated How-To Guide for the Beginner

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Automaton Recreation of Robert-Houdin's Acrobat

Here is a very ambitious recreation of Robert-Houdin's famous acrobat automaton named Antonio Diavolo. This version was created by automata expert Kevin Wright as a tribute to Robert-Houdin's original Acrobat.

Wright's automaton, entitled Dante the Daring, performs the same routine as Robert-Houdin's automaton from 1849. The original was approximately 34 inches tall, while this one is 40 inches. He is fully functional with the ability to nod, turn his head left to right, and perform somersaults and handstands.

Robert-Houdin was trained as a watchmaker and is widely regarded as the father of modern stage magic. To recreate one of his automata is an astonishing feat of mechanical detective work and craftsmanship.

Visit Kevin Wright's site called The Clockwork Universe to see this and other amazing projects.

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Automaton of Man Slowly Flapping Artificial Wings

Automaton of Man with WingsHere is one of several new pieces by automaton maker Tom Haney. This electric automaton, entitled Alar, features a man slowly flapping the wings strapped to his arms.

You can learn more about the piece and see a video of Alar on Tom Haney's web site.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Automaton Magic - Lady Changes Dress Instantly

The good folks over at Cabaret Mechanical Theatre were kind enough to alert me to the arrival Pierre Mayer's latest magic-themed automaton: Valerie - The Quick Change Artist.

Here's the shop link to the Valerie Automaton at the Cabaret Mechanical Theatre online shop.

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Automata May Judge Us Once Autonomous

Box of Men is a piece by artist Ken Feingold using animated ventriloquist dolls. The automaton is funny, creepy, and thought-provoking all at once.

From the Ace Gallery Web Site:

Box of Men
is a work for display on a large flat-panel screen. The piece
is not pre-recorded. The dialogue is synthesized speech generated in real
time by a computer program that assigns a "character" to each of the
puppets. Their conversation goes on infinitely, as long as the program is
running. The narrative circles around an "unknown" crime. Those accused are anonymous. Those who judge are puppets, controlled by unseen forces, and assuming an uncanny life of their own.

Here is a link to the page featuring Box of Men, complete with transcript of their conversation.

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Monday, April 14, 2008

Wind Up Bird That Flys by Flapping its Wings

I haven't seen one of these in years. I had one of these as a kid and forgotten about this toy. (Mine was mostly yellow.) This wind up bird really does fly by flapping it's wings. I'm not sure scientists have figured out how to do this, but a $10 toy can!Tim the Flying Bird ToyMade in France, Tim is about 8 inches long and has a wingspan of 16 inches. Once you have snapped the wings in place, you wind up the rubber band drive, and toss it into the air. It flies up to fifty yards with a satisfying fluttering sound. It comes with a spare rubber band drive.

Here is the link to Tim Bird.

On a related note, this Ornithopter Kit looks really cool, but the reviews were mixed. Has anyone tried one? Drop me a note and let me know.

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Saturday, April 12, 2008

Falk Keuten - Expert in Mechancial Objects & Art

Falk Keuten, mechancical objects expertThere are a few people that have really helped The Automata / Automaton Blog grow since it started in the summer of 2006. I would like to introduce you to one of those people now -- Falk Keuten of Bonn, Germany.

Herr Keuten has devoted years to collecting information, books, videos, and examples of things directly related to what is presented on this blog.

Among his many interests are:
• Mechanical toys
• Wooden automata
• Coin-operated automata, gambling and vending machines
• Amusement machines for fairs and festivals
• Odd machines, strange mechanics, mechanical chain reactions
• Paper mechanics including books, figures, and greeting cards
• Machine Art / Kinetic art
• Rolling ball sculptures as toys, construction kits, and art

Not content to simply collect items and information, he has invented some of his own things that can be described as a being a mix of toys, art, and mechanics. Herr Keuten has many connections to artists within his diverse areas of interest.

Mechanische Spielobjekte und AutomatenHe is the author of a wonderful book: Mechanische Spielobjekte und Automaten, Munich 1987, now out of print. The title translates in English as something like "Mechanical Toy Objects and Automata". I am informed, though, that in the German "automaten" includes more things than the English word "automata".

Herr Keuten has written many articles for professional journals. He writes a regular column "Virtuelle Wunderkammer" for a German journal aimed at Design and Technology teachers called tu.

He is also a key contributor to the fantastic site, providing many of the links found on their kinetic arts page and the author of a comprehensive media list.

Herr Keuten has been involved in many school-based exhibitions. His last general exhibition entitled "Rollende Kugeln" (Rolling Balls) was at the gallery Studio Dumont, in Cologne, in December of 2007.

My admiration and my gratitude are sent to Falk Keuten, an expert with a generous heart.

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Friday, April 11, 2008

Making Mechanical Marvels In Wood - DIY Book

Making Mechanical Marvels In Wood - DIY BookHere's a book that should interest you makers out there. Making Mechanical Marvels In Wood

This book is not unlike Making Wooden Mechanical Models which I reviewed here. There are, however, some important differences between the two books.

Like Making Wooden Mechanical Models, this book isn't specifically written for automaton makers. Both books feature basic wooden machines as finished projects in themselves.

Making Mechanical Marvels differs in that many of the projects in this book are key building blocks to making contemporary wooden automata. For example, projects such as the cam and follower, the Scotch yoke, the fast-return actuator, and the Geneva wheel are all elements often found in an automaton.

The projects in this book are very handsome and would make nice gifts. There's something inexpressibly classy about machines made of wood.

I bought Making Mechanical Marvels bundled with Making Wooden Models from and I'm glad I did. The two books really compliment each other. I consider this book to be Volume 1. This book has very clear instructions and drawings to get you up to speed making wooden mechanisms. Making Wooden Models is equivalent to Volume 2 in which you tackle some more complicated projects.

The book has well-drawn line diagrams and a series of color pages in the center. The instructions are very well written; I would feel good about giving this book to a new woodworker or youngster looking for a science fair project.

The book concludes with some handy shop tips and jigs -- a nice bonus. I have learned a great deal from this book. Don't overlook it as a resource for building wooden mechanism.

Here is where you can order Making Mechanical Marvels In Wood.

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

CNC Shark Wood Routing System Available Online

CNC Shark Routing SystemNot long ago, I posted about the CNC Shark -- the new entry in the field of more affordable of computer controlled wood carving machines. I just noticed that Rockler Woodworking Supply is has started selling them online as the exclusive dealer. They are offering live demonstrations in stores too.

Here's what Rockler has to say about the CNC Shark:

Bring the speed and precision of computer-controlled machinery to your shop with this top value CNC system! With a table measuring 15-3/4" x 31-1/2" it's ideally suited for carvings and machining operations on a large variety of signs, doors and other small projects. It boasts impressive power, speed, accuracy, and ease of use. With its robust steel and high-density poly-ethylene construction, it can take accidental impacts that would normally damage or destroy an aluminum or MDF machine. Optional Clamping Table features two hold-down slots for securing work anywhere along the length of the table. Compatible with the Bosch Colt Palm Router. Includes VCarve Pro software interface — a $500 value. You supply a computer with USB port, a Bosch Colt router, and a table top (router and table top also available sold separately). You connect the USB cable to the controller box and the other end to your computer.

Visit a store near you for a live Demo.

CNC Shark Routing System at Rockler Woodworking Supply.

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Automata and Mechancial Wood Toys from Japan

hands*picoThe automaton shown here is sold by a Japanese web site by the name of hands*pico. There is also a movie file showing this chicken automaton (.wmv) in action and the music box that drives the piece.

The hands*pico site has many automata, wooden toys, marble runs, and other great wooden products. There are many nice videos in the .wmv format distributed throughout the site.

Visit hands*pico to see Japanese automata and wooden toys.

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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Automaton by Vichy - Clockwork Mechanism Inside

This is the repaired inner mechanism of a Vichy automaton made in France in 1875. The complete automaton depicts a lady who breathes, closes her eyes, turns her head, fans herself, and lifts her glasses to her eyes.

You can learn more about Vichy and the other famous French automaton makers from the late 19th century and early 20th century from the Automata: The Golden Age 1848-1914.

Thanks to the experts at AutomatomaniA for this wonderful video. AutomatomaniA is the UK's only specialist automata restoration company.

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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Gear Toy: Superstruts Wacky Machines Set

Gear Toy: Superstruts Wacky Machines SetKazoo Toys offers building and construction toys from a host of toy makers. Shown here is the Superstruts Wacky Machines Set made by Waba Fun. This 175 piece building set includes 12 large gears and plans to build 7 models that include a clock, geared-down Ferris whee, a car that drills, and other fun contraptions.

Otherbuilding and construction toys offered at KazooToys.Com come from toy makers including:
  • Building Blocks
  • CoinStruction
  • Cranium Super Fort
  • Elenco Electronics
  • Gears & Gearbotics
  • Haba Toys
  • Kapla
  • K'nex Building Toys
  • Magna Tiles
  • Magz by Progressive
  • Playmobil
  • Quercetti Toys
  • Rokenbok Construction System
  • Taurus Toy
  • Superstructs
  • Zometool Building Systems
  • Zoob Toys
Find a wide variety of building and construction toys at KazooToys.Com.

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Monday, April 07, 2008

Automatons: Museu de Joguets i Autòmats

The Museum of Toys and Automata (Museu de Joguets i Autòmats) is located in the town of Verdú, outside of Barcelona.

The museum's collection is composed of over 1000 pieces and features many vintage automata. Most of the automata were manufactured in France during the last decades of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century.

This video clip features some of the pieces in the collection...and the song is really good!

Here is a link to Museu de Joguets i Autòmats.

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Saturday, April 05, 2008

How to Build a Working Wood Catapult Toy Kit

This is the first in a two part series reviewing the working wood catapult kit made by Pathfinders. In this first part, I will tell you about the kit and give you some assembly tips. In part two, I'll tell you how I went about making the catapult look like it truly belongs on an ancient battlefield. offers more than one model; this review refers to the one advertised as "Catapult Kit". It sells for $19.99.

Where did kit come from?
The product is sold by in their Geek Toys section under the Cube Warfare subsection by the name of Wooden War Engine Kits.

What do you get in the kit?
The kit comes with nearly everything you need to assemble the catapult. The only material you need to provide is white Elmer's-type glue. The kit comes with a small swatch of sandpaper and suggests that you have a ruler and scissors available. The kit arrived in a slender cardboard box with instructions and parts separated into two plastic bags. No excessive packaging, no impossible-to-open-plastic-clamshell. I like that.

The kit contains just over a dozen wooden parts, two washers, some string, a small bit of wire, and some soft Play-Doh type clay -- otherwise known as "ammunition".

The wood is a clear-grained pine. Just one of the pieces of my kit had a medium sized knot in it. It had been filled with a little plastic-wood type filler to keep things solid and smooth.

How were the instructions?
The instructions are printed in black and white on 8 pages. There are instructions in English, French, and German which is nice, though they are intermingled in a way that requires a bit of scanning and rescanning. I found the directions to be very good, though there were a few vague spots. I'll address these very minor pitfalls in the next section. The line drawings in the instructions are simple and clear and serve as the primary means of instruction.

What helpful hints do you have?
Overall, the kit itself took me a little over half an hour to make, though they suggest that you set aside 1 to 2 hours. The kit is suggested for ages 9 and up. That sounds about right to me.

Here are a few helpful hints for the assembling the catapult kit:
  1. Read the entire instruction manual all the way through, paying attention to the drawings. This won't take long and this will prevent any possible confusion.
  2. At first, I wasn't sure how to tell the crosspiece that the holds the trigger from the upright braces. It's quite simple really: just read the directions (I hadn't yet). Note that they have thoughtfully placed red marks on the crosspiece and the base with which it mates.
  3. The kit is held together with pegs that are glued in place. There are 18 total. Be sure to sift through the lot to find the two that a just a bit longer than the others. These are used to add tension to the string.
  4. I found that the pegs fit rather tightly. The glue helps to lubricate them a bit. I gently used a nonmarring hammerto tap the pieces together. Alternatively, you could use the included sandpaper to slightly taper the ends of the dowels and ease their entry.
  5. Add a safety/trigger - The trigger arm didn't always want to hold the throwing arm in place when under tension (OK, maybe I have it wound too tightly). I rigged up a small diagonal piece of wood that fits in a notch to keep the trigger arm from swinging. By pulling this diagonal piece out, the trigger arm is free to swing and the catapult will fire. (See image below for my safety/trigger addition.)
  6. A small hobby or razor Sawis handy if you want to trim some of the dowels that are left a bit over the surface of a few parts.
  7. Consider staining and/or sealing your model to increase its beauty and lifetime. More on this in part 2 of this series.

So...does it work?
The packaging claims that the catapult can throw a soft clay ball over 15 feet. This is absolutely true. I easily achieved distances over 20 feet and don't think I have put undue strain on the model. Should you choose to add extra horsepower to your model (and this is just my speculation), I believe some added string and a reinforced crossbar would allow you to throw a grape twice as far as advertised.

The Verdict?
This is a well proportioned and historically accurate catapult. More specifically this is a mangonel variety of catapult that uses twisted fibers for its power source. I gather that many had a sling on the end rather than the spoon shape we typically see. (You can learn more about catapults from The Art of the Catapult: Build Greek Ballistae, Roman Onagers, English Trebuchets, and More Ancient Artillery)

Everything that was promised was delivered and the model outperformed the advertising copy. When was the last time you purchased a product that did that?

I give the Authentic Working Wood Catapult from high marks.

What's next?
In the next installment of this article, I'll show you how to the catapult model look ancient and ready for a siege.

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Kinetic Sculptor Nemo Gould's Giant Robot Artwork

Little Big Man kinetic sculpture by Nemo GouldAs part of an upcoming show called "Robots: Evolution of a Cultural Icon" at the San Jose Museum of Art, Nemo Gould (Nemomatic) has created this amazing new piece called Little Big Man. Standing at 8 feet tall, the robot swings its arms and moves its mouth. Closer inspection reveals a tiny robot inside the abdomen of the larger one. The artist uses found objects and this time has blended wood with metal to create a truly unique work of moving art.

Here is a nice video that shows the robot(s) in action.
Visit the Nemomatic web site to learn more about Little Big Man and see videos of the artist speaking about the piece and his particular style of creating kinetic art.

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Friday, April 04, 2008

Automata as Metaphors for Understanding

Old is New BlogReady for some wildly imaginative and yet scholarly reading about automata in history? Head over to The Old is New Blog written by Professor Robert MacDougall. In his post Turk 182, he explores many interested ideas that center around automata.

Prof. MacDougall Writes:
By the late eighteenth century automata had moved from courtly settings to more public markets, theaters, and squares–not unlike Enlightenment ideas. Automata served, Schaffer says, as "both arguments and entertainments," and they could hardly be avoided as metaphors or models in debates on "the puzzles of good government--of the world by the deity, of the state by the prince, of the workshop by the master, and of the body by spirit." For obvious reasons, automata made handy illustrations of materialist philosophies. Clockwork imitations of nature made it possible to imagine nature as a machine.

Much of this article is refers to historian Simon Schaffer's article on "Enlightenment Automata" in the book The Sciences in Enlightened Europe

Here's the link to MacDougall's post on automata.

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Thursday, April 03, 2008

Anatomy of a Wood Automaton by Philip Lowndes

I posted about automaton maker Philip Lowndes a while back. The MAKE magazine blog has alerted us to the fact that the artist has made great progress with his work entitled, Quiet contemplation of a sandwich.

The artist has also generously created a page on the parts and pieces that go into a complex contemporary automaton. This is great information with really good photos!

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Bioloid Humanoid (or non-humanoid) Robotics Kit

Bioloid Humanoid (or non-humanoid) Robotics KitBioloid features 18 servo motors, an amazing range of movement, and versatile modular construction. The Bioloid Humanoid Robotics Kit is truly a KIT. This means you will can assemble the Bioloid's modules together to form any one of dozens of different robotic creatures (see image below). This really sets it apart from other humanoid robot kits and lesser toys.

The sensor array is impressive: an IrDA receiver, three proximity sensors that can measure distance and luminosity, and a microphone for sound detection and a piezo-electric speaker that can be used to play musical or beeps. This is a robot aware of its surroundings -- another big plus.

Alternate Bioloid ConfigurationsUsing the included motion editor software and visual programming environment, you can make the Bioloid interact with its surroundings and perform complex movements. Motions are built up frame-by-frame like a story board in an animation sequence. This allows quite complicated movements to be programmed. Once a motion has been defined it can then be downloaded into the Bioloid's memory and called from the Behaviour Control Program. The Bioloid comes with several example programs to make it walk, avoid obstacles and interact with sound.

This is an impressive platform for roboitics allowing for many configurations, many ways to sense the environment, and a well-developed system for programming actions.

Take a look at the extensive documentation (including the manual and screen shots of the programming interface) on the Bioloid Humanoid Robotics Kit.

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