Monday, June 30, 2008

Solar Powered Mechanical Toys and Gadgets

Solar toys and gadgets at the Automata Store
There is now an entirely new section just added to The Automata / Automaton Store that features solar-powered toys, gadgets, and education kits. The number of cool solar toys and other useful products has increased dramatically in the last few years. This is not only a good idea, but great fun.

You can find the section under the 'Mechanical Toys' heading, then click on 'Solar Toys'. Let us know if you have any of these and how you like them. Enjoy!

Visit The Automata / Automaton Store to check out the solar toys section.

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Sunday, June 29, 2008

Images of Animated Greeting Cards from Hallmark

In case you hadn't seen enough, I've scanned in the all of cards I bought. There were even more designs, but at $7 and $8 each, I didn't buy them all. The first two have sound and motion, the rest just have motion.

Hula Dancer Automata Greeting Card
Hula and ukulele greeting card with sound & motion

Retro Party Automata Greeting Card
Retro cartoon party greeting card with sound & motion

Hula Hoop Automata Greeting Card
Hula-hoop girl greeting card with motion

Sumo Wrestler Automata Greeting Card
Sumo wrestler greeting card with motion

Plumber Automata Greeting Card
Over-exposed plumber greeting card with motion

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Saturday, June 28, 2008

Video of Animated Greeting Cards with Sound

It looks like I sparked some interest on the web with my recent post about the new automata greeting cards from Hallmark. Both and BoingBoing Gadgets did posts themselves. I'm sure many others followed their lead.

While I posted a picture of one of the cards, I didn't take the time to shoot any video of the cards in action. Well, just wait a few hours and the Internet will deliver. Here is a video showing two of the cards in action.

I believe the Gear Diary fellow make be mistaken in saying that when you turn the crank you are actually generating the power for the sound. I think the card holds a battery and you are just activating a switch for the sound unit when you turn the crank. I have not performed surgery on one of these cards, so I can't be sure. Anyone?

There is a third motion-and-sound card that shows a island scene with a hula dancer and ukulele player that is also very well executed. I also want to remind you there are several very nice designs that use the motion component but do not have any sound.

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Wooden Clock Wheel Cutting - Bandsaw Pinions

Here is a great video with detailed instructions on how to cut small clock pinion gears from plywood using a band saw -- an alternative to the more commonly used scroll saw. I own this small, well-rated, affordable benchtop bandsaw.

The craftsman in the film uses a fairly wide band saw blade -- 3/8 inch perhaps. Despite its large sized, he shows how to used a series of straight cuts and the front of the blade to nibble away and tight and curved area.

He does turn to the scroll saw, not for cutting, but for filing the edges of the pinion smooth. He mounts a needle file into the scroll saw. You can also buy files designed to fit in the scroll saw.

The video also shows how to use a benchtop disk sander to create round spacers and how to best glue the parts together with white PVA glue.

This is the kind of education you can only get by watching someone with experience.

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Friday, June 27, 2008

Animated Automata Greeting Cards with Sound

For some time now, many greeting cards have featured a small electronic sound device that is triggered when the card recipient opens the card. Greeting card maker Hallmark has introduced a new line of greeting cards that also incorporate motion.
Animated Automata Greeting Cards with Sound by Hallmark
Their motion-related cards come in two forms. The motion-only variety feature a small finger-crank on the lower right face of the card that, when rotated, sets the design on the face of the card in motion. Hallmark has also introduced a few larger-format cards the incorporate motion and sound -- as seen here in this retro party scene card. When the crank is turned the cartoon party-goer characters on the front of the card move in appropriate ways and the song "Soul Bossa Nova" by Quincy Jones is played.

This design in particular is a perfect blend of artwork, motion, and sound. This is the first time in my life I have bought greeting cards for no reason other than I liked them so much.

Thanks to automaton-maker Tom Haney for telling me about them!

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Film of the Workings of French Picture Automaton

Here is a detailed video showing first the back and then the front of an elaborate French tableau automaton.

The first half of the video shows you the cardboard, paper, thread, wire, and clockwork that makes the piece move. The second half of the video shows the animated country scene with animals, people, and machines in lively motion.

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Mini Solar-Powered Car is Less Than 1.5" Long

Mini Solar-Powered Car
Here is a super-small solar car. It may be a "solar roller" in the BEAM robot lexicon, but I'm not sure if it stores a charge and fires when there enough juice in a capacitor or if the power goes directly from the solar cell to motor. Regardless...this little car measures a mere 1.3 inches long!

More on the Mini Solar-Powered Car:
The world's smallest solar powered car - it zooms along when the sun shines on the solar panel. No batteries - it gets its power just from the sun. No assembly required. Measures a tiny 3.3 x 2.2 x 1.4 cm. When the sun shines on the solar panel, the panel makes electricity that turns the motor and the wheels. A fun demonstration of solar power. Will also work when close to a strong artificial light source.

Check out this Mini Solar-Powered Car over at

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Paper Locksmith Collection -- Paper Lock Kits

Paper Locksmith Collection
Rob Ives at Flying-Pig Paper Animations Kits has done it again! Now you can learn all about how mechanical locks work by making working models out of paper.

The new Paper Locksmith Collection includes a twelve page booklet about locks and locksmithing. The booklet covers the history of locks, modern lock mechanisms, and the future of locks. It even has a section on lock picking.

You get three working lock models to download, print, and build:
1 - Combination Lock
2 - Cylinder Lock
3 - Warded Lock

You also get the included the free locksmith booklet.

Right now this package deal is only £4.99 (about $9.80). Don't worry...Paypal will do the currency conversion for you.

Learn more about The Paper Locksmith Collection.

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Monday, June 23, 2008

Pathfinders Wooden Automata Kits

I've told you about the catapult kit made by Pathfinders previously.

I am pleased to let you know they are now making wood automata kits.

From the product description:
Pathfinders has now designed two fascinating wooden automata kits that assemble with ease. The Pathfinders Flying Pig and Running Horse are engineered using a minimum number of parts yet produces dramatic movement. The Pathfinders Automata kits are made with natural, untreated pine. They can be painted or decorated and will last for many years. Requires only white glue, scissors, and a ruler for assembly.

Here is the are photos and descriptions of the Pathfinders automata at

You can order the automata kits from the Pathfinders on their web site. They are also available via Amazon at these locations: Pig Automaton and Horse Automaton.

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Sunday, June 22, 2008

Automaton Tribute the Magician Howard Thurston

Here is a brand new automaton by artist Oscar Dorian. Dorian is a talented special-effects artist who is especially adapt at horror-themed effects.

In this piece, Dorian has given new life to an old mechanical clock to create an homage to the great magician Howard Thurston.

I really love the production effects and old-time music in this video.

Check out this and other works on Dorian's blog.

Here is a book that features the magicians Harry Houdini and Howard Thurston: Wizard Exposed: Magic Tricks by and Interviews With Harry Houdini Howard Thurston and Other Past Masters of Magic.There are also tons of nice reproductions of Thurston the magician posters.

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Saturday, June 21, 2008

Ball Lifting Machine Using Wooden Offset Cams

Here's a neat mechanism that lift balls up an incline. Offset cams lift the balls in sequence as they advance up the steps. When it reaches the top, the ball shoots down a slide so it can start again.

The same technique is used by this dragon automaton and a similar kinetic sculpture. It's nice to see just the mechanism in detail in this video.

Found via the always cool MAKE Blog.

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Many Links to the Guinness Collection of Automata

Mandolin Player Automaton from the Guinness collecttion
Check out the Murtogh D. Guinness collection at the Morris Museum in Morristown, N.J. -- about 20 minutes from Newark.

The exhibit -- to be opened on November 6th, 2008 -- features mechanical musical instruments and automata from the late 1500s through the early 20th century.

Assembled by the Guinness family (of brewing fame), the collection includes some 700 music boxes, multi-instrument devices, street organs, and mechanical figures.

* Here is a link to Morris Museum web site.
* Here is a link to the Guinness collection of automata page.
* Here is an article on the exhibit from The New York Times.
* There is also an article on the exhibit in the January 2008 issue of Magic magazine (Back issues, $6 USD).

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Friday, June 20, 2008

Paper Automaton Kits by Peter Markey

Paper Automaton kits by Peter Markey
Here is a site that sells a line of paper automata kits by the inimitable automaton artist Peter Markey.

Markey is a master of getting great motions from simple mechanisms. These kits highlight his skill in this regard. Here is a chance to make one for yourself!

Visit Optical Toy's site to see their offering of Paper Automata by Peter Markey.

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Coin-Operated Funeral Parlor Scene Automaton

Undertaker Scene Coin-Operated Automaton
This interesting automaton is marked as being manufactured by J. Dennison.

The scene depicts a man in his coffin at a funeral parlor. When a coin is inserted into the mechanism, a skeleton head appears behind the coffin, the corpse bolts to an upright position and turns his head. Then, the skull disappears and a devil appears. I'm not sure what this humorous and macabre scene means. Thoughts?

Originally, the machine worked with a large English penny, but has been converted to take U.S. coins (I'm not sure which). The listing says the automaton is in working condition.

Take a look at the eBay listing for the Dennison Coin-Operated Funeral Parlor Scene Automaton.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Video of Three Jaquet-Droz Automata in BBC Film

While a bit longer than most videos I like to post, this one is worth a look. The first several minutes contain footage of the three famous automata created by Pierre Jaquet-Droz: The Musician, The Writer, and The Draftsman.

The automata footage is in the first few minutes. If you are curious about the French Revolution, Mozart, and Ben Franklin, by all the rest of the clip. Pretty interesting stuff, actually.

The video is from part 8 "The Drive For Power" of a 13 part series "The Ascent of Man" by Jacob Bronowski available as a 5 DVD set.

Here is a link to the The Ascent of Man 5 volume set.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Mysterious Flopping Fish Wood Automaton

Here's an automaton design I haven't seen before. When the rod in the side of the box is pushed or pulled, the hinged wooden fish on top flops around.

At first glance, you might assume there is a ridged profile on the pushed rod that bumps the underside of the fish. But wait! The end of the video reveals that the fish is resting on a solid surface. This begs the question that is the title of the video: Why does this fish move?

I'll let you ponder that.

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Monday, June 16, 2008

German Made Tumbling Acrobatic Automaton

This is a hand-made wooden toy made in Germany. The little wooden figure performs back-flips down three small steps.

German Made Tumbling Acrobatic Automaton
Automata like this have a long history in Japan and in the West. Now, a traditional German toymaker has re-invented the toy, with a new mechanism (the old ones relied on mercury).

The toy comes in a wooden box, which opens to form the steps on which the tumbler performs his act.

Here is a link to the product page for the Tumbling Acrobat Automaton. Here is a link to a movie of the Tumbling Acrobat Automaton in action.

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Sunday, June 15, 2008

Amazing POV Chair Sculpture by Artist Jim Jenkins

Amazing POV Chair Sculpture by Artist Jim Jenkins
Jim Jenkins can best be described as part sculptor, part engineer, and part choreographer. His kinetic sculptures feature the animation of text and objects to represent a situation or observation.

The piece shown above, entitled The Little Chair, is a perfect example. The chair is mounted on an axle driven by a powerful motor. When the chair spins an electronic device takes advantage of the persistence of vision effect to write out the incongruous message "Sit still". Very clever!

Here is a link to a movie of The Little Chair in action.

Check out this and all of Jim Jenkin's kinetic artwork on his web site.

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Friday, June 13, 2008

Dancing Diplodocus Paper Automaton Kit

Dancing Diplodocus Paper Automaton Kit
Here is a brand new paper automaton creation from Flying-Pig Paper Animation Kits. You can make this kit for yourself in a few hours time.

This one is being sold as a downloadable model. You simply pay online using their secure site. Once your order is complete you will be sent an email with details of how to download your model. Downloading takes no more than a couple of minutes. You'll need adobe acrobat reader, which is free from Adobe. Once you have the file on you computer, print it out onto thin card stock paper.

As with all of Rob's wonderful paper automata, you just need a few simple tools to put them together: scissors, a ruler, Elmer's white glue, and a sharp hobby knife. Other helpful items are tweezers and a self-healing cutting mat.

Visit the Flying-Pig Paper Animations Kits' download page to get the Dancing Diplodocus Paper Automaton Kit

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Mechanical Music: A Hand-Cranked Gramophone

Here's a short video clip of a hand-cranked record player. It must take a very steady hand and good sense of rhythm to make a song sound right.

This gramaphone makes for a great old-time style sound. Is that a milk jug being used for the speaker?

Thanks bhaaluu!


Thursday, June 12, 2008

Amazon Summer Toy Event 2008 - Save up to 70%

Amazon Summer Toy Event 2008
I just learned that is having a huge sale on toys. Some toys are being sold for up to 70% off. Here is the Amazon Summer Toys Event main page.

Here are some deals I think might interest you, Dear Readers:

* Fuel Cell X7 - Hydrogen Powered Car
* Discovery Exclusive Hydrogen Fuel Rocket
* Air Hogs Havoc R/C Helicopter - Blue
* Kabuto Mushi Robot
* Vectron Phazor (27.045 MHz)
* Kid Galaxy Backyard Flyer Blue Splash
* Yukon Express 200-Piece Wooden Train Set

These are just a few things I happened to find. The sale runs now through now though June 18th, 2008. Check out the rest of the Amazon Summer Toy Event sale items.

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Screw & Bold Removers, Screw Extractors & Plugs

I hate to admit it, but even I mess up sometimes. A lot, actually. I use mostly brass screws, and they can strip easily if I use a cordless drill to drive them. Here are two options for saving the day. I own both. I NEED both.

ProGrabit Screw and Bold RemoverThe first is the ProGrabit Screw and Bolt Remover. I use this piece when I have stripped the head of a phillips head screw. This 3 piece kit contains everything you need to remove screws (sizes 4 thru 14) and small bolts.

To use it you, place the appropriate sized extraction tool in you drill in and run it in reverse to create a cavity in the screw or bolt head. You then flip the extraction tool in your drill so that the screw end can be inserted into the cavity. Again, running the drill in reverse, you back-out the screw or bolt.

Screw Extractor for Broken Headed ScrewsThe second option is the Cut-around Screw Extractor. I use this when I have snapped the screw head off of the screw completely.

You simply chuck this miniature hole saw into your drill, center it over your broken screw, then cut a plug out of the wood with the embedded broken screw in it.

Tapered Plug CuttersWhen finished, you have a nice clean hole where your mistake once was. You can then plug the hole with standard size dowels or plugs cut with a tapered plug cutter. Cutting your own plugs will allow you to match the wood type, color and grain closely if you have some scraps from which to cut the plugs.

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Massive Wooden Gear Clock By Brendan Reilly

Clock designer Brendan Reilly created this wooden clockwork sculpture for the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada.

Massive Wooden Gear Clock By Brendan Reilly
The craftsman used black walnut, red oak, African blackwood and laminated Baltic birch for the gear mechanism.

This is a large clock, indeed: the large wheel is three feet in diameter, the dial is six feet five inches in diameter, and the pendulum is fourteen feet long!

The escapement mechanism is a variation of the "grasshopper" escapement invented by John Harrison. Harrison also developed the marine chronometer -- a fascinating story told in a book I highly recommend called, Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time

Visit his site to see more of Brendan Reilly's wooden clockworks.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Series of Passionate/Arbitrary Decisions Machine

Here is a kinetic sculpture by Benjamin Cowden.

The piece is constructed of steel, concrete, brass, urethane rubber, and foam. Several mechanisms are chained together to produce the awkward spinning of the figure suspended in the center of the hoop. The overall effect works well with the title of the automaton: A Series of Passionate but Arbitrary Decisions.

Apart from being a great piece with an outstanding title, it also serves to show how useful good old-fashioned pin-wheels can be. Here the artist is using them to change the axis of rotation -- a fairly common use for pin-wheels. The particularly novel application is in the double-ratchet mechanism in which the pin-wheel's pins serve as "teeth" that are pulled in order to advance the motion. Clever, economical, and -- I'll wager -- robust.

Thanks, Falk!

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Automaton Artist Steve Armstrong in Two Galleries

I posted some time ago about automaton artist Steve Armstrong's automata on eBay and at the John Pence Gallery.

As it turns out, he also has automata available in two other galleries at this time: the Heike Pickett Gallery in Kentucky and the Logsdon 1909 Gallery in Chicago, Il. A few of the pieces shown on their sites may have sold, but many are available.

Shown here is a piece entitled Gatekeeper. I love the box/platform. Just beautiful.

Here is Steve Armstrong's work at the Heike Pickett Gallery. Here is Steve Armstrong's work at the Logsdon 1909 Gallery (Flash required).

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Monday, June 09, 2008

The Harmonium: Amazing Analog Gear Computer

The Harmonium - Analog Computer
I won't pretend to understand everything this thing is capable of, but from what I can tell it is able to print out various sine functions (like a graphing calculator) but does so by a purely mechanical means.
The Harmonium - Analog Computer
I gather that you can do two things with the machine. First, the machine will produce various sine waves for you on paper after you set values for the amplitude and phase angle. Second, in a reversal of this process, you can trace a curve and use Fourier analysis to extract the phase and amplitude of the curve.

The Harmonium is the invention of 64-year-old Dutch inventor -- Tatjana van Vark -- who has been building complex gadgetry since she was 14.

Here's a link to a site about The Harmonium Analog Computer which has tons of gorgeous photographs of the device. This info comes to me by way of the Retro Thing blog.

Thanks bhaaluu!

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Sunday, June 08, 2008

Two Vintage French Cirque Int'l Clowns & Props

Two Vintage French Cirque Int'l Clowns & PropsHere is an eBay listing is for a set of vintage Cirque International clowns made in France. The two clowns come with props that include a set of parallel bars, two chairs, and two ladders. Both are just under a foot tall.

As a nice surprise, the seller has a copy of the original instructions detailing the clowns, their actions, and original price!

The clown in the purple outfit is an automaton with a working wind up mechanism. When wound this clown lifts his head, arches his back, and performs acts on the parallel bars, chairs, or ladders.

The second clown, in the light blue outfit can be posed in various positions and will hold the position into which it is put.

Here is the eBay listing for Two Vintage French Cirque Int'l Clowns & Apparatus.

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Functioning Wooden Steam Locomotive Model

Functioning Wooden Steam Locomotive Model
Harold Manwaring made this scale locomotive entirely from recycled wood (bravo!) with the exception of a few small metal parts. Everything on the model works, though it does not go anywhere because its driving wheels are suspended slightly above the model track.

The model runs on compressed air that is fed at about 15 PSI to a small stainless steel receiver in the engine's firebox. Lines to the two cylinders are wood, as are the cylinders, and pistons themselves. The pistons are even fitted with wooden piston rings!

The craftsman says of the model:
"I had to use as close tolerances as possible as compressed air does not expand like steam, but also taking into consideration humidity and how much the wood would move. Two air lines run from the cabin valves out to the whistle and one to the valves. The whistle blows at about 2-3 lbs of air and the engine runs really well at about 12-15 lbs of air and stops at 8-9 lbs. It worked on the first attempt, so I stopped and had a beer."

Here is a nice article on the Harold Manwaring and the wooden steam locomotive. Also be sure to check out this video clip showing the wooden locomotive in operation.

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