Friday, October 31, 2008 for paper automaton kits

Keisuke Saka's penguin automaton offers paper automaton kits from Rob Ives, Walter Ruffler, and Keisuke Saka. Shown here is Saka's delightful penguin automaton design.

From the Paper Animatins site:
Making paper animations and static paper models (such as buildings, planes, cars and animals) is a thriving hobby in Europe and Asia. Such paper crafting is just now catching on in the USA. Paper animations enjoys an increasingly wider following among teachers and students who use the models to explore the basics of mechanical movement.

Visit Paper Animations to see all of the paper automata kits they offer.

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Army Knife big enough for the entire Swiss Army

Giant Swiss Army Knife

Every decade of my life has included a Swiss Army knife in my pocket. My personal Swiss Army Knife progression has been as follows:

1 - Swiss Army Tinker Pocket Knife

2 - Swiss Army Super Tinker Pocket Knife

3 - Swiss Army Deluxe Tinker

4 - Victorinox Swiss Army Champion

I'm years overdue for my regular upgrade which I suppose is either the SwissChamp XLT or the SwissChamp XAVT

Or...I could just go for Mother of All Swiss Army Knives.

There are, however, a few drawbacks to this option. First, this knife is made by Wenger. And though they are an official and reputable maker of Swiss Army knives, you'll see from the list above that I am a Victorinox man through and through. Second, this baby will set you back $999 USD. Finally, this knife weighs in at nearly 3 pounds! There is no way.

My jeans wear out in the same spot -- right were my knife sits. Fortunately, worn jeans are trendy right now. Perhaps I'll just stick with the SwissChamp and switch to the version with the black handle, or the beautiful hardwood handle (shown at left). Nice.

I may even down-grade to the Swiss Army Craftsman Pocket Knife because honestly, I have yet to use the hook disgorger/fish scaler on the Swiss Champ.

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Roland Emett sculpture exhibit - Ontario, Canada

Kinetic sculptures by Roland Emett are put on display once a year during the holiday season at the Ontario Science Centre.

Learn more about the Ontario Science Centre.

[ Thanks Keith! ]

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Enchanting World of Automata, Paul Spooner

Here's a Paul Spooner piece that at first glance seems to depict the most innocent of automata themes. Indeed, simple ballerinas and musicians have long been the subjects of automata.

However, automata also have a long history of more adult themes -- and sometimes in conjunction with the more respectable subjects. For example, there are many pocket watch automata that show a simple, tasteful scene on the watch face. A door on the back of the pocket watch, though, may reveal a more graphic, shall we say..."amorous"...tableaux.

Spooner tips his hat to both of these themes in the piece shown here (NSFW). With tongue firmly in cheek, he has titled it: The Enchanting World of Automata. Paul Spooner's wit is second to none in the world of contemporary automata.

See the full scope of Paul Spooner's automata at Fourteen Balls Toy Company or look into buying a piece at the Cabaret Mechanical Theatre online shop.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Profile of inventor Dean Kamen

Inventor Dean Kamen
I had the great pleasure of seeing Dean Kamen speak in Boston once and got to shake his hand afterward. I let him know that he was on of my heroes in no uncertain terms. He was very gracious.

He is currently working on heat driven Stirling engines (see this model Stirling Engine I posted about not long ago). He's not just working on the engines, but some novel applications for their use. I can't wait to see what he comes up with.

Here's a nice long profile on Dean Kamen, a modern day inventor. Found via's coverage today.

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Automata and Social Issues: Anti-War Automata

I posted recently about an automaton that is not based your typical whimsical/humorous theme. Here is a video showing an entire exhibit of automata on a common them addressing a social and political issue.

It's rare to see an exhibit of automata with a common theme. I think you will agree that some of them are very powerful.

[ Thanks David! ]

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Monday, October 27, 2008

Working wall clock with hidden safe

Wall Clock With Hidden Safe it's not an automaton or mechanical toy, but it is a clock and mechanically nifty.

This safe seems like it would be particularly secure if you recessed it into the wall and then mounted it high up so that you needed a ladder to get to it.

From the product description:
At a glance, it looks like any other regular wall clock. But you know the secret! It swings open to store your valuables and small mementos on three shelves. Clock runs on 1 AA battery, not included. Has three predrilled mounting holes, hardware not included. Outside dimensions: 10"dia. by 3"deep. Inside: 8.5" dia. by 1.75" deep.

Here the link to the Wall Clock With Hidden Safe

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Video Tour of the Modern Automata Museum, Italy

Here is a great video tour of the Modern Automata Museum in Italy.

More on info (mostly in Italian) can be found on the Modern Automata Museum web site.

[ Thanks David! ]

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Saturday, October 25, 2008

Paul Boyer Automata and Kinetic Creations Video

I had seen video of some of Paul Boyer's automata, but I had no idea of this man's creative diversity! He has created plenty of motorized automata, graceful wire creations, a wind calliope, kinetic sculptures, and even a drum playing marble-track machine.

Here is a nice long video taking you on a virtual tour of The Paul Boyer Museum of Animated Carvings in Belleville Kansas.

A remarkable body of work.

[ Thanks Osmyn! ]

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Friday, October 24, 2008

Hand-Crank Marble Climbing machine with Plans!

Hand-Cranked Marble Climber with PDF Plans
It is with great pleasure that I inform you that Steve Good, proprietor of The Scrollsaw Workshop, has created downloadable plans and a three part video series to help you make the hand cranked marble machine shown here. What more could you ask for?

Here is part 1 of the marble climbing machine tutorial:

Here is part 2 of the marble climbing machine tutorial:

Here is part 3 of the marble climbing machine tutorial:
Finally, here's where you an get the free download of the plans for the climbing marble automaton.

Note: The Scrollsaw Workshop is primarily supported by donations. If you enjoy this pattern, please consider giving Steve Good a donation. He has certainly earned it!

[ Thanks to Charles and Travis! ]

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Automata of Dog Based on Aquio Nishida Design

I posted a short while back on one of my favorite automata books -- Automata: Movable Illustration, by Aquio Nishida.

Here is a automaton by Stuart Chalmers of his dog, Bess. Chalmers used principles found in Nishida's book to create the piece. Nishida's own work demonstrates time and again that he excels at representing the motions of four-legged animals such as horses.

[ Thanks Falk! ]

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A Collection of Thoughts by Artist Tom Haney

Here is one new piece by Tom Haney now documented on his web site. Titled A Collection of Thoughts, this motorized automaton features extraordinary detail and Haney's uncanny ability to create a vintage feel.

His web site has a set of nineteen photographs showing the automaton in various stages of construction and 3 short movies.

Here's a link to Tom Haney's page for A Collection of Thoughts.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Mechanical Music Museum in Finland

Mechanical Music Museum in FinlandMekaanisen Musiikin Museo (The Mechanical Music Museum) is located in the Finnish lake district.

It is the largest museum of its kind in Scandinavia featuring mechanically produced music from instruments dating from the 1850s to the present. They offer a 70-minute guided tour in which visitors see and hear most of the museum's 290 instruments. The instruments are displayed in eight large rooms, each decorated in a style corresponding to the machines they hold.

If you are going to be in Finland, I would say that Mekaanisen Musiikin Museo would be worth a visit.

[ Thanks Kristiina! ]

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Radio Controlled Zombies on the Loose!

Remote Control Zombie
I hope the headline to this post didn't cause any Orson Wells War of the Worlds type of mass hysteria. No? Really? Oh. OK.

Even the Halloween-themed mechanical toys are remote controlled these days. Take for example this, an 8 inch tall remote controlled zombie with posable arms and head. The remote is shaped guessed it: a brain. When you activate the remote, the Zombie plods forward and groans.

This undead fellow would be a great (if unwelcome) guest at a Barbie Picnic or Hanna Montana concert. Or, give him a walk-on part in High School Musical -- just no lines.

Check out the Remote Control Zombie at

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Monday, October 20, 2008

An Automaton Maker at the Very End of the World

Artist Blair Somerville
Artist Blair Somerville (above) sits in a green bus in Papatowai, a small settlement in the Catlins district of the southeastern South Island of New Zealand. The bus is home to The Lost Gypsy Gallery, a collection of Somerville's quirky work (below).

The Lost Gypsy Gallery
When the artist is not in the bus/gallery, he spends his time combing beaches and collecting 'junk' as he calls it from which to craft all manner of clever toys, gadgets, gizmos, and automata.

Here is a link to a nice photo set featuring The Lost Gypsy Gallery.

[ Thanks philsing! Photos courtesy of Asha's Site. ]

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Raven: Hand-Cranked Flying Bird Automaton

Here is an automaton that seems right for the season. The Raven is a mixed media automaton of paper clay over a wire armature. The piece was finished with acrylic paint, black lace, feathers and a crown of quartz crystal arrowheads. Very nice, indeed.

Visit the Remnants Of Olde website to see more photographs of The Raven automaton.

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Levitation Magician Automaton by Thomas Kuntz

Levitation Magician Automaton by Thomas Kuntz
Shown here is The Great Kundalini Thelema-gician!, a one-of-a-kind automaton by artist Thomas Kuntz.

The automaton performs the following sequence:

1 - The magician looks left to right and his mouth opens and closes as if addressing the audience.
2 - He waves a wand over the girl.
3 - The girl struggles as if to covey something has gone wrong.
4 - Her feet wiggle and she begins to levitate.
5 - The magician's long pointed hat levitates also.
6 - The girl descends and the magician opens the left side his robe. (A message or item could be included here.)

A very complex modern automaton, the masterful sculpting, engineering, painting, and cohesive theme are hallmarks of Kuntz's work. He is a rare talent.

Here is the eBay listing for this amazing Levitation Magician Automaton by Thomas Kuntz

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Friday, October 17, 2008

No Reward for Good Behavior - Metal Automaton

Here is a charming all-metal automaton that features five little figures jumping up and down as they orbit around the center point. The mechanism is just beautiful.

Entitled No Reward for Good Behavior, the piece is by Benjamin Cowden. Here is a link to an article about the artist.

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

MAKE Halloween Special Issue - DIY Halloween

It may have hit the newsstands last year, but the MAKE Special Halloween issue is still full of excellent Do-It-Yourself Halloween goodness. You have got to see the headless Marie Antoinette costume!

What does this have to do with automata? This is the issue that features a humble contribution of my own -- an article on how to build a mechanical top hat with a little monster pop out of the top on command. This is the alternate cover; my hat project can be seen in bottom center of the page.

Here's were you can get the MAKE: Halloween Special Edition (Collector's Alternate Cover).

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And Now a Word from Our Sponsor....Batdog! has tons of Halloween costumes and is offering free shipping for orders over $25. They have:
  • Women's costumes
  • Men's costumes
  • Girl's Costumes
  • Boy's costumes
  • Baby costumes

Would you believe they even sell costumes for DOGS? Shown here: Batdog?

Here is a link to Amazon's Halloween Costumes Store.

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Automatic Accordion - Hohner Magic Organa

Automatic Accordion - Hohner Magic Organa
Check out this German-made automatic accordion by Hohner.

A spring-wound mechanism inside the instrument moves a paper roll over tubes connected to the accordion's 44 notes. A foot pump bellows connected via a hose to the accordion provides the air needed to for the instrument to sound its notes.

It's bit like a player-piano/organ strapped to your chest. I had no idea such things existed. Amazing. This one comes with 7 different programmed paper rolls.

Here is the eBay listing with more photographs of the automatic accordion called the Hohner Magic Organa

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Scaretaker Motorized Animated Halloween Prop

Scaretaker Motorized Animated Halloween Prop
Check out "The Evil Scaretaker" a life-sized animatronic Halloween prop.

The Scaretaker's body shakes while he glares at you menacingly. His jaw moves up and down, as does the jaw of the head he is holding! The lantern in his hand is powered by two AA batteries, but the rest is powered by a 9V wall adapter. The figure is hand painted and stands approx 5 1/2 feet tall. Nice details on the clothes, it appears.

Set this thing up with a basic motion detector and a prerecorded message and you've got one seriously scary greeter for you front yard or entryway. Imagine seeing this guy all of a sudden in a dark hallway.

Check out Scaretaker Animated Prop

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Super Creepy Mechamo Crab with Baby Head

The team over at MAKE magazine have figured out a way for you to make your own creepy crab/baby abomination -- not unlike the one in the movie Toy Story -- just in time for Halloween.

Here is a link to MAKE's post that shows this and other videos for this project. Their store, The Maker Shed, also sells the Mechamo Crab by Gakken used (baby head not included).

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Still Time to Order Halloween Costumes & Props

Fright Catalog - Halloween masks, costumes, props, and decorations
A vast selection of costumes, masks, & decorations for Halloween may be found at The Fright Catalog.

They have a huge array of motorized animated props and full-fledged animatronics if you want to have THE scariest house on the block. Consider it an investment -- one that is likely to pay off in years of fun. That's far better than most investments can offer these days.

Visit The Fright Catalog's Halloween Central while you still have plenty of time for shipments to arrive before Halloween.

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Build-A-Tune: Programmable Thumb Piano

Here is another great creation from the talented Brad Litwin, maker of The Atom Smacker and other mechanical wonders. The piece is now on exhibit at the Dupage Children's Museum, in Naperville, IL.

This machine uses a series of studded disks to pluck the tongues on an instrument resembling a thumb piano tilted on its side. As the notes to the video remark, by rearranging the disks, the Build-A-Tune offers a near-infinite combination of rhythmic sequences, many of which sound a bit like music out of Africa or a rudimentary electronic sequencer.

Learn more about Brad and his creations at

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Vaporizer / Condenser Unit Winds a Spring Clock

Clock with a Vaporizer / Condenser Unit that winds the clock's spring
I'd like to say "What will they think of next?" but this novel method for winding a mechanical clock has been around since the 1930s. Shown here is the back of a Jauch and Schmid clock with a vaporizer/condenser winding mechanism.

The winding key axle of a fairly conventional clock is fitted with a set of connected glass tubes and vials filled with alcohol. A heating element below the lower-most vial causes the liquid to vaporize and move up to the opposing upper vial. Now separated from the heat source, the alcohol cools again to form a liquid. The orientation of the heavy liquid filled vials on top causes the winding axle to rotate. Perhaps a bit of a fire hazard -- heat, glass, alcohol, bare wires and 220 volts...Yikes! Not exactly "set it and forget it" to my way of thinking, but ingenious nonetheless.

From The Watchismo Times and found via

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Monday, October 13, 2008

Animatronic "Village Pet Store And Charcoal Grill"

This video of an Pet Store/Grill Restaurant mashup uses some of the most clever, funny, and thought-provoking animatronics I have ever seen. I had never considered mechanizing and animating a hot dog. Remarkable work.

Banksy's Village Pet Store and Charcoal Grill is in New York's West Village on 7th Avenue between West 4th and Bleeker Street.

This enchanted Village Pet Store/Grill comes to us from The Wooster Collective via a post on

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Other Views of The Chaos Tower Marble Run Toy

New Views of The Chaos Tower Marble Run
I posted some time ago about the large marble run toy called The Chaos Tower. At the time I could only find one picture of the device and poked fun at the incongruity between the name of the toy and the mild-mannered fellow next to it.

The set can be assembled in a variety of ways. The photograph above represents one horizontal configuration. The thumbnail at left shows one vertical configuration in which the marble run can be built into a structure over 6 feet tall.

With hundreds of pieces, an included AC-powered motor, and no tools required this seems to me to be one of those toys (like Legos) that can be used, enjoyed, and rediscovered many, many times.

Here is a link to Chaos Tower available via and other toy stores.

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Sunday, October 12, 2008

Milestones in Science - DIY Great Experiments

Milestones in Science
When I was a lad, science seemed, lamentably, mostly a series of facts and formulas that didn't really convey anything about the times, the world, or the minds from which it came. This is one reason I ended up studying the history of science rather than science itself. Here is a well-conceived kit that attempts to walk the new scientist through the great experiments of history. I may well treat myself to this kit to learn first-hand that which I have learned second-hand.

From the product description:
Milestones in Science combines history and science in a fun, hands-on way. Children learn about famous scientists and inventors while reproducing 100 of their most significant experiments. Beautifully illustrated 96-page book walks junior scientists through a world of microelectronics, atoms, light, magnetism, and much more. Covers more than 140 scientists and civilizations. Made in Germany and includes 95 pieces. Requires one "9V" battery. (Age 10+)

Here is where you can order Milestones in Science.

For the more mature and readerly with and less experimental bent, I cannot recommend highly enough A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson.

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Saturday, October 11, 2008

Flickr Set of Some Great Contemporary Automata

he Council Counsellor, by Paul Spooner and Matt SmithHere is a nice Flickr set of photographs of a nice private collection of contemporary automata. There are large photos of the pieces. Particularly well-represented are the artists Jan Zalud, Keith Newstead, and Paul Spooner/Matt Smith.

Shown here is The Council Counsellor, by Paul Spooner and Matt Smith of Fourteen Balls Toy.

Here is the link to the Flickr set of automata.

[ Thanks Steve! ]

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Friday, October 10, 2008

Stirring Lady Automaton in Metal by Lucy Casson.

Take a look at the wonderful fluid motion Lucy Casson achieves with recycled metal in this piece called Stirring Lady.

You can learn a bit more about Lucy Casson on her profile page at the Cabaret Mechanical Theatre web site.

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Thursday, October 09, 2008

Make an Automaton in a Hat for Halloween

Here's a video of the hat of my design that was published in last year's Special Halloween Edition of MAKE Magazine.

The project requires two costume "Coachman's" hats, plywood, some small pieces of wood, two L-brackets, two springs, a bicycle brake cable and lever, a cable crimp, some washers and screws, and a rubber finger puppet.

If you start now, you've got time to have it done by the end of the month!

Here's a link to the MAKE store where you can get the Halloween issue, which is full of nothing but cool DIY Halloween projects.

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WowWee's FemiSapien Humanoid Robot

WowWee's FemiSapien Humanoid Robot
Femisapien is WowWee's latetst humanoid robot. Femisapien has 3 functional modes that may be engaged by tilting the robot's head in one of three a specific positions:

Attentive Mode: Femisapien interacts directly with the user.

Learning Mode: allows you to program Femisapien to do a sequence of movements up to 80 steps long.

Responsive Mode: The robot's main autonomous walking mode. Femisapien can interact with sounds, detect objects, and stop when something is in her path.

Learn more about all of the capacities of the FemiSapien Humanoid Robot by WowWee Toys.

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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Motorized Wood Marble-run & Automaton Figures

Take a look at this great marble run with many interesting features. The project started when the creator made a bicycle chain out of wood. From there, the project grew. And boy, did it grow! The final piece features wooden clapping hands -- not unlike Martin Smith's Applause machine. There is also an excellent carved wooden head mounted to the front. The man's eyes move back and forth and he periodically spits out marbles creating a very entertaining and captivating effect. There is even a Geneva Stop mechanism thrown in just for fun!

This wooden contraption was constructed from various wood species using primarily a scroll saw, router, lathe, and carving tools. Well done!

If you are interested in Marble-run toys, check out the huge selection in Marble Track Toys section of The Automata / Automaton Store.

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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Remote Controlled Flying Pterosaur Ornithopter

Remote Controlled Flying Pterosaur Ornithopter
OK. I just want to emphasize three things regarding this mechanical toy:

1 - Remote-controlled
2 - Ornithopter
3 - Pterosaur

The only thing that could make this flying toy any cooler is if it shot flames out of its mouth.

Check out the Remote Controlled Flying Pterosaur Ornithopter.

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