Sunday, November 30, 2008

Simple motorized robotic duck kit

This looks like a simple, fun mechanical toy kit that allows you to build a waddling bipedal robot.

Here the link to the Robot Duck kit.

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Saturday, November 29, 2008

Waltzing teacup automaton by Kazu Harada

Here is a wonderfully clever automaton of waltzing teacups by automaton-maker Kazu Harada. Ingenious and charming.

See more of Kazu Harada's automata at

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Friday, November 28, 2008

Fantastic disembodied smoking head automaton

Here's a short video of a fantastic disembodied head automaton that smokes!

From the video description:
A clockwork head that moves its glass eyes and smokes either a pipe or cigar. The head is made of papier mache and wood. The original wooden box contained envelopes of saltpetre and 'ribbon of bruge' to load the pipe with, also a letter dated 1882 explaining how to work it and confirming its sale to a London coffee shop.

Thanks to Michael and Maria at AutomatoMania for this video.

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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Vollis Simpson's windmill-powered whirligigs

Some time ago, I posted a YouTube video about Vollis Simpson, a man who has made a park full of windmills and whirligigs. There is a great web site with more about the man behind it all. The site also features a detailed virtual tour of his wind-powered mechanical park.

Here's a link to From Windmills to Whirligigs brought to us by the Science Museum of Minnesota.

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Japanse automaton toothpick dispenser bird

Here's a nifty toothpick dispenser. Instead of reaching in and getting your hands all over the toothpicks, simply press the handle and the little bird plucks out one for you.

From the item description:
This is a Japanese trick toothpick dispenser that measures 5.5 inches long by 4.5 inches high by 3.38 inches wide. Upon depressing the round lever in the back, the bird stoops down as the cover magically opens allowing it to retrieve a single toothpick for use. This folkcraft was given the seal of approval by the National Souvenir Tourist Board of Japan.

Here's the eBay listing for Japanse automaton toothpick dispenser bird.

Here is a modern equivalent. I don't think this version has a lever. I think you push the bird itself down to retrieve a toothpick. Here is a link to the Willie Woodpicker toothpick dispenser

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Simple machines: 4-in-1 hydraulic machines set

4-in-1 Hydraulic Machines Construction Kit
This kit lets aspiring engineers and tinkerers of all ages build four simple machines that explore the mechanics of hydraulics. This set allows you to build a Platform Lifter, Scissor Lift, Cherry Picker, and Excavator.

Each working model uses water as the hydraulic fluid, comes with pre-cut wood pieces, and instructions. You supply the white glue and the time to put them together.

Here's the full product listing for the 4-in-1 hydraulic machines set.

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Monday, November 24, 2008

Anatomical Levitating Head Experiment

From the massively talented Thomas Kuntz, here is a glimpse of a work-in-progress. In this video we see the artist experimenting with a levitating mechanical head automaton. Take a look at his skill as a sculptor and at those beautiful brass works. If only my experiments look this good!

To see more, visit Thomas Kuntz's web site.

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Free break-dancing paper automaton download

Here is a paper prototype automaton that is available for downlaod. I believe the creator is looking for feedback to refine the design.

Here is a link to the downloadable files for the Free Paper Street Dancer Automaton.

[ Thanks Raphael! ]

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

Today is the last chance to pre-bid on Theriault's

Today is the last chance to pre-bid on Theriault's
You can register to bid live online with real-time video and sound feed to make you feel as if you were at the auction itself.

If you are interested in following the auction or bidding online, it is important to pre-register today.

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Fort Libellula Hand Cranked Automaton

Soak in the elaborate and lavish detail in this fantastical hand-cranked automaton by Pascale Michalski entitled Fort Libellula.

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Friday, November 21, 2008

Remote controlled car powered by water and sun

Fuel cell powered remote controlled toy car
I've raved in the past about a fuel-cell powered toy car kit. Here's something to get even more excited about: a remote controlled toy car that may never need batteries. Ever.

From the toy description:
The included fueling station is powered by a solar panel and uses electrolysis to safely deconstruct ordinary tap water into hydrogen and oxygen atoms. Simply connect the fueling station's plastic tube to the car and hydrogen gas transfers to the car's patented fuel cell, where platinum plates compress the hydrogen and convert it into electrical energy to power the motors. The car maneuvers like a traditional remote-controlled vehicle...

While the explanation above of how a fuel cell works is somewhat different than my understanding, there is no question -- this is the start of something good. Water and energy from the sun are what ultimately power this toy. No sun? comes with an AC adapter that will allow you to refill the hydrogen fueling station, but that's cheating if you ask me.

Here are more details on the first remote controlled hydrogen powered toy car.

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Magician Automaton - Conjuror with Six Secrets

Magician Automaton - Conjuror with Six Secrets
I am particularly fond of automata featuring magicians. Here's a piece in the upcoming Theriault's auction that is a classic. This is another piece by Michel Bertrand -- successor to the famous Vichy/Triboulet/JAF lineage.

From the catalog description:
In his right hand, he holds the top of a large, red conjuring cup and in his left hand is a white magic wand. Movements and Music. While music plays, the Clown nods and looks around him. He blinks and moves his mouth as if talking to an assembled crowd of on-lookers, and waves his magic wand. As he raises and lowers the upturned red cup, objects appear and disappear in six successions: mouse, jewelry, flowers, goldfish, dice and bird in a cage. The movements are executed with grace and dexterity, directed by a large clockwork mechanism with eight cams hidden within the base. The six-tune musical movement is an antique one of good quality.

The auction on November 23rd, 2008 will be at the Westin Governor Morris in Morristown, New Jersey. A preview will be held on the 22nd from 6 to 8 PM as well as from 9 to 11 AM on the 23rd. The collection can be viewed and bid upon online also.

Here is the full description of The Clown Conjuror w/Six Secrets.

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100 Blogs That Will Make You Smarter - Here!

The Automata / Automaton Blog was recently included in a list of "100 Blogs That Will Make You Smarter". Our humble blog is in some fine company in the "Do It Yourself" section of the list.

Do It Yourself

  1. Make: Blog. Learn how to make some seriously cool stuff with this blog from the popular Make Magazine.
  2. Instructables Community Blog. Find out how to make the world’s largest pinata or test your Instructables knowledge with a quiz on this blog.
  3. Hacks Blog. Make a cake in a coffee mug, a Linux-controlled power switch, or play backed-up Wii games with the information here.
  4. DIY City Blog. Independent artists with a DIY flair share their ideas that range from knitted hats to hand-made jewelry.
  5. DIY Audio Projects. From vacuum tubes to subwoofers, this blog will help you build your own audio projects.
  6. The Automata/Automaton Blog. If you are interested in making or collecting automata or mechanical toys, this blog will provide you with plenty of information.
  7. DIY Woodworking, Home Improvement, and Art Projects. From building a guitar to installing a toilet, learn how to do it all here.
  8. Gizmodo. Learn to see in 3D or read about the latest tech gadgets at this blog.
  9. Hacked Gadgets. Learn to make your computer control an LCD display or create a beer cooler lock down on this blog.
  10. Chic Knits. Get your knit on with this blog that offers suggestions, tips, photos, and more to help you knit stuff worth wearing."
Here the link to full list of 100 Blogs That Will Make You Smarter at

[ Thanks Kelly! ]

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

L'Homme Serpent automaton by Michel Bertrand

L'Homme Serpent automaton by Michel Bertrand
Inspired by a Vichy model, this acrobat automaton was created by Michel Bertrand of Switzerland in 1990. Bertrand used many original Vichy/Triboulet parts including the sculpted head, the ingenious torso mechanism, and a six-tune musical movement.

From the auction listing description:
He lies on his stomach upon the table which swivels as he makes a scissor movement with his legs while nodding his head. He then raises his legs. The table swivels again. He raises his head, lifts his stomach off the table and arches his back in an amazing contortionist manner, with his legs raised high. He repeats the scissor movement before lowering himself back onto the table and scissoring his legs once more in the horizontal position.

An amazing piece with a strong and prestigious lineage.

Here is the full auction listing for The Serpent Man, L'Homme Serpent automaton.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Indoor Remote Controlled Gyroscopic Plane

Indoor Remote Controlled Gyroscopic Plane
There has been an explosion of new flying toys in the last few years. Here's a configuration that I haven't seen before. It's not unlike the self-stabilizing flying saucer toy I wrote about in July. Like the flying saucer, this remote-controlled airplane uses four individual propellers and a gyroscopic stabilization system.

Similar to a helicopter, the plane can take off vertically and hover. The remote control sends an infrared signal (so this is a line-of-sight only toy) to the plane that causes the appropriate propeller(s) to speed up, sending it in the desired direction.

Here is where to find the Remote Controlled Gyroscopic Plane.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Theriault's automata auction book with essays

Theriault's automata auction book with essays
Even if you do not bid on a gorgeous antique automaton or attend Theriault's upcoming automata auction, you can still own a piece of this event in the form the auction catalog.

The catalog -- a hardcover book, really -- features a hologram of the "Kneeling Egyptian Harpist" on the front. Of course, the book contains detailed descriptions for the 150+ fine automata that are in the auction. But it goes far beyond being just a catalog because it also features a series of essays on various common automata themes. The essays deal with the great outdoors, exoticism, spectacle, theater, and occupational themes.

I am told that there is something for everyone here -- including magic automata, very complex clock automata, and the earliest animated window displays.

Here is where you can order Theriault's auction catalogs, including the one for the upcoming automata auction.

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

19th century life-size musical peacock automaton

19th century French musical peacock automaton
This truly astounding automaton depicts a life-sized peacock with a fanned-out tail spanning over 7 feet.

From the auction listing:
The Peacock begins its grand performance in the tail-down position, regally he turns his head and body separately from side-to-side. then he proudly raises his elegant tail plumage and fans his tail out for the fullest effect. The bird then turns side-to-side again, such that all can appreciate his beauty. At the conclusion, he lowers his tail back down in a graceful and realistic manner. All the while, music plays.

The maker is unknown and no other examples of this model are known to exist! The size, age, condition, superb construction, and uniqueness set the estimated value of this automaton between $50,000 and $75,000 USD.

Here is a page with the full description with a video of The Magnificent Peacock automataon.

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Saturday, November 15, 2008

Theriault's to auction automata on Nov. 23, 2008

Theriaults to auction automata on Nov.  23, 2008
Theriault's will be having a large auction of automata on November 23, 2008. The collection of Jerry and Bunny Steinbaum is to be auctioned. The Steinbaums collected for over 20 years, traveling to France, England, and New York to acquire an amazing collection of very rare and fine automata.

There will be more posts over the next few days about this extraordinary event and the treasures that will be for sale.

Here is a great article that presents an overview of the collection and the event.

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Friday, November 14, 2008

Griesbaum whistler - singing bird box automaton

Griesbaum Whistler bird box automaton
I love these little spring-driven singing bird boxes. It's simply amazing that they were able to pack all of the mechanics for pieces like this into such a small box (its longest side is a only 4 1/4 inches). This one is by German maker Karl Griesbaum and dates to the middle part of the last century.

From the eBay listing:
When activated, the hatch on top opens, bird appearing, and there is bird song. The bird turns from side to side as it sings. The beak/tailfeathers/wings move to some degree while the bird is singing. The bird darts inside when it has finished singing and the hatch closes automatically.

Here is the full ebay listing with many more pictures of Griesbaum Whistler singing bird box automaton.

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Animatronic singing and talking Elvis bust

Animatronic singing and talking Elvis bust
This animatronic Elvis bust depicts The King in his 1968 Comeback Special glory -- leather jack, sideburns, and all. The robot moves its mouth, eyes, and head as it sings eight Elvis tunes including 'Love Me Tender', 'Hound Dog' and 'Jail house Rock'.

It has something of a watchdog feature too. Infrared sensors hidden in the jacket detect motion, and trigger animatronic Elvis to speak famous catch-phrases when someone passes by. Put this in a dark room and you could really freak somebody out with this thing. I'm freaked out just writing about it.

Here is where you can learn more about the Animatronic Singing and Talking Elvis.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Coin Factory Bank - money CAN buy happiness

Coin Factory Bank
Found recently on BoingBoing Gadgets: a mechanical coin bank with some marble-track-like functionality. Great idea!

From the description:
Watch 6 different types of movement, like an engaging belt lift, drop slides, spiral chamber and moving arms, as your coin travels from start to finish.

Also features push-to-open coin drawer with lock, and on/off switch. Simple assembly required.

Check out the Coin Factory Bank.

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Hydrodynamic Deluxe Building Set

Hydrodynamic Deluxe Building Set
It's not every day I get to tell you about a fluid based mechanical toy. Thus, it is with no small pleasure that I direct your attention to the Hydrodynamic Building Set. It seems like you can explore a few principles that would difficult or impossible to do with most other building toys.

From the product description:
Get hands-on experience of the science of hydrodynamics by building your own working plant. Build a 1/87-scale realistic hydrodynamic plant. Uses working tanks, pipes, valves and electric pump. Design the plant, build it and add water. Use valves to adjust the flow. Build several different structures -- an ice cream factory, a water treatment plant, an oil refinery, a distillation plant, and more.

Here is one place you can get the Hydrodynamic Deluxe Building Set.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

How to be Foreign automaton by Paul Spooner

Another nice automaton by Paul Spooner. He's used a similar mouth/head mechanism in the design of several pieces. It is quite effective, I think.

Visit Cabaret Mechanical Theatre to see more automata by Paul Spooner.

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Applied Kinetic Arts group show in San Francisco

Applied Kinetic Arts group show  in San Francisco
Applied Kinetic Arts is a name used by a group of talented artists who share similar approaches to making art. The group includes the following artists:

* Nemo Gould
* Reuben Margolin
* Christopher Palmer
* Mark Galt
* Benjamin Cowden

They will have a combined show at the Y2Y gallery in San Francisco. Each artist will be contributing a few pieces. The Y2Y Gallery is located at 251 Balboa Street, San Francisco, CA, USA. The show will run from November 21, 2008 through January 23, 2009. The opening reception will be on Friday November 21, 2008 6-9PM.

Here are the details of the show.

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Sunday, November 09, 2008

Intelli UFO RTF Electric Mini RC Helicopter

Intelli UFO RTF Electric Mini RC Helicopter
Check out this miniature remote controlled bubble/UFO. It is basically a tiny remote controlled helicopter with counter-rotating blades. It uses the dual fan-style blades for forward and backward movement and easy left-right turning. They come in three different control frequencies so you can fly several at once without interference.

Here's a page with more information and video of the Intelli UFO RTF Electric Mini RC Helicopter

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Saturday, November 08, 2008

Murophobia (fear of mice) by Keith Newstead

Keith Newstead is one of those automata artists I have admired for a long time. Take a look at this great new piece in which a cat's worst fears come true.

Not only is it wonderfully funny, but it is a great example of how a fairly simple motion --in the hands of a master -- can create a very complex effect.

See more of Keith Newstead's automata at

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Friday, November 07, 2008

Precision-made working steam engine model

Precision-made working steam engine modelHere is a handsome working steam engine model that burns special dry fuel tablets. I would love a steam engine on my desk to, you know: blow off some steam.


Hello? this thing on?

From the product description:
Powerful, precision-made horizontal engine with grooved pulley & balanced flywheel for driving objects. Nickel plated brass boiler, polished fittings including oscillating cylinder, safety valve, steam whistle, etc. 7" chimney. No electricity required. Burns dry fuel tablets. Complete; ready to operate. 6" x 7" metal base.

Here's the link for this model steam engine

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Thursday, November 06, 2008

Laser Pistol Digital Alarm Clock

The alarm goes off, you go for your laser "gun" and shoot a target to turn it off. What an interesting way to wake up. I guess it will train you secret-agent and special-ops types to jump from a dead sleep to battle-readiness.

Discipline. And a laser pointer. That's what it takes.

Here's the product page for the Laser Pistol Digital Alarm Clock.

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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Gentleman smoker automaton from 1905

Here is a antique piece going to auction on eBay on November 9th, 2008. I've always thought that smoking automatons are particularly clever.

The secret generally lies in the fact that the smoke from the cigarette or pipe held in the hand is not usually drawn through the mouth. Rather, it usually passes down a hidden pipe in the arm to a bellows in the figure, where it is then transferred back up to the mouth to be expelled. A very ingenious means of creating the illusion of smoking without the complications of creating a tight seal at the mouth.

From the eBay listing:
GENTLEMAN SMOKER AUTOMATON - The man has a papier mache head w/ open mouth, glass eyes, bisque forearms, and holds a black cigarette holder in right arm. When wound, music plays, he raises right arm to mouth, and turns head from side to side. 24" (62cm) Bottom of base to top of hat.

Here is the full eBay listing for Gentleman smoker automaton from 1905

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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Pocket watch automaton with flag waving man

Pocket watch automaton with flag waving manThis colorful mechanical pocket watch features a street-level view of the Empire State Building. A man at the base of the building holds an American flag and waves it with the rhythm of the watch. The listing doesn't say much about how old the watch is or its maker, though we do know that it is in working order.

The backplate opens to reveal the mechanical interior of the timepiece.

Here is the eBay listing with more photographs of the Pocket watch automaton with flag waving man

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The Death Trick automaton ... great video!

I've posted about the stunning work of Argentinian automaton-maker Pablo Lavezzari and even about the particular piece shown here. In rewatching the video the other day, I noticed that the number of views on YouTube was far too low.

This is a clever, adept, cohesive, and funny automaton by one of the most creative minds in the genre. Do check it out!

Learn more about artist Pablo Lavezzari
on his web site.

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Monday, November 03, 2008

More details on heart-shaped gear assembly

I posted the other day about this amazing heart composed of moving gears.

At the time, I was quite uncertain about the material used. One commenter said that it was papercraft, and would appear to be correct.

I am told that the artist was a winner in a world karakuri contest back in 2005.

I see also that the artist has made a piece similar to the heart in the form of a cube. Video of the cube can be seen here if you have the right plug-in.

The artist, Haruki Nakamura, also does other forms of paper-craft including illustration, models, and impressive 3 dimensional tessellations.

See more from the artist on Haruki Nakamura's web site.

[ Thanks philsing and PINO! ]

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Sunday, November 02, 2008

Astrolabium Clock - Time, Earth, Sun and Moon

Astrolabium Clock
Here is an impressive reproduction of the an 18th-century wonder known as the "heaven machine" built by the clock-maker Philipp Matthaus Hahn -- creator of the first mechanical calculator.

The top of the clock features a model of the earth, which both rotates around its own axis and revolves around a sun made of brass. A gear train allows the moon to rotate the earth -- always presenting the same face to earth-bound observers. (I know! Think about it.) While it might not be to scale, the various revolutions are in accord with real time.

Among the exotic materials in this astrolabium are cherry wood, crystal, abalone, green agate, jade, and mother of pearl. I'll take two, please.

Here is a link for more information about The Astrolabium Clock.

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Saturday, November 01, 2008

Heart automaton made of meshed moving gears

I'm uncertain if the material used in this hand-cranked automaton figure of a heart is wood (the narration is in Japanese). Of this much I am certain: the effect is mind blowing.

It just doesn't seem possible that the gear shapes that make up the outline of this sculpted heart shape can rotate freely -- but they do! And smoothly at that. It takes a few revolutions of the handle before the pieces of the moving, fragmented heart gently reassemble. A wonderful metaphor for the the breaking and healing of hearts, but I have no idea if that was the artist's intention.

This is one of the most amazing pieces I have seen, both for its artistry and the technical accomplishment.

[ Thanks Martin! ]

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