Friday, April 30, 2010

Product of Theater - a drawing kinetic sculpture

Check out this excellent metal sculpture by artist John Lash.

From the video description:
Product of Theater is a handed powered kinetic sculpture by John Lash. Two dancers preform in a machine that draws geometric patterns. Hundreds of different patterns can be made by changing the speed of the dancers, selecting a different cam on the swing arm, and adjusting the pen position on the paper.

[ Thanks Dave! ]

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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Incredible wooden contraptions by Akira Murakami

Check out these video snippets of some recent work by Akira Murakami shown at the Seongnam Arts Center in South Korea. Great stuff!

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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Automata Repairman by Carlos Zapata

Here is the latest charming piece by Carlos Zapata titled "The Automata Repairman".

From the video description:
This man is cycling, coming to repair your automata. He is getting old and he looks at the floor and then the horizon...but he keeps pedaling. He is caring his tools in his box. You can see all the tools that he is going to need. Down inside the mechanism you see a man flying and a fat cat watching him, while two hands holding hammers move in a rhythmic way. At the bottom there is a collector looking at his automata. And, on the other side there is a dog who wonders what the fuss is about. He turns his head to watch you turning the handle!

Here is the page featuring The Automata Repairman on the Cabaret Mechanical Theatre web site where you will find more pictures and information.

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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Party Popper Machine by Martin Smith

The Party Popper Machine by Martin Smith
Here's the latest mechanical creation by automaton-maker Martin Smith.

From the item description:
The Party Popper Machine by Martin Smith continues his theme of devices of celebration for Laikingland. In homage to the humble plastic party toy and to follow his interest in loud bangs, Smith has developed a nonsense machine that elaborately assists you in the firing of party.

Here's a link to the The Party Popper Machine page on the Laikingland web site.

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Monday, April 26, 2010

Sisyphus Testing Shoes by Dave Johnson

Dave Johnson -- creator of the Little Man automaton -- has made a second automaton feature Sisyphus. The engineering and motions are outstanding and the time-lapsed video is really cool.

From the YouTube description:
This time the Little Man is pushing hard on a railing, feet slipping constantly, and getting nowhere despite all the effort. Perhaps he is testing footwear. Or maybe he's just getting a feel for his futile future.

There are three movements, controlled from 3 axles, and the gears on the axles have prime numbers of teeth (23, 43, 59). So technically the movements will only repeat every 58,351 turns of the small gear. There's also a semi-random toggle on the head motion, so it will never really quite repeat.

Almost all the parts press fit and/or lock together, so the whole thing can be disassembled to a pile of parts, then reassembled, adjusted, and set going again without tools.

Check out set of still photos of Sisyphus Testing Shoes at flickr.

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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Exhibit of new automata art by Steve Armstrong

Exhibit of new automata art  by Steve Armstrong
An exhibit of Steve Armstrong's new automata will be on display at the Heike Pickett Gallery in Versailles, Kentucky from April 25 through June 15. Shown here is a piece titled THE FRUIT OF OUR LABORS. When wound the pendulum swings back and forth and all the gears engage to enable the figure to turn the wheel.

Here is the link to a page with some of Steve Armstrong's automata on the Heike Pickett Gallery web site.

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Saturday, April 24, 2010

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El Toro - motorized bullfighter and bull tin toy

El Toro - motorized bullfighter tin toy automaton
Here's an unusual -- and perhaps a somewhat grim -- vintage tin toy depicting a matador and bull. I'm not entirely sure in what ways the figures move, but it seems like it has some interesting possibilities.

From the eBay item description:
This El Toro snorting bull and matador is in totally unused condition and has its original box. No paint damage at all on this and no corrosion within the battery compartment. This toy was working perfectly when I put it in store with rest of the collection some 25-30 years ago. I put a battery in it but it’s not responding. I guess this is an easy fix but I don’t want to force anything. The box is a little stained – please see pictures – and the base has some damage but, apart from a little creasing, the lid is fine with great graphics. Assembled, the toy is around 6 inches high.

Here's the eBay listing with additional photographs of the El Toro - motorized bullfighter tin toy automaton

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Friday, April 23, 2010

Site featuring top 10 unbelievable miniatures

10 unbelievable miniaturesCheck out this site with a bunch of cool miniatures!

[ Thanks Julia! ]

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Hands-free bird puppets by Axtell Expressions

Check out this amazing "hands-free" remote-controlled puppet. A very small remote control is used to open and close the bird's mouth. Another button turns the puppet's head to face the audience or the ventriloquist. It even has a sort of "cruise control" mode in which the bird moves about in a subtle but lifelike manner, allowing the puppeteer to focus on other things or to work with multiple puppets at the same time.

Here is a link where you can learn more and see a full show featuring the Axtell Expressions hands-free bird puppet.

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Build your own obstacle-avoiding beetle robot

Why not build a capable little beetle robot that can scurry about and avoid obstacles? The really cool thing about it is that the behavior is all hard-wired and/or mechanical -- no computer or programming required. The parts are easy to find too!

Here's a link to the Instructable on How to Build The BeetleBot.

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Article on Bay Area kinetic sculptor Nemo Gould

The Daily Californian recently ran a nice article on kinetic sculptor Nemo Gould.

From the article:
Gould's sculptures utilize nearly all "found" articles, synthesizing discarded objects and forgotten antiques with mechanical movement. Bringing art and technology together in whimsical sculptures, Gould pulls from science fiction and comic book mythology from when he was a little boy. For all his professional, eloquent articulation of what his work represents, Nemo Gould is at play in his studio-infusing his anthropomorphic figures with child-like imagination. With sincerity and a smirk, Gould declares, "I take silly very seriously."

Here is a link the full article on Nemo Gould at The Daily Californian.

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Monday, April 19, 2010

Fingers - motorized mechanical sculpture

A great little video of the mechanical fingers designed by mechanical sculptor Nik Ramage and manufactured by Laikingland.

Here is where you can learn more about Fingers by Nik Ramage.

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Sunday, April 18, 2010

Designing Automata Kit available from Amazon may be a round-about route, but it is good news in the end: the Designing Automata Kit is now available via Amazon!

From the product description:
"The New Designing Automata Kit is great value and fantastic quality. No glue or tools are required, and you will learn about simple mechanics using cams and a crank slider mechanism. Many different designs can be made, and the kit used over and over again. Produced in Thailand using chemical-free rubber wood, from sustainable sources."

Here's the link to the Designing Automata Kit.

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Saturday, April 17, 2010

Micro Mosquito 3.0 Channel R/C Helicopter

Micro Mosquito 3.0 Channel R/C Helicopter
Yet another tiny indoor helicopter. Each generation claims to be more stable and easier to fly. Mine you, I can't verify this personally. (Dear Toy Companies: Send me one of everything cool and mechanical. Thank you.)

From the product description:
The Micro Mosquito 3.0 Channel R/C Helicopter is the world's smallest, most stable, lightest indoor helicopter. Flies forward with full control as well as up, down, left and right and has a long 7-minute in-flight time on only a 35-minute charge. Two frequencies available. Comes with everything you need to be flying within minutes including a radio control transmitter, flight battery and manual. Requires 6 "C" batteries and one 9V battery, not included. Measures approximately 5".

Here Amazon's page for the Micro Mosquito 3.0 Channel R/C Helicopter

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Friday, April 16, 2010

Antique musical singing bird music box automaton

Antique musical singing bird music box automaton
Take a look at this beautiful antique singing bird box from the 1920s made by German maker by Karl Griesbaum.

From the eBay description:
The multi-colored, full-feathered bird flutters his wings, turns from side to side, opens and closes his beak, all the while singing his song in full voice. A bird-shaped brass key is included.

Here is the full eBay listing with many more photos of this antique singing bird automaton

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Thursday, April 15, 2010

A mechanically clever, but downright creepy toy

The folks over at The Weirdo Toys Blog, discovered this unusual mechanical toy. The toy makes use of those odd rubber finger puppet faces. The interchangeable faces are mounted on motorized "fingers" located on the figure's head. The range of expression created by this arrangement is truly disturbing. Add a raised axe in one hand and the tune "When the Saints go Marching in" and you have yourself one very hard-to-explain toy.

Here's a comprehensive write-up with additional videos on the Magic Monster on the The Weirdo Toys Blog.

[ Thanks Bob! ]

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Video about how modern robots relate to karakuri

This video explores how modern Japanese robots share a lineage with ancient mechanical dolls.

[ Thanks Thomas! ]

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

New encased motorized automata by Tom Haney

Tom Haney's Wanderlust automaton
Here is one of two new pieces available from Tom Haney.

The one shown here, entitled "Wanderlust", depicts a figure standing next to a globe. As the globe turns the man's pointer moves across the surface in search of his next destination. The globe stops at random spots every 5 seconds and the figure's head follows the pointer up and down the globe.

See more pictures and video of Tom Haney's Wanderlust automaton on his web site.

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Monday, April 12, 2010

Robots secretly living among us as stuffed animals

Robots secretly living among us as stuffed animals
I posted not long ago about an artist who refits stuffed animals with metal exoskeletons. Industrial designer Matt Kirkland has created an excellent photo set in which he uncovers the robots hidden beneath plush toy exteriors.

From Matt Kirkland's site:
I've always been curious about stuffed animals that sing, dance, light up, or talk back. There must be a fascinating robot underneath the fur and fluff, right? Surely the robot hiding in the bear's clothing, vestimentis ursum, is impressive. So: armed with my childish curiosity and the spurious excuse of 'product design research,' I set out to discover what, exactly, these creatures are hiding.

Here is a link to the photo set of the robots beneath the fluff.

[ Thanks Bob! ]

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Sunday, April 11, 2010

DIY hand-cranked geared string winding machine

One dedicated reader of The Autoamta / Automaton Blog made this cool prototype string-winder contraption. It makes a center-pull ball of string with a diamond pattern. To generate the gear profiles, he used Matthias Wandel's Gear Template Generator.

Here is a nice schematic drawing of the device followed by an explanation.
DIY hand-cranked string winding machine

From bhaaluu's description:

The hand-crank turns a 30-tooth peg-wheel gear which drives a 10-tooth peg wheel gear. The 10-tooth peg-wheel gear spins on a fixed vertical shaft. connected via a wooden tube to the spindle head, which rotates at a 3:1 ratio. At the top of the fixed vertical shaft is a 15-tooth spur gear. It is fixed to the vertical shaft and doesn't move. At the base of the spindle tube is a 42-tooth spur gear which rotates on it's own axis, which is tilted at an angle. As the spindle tube rotates around the vertical shaft, the 42-tooth spur gear rotates. The spindle tube, a heavy-walled cardboard tube, is connected to the 42-tooth spur gear, so every time it turns around the fixed vertical shaft, it rotates. This is what gives the diamond pattern. This string winding contraption is a prototype.

[ Thanks bhaaluu! ]

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Saturday, April 10, 2010

Solar Powered Kinetic Animal Sculptures

Enjoy this mesmerizing mechanical sculpture inspired by the large scale works of Theo Jansen.

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Friday, April 09, 2010

EL CONDOR PASA - hand-cranked bird automaton

Check out this charming automaton by retired civil engineer Roberto LouMa.

See more of his work on his YouTube page.

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Thursday, April 08, 2010

Wind-up Meccano bird sculpture by Aaron Ristau

Check out this automata sculpture by Aaron Ristau made from Meccano toy parts! The bird bodies are parts from antique hair curlers and the wings made of Mylar. A crank allows you to wind-up the device which will run for about a minute.

See more great sculptures by Aaron Ristau at

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Wednesday, April 07, 2010

An ancient mechanical genius you may NOT know

We have all heard the great inventors of antiquity such as Archimedes and Hero. Here is another name worth knowing: Al-Jazari. Al-Jazari was an scholar, inventor, engineer, craftsman, artist, mathematician and astronomer from Mesopotamia, who lived from about 1136 to 1206. He wrote The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices, which describes some fifty sophisticated machines.

The video clip shown here from Ancient Discoveries covers Al-Jazari's elephant clock -- a fantastically elaborate device which employed automata. There are a working reproductions of the elephant clock in Dubai and Switzerland.

Here is the Wikipedia article for Al Jazari. Here is the article on the elephant clock.

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Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Wallingford clock at St Albans Cathedral (England)

Wallingford clock at St Albans Cathedral in England
At St. Albans Cathedral they have made a replica of the 14th Century clock and astronomical indicator designed and built by Richard of Wallingford. It takes 18 years to complete full cycle! When it was created, Richard's clock was probably the most complex clock in the British isles -- and among the most sophisticated anywhere.

Here is a web site dedicated to the Wallingford clock at St. Albans Cathedral.

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Monday, April 05, 2010

Wood and ball bearing version of classic karakuri

Check out Osamu Kanda's modern update to the classic tumbling karakuri figure. He has made the figure out of wood and loaded it with ball bearings to serve as the shifting internal weight.

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Sunday, April 04, 2010

Kinetic sculpture talk & exhibit by Brad Litwin

Philadelphia based, kinetic sculptor, Bradley N. Litwin, will give a multimedia presentation about the evolution of his sculptural work. He will also be displaying of several pieces -- some not yet seen in public.

The event takes place at the Cheltenham Center for the Arts, held and sponsored by the Artists’ Cultural Exchange (ACX). Admission is free.

Date: 04/06/2010
Time: 7:00 PM
Cheltenham Center for the Arts
439 Ashbourne Road
Cheltenham, Pennsylvania 19012

For more info:

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Saturday, April 03, 2010

DVD with episode featuring maker Ernie Fosselius

Some time ago, I did a post about automaton-maker Ernie Fosselius. The ever-resourceful Charles Mak found a DVD which features Ernie Fosselius in one of its half hour episode.

About the DVD:
No Rest in the Northwest (Season 11- 2006)
"In theses six half-hour shows produced for Kansas City Public Television, you’ll roll over the Rockies and to the woods. See the Gilgal Sculpture Garden in Utah, Cleo’s Ferry Museum in Idaho, Portland Oregon’s Velveteria and the Walker Rock Gardens in Seattle. Meet self-taught California artists like Ernie Fosselius, Dr. Ken Fox and Patrick Amiot, plus much, much more. Contains 6 complete episodes, outtakes, special bonus material, and a snappy music video! Price: $19.95"

Here's a link where you can buy the DVD featuring Ernie Fosselius.

[ Thanks Charles! ]

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Friday, April 02, 2010

Lecture: A Brief History of Automata

Lecture: A Brief History of AutomataIf you will be in the NYC area on April 14th, this looks like a fascinating lecture and demonstration...

About this lecture:
"In this illustrated lecture, "Obscura Antique and Oddities", Mike Zohn will demonstrate his 19th Century taxidermy automata, as featured in last year’s Carnivorous Nights Taxidermy Contest. He will explain its curious mechanisms, and, in an illustrated lecture, will introduce us to the history of these fascinating uncanny machines, tracing their trajectory from tools of religious coercion to prince’s plaything to Disney’s imagineering experiments."

Lecture: A Brief History of Automata
Lecturer: Mike Zohn, Obscura Antiques and Oddities
Date: Wednesday, April 14th
Time: 7:00 PM
Location: Coney Island Museum, 1208 Surf Ave. Brooklyn

Here is a link to more information from the lecture announcement.

[ Thanks Caleb! ]

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Thursday, April 01, 2010

Leonardo's Machines: Da Vinci's Inventions Revealed

Leonardo's Machines: Da Vinci's Inventions Revealed
Here is a highly-rated book that explores Leonardo's inventions from flying, hydraulic, war, and theatrical machines to musical instruments. This uses Leonardo's orginal artwork and annotated computer diagrams to show how each of his inventions might would have worked.

It seems to be out-of-print, but can be found used at Amazon. Here's a link to Leonardo's Machines: Da Vinci's Inventions Revealed

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