Monday, December 31, 2012

Black Forest flute clock circa 1770 features blackbird automaton

Photograph of Black Forest flute clock

Justin Miller of sent this video along. This musical clock was made in the Black Forest region around 1770. The piece features a blackbird automaton. The movement plays 5 different birdsong-themed songs at the top of the hour, while the blackbird figure moves from left to right and opens and closes its beak as if singing the tune.

For more information on this type of clock, you will want to check out Miller's outstanding book Rare and Unusual Black Forest Clocks. Among the most comprehensive volumes ever produced on the subject, this large format book features over 700 images showcasing the finest examples of clocks made in the Black Forest region.

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Friday, December 28, 2012

Music box discovered to be the source for two tunes from the opera Madame Butterfly

Legend had it that Puccini, composer of the the famous Japanese-themed opera Madame Butterfly, was inspired by melodies he heard from a Japanese music box. For over one hundred years, historians have searched in vain for the Japanese music box that Puccini heard. Musicologist Tony Shepard, on a recent chance visit to the Morris Museum in New Jersey, heard something quite surprising. Among the dozens of automata and mechanical music machines housed at this extraordinary museum, Shepard happened to listen to a Chinese music box. Something familiar caught his ear. A discovery was made in that moment. As research continues, it seems more and more likely that a music box now at the Morris Museum is the very one Puccini heard. Not only do two of the tunes match those in Madame Butterfly, the ownership of the box can be traced to the composer. Cryptic symbols inside the mechanism of the music box look like those often penned by Puccini himself.

The Morris Museum features an exhibition of over 150 pieces from the world-renowned Murtogh D. Guinness collection of mechanical musical instruments and automata.

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Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas: The Pre-Reindeer Era - automaton by Dug North

What better time of year to upload this new video of an automaton I made some years ago?

Titled Christmas: The Pre-Reindeer Era, the automaton depicts Santa making deliveries in that legendary time before he acquired the famous flying reindeer. Poor Father Christmas must do the flying himself -- arms flapping and eyes squinting in the cold wind -- with his bag of toys in tow.

The scene is tinted with a light metallic blue to create the effect of a frosty, moonlit Christmas Eve. The piece features a detailed house and landscape over which Santa flies. The roof of the house was covered with individual miniature wooden shingles. The bag is made of balsa wood to reduce weight. The internal mechanism employs a scotch yoke. Santa is mounted upon a blackened brass piston assembly.

Happy Holidays!

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Friday, December 21, 2012

Knitting clocks redefine the way we measure time: 1 scarf = 1 year

Image of knitting clocks

What you are looking at in the photo above are pieces by designer Siren Elise Wilhelmsen. As you might guess by the title of this post, these unconventional timepieces knit with actual yarn. Over the course of days and months, time is measured in row upon row of knitting. In 365 days, the clock will produce a scarf approximately 2 meters long.

According to her web site, "Her aim is to make functional and sustainable design with personality and humour; products that challenge the meeting between man and his surroundings and that offer a new kind of interaction with them." I would have say that she was entirely successful with this design, redefining how we measure time, what a meaningful length of time might be, and creating something useful in the process -- an tangible reminder of a year gone by to wrap around one's neck on a cold day.

See more designs by Siren Elise Wilhelmsen on her web site.

[ Thanks Glenn! ]

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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Le Buffet Magique (The Magic Cupboard) automaton circa 1910

The antique automaton shown here is titled Le Buffet Magique which translates as "The Magic Cupboard". According to the video, the piece was probably made by Auguste Triboulet for the Vichy firm in Paris around 1910.

The scene features a young boy perched on a hutch -- probably somewhere he's not supposed to be. He opens the door to the cupboard and a fly disappears within. As the boy reaches for the jar of currant jelly (I think), the face of his omnipresent grandmother appears to warn him away. The boy defiantly sticks his tongue out at the old lady. There seems to be an unusual fascination with tongues in many of the old French automata. I haven't figured out why that is yet. Having been thwarted from his attempt at the jelly, the boy is consoled by the sight of a mouse climbing a nearby apple. To my eye the scene is a bit more bizarre than magical. Certainly, it is humorous. Regardless of your particular interpretation, it is an amazing piece with a lot of interesting figures and motions.

This historical automaton is just one of hundreds housed at the Morris Museum, home to the Murtogh D. Guinness collection of automatic musical instruments and automata. The info is at the end of the video. You may also visit the Morris Museum web site for more information.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Hand-cranked miniature ball track kit made from laser cut parts

Photo of miniature ball track kit

Not long ago I posted about a nifty miniature ball track kit. Well, it looks like we might be witnessing the beginning of a trend. The video above shows a different miniature ball track designed by Martin Raynsford, the clever fellow who created the mechanical version of the Donkey Kong arcade game.

The kit allows you to assemble a hand-cranked marble machine. The kit includes all the laser cut wooden parts, the nuts and bolts, and enough balls to fill the machine up and spares (10).

Here is where you can get more details or buy Marble Machine Kit #1.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Novel method for creating wooden gears uses beads for the gear teeth

Have a look at this novel method of making a wooden gear. The creator used the Gear Template Generator designed by Matthias Wandel to create two gear patterns. After gluing one of the patterns to a circular piece of wood, holes were drilled into the edge at the proper increments. The beads came with a hole through the middle, so all that was done to them was to add a countersink for the screw head. Finally, the beads were screwed to the circle, creating the finished product you see in the image.

Here is where you can see the full project and more details about this woooden gear with beads for teeth.

[ Thanks John! ]

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Monday, December 17, 2012

Answering Machine automaton by Paul Spooner helps you say 'NO' to any request

Image of answering Machine automaton

Here's the latest automaton by Paul Spooner. As always is wit is evident in the piece itself. This one also has an especially fun description from the artist:

It's a machine for undertaking thankless tasks; useful for refusing loans and favours of all kinds, invitations to dull parties, requests to take part in surveys, to look after neighbours pets or children, to rescue victims of crime, to take part in the democratic process, to become a collector of automata and to deal with all other questions to which the answer, in our heartless hearts, is "no".

This gem is a one-of-a-kind (or "one-off", if you prefer). Here is where you can see more pictures or buy Answering Machine by Paul Spooner.

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Saturday, December 15, 2012

Video of 'The Headless Clown' magic automaton by Pierre Mayer

Image of The Headless Clown automaton

I posted a few days ago about the amazing new automaton by Pierre Mayer. He is known for creating automata that perform a magic trick. This particular piece is a tip of the hat to the famous French maker Phalibois and his headless clown automaton.

As you will see in this new video, the scene starts with clown a holding a fan. The clown slowly raises the fan in front of his face. There is a pause and when the fan is pulled away, the clown's head has disappeared! The top of one of the boxes next to the figure starts to rise, and the clown's head mysteriously emerges from within! The entire sequence then reverses, ending with the clown's head restored to its proper place.

See more magical automata on Pierre Mayer's web site.

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Friday, December 14, 2012

Wooden Gear Clock uses steel balls within the gears to provided the driving weight.

Check out this amazing wood clock contraption by Steve K. It is a weight driven clock with a very novel way of bringing the weight into play.

From the video description:

This wood gear mantel clock uses steel balls retained in holes in the hour gear to provide the clock drive torque. There are 15 holes and 7 steel balls. Every 4 minutes the lowest ball is ejected from the gear and runs down a track to a lift mechanism that elevates the ball to another track where it is guided into an empty hole in the gear. The lift mechanism is driven by a 3 rpm timing motor hidden in the base.

The clock uses what is known as aGraham escapement coupled to a dumbbell pendulum. The creator says it varies a couple of minutes per day, but doesn't mind because of the ball mechanism. I would feel the same way!

[ Thanks Christoph! ]

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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The top 10 books purchased by readers of The Automata Blog

It's that time of year when many of us are looking for gifts for others (or ourselves). We all want to have confidence in the gifts we give. We take the recommendations of friends and family, trusted authorities, and online reviews.

This year, I've decided to look at 6 years worth of data to see what YOU -- the readers of The Automata Blog -- have chosen to buy. I've run reports and tallied up the most purchased books on Amazon. This isn't entirely fair to the newer books, because they haven't been available as long. Still, I think it will give you a good sense for what people like you have decided to purchase.

Number 10: Making Things Move: DIY Mechanisms for Inventors, Hobbyists, and Artists

Published in 2010, Making Things Move: DIY Mechanisms for Inventors, Hobbyists, and Artists has done well to make it on to the list with titles that have been selling for much longer. There is a very good reason for that; it is one of the most comprehensive, easy-to-understand, and fun books on the topic. Author Dustyn Roberts covers every aspect of making things move, from fabrication techniques, to motors, CAD, and Arduino micro-controllers. If your interest in kinetic sculpture includes more than wood and brass, this book is fantastic resource. I expect to find it higher on this list in years to come.

Number 9: How to Make Animated Toys

An affordable classic, How to Make Animated Toys features instructions on how to make 30 wooden toys. Many of these fall into the pull-behind toy category. If there is a young one in need of beautiful wooden toys, this is a book for that kindly adult who will make those toys. In addition to the projects, the book contains a wealth of information on techniques and production procedures, materials and tools, as well as tips on animated toy design. Have an aspiration to sell toys on Etsy or at craft fairs? This would be a good book to have. You'll be getting How to Make Animated Toys used because it is out of print, but you will get it at a very good price.

Number 8: Paper Automata: Four Working Models to Cut Out & Glue Together

There is no doubt that Rob Ives is a master of paper engineering. This glossy softcover book contains all of the printed color patterns needed to make four excellent paper automata: a pecking hen, a flying fish, three bounding sheep, and a bowing jester. If you or anyone in your life wants to try their hand at making an automaton -- and I mean right away -- paper is the way to go. You only need some white glue, scissors, a hobby knife, and this Paper Automata book. I've watched someone with no prior mechanical training complete one of these models in an afternoon. A gift of this book is like giving four kits. Priced at just over $10, that's a good deal in my book.

Number 7: Creative Kinetics: Making Mechanical Marvels in Wood

Rodney Frost is the only author to make it on to this list twice and that's well-deserved. In Creative Kinetics, Frost provides a brilliant introduction to the making of kinetic art. The book does an especially good job of explaining the mechanisms that typically make up the core of a wood automaton: levers, cams, cranks, eccentrics, pulleys, and gears. The projects are fun and wildly diverse. You won't find complete plans in this book, but if you are interested in learning to make kinetic sculptures in wood, this book provides all of the fundamentals in a fun and easy-to-read way.

Number 6: Building Wooden Machines: Gears and Gadgets for the Adventurous Woodworker

Among all of the books on how to make wooden mechanisms, two of the best and most advanced have long been the two by Alan and Gill Bridgewater: Making Wooden Mechanical Models and Making More Wooden Mechanical Models. Originally published in 1995 and 1999, respectively, they have become increasingly hard to find, especially the second book which now fetches high prices in the used book market. So, it was good news to learn that the two books have been combined into Building Wooden Machines. The new combined volume features 28 ingenious woodworking projects with visible wheels, cranks, pistons and other moving parts made of wood. Each project has step-by-step instructions and plan drawings from which to work. It does assume the reader has woodworking skill and tools, so this outstanding book may not be the best choice for beginners.

Number 5: Making Mechanical Marvels In Wood

This book is not unlike Number 6 for it features plans for 15 handsome wooden mechanisms such as the cam and follower, the Scotch yoke, the fast-return actuator, and the geneva wheel. Unlike Building Wooden Machines far fewer of projects in this book require access to and experience with a wood lathe. This makes it useful to a greater number of people. If you are a less experienced woodworker, or do not have a lathe, then then you'll want to chose Making Mechanical Marvels In Wood over Number 6.

Number 4: Drawing on the Air: The Kinetic Sculpture of Tim Prentice

This one is a surprise, since the book was only published in June of 2012. Some bulk orders may account for its rapid ascent, but hey...the numbers don't lie! The book has earned its spot at Number 4 and that's where I will put it. Artist Tim Prentice makes large moving sculptures that combine fluidity, engineering, connectedness, flow, air, light, and change. His sculptures may be seen in public spaces and corporate headquarters throughout the United States as well as in Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Switzerland and Australia. Drawing on the Air gives the reader a multifaceted look at Prentice and his artwork in a beautiful 9" x 9" hardcover format.

Number 3: Making Mad Toys & Mechanical Marvels in Wood

Rodney Frost strikes again in the Number 3 spot with his book titled Making Mad Toys & Mechanical Marvels in Wood. Previously published as Whacky Toys, Whirligigs & Whatchamacallits, this book has long been at the top of my recommendations. This book features fourteen complete projects -- one of the only ones to do so. Each project has a bit of text, a photo, and many nice vector illustrations detailing the project's construction. I wouldn't call them formal 'plans' -- they are too colorful, assorted, and playful for that name. People determined to build an automaton, but short of ideas, are sure to find a project in this book that speaks to them. The projects have a wonderful vintage feel.

Number 2: Automata and Mechanical Toys

It is certainly no surprise to find Automata and Mechanical Toys close to the top of the list. In the past I have said that if you were to have just one book on contemporary automata that this should be the one. Both a how-to book and a showcase of the art form itself, this book attempts to cover it all. If you love automata, want see examples by well known automaton artists, and want to learn more about how to make these wonderful devices yourself, then this book is a must-have. Here is where you can read a more extensive review of Automata and Mechanical Toys.

Number 1: Five Hundred and Seven Mechanical Movements: Embracing All Those Which Are Most Important in Dynamics, Hydraulics, Hydrostatics, Pneumatics, Steam Engines

Coming in as the top selling book by the readers of The Automata blog is Five Hundred and Seven Mechanical Movements. This one is a little hard to account for. Don't get me wrong. It's a great resource for interesting mechanical solutions, but that's all it is. Perhaps because I reviewed it first long ago on my web site it got an unfair head start on the other titles. Perhaps it has appealed to the Steampunk crowd in some manner. Perhaps it is here because it is an affordable book that can provide a lot of education and inspiration. Whatever the reason, here is what you can expect from this gem: the left hand page of each spread shows 6 to 9 mechanisms or "contrivances" as they were called, while the page on the right side gives a short description of each of the mechanisms and what it does. The mechanisms are presented in a concise, interesting manner. There is something compelling about the vintage line drawings and old-fashioned phrasing. Personally, I love this little book as will anyone who finds mechanisms fascinating.

So there you have it. Those are the books that you have purchased by way of this blog over the years. I hope the list was helpful and that you discovered something you may not have seen before. Thanks for making the purchases you did. Happy reading!

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Monday, December 10, 2012

Exquisite Jaquet Droz watch features a complex bird automaton

First off all, note the name on this watch. Right, that's the same famous Jaquet-Droz often mentioned on this blog in the context of the amazing writing, drawing, and music-playing automata.

This amazing timepiece is what is known as a "minute repeater", meaning that it audibly chimes the hours and minutes on demand. Very hand in the dark and very complicated to pull off mechanically.

You could stop there, and I for one, would be impressed. But that's not all.

The most notable thing about this watch is that it has proper automaton within. Some automaton watches consist of a simple figure moving with the second hand. Not this one. Rather, this incredible watch features two birds tending their young in the nest. The birds move their hands and one spreads its wings. Meanwhile, the hungry chicks reach for their food and a hatchling emerges from an egg. That's a complicated automaton in any context. This is all done on the inside of a watch!

This watch comes in two varieties and can be yours for a price. It is $472,500 for the 18k red-gold version and $493,500 in 18k white gold and diamonds.

You saw it here first.

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Friday, December 07, 2012

Unique design of colorful cubes allows you to create marble maze sculptures

MindWare Q-Ba-Maze Marble Run Maze

December is in full swing now, and I had better start making more recommendations for mechanical toy gifts. Here's an interesting one that's come to my attention recently. Basically, it is a toy that allows you to make a customized marble run. The pieces are a bit like LEGOs, so you can easily reconfigure them into any shape your imagination can come up with. This starter set includes 72 cubes in five different colors and 20 steel balls.

From the product description:

Q-Ba-Maze 2.0 is a unique system of colorful cubes that interlock to form a marble run. The big difference? You can create marble maze sculptures in the form of animals, geometric shapes or any other design! Configurations are unlimited, allowing for unpredictable action when steel balls travel the various routes. It's a live demonstration of probability, physics and art, all in one!

So far, the MindWare Q-Ba-Maze Marble Run Starter Set has gotten great reviews by users on Amazon. That's always a good sign! Here is where you can get the MindWare Q-Ba-Maze Marble Run Maze: 72 Piece Set. Here's a page I put together with a assortment of different marble track toys.

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Thursday, December 06, 2012

The finest bird song of 1890 produced by lovely brass mechanism

Image of brass mechanism

Our friend Michael Start over at The House of Automata created this lovely video of a a singing bird mechanism. During the course of the bird's song, we get a 360 degree view of this ingenious device.

According to his description, the mechanism was made about 120 years ago in Paris. It is most likely the work of Bontems, a distinguished maker of bird automata.

An expert at horology and automata, Start restored the mechanism, though it was rusted and seized when he received. It is very common that the fine leather used for the bellows dries, cracks, and leaks on these singing bird mechanisms. He notes with surprise that the bellows were in good condition.

If you are curious about what the rest of a singing bird mechanism looks like, check out this post featuring a video on How Singing Birds are Made.

[ Thanks Mauricio! ]

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Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Customized computer code and electronic circuits gives a lamp uncanny lifelike behaviors

Here's a charming little film featuring an animated lamp that is part of a project titled Pinokio. Despite how it may appear, this NOT done with stop motion animation.

From the Pinokio project video description:

Pinokio is an exploration into the expressive and behavioural potentials of robotic computing. Customized computer code and electronic circuit design imbues Lamp with the ability to be aware of its environment, especially people, and to expresses a dynamic range of behaviour. As it negotiates its world, we the human audience can see that Lamp shares many traits possessed by animals, generating a range of emotional sympathies.

Pinokio was a collaborative project created by Shanshan Zhou, Adam Ben-Dror, and Joss Doggett using Processing, Arduino, and OpenCV. The creators admit that Pinokio may not be the most intelligent robot ever produced, but that doesn't mean it isn't special.

Says Shanshan Zhou

Just like Pinocchio the puppet who comes to life and confidently proclaims "I'm a real boy" – it is the irrepressible and seemingly instinctive impulse of living for its own sake in Pinokio that shines forth in poetry and magic.

Indeed, the expressive and behavioral qualities make Pinokio come alive in a visceral way. Any time that a machine can do that, something remarkable has happened. Here is a fascinating video of the project in progress, complete with a Lamp-point-of-view monitor:

The project was created as for the course MDDN 251: Physical computing at Victoria University of Wellington, as part of their module on animatronics. Well done. Well done.

[ Thanks Christoph! ]

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Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Mechanical bird automaton by Keith Newstead based on a painting by Ralph Steadman

The wild automaton shown in the video above is the product of a collaboration between British cartoonist Ralph Steadman and automaton maker Kieth Newstead, who has been featured countless times on this blog. The piece is based off of one of Steadman's many paintings of exotic, fanciful, and/or extinct birds (or 'boids' as he calls them). In fact, he has recently released a book titled Extinct Birds Boids.

From the description of book Extinct Boids:

Ralph documents them all in this series of remarkable paintings, featuring unique interpretations of well-known birds such as the Great Auk, Passenger Pigeon and Dodo, along with less familiar members of the feathersome firmament - Snail-eating Coua, for example, or the Red-moustached Fruit Dove - and a variety of bizarre beasts including the Gob Swallow, the Long-legged Shortwing and the Needless Smut. All are captured in a riot of expression and colour, with a slice of trademark Steadman humour. Based on emails, diary entries and phone conversations, Ceri's accompanying text provides a running commentary, detailing the unfolding madness behind the creation of each piece in Ralph's extraordinary work.

Here is where you can see more work by Keith Newstead. And here is were you can the amazing assortment of works by works by Ralph Steadman.

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