This could be a game-changer in the world of automaton-making. I don't think I've ever had the chance to say something like that.
I caught wind of this project some months ago, but the recent news of this incredible video comes to us by way of Falk Keuten at the excellent blog Spiel und Kunst mit Mechanik. This computer program created by a team at Disney Research, Zurich accepts a desired input motion and then generates the necessary gears and linkages to realize that motion.
From the research paper abstract:
Given an articulated character as input, the user iteratively creates an animation by sketching motion curves indicating how different parts of the character should move. For each motion curve, our framework creates an optimized mechanism that reproduces it as closely as possible. The resulting mechanisms are attached to the character and then connected to each other using gear trains, which are created in a semi-automated fashion. The mechanical assemblies generated with our system can be driven with a single input driver, such as hand-operated crank or an electric motor, and they can be fabricated using rapid prototyping devices.
And it's not all theory or computer simulations, either! The team demonstrated the versatility of the system by creating a bunch of mechanical characters, several of which were manufactured using 3D printing technology. The results are amazing, some showing subtleties of motion that are very difficult to design, but incredibly valuable to the final effect.
[ Thanks to John, Falk, and Fred ]