Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum

Don’t call it an arcade. There are arcade-like things about it… like dance-based video games, Skee-ball, and tickets — oh so many tickets. But Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum is a one-of-a-kind that you need to visit next time you’re in the North suburbs of Detroit, Michigan.

[Marvin] was there in person, as he is many days. He talked with us for a few minutes and we’ve folded his interview, along with footage of many of the attractions, into the video above.

He’s been collecting for more than three decades. The attractions are packed into every bit of floor space, spilling up onto the walls, and hanging from every spot in the ceiling. There are true antiques from both home and abroad that could be referred to as automatons, rows of fortune tellers, a track of large airplane models that make a loop around the establishment when fed a quarter, and much more.

Some of the attractions were build for him, like the robot band you can make out behind [Marvin] during the interview. It is a MIDI-based build that allows songs to be selected from a touchscreen. Soon to be on exhibit is a Tesla-coil-based offering which [Marvin] commissioned after taking second place to [Nicolai Tesla] on a list of oddest museums.

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Hackaday Links: March 23, 2014

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[Jack] sent us a link to a Metropolitan Museum of Art video showing off a mechanized desk that plays music and has a ton of hidden compartments. Furniture makers of yore built hidden compartments in furniture all the time. After all, there weren’t credit cards back in the day and you had to keep important documents, cash, and everything else on hand. What strikes us is that this mates woodworking of the highest caliber with precision mechanics.

Before you get rid of that old box spring, ask yourself if you need to store dimensional goods. If you rip off the outer fabric, the network of wire inside makes a reasonable lumber rack.

And since we’re talking trash, we enjoyed seeing this water bottle wire spool minder which [Daniel] sent our way.

You know those portable DVD players you can hang from a headrest to entertain the kids on long trips? Well [John's] broke, and like chasing the dragon, once you’re hooked on watching videos during car trips there’s no going back. Luckily he was able to throw a Raspberry Pi at the problem. He now has a portable OpenElec XBMC device controlled via a smartphone.

[Jaromir] posted some breakout board footprints that you can use. It’s not the footprints that impress us, but the idea of using them to fill up board space when spinning a new PCB. [Thanks Sarah]

LEGO Gachapon. Need we say more? Okay, truth be told we had to look it up too; Wikipedia says it’s spelled Gashapon. These are coin-operated machines that dispense toys inside of plastic capsules. This one’s made of LEGO and it’s awesome.

[Mikhail] actually built his own ballast resistors for some HeNe laser tubes. This is a bit easier than it might sound at first, as they are much lower power than the tubes used in cutters. But none-the-less an interesting, and successful, experiment.

Retrotechtacular: Restoring A 19th Century Automaton

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Made sometime in the 1790s or 1800s London, the Maillardet Automaton has a long and storied history. It was exhibited around England for several decades, brought over the Atlantic by [P.T. Barnum], nearly destroyed in a fire, and donated to the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia in the 1920s. From there, this amazingly complex amalgam of cogs, cams, and linkages eventually became the inspiration for the book – and movie – Hugo. Time hasn’t exactly been kind to this marvel of the clockmaker’s art; it has been repaired four times before receiving a complete overhaul in 2007 by [Andrew Baron].

[Fran], one of Hackaday’s sources for awesome projects, recently visited the Franklin Institute and posted a series of videos on the reverse engineering of the Maillardet Automaton. Being nearly destroyed and repaired so many times didn’t make this an easy job; it’s extremely possible no one alive has ever seen the eyes of the Automaton move as originally designed.

Even though the Maillardet Automaton has one of the largest series of cams of any mechanical draftsman, that doesn’t mean it’s simply an enlargement of an earlier machine. The automaton’s pen is like no other writing device on Earth, with a stylus acting as a valve to dispense ink whenever the tip touches paper. The eyes have linkages to follow the pen as it traces a drawing. In 1800, this automaton would have been a singularity in the uncanny valley, and watching it put pen to paper is still a little creepy today.

Below you’ll find a video from [Fran] demonstrating all seven drawings the Maillardet Automaton can reproduce. You can also find a whole bunch of pics of the mechanisms along with the 2007 repair report on [Andrew Baron]‘s site.

Retrotechtacular is a weekly column featuring hacks, technology, and kitsch from ages of yore. Help keep it fresh by sending in your ideas for future installments.

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Drawing with Legos

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There are a number of elaborate Lego creations out there, but you probably haven’t seen something quite like [Andrew Carol's] Lego drawing machine. He drew inspiration from the film Hugo and from automata of the 1800’s, specifically [Jaquet-Droz]‘s Draughtsman, which we featured in a Retrotechtacular article not too long ago.

[Andrew's] hand-cranked creation is divided into three components: a plotter, an “encoded pen stroke program”—which stores messages in links of pieces—and a reader that translates the links into pen strokes. The plotter moves the pen in the Y axis and moves the paper in the X to mark on the page, and also has a simple lift mechanism that temporarily raises the pen on the Z axis to interrupt pen strokes between letters (or drawings).

[Andrew] describes the chain reader by comparing it to a film projector, feeding the message through the mechanism. Although you won’t find a detailed how-to guide explaining the devices’ inner-workings on his site, there are some clues describing basic components and a couple of videos, both of which are embedded below.

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Retrotechtacular: Automata

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For a moment, suspend your worldview and adopt Descartes’s mechanistic interpretation that living beings are essentially complex machines: a collection of inherently unrelated parts that move and collide. Automata, then, represented the pinnacle of accomplishment in a mechanistic universe, requiring considerable skill to construct. Most of their inventors, such as Pierre Jaquet-Droz, were clockmakers or watchmakers, and automata like the 240-year-old boy writer are packed with moving parts to automate motion.

Jaquet-Droz’s writer is particularly impressive considering all its moving parts—nearly six thousand of them—fit entirely within the boy’s body, and that one can “program” the text that the boy composes. It may sound like a bit of a stretch to claim that these clockwork amusements were precursors to the computer, but they influenced inventors and engineers for centuries.

You’ve likely heard of the other famous automaton: The Turk, (which was actually a hoax, housing an operator inside its base). The Turk, however, managed to inspire Charles Babbage to pursue building a mechanical device capable of performing mathematical functions: the Difference Engine.

Watch some of Jaquet-Droz’s other clockwork masterpieces in a video after the break. Magicians like Robert-Houdin were responsible for building a number of automata, so we recommend you keep the mystical atmosphere flowing by checking out another magician’s performance oddities.

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LEGO automatons

Here’s a collection of little LEGO oddities. Some of them exhibit a purpose, such as this interesting take on a line-following robot. Others, like the four seen above, are just automatons built to bring a smile to your face through their motion. There are dozens to choose from, with several pictures and a video of each. See the clips of these four after the break. Oh, and don’t worry, we didn’t find any LEGO iPhone docks, just cleaver mobile creations.

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