Most modern automata are hand-cranked kinetic sculptures typically made from wood, and [videohead118] was inspired by a video of one simulating a wave pattern from a drop of liquid. As a result, they made a 3D printed version of their own and shared the files on Thingiverse.
In this piece, a hand crank turns a bunch of cams that raise and lower a series of rings in a simulated wave pattern, apparently in response to the motion of a sphere on a central shaft. The original (shown in the animation to the right) was made from wood by a fellow named [Dean O’Callaghan], and a video of it in its entirety is embedded below the break.
If you were an engineering student around the end of the 1980s or the start of the 1990s, your destiny most likely lay in writing 8051 firmware for process controllers or becoming a small cog in a graduate training scheme at a large manufacturer. It was set out for you as a limited set of horizons by the university careers office, ready for you to discover as only a partial truth after graduation.
But the chances are that if you were a British engineering student around that time you didn’t fancy any of that stuff. Instead you harboured a secret dream to be [Tim Hunkin]’s apprentice. Of course, if you aren’t a Brit, and maybe you are from a different generation, you’ll have responded quizzically to that name. [Tim Hunkin]? Who?
[Tim Hunkin] is a British engineer, animator, artist and cartoonist who has produced a long series of very recognisable mechanical devices for public display, including clocks, arcade machines, public spectacles, exhibits and collecting boxes for museums, and much more. He came to my attention as an impressionable young engineer with his late 1980s to early 1990s British TV series The Secret Life Of Machines, in which he took everyday household and office machines and appliances and explained and deconstructed them in an accessible manner for the public.
Check out the great workmanship that went into [TonyRobot]’s coffee vending version of ROBOT CAFE at Tokyo Maker Faire 2016. We’d really like to see this in action, so if anyone has more success than we did at tracking down more info (especially if it’s video) let us know in the comments below. We spot laser-cut wood making up the clever scoop design (and the numerous gears within it) but simply must know more.
Technically this is less “robot” and more “automata“. The cart charmingly fuses vending machine practicality with a visual display… and a great one at that. The aesthetic of the Robot Cafe leaps over the uncanny valley and fully embraces lovable robot faces.
Coffee is ground by a manual-style grinder into a scoop, which is then dumped into a pour-over filter. The hot water is then raised from below to pour over the grounds. These characters can be reconfigured based on the needs of the venue. The creator page linked above has three pictures of the same cart and same robo-baristas, but they are fishing for sodas instead. The glass bottles are lifted through the hole you can see on the right of the cart’s counter, using a fishing line with a magnet to grip the metal bottle cap.
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.
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.
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.
Our cats were both sleeping near the computer and these videos were driving them nuts. To our ears these birdsongs sound pretty good. They didn’t trick the cats into stalking mode, but they did spark an audible complaint. So the predators aren’t drooling but the mechanical engineers reading this should be. These automata combine the precision of a mechanical clock with a bellows and specialized whistle to recreate birdsong.
You’ve got to hear it for yourself to appreciate the variety produced by the mechanisms. The first video shows off the device seen on the left. This particular model is from the 1890’s and the demo gives a good look at the arms that open and block a passageway to alter the sound. After seeing that link — which was sent in by [Stefan] — we started searching around for more info on the devices. The one pictured to the right turned up. It’s from YouTube user [Singing Bird Boxes] who has many videos showcasing these types of devices. We picked this one because he tried to explain how each part of the mechanism works. These are still being made today, but there’s something magical about seeing one built during the steam age.
We’d like to make Retrotechtacular a weekly feature every Tuesday. Help us out by sending in links to projects that highlight old technology, instructional videos of yore, tours of museums or similar relics.