It’s easier than ever to build your own robot, but humans have been building automatons since before anyone had even thought of electronics. One beautiful example is the Silver Swan, built in the 18th century.
The brainchild of [John Joseph Merlin] and silversmith [James Cox], the swan features three separate clockwork drives, appearing to swim in a moving river where it snatches fish in its motorized beak. Mark Twain said the swan had “a living grace about his movements and living intelligence in his eyes” when he saw it at the International Exhibition in Paris in 1867.
The swan has been delighting people for 250 years, and recently received some much-deserved maintenance. In the video below, you can see museum staff disassembling the swan including its 113 neck rings which protect the three different chain drives controlling its lifelike motions. Hopefully, with some maintenance, this automaton will still be going strong in 2273.
We absolutely love the impetus of this project, as it definitely sounds like something a Hackaday reader would go through. After finally deciding between a CNC router and a laser cutter, [Eirik Brandal] was planning to “Hello, World” the CNC with something quick and simple, like maybe a few acrylic plates with curves and some electronics. Instead, feature creep took over, “things escalated out of control”, and [Eirik] came up with this intriguing and complicated kinetic sculpture.
As you’ll see in the demo video below, this is a motor-driven sculpture with sound and intermittent light. It has an Arduino Nano Every, two motors, and eight gears with various cog counts to accommodate the project. The light comes from LEDs that are attached to the DIY gears with their legs bent and their little feet sliding around homemade slip rings in order to alight.
But what about the sound? There’s an affixed piezo disk that picks up the gears’ vibrations and chafing, and this gets amplified to augment the acoustic sounds of the sculpture. Be sure to check out the quite satisfying demo video after the break, and stick around for the build video.
When one thinks of art, a birdbath may not be the first thing that comes to mind. However, there is no denying that the La Fontaine aux Oiseaux (The Bird Fountain) is a true work of art. This automaton, created by automaton maker [François Junod] in collaboration with 20 different workshops and craftsmen, represents thousands of hours of work and boasts a complex beauty that is both visible and hidden.
Commissioned by the Van Cleef & Arpels jewelry company, this purely mechanical display piece features a pair of jewel-encrusted birds that perform a little routine around the edge of the bath every hour. All the birds’ appendages move while bird song is added with the help of a whistle and bellows. The “water” is also mechanized, with a series of metal plates moving together to create ripple effects, while a water lily opens and closes and a dragonfly flutters above the surface.
The overall effect of this ridiculously over-the-top mechanical art piece is absolutely mesmerizing. Even if the bejeweled exterior isn’t quite your style, you can still appreciate its intricate workings thanks the video after the break giving us a peek at the development.
[davemoneysign] designed this fascinating roller chain kinetic sculpture, which creates tumbling and unpredictable patterns and shapes as long as the handle is turned; a surprisingly organic behavior considering the simplicity and rigidity of the parts.
The inspiration for this came from [Arthur Ganson]’s Machine With Roller Chain sculpture (video, embeded below). The original uses a metal chain and is motor-driven, but [davemoneysign] was inspired to create a desktop and hand-cranked manual version. This new version is entirely 3D-printed, and each of the pieces prints without supports.
According to [davemoneysign], the model works well with a chain of 36 links, but one could easily experiment with more or fewer and see how that changes the results. Perhaps with the addition of a motor this design could be adapted into something like this chains-and-sprockets clock?
You can see [Arthur Ganson]’s original in action in the video embedded below. It demonstrates very well the piece’s chaotic and unpredictable — yet oddly orderly — movement and shapes. Small wonder [davemoneysign] found inspiration in it.
Many of us have marveled at art installations that feature marbles quietly and ceaselessly tracing out beautiful patterns in sand. [DIY Machines] is here to show us that it’s entirely possible to build one yourself at home!
The basic mechanism is simple enough. The table uses a Cartesian motion platform to move a magnet underneath a table. On top of the table, a metal sphere attached to the magnet moves through craft sand to draw attractive patterns. An Arduino and Raspberry Pi work together to command the stepper motors to create various patterns in the sand.
Low-cost pine is used to build most of the table, with oak used for the attractive bare wooden top. RGB LEDs surround the sand surface in order to light the scene, with options for mad disco lighting or simple white light for a subtler look. Other nice touches include sitting the craft sand atop a layer of faux leather, so the ball moving through the sand doesn’t make annoying crunching sounds as the ball moves.
What’s better than an Atari Punk Console synthesizer? How about four Atari Punk Console synthesizers. And what better way to present them but as brass wire art sculptures. We’d have forgiven [iSax] if he’d stopped at four brass wire synths, but he took things to another level with his kinetic sculpture that does double duty as a mechanical sequencer. Called the Cyclotone – The Mechanical Punk Console Sequencer, it features wood, brass, brushes, and 555 timers. You can see the demonstration in the video below the break.
If you’re not familiar with the Atari Punk Console, it’s a circuit first described as a “Sound Synthesizer” in Forest Mims’ “Engineer’s Notebook: Integrated Circuit Applications” first published in 1980. It utilized two 555 timers in a single chip, the 556. Later dubbed the “Atari Punk Console”, the circuit has stood the test of time and is still quite popular among hackers of all sorts.
[iSax]’s build adds a sequencing element that allows the synths to be played automatically. The synthesizers are skewered 90 degrees from each other on a square dowel, which is turned at a variable RPM by a stepper motor controlled by a knob at the base of the sculpture.
On either side of each synth is a commutator that contacts salvaged rotary tool brushes which provide power through the hexagonal brass supports. Each synth retains its own speaker and controls and has its own segmented numeral displayed with discrete LED’s that light up when each synth is played.
We applaud [iSax] for a well executed and imaginative build that successfully meshes circuit scultpure, kinetic sculpture, classic electronics and even blinkenlights. If you enjoyed this build, you should also go have a look at a free form Atari Punk Console build and another one built into a joystick. If you come across a project of any kind that catches your fancy, be sure you let us know about it via the Tip Line!
This booth was easy to miss at Maker Faire Bay Area 2019 amidst tall professional conference signage erected by adjacent exhibitors. It showcased the work of [Dr. Victor Chaney] who enjoys his day job as a dentist and thus feels no desire to commercialize his inventions — he’s building fun projects for the sake of personal enjoyment which he simply calls Vic’s Creations. Each project is built to his own standards, which are evidently quite high judging by the perfect glossy finish on every custom wood enclosure.
Some of these creations were aligned with his musical interests. The Backpacking Banjo was built around a (well cleaned) cat food can to satisfy the desire for a lightweight instrument he can take camping. His Musical Laser Rainbow Machine (fully documented in Nuts & Volts) was created so little bands formed by independent artists like himself can have a visual light show to go with their live performances. The Music Kaleidoscope is another execution along similar lines, with an LED array whose colors are dictated by music. Venturing outside the world of music, we see a magnetically levitated Castle In The Clouds which also receives power wirelessly to illuminate LEDs
The largest and most complex work on display is an epic electromechanical masterpiece. Par One is a rolling ball sculpture featuring the most convoluted golf course ever. Several more rolling ball sculptures (also called marble machines or marble runs) are on display at Dr. Chaney’s office which must make it the coolest dentist’s lobby ever. The lifelike motions he was able to get from the automatons he built into the sculpture are breathtaking, as you can see below.