Automata are cool

POSTED BY Gordon Mueller on Mar 6, 2013

I love watching machines work. I have since I was young. My dad used to bring home things he’s find at swap meets for me and my brother and we would tear them apart. That was fun. In hindsight it was also educational in understanding techniques to solve issues. I think that’s why automata interest me so much. There is a basic joy of looking at something and seeing not only the resulting action, but the thought that was put into how to make that happen in a physical, tangible way. The reward for performing such a simple action as turning a crank or winding a key is so huge. 

Singing Birds 
Singing bird automata are what got me back into thinking about simple mechanical machines. It amazes me how complex sounds can be created with simple movements, bellows, and whistles.



Old Skool
Most of this technology originates with clock making. Of course we have to pay homage to that. The Hugo example is a modern creation with roots in the past. When I saw the movie I expectd a lot of it to be faked, but they actually built a large set of complex working automatons to fit the need. 

Bern Clock Tower



CBS Sunday Morning did a snippet on the automaton at the Franklin Institute and more:

The Toy Maker

Guy who does automata
I particularily like the one shown at about 4:00 with the man putting his head in the mouth of a beast. Makes me laugh. 

Fun examples

Drinking Bear

Bicycle man
I really like how the machinery is decorative and part of the overall experience.

Stolen kisses

Children’s museum

Kinetic sculpture

Don’t Tase Me Bro


Shop & more
http://www.automatashop.co.uk/search.asp?types=yes&type=Automata http://www.automatashop.co.uk/search.asp?types=yes&type=Wooden+Kits

Snappy Croc


Penny Smashers
Penny smashers are an offshoot I find particularily interesting because the payoff isn't just watching it work, but you are producing a keepsake which will last much longer than the experience. 

On a final note, thinking about the physical nature of automata really brings attention to how we are utilizing digital today. I believe there is a trend resurfacing to blend analog and digital whereas before it was much more of a pure digital play. Now that people are becoming accustomed to digital interaction, blending the two makes sense. Just look at how the car driving experience is being augmented/integrated with digital. You'd never want to replace the tactical feel of a steering wheel, but you would want to add to the experience as many manufacturers have been doing. Video gaming is another place where physical interaction has returned in a big way. In it's heyday arcades boasted machines that simulated real-world experiences. As it turned to a home experience this went away, but it has now returned through the use of Kinect, Wiimotes, and PS3 Move devices. There's a lot more to come. 

WRITTEN BY Gordon Mueller

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Mar 6, 2013 at 2:11pm

I love this stuff. When can we start making toys?