Automata Examples


photo 1

Over the past several years of doing automata, we've developed some "classic" motion examples for participants to check out as they are starting to design their creations.

Screen Shot 2014-08-14 at 10.25.34 AM

On the old PIE pdf for cardboard automata we show five simple examples and dissect the motions behind them so that people can get inspired to take those mechanisms and build their own creations. However after working on the floor with automata for the past few months we've changed some of the "common" motion models and added some new ideas to the mix.


One example motion that we've been messing around with is the "up and down" mechanism. The original version of this one used a crank with the opposite orientation, two side bars, and a lever for the cam follower to rest on. This version has a couple disadvantages as it adds a lot of extra steps to the process and because the lever takes up so much space in the box, it makes it difficult to add more cam followers to the automata for extra characters up top.


Walter came up with a new version of the "up and down" mechanism based on some automata that he had made in the past. It has a curved cardboard cam follower that moves up and down with the off set cam but doesn't spin because of the flaps.


And to continue the innovation streak, Walter created yet another version of the up/down movement for his metautomata™ that uses the same cam but a different method of removing the spin. A little cardboard circle keeps the cam follower touching the top piece but is not directly connected. I love how many different solutions there are for the same problem and having this diversity to the examples can help facilitators choose the best way to help people solve their own problems.


Another new addition to our set of examples explores how to make the motion of the automata fast or slow. By changing the relationship of the size of the cam to the size of the cam follower, you can adjust the speed at which the top piece spins. These examples are a little extreme but serve to demonstrate the principle.

Nicole ended up using the idea of the simple example to make this beautiful and funny automata with two dogs "chasing their tails" at different speeds. The addition of springs to the cam followers also really gives the dogs' motion a lot of personality.


Sometimes, a new idea for an automata inspires us to think about a new example. I made this surfer riding a wave on a straw pivot in a really convoluted way as I was exploring the materials. The crank shaft with wire ended up working but was not the most clear way to produce the movement. However, something about the motion was compelling to people and we saw several visitors try to copy the design faithfully.

So Lianna build this automata model that simplifies the design and makes use of the new up and down example. We use the generic yellow arrows so that people can imagine what characters or scene goes with the motion. I think this works really well to give people a sense of the possibilities of linkages and pivots without providing an polished (or in my case unpolished) example for them to copy exactly.

Each of these new examples is directly the result of us spending time on the floor facilitating the activity and a great example of how our time on the floor influences aspects of the activity design. Our models reflect new ideas that visitors come up with. We try to demonstrate the motions in a way that is clear and easy to understand but doesn't give visitors direct instructions on how to build and leaves the activity open to new ideas and personal challenges.

Do you have any other teacher resources for automata that include measurements?
These are the resources I've already explored:

Hi Julia,

Exciting to hear that you're thinking about trying automata with your class. In terms of measurements, most of these designs can be flexible. It would be fun to experiment with making tiny matchbox automata or giant refrigerator box size mechanisms.

For more inspiration you might want to check out this book from Cabaret Mechanical Theater:

Let us know how the explorations go!

I teach STEM lab. We are definitely giving this a try next week.

Add a comment

Note: all comments are moderated. After you save, your comment will not appear until approved.