Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Video about how modern robots relate to karakuri

This video explores how modern Japanese robots share a lineage with ancient mechanical dolls.

[ Thanks Thomas! ]

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Monday, April 05, 2010

Wood and ball bearing version of classic karakuri

Check out Osamu Kanda's modern update to the classic tumbling karakuri figure. He has made the figure out of wood and loaded it with ball bearings to serve as the shifting internal weight.

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Friday, January 29, 2010

Push-powered wooden musical automaton

I don't exactly have the words for this incredible creation since I've never seen anything quite like it. It's a wooden cart that -- when pushed -- plays a tune, a drum, and animates a human figure on the front. Another wonder from the mind of Osamu Kanda!

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Saturday, January 09, 2010

Details of arrow-shooting boy karakuri mechanism

This video (in Japanese) explores the right arm mechanism for the famous arrow-shooting boy karakuri. This is a sophisticated automaton that can pick up arrows, put them on a bow string, pull the bow, and fire it at a target. There are additional motions to make the figure come to life. The animation shows the three cams that control the arm's three axes of motion.

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Monday, November 09, 2009

Karakuri: Make Moving Mechanical Paper Models

Karakuri: How to Make Mechanical Paper Models That Move
Here is a book on how to make paper automata by Keisuke Saka.

From the book description:
Detailed explanations, accompanied by diagrams, explain the physics behind how karakuri move and operate, so you really learn about the properties of the different types of gears and cams. And to inspire you, also included are four fun, full-color karakuri models designed by the author, a well-known paper engineer.

Here is the link to Karakuri: How to Make Mechanical Paper Models That Move

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Saturday, October 31, 2009

Ingenious marble manipulating machine

From the clever mind of Osamu Kanda: take a look at this hand cranked marble-moving machine. It looks as though the blocks on top can be reconfigured to cause the marbles to follow different paths.

See more of Osamu Kanda's kinetic creations on his web site.

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Motorized wooden crawler by Osamu Kanda

Another video of a nifty wooden creation from Osamu Kanda -- this one called, appropriately, Crawl. I love the creative use of a film feed mechanism. Add motor, wooden gears, wheels, and front legs and there is something compelling about the way it pulls itself along.

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Monday, September 14, 2009

Hand-cranked pencil writing automaton

Automata that write or draw have a distinguished history. Here's a modern version by the prolific Osamu Kanda for your consideration.

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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Hand-cranked mechancial laughing device

Take a look at this beautifully made mechanical laughing machine. The Pink Tentacle web site does such a nice job with the description that I will just quote them (below.) I love this thing!

Description of WAHHA GO GO from Pink Tentacle:
According to the video, WAHHA GO GO is activated by spinning the torso-mounted metal disk (an optional crank arm can be used for greater speed). The disk's rotational energy is transferred to the machine's left and right arms via a gear assembly in the lower back. As the arms rotate, the accordion-like lungs expand upward, drawing in air that is then exhaled through the machine’s artificial vocal cords.

Another set of gear wheels in the spine transfers some of the spinning disk's rotational energy to the head assembly, which includes a pair of tiny arms that stretch and relax WAHHA GO GO's artificial vocal cords (thus regulating the pitch), as well as an arm connected to a valve that controls the flow of air from the lungs. This arm also opens and closes the mouth, which alters the so-called "formant characteristics" (resonant frequency) of the laugh, producing the "wa" and "ha" sounds.

By incorporating a series of mechanisms that work together to control the pitch, resonant frequency, and amount of air supplied to the artificial vocal cords, WAHHA GO GO is able to produce an uncanny human-like laugh.

Here is the original post: Video: Anatomy of WAHHA GO GO.

[ Thanks Joanne! ]

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Friday, August 28, 2009

Hand-cranked bell ringing cat automaton

Another great piece by Osamu Kanda, or Okan.

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Friday, April 10, 2009

Teeny, tiny little remote-control robot with AI

Teeny, tiny little remote-control robot
In case you missed this over at the other day, you've got to check out this teeny, tiny little remote-control robot!

From the product description:
The World Smallest RC Robot with Artificial Intelligence (AI)!
The all-around control, you may never experience it! The 6 directions control plus 3 speed levels. Also the Robot can be controlled via Artificial Intelligence (AI) after you press the AUTO button, then the Robot can detect-and-escape from the barriers. What's more, after you press the AUTO button and Direction button, the Robot can detect-and-trace the objects. In the Trace mode, the Robot can be charged and run to the controller automatically! The controller as a Robot Station can be stored a Robot inside.

Here's a link to the product page with more images, varieties, and a somewhat hyper-active video of The World Smallest RC Robot with Artificial Intelligence.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Aquio Nishida, Automata-Artist (1946 - 2009)

Aquio Nishida, Automata-Artist  (1946 - 2009)It is with great sadness that we note the passing earlier this month of one of the world's great makers of contemporary automata -- Aquio Nishida.

Mr. Nishida was an automata designer, author, teacher, and the Director of the Contemporary Toy Museum of Japan.

Sue Jackson, founder of of Cabaret Mechanical Theatre, says that "Aquio was very remarkable, as he not only made automata himself but also wrote his own book on the subject which was translated in 2 languages, and ran his own, very extensive, exhibition. I was honored to receive one of the first toys -- which I still have -- on meeting him for the first time in Japan. Aquio and I exchanged merchandise, his book for our videos and book; The relationship worked well for both of us."

Nishida Horse AutomatonHis automata were notable for their graceful lines, beautiful wooden gears, and their all-wood construction, which included even the linkages, pivots, and fasteners.

Mr. Nishida often incorporated music boxes into his works adding to their already considerable charm. He was particularly adept at creating automata that accurately depicted legged animals in motion.

Automata: Movable IllustrationMr. Nishida was the author of one of the best books on making contemporary automata, entitled Automata: Movable Illustration (Tokyo, Japan: Fujin Seikatsu, 2002). Written in parallel Japanese and English text, the book is part journal, part sketchbook, part do-it-yourself manual. Movable Illustration examines Nishida's process of automata creation and construction. The book manages to offer helpful advice to aspiring makers, while also serving as a portfolio of his beautiful work. The detailed plan drawings and full page color photographs of the Nishida's distinctive automata make this book a delight to peruse.

Here is some video footage of some of Nishida's automata:

He was known to be a generous teacher to those wishing to learn how to make wood automata. He leaves behind a fine legacy of outstanding craftsmanship, playfulness, and artistry. He will be missed by many.

Here is a series of photographs from a Nishida exhibit.

Mr. Nishida's book, Movable Illustration, is imported from Japan and may be ordered from the Cabaret Mechanical Theatre online shop.

10 March 2009 Sadly CMT has no books in stock at this moment.

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Saturday, November 29, 2008

Waltzing teacup automaton by Kazu Harada

Here is a wonderfully clever automaton of waltzing teacups by automata-maker Kazu Harada. Ingenious and charming.

See more of Kazu Harada's automata at

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Japanse automaton toothpick dispenser bird

Here's a nifty toothpick dispenser. Instead of reaching in and getting your hands all over the toothpicks, simply press the handle and the little bird plucks out one for you.

From the item description:
This is a Japanese trick toothpick dispenser that measures 5.5 inches long by 4.5 inches high by 3.38 inches wide. Upon depressing the round lever in the back, the bird stoops down as the cover magically opens allowing it to retrieve a single toothpick for use. This folkcraft was given the seal of approval by the National Souvenir Tourist Board of Japan.

Here's the eBay listing for Japanse automaton toothpick dispenser bird.

Here is a modern equivalent. I don't think this version has a lever. I think you push the bird itself down to retrieve a toothpick. Here is a link to the Willie Woodpicker toothpick dispenser

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Saturday, November 01, 2008

Heart automaton made of meshed moving gears

I'm uncertain if the material used in this hand-cranked automaton figure of a heart is wood (the narration is in Japanese). Of this much I am certain: the effect is mind blowing.

It just doesn't seem possible that the gear shapes that make up the outline of this sculpted heart shape can rotate freely -- but they do! And smoothly at that. It takes a few revolutions of the handle before the pieces of the moving, fragmented heart gently reassemble. A wonderful metaphor for the the breaking and healing of hearts, but I have no idea if that was the artist's intention.

This is one of the most amazing pieces I have seen, both for its artistry and the technical accomplishment.

[ Thanks Martin! ]

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Sunday, October 05, 2008

Movable Illustration - Book by Aquio Nishida

On my list of Essential Automata Books, Movable Illustration by Aqui Nishida is rather hard to get outside of Japan. Cabaret Mechanical Theate's online shop has them back in stock.

From the CMT site:
Specially imported from Japan, this is a delightful book by an automata maker and director of the Contemporary Toy museum of Japan. Plenty of drawings and photographs, text is in Japanese, with only partial English translations. However, it still of great interest to the automata enthusiast, and contains many examples of Mr. Nishida's work along with his ideas and tips and plans for making automata.

Here's the link to order the book Movable Illustration by Aquio Nishida.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Mysterious Flopping Fish Wood Automaton

Here's an automaton design I haven't seen before. When the rod in the side of the box is pushed or pulled, the hinged wooden fish on top flops around.

At first glance, you might assume there is a ridged profile on the pushed rod that bumps the underside of the fish. But wait! The end of the video reveals that the fish is resting on a solid surface. This begs the question that is the title of the video: Why does this fish move?

I'll let you ponder that.

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Monday, May 05, 2008

Hand-Cranked Karakuri Box Writes in Japanese

Hand-Cranked Karakuri Box Writes in JapaneseThis beautiful wood machine created by Osamu Kanda is able to write Japanese katakana characters.

In a clever bit of reflexivity, the machine itself writes the word "karakuri" in pencil as the handle is turned twenty times through a complete cycle. The machine is 42cm long by 45cm wide by 30cm high -- smaller than it looks in the photos

The machine is thoroughly documented and photographed and described in Japanese and English. There are even schematic drawings!

Here is the link to the Pencil Karakuri page.

[Thanks Falk!]

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Saturday, May 03, 2008

Karakuri Acrobat Automaton Flipping Down Stairs

I posted in the past about Japanese Karakuri Ningyo. In particular, I mentioned the fantastic drawing karakuri. Gakken is a company that sells a few kit including a tea serving karakuri and archer karakuri that actually shoots miniature arrows.

Here is a tumbler or acrobat. I have also seen a similar design from a company in Germany, though I don't know who came up with the idea or if this is a case of independent invention. It's that last flip that really surprises me.

Here's one karakuri book and here is another karakuri book (both in Japanese).

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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Huge Automaton from Museum in Osaka, Japan

Huge Automaton from Museum of Science in Osaka, JapanIf you didn't happen to catch it, BoingBoing Gadgets had a post today about this giant automaton in Osaka, Japan.

Housed at the Osaka Municipal Museum of Science, it has recently been restored. Apparently, it is some 80 years old. I am not at all sure what it does, but would love to know.

Here is the link to many great photos of the Giant Automaton in Osaka, Japan.

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Automata and Mechancial Wood Toys from Japan

hands*picoThe automaton shown here is sold by a Japanese web site by the name of hands*pico. There is also a movie file showing this chicken automaton (.wmv) in action and the music box that drives the piece.

The hands*pico site has many automata, wooden toys, marble runs, and other great wooden products. There are many nice videos in the .wmv format distributed throughout the site.

Visit hands*pico to see Japanese automata and wooden toys.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Automaton Video: Artist Aquio Nishida's Automata

Here is a great collection of video clips of automata created by Aquio Nishida.

I included his book, Automata: Movable Illustration, in my list of essential automata books for The Athanasius Kircher Society.

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Monday, March 03, 2008

Automata Mechanisms and Pegasus Automaton

Here is a nice video of several useful automata mechanisms including a crank and piston, a ratchet, and a Geneva mechanism.

The latter half of the video features a beautifully done Pegasus. The piece appears to be driven by the music box movement. I am told that this piece is part of a collection on display in Guma, Japan and is by artist Minoru Takahashi Akira Murakami. Look at all those gears! Well done.

To learn more about making mechanical toys and automata, check out Making Mechanical Toys.

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Friday, October 05, 2007

Automata in Japan: Karakuri Ningyo

I own two books on karakuri that are entirely in Japanese. I can't read them, but they are filled with photos and illustrations on glossy paper. Most of the karakuri in this video -- the acrobot, the archer, the magician, and the tea server -- are shown in these books.

Here's one karakuri bookand here is another karakuri book.

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Monday, October 01, 2007

The Hungry Vampire by Aquio Nishida

Aquio Nishida is an automata maker from Japan with a wonderful style. One of the remarkable things about his work is that almost every part is made from wood, including such things as axles, chains, and fasteners.

In the spirit of upcoming Halloween holiday, I wanted to showcase a Nishida automaton entitled The Hungry Vampire.

The sequence of action for this piece is described in his book: when the handle is turned the Vampire works the pedals of his robot bat. The bat opens his mouth and flaps his wings. Finally, the vampire brings his glass of red wine to his mouth to hold him over until he finds some blood to drink.

You can order Aquio Nishida's book Automata: Movable Illustration from Amazon's Japanese site.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Automaton Artist: Kazu Harada

The Automata / Automaton Blog is pleased to present you with Japanese automaton artist Kazu Harada.

Automaton by Kazu Harada
After studying Art History at in college, Kazu worked mainly as a computer operator. He started making automata as a hobby in 2002. Last September, he traveled to England "to meet great automata makers and develop my automata making skills".

Kazu chose his destination wisely; he has been apprenticing with The Fourteen Balls Toy Company -- under master automata makers Paul Spooner and Matt Smith -- while studying at Falmouth University.

See Kazu Harada's Automata Gallery at

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Monday, July 23, 2007

Featured Artist: Ken Hayashi

The Automata / Automaton Blog is thrilled to share with you the work of Japanese automata artist Ken Hayashi. He works primarily in paper.

The site is in Japanese, so for English-speakers some random exploring of the navigation on his site is required. It is well worth it.

The piece shown here is amazing. Here's a link to a movie of the piece in action. The mechanism page for this piece makes me feel that I am witnessing the work of a master.

Here is Ken Hayashi's home page.

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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Kangaroo Automata

Michael Molesworth is an automata-maker from Australia. Among his many Australia-themed works are several that feature the Kangaroo. Check out his work and his insightful take on automata in the "What are Automata?" section of his site.

Take a look at this Wooden Kangaroo Automaton

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Automata Maker Profile: AQUIO NISHIDA

Horse automaton by Aquio NishidaJapanese Artist Aquio Nishida had a nice exhibition this year at the Toy Museum Seiffen.

I don't read German, but I don't have to in order to appreciate the work of this automata-maker. He seems to be the expert at animating four-legged animals using many cranks and long linkages.

Visit The Toy Museum's page on the Aquio Nishida Exhibit. (Click on the small gear icons on the lower part of the page to see his work.) [Thanks Falk!]

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Automata Maker Profile: Minoru Takahashi

Minoru Takahashi is another of the artist with work on display in Gadgets, Gears, and Whirligigs at the Charles River Museum of Industry in Waltham, Massachusetts. I stood and turned the crank on his dragonfly automata for several minutes. The motion is very captivating. I was really impressed with the wooden chain drives he uses.

It is a great honor to have a piece on display next to those of Minoru Takahashi.

Here is Minoru Takahashi's web site in English. There is even more to see if you click over to the Japanese version of the site.

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Monday, November 06, 2006

Wooden Writing Automaton

Here's a link to a video of a 19th Century wooden automaton that writes kanji on a sheet of paper. Simply amazing.

View the Kanji writing automaton on YouTube [via Make, via Brass Goggles]

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Saturday, September 09, 2006

Soon-to-be-Sushi Automaton?

While my preferred material for automata is wood. I am continually amazed at what some artists can do with paper.
Here's a clever little automaton that creates a somewhat tense scene. I beleive it is titled Doomed Fish.

I'm still rooting for the fish!

View the wriggling fish automaton.


Saturday, June 10, 2006

O-Kan: Automata & Kinetic Sculpture

Here's a site that featues very clever automata and kinetic sculptures by Japanese artist O.Kanda. Almost all of the pieces have been captured on video if you follow the links far enough.

Check out the site called O-Kan

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Thursday, June 08, 2006

Karakuri Site - The Karakuri Corner

The site is meant to function "as an educational gateway and a domestic marketplace for hard-to-find Japanese hobby products." I would say that the site fulfills its intended function very well. Lots of great products with images, descriptions, and videos.

Here's a link to The Karakuri Corner


Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Karakuri - Japanese Automata

Did you know that there is a very old and sophisticated automata tradition in Japan? Karakuri are mechanized puppets used in theatre, religious festivals, and for entertainment. The tea-serving karakuri and archer karakuri frequently seen on eBay are modern recreations (mostly plastic) based on antique originals.

Learn more about karakuri from the very informative

You can also learn a bit about karakuri from Inside the Robot Kingdom

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