Friday, August 21, 2009

Green Science Windmill Generator by Toysmith

Green Science Windmill Generator by Toysmith
I am pleased by the fact that many of the newer mechanical toys have "green" theme. Take this small scale wind generator. The Windmill Generator has a gear motor (which serves as a generator) and 6 inch propeller with a tail. After a bit of assembly you can watch the wind light up its LED bulbs.

From the product description:
How is energy produced by using windmills? Build this amazing wind generator and learn about renewable energy/ "green energy". Watch the LED glow as it is powered by free energy from the wind. No batteries required! Help save the planet by using a recycled plastic bottle to support your wind generator. Ages 8+

Here is the link to the Green Science Windmill Generator

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Friday, July 10, 2009

Plans for mechanical flying goose on radiator cap

Plans for Mechanical flying goose on radiator cap
The folks over at the always interesting Modern Mechanix Blog recently posted this great set of plans for an animated mechanical hood ornament originally published in 1932. Like a reverse-whirligig, the air speeding past the car's hood powers the motions of this mechanical bird.

From the original article:
While your car is standing still this wild goose isn't so wild. He perches sedately upon the radiator cap surveying the world with a glassy eye. But as soon as you start up and shift into high he flattens out his tail, stretches his neck forward and begins to flap his wings as if he were going somewhere, and going there in a hurry.

The article has been converted in to text and scanned as three large images -- everything you should need to make this project yourself.

Here's the article on the Mechanical Flying Goose Decorates Radiator Cap.

[ Thanks deanS! ]

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Thames & Kosmos wind power experiment kit

Thames & Kosmos Wind Power Kit
Here is a cool mechanical model you assemble to make a wind turbine with a small electric generator.

It comes with a 32-page manual that walks you through how to conduct more than 20 experiments -- including ones using different numbers of rotor blades, different blade angles and profiles, different wind speeds, different gear ratios, lifting a weight, lighting up an LED, and charging a rechargeable battery.

Here's the product page for the Thames & Kosmos Wind Power wind power experiment kit

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Saturday, January 10, 2009

Theo Jansen: The art of creating creatures

While we are on the subject of my new heroes (see yesterday's post about Clayton Boyer), I just saw video from one of the TED Talks featuring Theo Jansen. I misunderstood the scale, scope, and beauty of his vision. While I may still not know all of it, this video has given me a much greater appreciation for his attempt to create large-scale mechanical life-forms that roam wind-swept beaches. Truly an impressive vision and monumental feat.

[ Thanks S.C.! ]

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Is there a site that focuses on documenting toys?

A reader of The Automata / Automaton Blog recently wrote to me about a neat little motorized toy he has. He also posed a question.

Reader John Grabowski writes:
Last Christmas, my mom gave me a wind-up tin toy Santa that they got a couple of years before I was born (circa early '60s). I have always loved this wind-up Santa, so I searched the web to try and find out more about him or see similar pieces. I didn't find any like him anywhere though. This year, I got him working really smoothly again, so I filmed a video of him doing his thing. That way, I figured anyone into this sort of stuff would get a chance to see him. Do you know of any site that focuses on displaying and documenting toys (rather than simply selling them)?

I don't have an answer myself. How about the rest of you out there? Do you know of a site like the the one John asks about? If so, post a comment here. Thanks! -Dug North

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Isaac Newton's great idea told in whirligig form

There can be no doubt: artist Ben Thal has taken whirligigs to a new level -- many having up to 30 moving parts and multiple actions. The whirligig shown here depicts Sir Isaac Newton's epiphany regarding gravity in animated wind-powered 3-dimensional form. Wow.

To learn more about the remarkable man behind this and other fantastic creations check out this great profile on him: Spin Doctor -- Former Surgeon Ben Thal Builds Humor Into His Witty, Whimsical Whirligigs.

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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Vollis Simpson's windmill-powered whirligigs

Some time ago, I posted a YouTube video about Vollis Simpson, a man who has made a park full of windmills and whirligigs. There is a great web site with more about the man behind it all. The site also features a detailed virtual tour of his wind-powered mechanical park.

Here's a link to From Windmills to Whirligigs brought to us by the Science Museum of Minnesota.

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Monday, February 04, 2008

Fantastic Wind-Powered Whrligigs Video

Automata maker Tom Haney sent the video you see above to me.

Tom writes:
I have something you might want to put up on your site. The man who inspired me to do mechanical pieces, Ben Thal, has posted a video on YouTube. I met him at a whirligig show in Oregon in 1994. He does great pieces with amazing and simple movements. He is a doctor and does whirligigs as a hobby. All his whirligigs are for indoors and are powered by a fan.

See it at:

The motions are pretty sophisticated for whirligigs...impressive!

Thanks Tom!

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Master of Windmills and Whirligigs

Whirligigs are a form of automata -- to my mind at least. They depict an animated scene with a person or animal. The only distinction between a contemporary automaton and a whirligig is that the latter are outside and are powered by the wind.

The folks over at The Proceedings of the Athanasius Kircher Society have a great post about a man with a passion for windmills and whirligigs. The man's name is Vollis Simpson, an 87-year-old retired mechanic from North Carolina. Simpson's back yard is filled with dozens of his wind-driven creations.

A quote from Simpson:
"The main part of doing anything that turns is to get it centered".

Truer words were never spoken.

Check out the post on Vollis Simpson's Windmill Farm at the Kircher Society blog.

Here's a list of books on how to make whirligigs:

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