There is no proof as to when the first automata were made. However there are references in Greek mythology dating back to the 15th century BC and telling of Amenhotep, son of Hapu, who was said to have built a statue near to Thebes in Egypt of Memnon, King of Ethiopia, that when struck by rays of light from the morning or setting sun produced harmonious sounds, such that the people believed a higher power to be the reason behind the singing statue of the king. The ancient Greeks were marvels in the construction of automata and they were obsessed by the idea of creating mechanical living beings. The Greeks were incredibly advanced for their time and used their engineering skills to create moving statues that were used in large ceremonies. It is thought that these contraptions were controlled and powered by hand, using levers to simulate movements. Though there are reports of mechanical objects being powered by water and steam at that time.
Perhaps some of the greatest automata were created during the 18th century, by Jacques De Vaucanson, who became a master of his craft. He created a figure of a man standing 5 feet 10 inches tall, which to the human eye appeared to naturally play an array of tunes on a flute. Spectators gathered in number as news spread of this incredible machine. Men, women and children were in astonishment as they watched this tin man play his tunes to the audience whilst stood on a pedestal. Many were in disbelief, thinking that there was another source located near to the automata that was producing the sound. They were completely wrong, as they moved closer to the tin man they realised it was actually blowing out a current of air that streamed from the source inside the pedestal through the intricate mechanisms and into the flute. They could feel the air touch their faces as they went nearer to its mouth. The air that moved through the tin body also powered the movements of the fingers and lips. This was a true masterpiece of automata for its time.
Later, in the 19th century a man named Joseph Faber created his famous automata, after 25 years of preparation and building. His patience and persistence allowed him to complete one of the worlds greatest automata which he named Euphonia, a talking man that sounded incredibly realistic. It began by saying letters of the alphabet, then in time as the technology of the automata advanced it was able to say phrases like \How do you do ladies and gentlemen\. It also reportedly, whispered, laughed and sang. People sceptical about the automata were given a chance to inspect it. Any ideas of it being a ventriloquist flew right out of the window!
Many other incredible automata were created in the 19th century and the period is still today named the golden age of automata. It was also a time when tools and materials to create simple versions of these automata as toys were cheap, so mass production of such mechanical treats put them in the hands of most middle class children. However wonders such as the tin man, the singing statue and the talking man are things of the past, and in the modern world such toys are no longer sold for children to play with.
Today automata is seen as an upcoming modern art form. In schools, automata are made by students in England doing their GCSE design and technology. This involves creating a moving wooden automata of their choice and enables school children across the country to use their creative skills to design their own moving masterpieces. Artists and craftsmen from around the world are now the leading producers of automata. Antique collectors interested in automata can purchase early pieces and have been quoted as saying
Automata, the most valuable acquisition you can make!
As complicated as creating an automata is, you can create a simple automata using only a few tools. If you are producing a small piece of work, you could use hand powered tools, although power tools will save you time. A tenon saw is widely used in small scale automata and you should also use this tool with a wooden mitre. This will help to keep your wood in position when cutting. A wood saw is also a great tool if you are cutting into thick wood, though you should try not to use thick wood when creating automata and only really use it for the base. If your wood is lighter it makes your end product more portable and during creation easier to piece together.
If you choose to use power tools or have access to them a great power tool to use would be a band saw or a scroll saw. You do have to remember these are \extremely dangerous\ pieces of machinery so should be used by a professional or under the supervision of somebody with experience. The use of power tools will increase productivity and help to ensure you get a good end result. An electric sander will also help when you are trying to get those smooth curves and edges.
The materials you use depend on what automaton you are creating. Wood is commonly used in automata creation, as it is easy to manipulate and is light and portable. You could also use different metals such as tin, copper or brass, which give the automaton a mechanical look but are harder to produce. Wooden automata are easier to produce, as you can create the different mechanisms at a faster rate. Cams, cranks, ratchets, gears and pulleys can be made using cheap woods like balsa or tilia. Did you know? - Some automata makers have used paper as the material for there projects!
Automata are great fun to make and play with. Here are some \Tips and Tricks\ to make your life a little easier and give you some inspiration along the way, to help you if you choose to create automata of your own.
Do your homework.
Anyone can make simple automata, but only if you know how. Make sure that you understand how automata work before you spend your time asking your self \Why isn and #39t my little tin man moving?\ There are many automata creators around the world that have been working at their craft for years and have become very skilled at what they do. The best people to learn from are those with the knowledge, try going to classes and or studying design technology at college.
Once you have the know how, there is no reason why you shouldn and #39t experiment with different ideas. All of the best automata creators tried and failed with different ideas. Those that went on to create the best automata were those that kept going and finally found that idea that worked for them.
This is most important of all. You should enjoy creating your automata and using it or watching others do so. Automata are often created as works of arts to be appreciated. But if you are aiming to sell your automata as toys, a good way to test their durability and find out how much they will be enjoyed is to let children play with them. Research into your own product is important. Have fun and enjoy the automata experience.
An automaton is an object which appears to have a life of its own. Some automata will keep your attention for a few minutes, where as others can keep you hooked for hours. This really depends on the quality and complexity of the automaton you are controlling. Creating a simple automaton is relatively straight forward and with a bit of research and creativity you can create it on your own, even on a limited budget. If you are thinking about creating a special gift for a loved one or a friend, an automaton will not only excite, it will impress!
Know what you want! You can and #39t just make an automaton. It is an intricate piece of work and needs planning. You should start off by doing a few sketches. For example: A footballer or a ballerina. Then once you know what you want to create take some inspiration from fellow automators. Below are a list of questions you should ask yourself before getting into the physical stuff:
- Will it be fun to play with?
- Will it keep the users attention?
- Who will be using it? (E.g. Young - Boy/Girl, Adult)
- Is my idea too ambitious?
- (Most important) Will I enjoy creating it?
- Remember to read through all the sections of this guide, it will give you an idea of the types of tools and materials you will need to create your own automata.
- Remember, no idea is too ambitious, just keep it for later! You are only just getting started and when you are a pro, it will be time for you to get out that ambitious idea! Good-luck!