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Andy & the Automaton

by Jordan Ficklin

In my quest to learn more about Automata I had a wonderful weekend thank you to Andrew Baron.

I first learned about Andrew Baron a few weeks ago when I learned about his presentation for the Midwest Watch and Clockmakers Association which will be this Friday and Saturday May 4th and 5th. (Having seen a preview of this presentation, I would definitely attend both events if you live anywhere even remotely close. It would be worth a couple hours of driving easily.)

(You all narrowly missed a shameless plea for donations when I learned about this presentation because I really wanted to fly out and see it. — That is until I learned that Andrew Baron lives near me and I arranged a meeting.)

Andrew Baron is a paper engineer (he designs pop-up books) who has spent his life restoring all things mechanical and electrical. Recently he worked with the Franklin Institute to restore the Maillardet Automaton, the draftsman writer, featured on my blog a few months ago. You can learn about how he got involved in this project on his web page, Andy & the Automaton.

As a side note, before I get into my wonderful weekend I would suggest reading The Invention of Hugo Cabret and viewing the movie Hugo (Two-disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo + Digital Copy).You might even be interested in The Hugo Movie Companion: A Behind the Scenes Look at How a Beloved Book Became a Major Motion Picture.

Okay, so at this point I’ll assume you’ve clicked on a few of the links above and that you are familiar with the back story.

Andrew Baron, myself & others after the presentation as we wait for the Theremin to warm up.


I spent about 4 1/2 hours with Andy on Saturday learning about his many endeavors, including how he designed some of the most amazing pop-up books like, Knick Knack Paddywhack (New York Times Best Illustrated Books (Awards))and all of the problems he repaired on the Maillardet Automaton and how the machine actually works. It is truly a magnificent machine . . . a marvel of mechanical genius. And I am inspired to make my own Automaton.

I’ve been talking about making an Automaton for quite some time and my children have been anxious to see some results. They don’t seem to understand that this will take me months, or even years. On Sunday to help appease them, we built a simple butterfly automaton out of Legos.

In my workshop, and in my sketchbook, I have begun work on a design for a more complicated butterfly automaton which will be my first creation. I imagine it as an enamel and precious metal life size butterfly like the ones I encountered in the jungle of Peru.

Morpho sp, Photo : Bresson Thomas

It should flap its wings, rotate erratically in place and perhaps “smell” with its tongue. I’ve figured out how to solve all of the problems mechanically except the tongue. I would want it to unroll like the proboscis of a real butterfly.

3 Comments

  1. Michael O.
    Posted May 1, 2012 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    Perhaps the tongue could be constructed using a coiled spring with a tiny cable attached at the “tasting end” and running back through small brackets to a pulley?
    When the cable is tightened it might extend the spring?

  2. J.Peter
    Posted May 1, 2012 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    At this point the best bet for the tongue is a small flexible tube with a defined bend in them that fill with air from a bellows, much like a noise maker at New Year’s Eve, that uncoils and extends straight out.

  3. AlexisDelon
    Posted July 19, 2012 at 2:00 am | Permalink

    Then you might have to install a really small but powerful bellow in the body of your mechanical butterfly to be able to create pressure to blow the proboscis out.
    Taking the chirping bird pistol in the Patek Phillipe museum as an example, they did have a really big barrel for all the power needed to activate the bellows

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