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It is said that :- The first Automata was created by GOD. According to Talmundic tradition, Adam was created in 5 hours. In the first, his dust was gathered from all parts of the world; In the second, it was kneaded into a shapeless mass (Golem); In the third, his limbs were shaped; In the fourth, a soul was infused into him; In the fifth, he arose and stood on his feet.

If you swap the words Adam for Robot and view the stages from the point of a production line, soul for software and GOD to Honda. It does get scarry the idea of ancient aliens building robots in front of primative man, the language being his best understanding of what just happened before his eyes.

When we enter the world of automata we enter a world where some machines were real and some were actors, a little like the toymakes dolls in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The famous magician Jean Eugène Rbert-Houdin (1805–1871) was known for creating automata for his stage shows.  Mythology has many stories about automata, some a wild and fanciful, others may have been based on fact. We can not say for sure what is fact or fiction, so what follows is a description of some of the more exciting reference to mythological automata which are based on accounts from the Ancient Greeks.

Prometheus was reputed to have made the first man and women on earth, with clay animated by fire and stolen from heaven. According to Apollodorus.

Hephaestus God of all mechanical arts, also known as Vulcan, God of life was reputed to have made two female statues of pure gold which assisted him and accompanied him wherever he went. Living young damsels, filled with minds and wisdom. LLiad (Book 18). I still keep seeing robots in my mind (C3PO ?).
Hephaestus was also accredited with making Talus, a giant made from brass,which guarded Crete against intruders. Talus dispensed of his victims by heating up his body and hugging them to death. His only vulnerable spot was his right ankle where there was a sinew of flesh and a vein of blood. The Argonauts could only land on Crete after Talus was destroyed through the intervention of Medea.

Pygmation King of Cyprus fell in love with a beautiful statue which he had made and marries her after Aphrodite brings her to life.

 The Ancient Greeks were clearly obsessed with the notion of creating mechanical living beings. We do know that they had very advanced engineering skills and most certainly managed to make partially animated Statues which would be used in Ceremonies. They were probable worked by levers and human powered, although there are descriptions of using steam and water as a source of power. The Greeks certainly had the technology and ingenuity to have used steam powered devises. Descriptions of wonderful mechanical people and objects not only came out of mythology but also other cultures from around the world. There seems to have been a common ambition to emulate living things through out the whole of the ancient world. The following is a description of some of the more intriguing ones.

15th century BC
Amenhotep son of Hapu had made a statue of Memnon, King of Ethiopia, near Thebes in Egypt, which uttered a melodious sound when struck by the the suns rays in the morning and during sunset. It was suggested that a divine power was partly responsible as the mechanisms were far to simple to sustain the noise.

The period 1860 to 1910 is known as "The Golden Age of Automata". During this period many small family based companies of Automata makers thrived in Paris. From their workshops they exported thousands of clockwork automata and mechanical singing birds around the world. It is these French automata that are collected today, although now rare and expensive they attract collectors worldwide. The main French makers were Vichy, Roullet & Decamps, Lambert, Phalibois, Renou and Bontems.

The rotating Sand Automata in this project is designed to show a number of aspects.

First and foremost It represents what would be expected of an A or A* project at GCSE it has 3 or more materials a mechanism, some electronics albeit fairly rudamentary. This could be enhanced based on the pupils skill set. The involute gears add a engineering aspect and all of these points could be covered in the portfolio. The project also shows trangulaton and the use of templates, jigs and interference jointing techniques.



Sand Automata

The Final Working Automata


Sand Automata

Close Up of the Acrobat. The mechanism is actually know as a chaos mechanism. The smooth rotation of the shaft will produce a movement in the legs which is impossible to predict mathematically. Hence the chaos mechanism.

Sand Automata

The gears drive the Automata. In the middle of the base is the micro switch which is set to normally closed so that when the switch is closed the circuit is broken. Thus the button bypasses the microswitch starting the motor which them moves the parking block away from the microswitch so that when the button is released the circuit is still made by the microswitch. The motor will then run until the parking block returns to the microswitch location again breaking the circuit and stopping the motor. A certain amount of "fiddling" is necessary to get the microswitch and the block to stop at just the right spot so that the front glass rectangular shape is perpendicular.


Sand Automata

From the rear we can see the actual mechanism. This constitutes a hopper feeding a simple paddle wheel or water wheel, the hopper has an opening on one side only, this accepts sand as the unit rotates, the sand stays at the bottom of the box and flows into the upturned hopper side as it passes the bottom, the whole unit then rights itself the hopper is back at the top now full of sand.

The original sand automata were boxes and the user had to turn them over by hand.

For education the gear and the motor has been added to bring the project nearer to the requirements of an A. The unit has more than 3 materials it incorporates a number of mechanisms. It has some electronic aspects. The involute profile of the gears add depth to the portfolio.


It was decided that this project would be cut from 6mm mdf and instead of opting for the A1 with the vacuum bed (The easy option, the A1 eats sheet materials like no other). It was decided that we would look at bolting the board down on the A3, the bed on the A3 is fully T slotted and it is often forgotten that your sheet and the sacrifice board can have strategic holes drilled into them and the board held down directly on the T Slots.

This requires a certain amount of care, if the tool collides with a bolt it will be damaged or may even break.

To help stop this happening in the drawing I have made "No Go" areas to try and keep the tool away from the bolts. It is also worth while learning to alter the G&M code as the tool normally runs at the height of 2mm above the table between cutting jobs, thus if the bolts are high then the tool could easily catch the protruding head.


The orange areas mark where the bolts protruded. It is wise to steer clear of these for the reasons stated.

Cutting out the box tops.

It was chosen to laser cut the wheel out of 3mm MDF, thus adding another process and more depth to a potential portfolio.


Cutting the Base and small gears, The bolts are the smallest we could find with domed tops. The hole could be spot drilled to make the head sit below the surface.

Impressed Aluminium Bush.


The diameter of the wheel is important and the larger the diameter of the wheel the more leverage is developed.

However this then also becomes a factor of the individual bucket or segment size as a small bucket will only hold a correspondingly lighter charge of sand.


Finally having experimented with all sizes of gap it was decided that the same could be achieve with two drilled holes which means it is easy to control the flow. Differing granular sizes of sand and grit shape will make for differing flow rates again an aspect that can be researched for the portfolio. The sand in this automata is art sand bought on ebay it is intended for use as a make your own coloured sand bottle toy. I made two 6mm holes and this seemed to be the best payoff between time versus speed of acrobat.



Sand Automata Files in ZIP Format - Download
Sand Automata Files in RAR Format - Download