Archive for March, 2012

1928 – “Gakutensoku” Pneumatic Writing Robot – Makoto Nishimura (Japanese)

Gakutensoku (學天則, Japanese for "learning from the laws of nature"), the first robot to be built in Japan, was created in Osaka in 1928. The robot was designed and manufactured by biologist and botanist Makoto Nishimura (1883-1956). Nishimura had served as a professor at Hokkaido Imperial University, studied Marimo and was an editorial adviser to the Osaka Mainichi newspaper (now the Mainichi Shimbun).

Gakutensoku could change its facial expression via springs and gears in its head, puff its cheeks as if breathing, and move its head and hands and torso via an air pressure mechanism. It had a pen-shaped Signal arrow in its right hand and a lamp named Reikantō (霊感灯, Japanese for "inspiration light") in its left hand. Perched on top of Gakutensoku was a bird-shaped robot named Kokukyōchō (告暁鳥, Japanese for "bird informing dawn"). When Kokukyōchō cried, Gakutensoku's eyes closed and its expression became pensive. When the lamp shone, Gakutensoku started to write words with the pen. Interesting that the words were written in Chinese characters, not Japanese.

Gakutensoku was first exhibited in Kyoto as part of the formal celebration of the Showa Emperor's ascension to the throne. The robot traveled to a number of expos and wowed onlookers with its mad calligraphy skills before going missing whilst touring in Germany  in the 1930s.

Makoto Nishimura (1883-1956)

It is interesting to note that at least two performances of Capek's R.U.R. had been played in Japan by the time Gakutensoku was created, but unlike Capek's artificial labourers, as novelist Hiroshi Aramata notes, Nishimura designed Gakutensoku as "an attempt to set aesthetic robots free from slaves to industry." 

80-year-old Gakutensoku robot revived (w/video) – as reported on 25 Apr 2008.

Asia's oldest "modern" robot, an 80-year-old golden-skinned humanoid from Osaka, has been brought back to life thanks to a project organized by the Osaka Science Museum. Gakutensoku, a 3.2 meter (10 ft 6 in) tall automaton powered by compressed air, can tilt its head, move its eyes, smile, and puff up its cheeks and chest as instructed — just as the original did 80 years ago — thanks to a 20-million-yen ($200,000) computer-controlled pneumatic servo system that replicates the movement of the original system of inflatable rubber tubes. (Watch the video.)

The reanimated Gakutensoku will star as the main attraction at the newly renovated Osaka Science Museum beginning July 18 2008.

For further detail on Gakutensoku, see Timothy N. Hornyak's book "Loving the Machine" 2006.

2000 – Six Legged Bicycle – Pete Beeman (American)

Six Legged Bicycle

This piece is built to ride like a bicycle, but pedaling walks the six legs, instead of turning wheels, for forward motion. Somewhere between riding a bicycle and a horse.

See video here 

Fabrication: Pete Beeman
Engineering: Pete Beeman
Date: 2000
Dimensions: 5' deep, 4' wide, 4' high
Materials: aluminum, steel, wood, mechanics.

[Source: All pictures and text from Pete Beeman's site here.]

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2011 – “Iron Stallion” and other Mechanical Walking Machines – Carter Sharer (American)

Iron Stallion (Pedal Horse)

Carter's linkages remind me somewhat of Alzetta's 1933 horse.  Longer legs, a more powerful motor, lower centre of gravity, steering and one could ride this machine bicycle-like. You start and stop with the person's feet touching the surface of the road. The ride would be a bit bumpy but swift – something lacking in almost all walking machines.

Two horses bolted together give you "Clyde-n-Dale".

Home-made PETMAN – Human Walkers

Spider Machine

Dodeca Machine

See Carter Sharer's website here.

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2003 – Robo-Donkey – Christiaan Zwanikken (Dutch-Portugese)

2003 – Robo-Donkey – Christiaan Zwanikken (Netherlands-born)

Robotic donkey drives ancient Islamic irrigation system

Robotic Donkey drives Moorish water wheel from christiaan zwanikken on Vimeo.

Donkey work [Source here]

It is an ambitious project to reconstruct all the original features of an irrigation system that, 400 years ago, watered a 4 hectare monastery garden. To also restore the ancient water wheel and build a robotic donkey to turn it sounds even more implausible. In Mértola’s Convento Sao Francisco grounds all three have been successfully achieved.

Guests at the opening of the Water Museum and unveiling of the donkey were amazed to see water raised from beneath the ground and cascaded round channels. The startling contrast between a 17th century irrigation system and the antics of a 21st century robotic donkey cannot fail to impress visitors.

This is one of several restoration projects in and around the Convento. The Zwanikken family, from Holland, whose home it has been since 1980, have transformed the once ruined monastery into a fascinating place – summed up by the Dutch Ambassador, Herman Froger, in his speech at the opening, “The Zwanikkens have connected the past with the future by being here now”

The genius of Dutch artist Christiaan Zwanikken, the creator of the donkey, has received considerable international recognition. Christiaan was brought up at the Convento and attended the local school, but returned to his homeland to study fine arts. His kinetic artworks have been seen in places as diverse as Japan and Mexico and his inspiration is often taken from his childhoed and the wildlife of the Alentejo. His bull, ‘Tourinho’, hurtles back and forth and rolls from side to side, whereas ‘Knuckle Heads’ shows two stork skulls mounted on long metal rods, executing a pattern of meticulously controlled movements.

It is not surprising that a childhood ambition to see the water wheel in action sparked off the idea of creating a mechanical donkey. At the top of the terraced gardens, the well beneath the wheel is deep and the buckets drawing the water surprisingly large. Judging by the weight of water Christiaan deduced that either two donkeys (or a very strong mule) must have originally turned it. Adjusting the quantity of water in each bucket so that the ‘donkey’ could effectively lift the load was an important technicality.

It was first necessary to replace the cogs and other rusting operational parts – hundreds of meters of eroded and broken water channels, weaving around the garden, had to be restored.

To build a ‘donkey’ capable of walking endlessly in a perfect circle is no mean feat. I took seven weeks of work on site and the materials include electronic circuit boards, sensors and servomotors. he has polyester ears that twitch and turn, presumably to keep of the flies – and an obedient relationship with his master!

See Christiaan Zwanikken's more recent robotic and kinetic art works here.

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1993 – Human-Powered Walking Machine – CSERNY Márton (Hungarian)


Márton is from Budapest, Hungary.  His human-powered walking machine is novel in that the front legs do not pull the cart, but are pushed by the pedals, chain and sprocket.  The pedaling action also rocks the 'hip', which raises and swings each free-swinging leg in turn. 


Akció a "Lépegeto gép"-pel / action with the "Walking Machine" – Buda Hegyvidéki templomkert, Budapest.

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