Archive for January, 2013

Early Meccano Robot Models – Frank Hornby et al (British)

Mechanical Men and Robot Models from various Meccano Instruction Manuals.

1931 Mechanical Man

AMONG the many mechanical marvels that scientists tell us will be common sights in the year 2031 A.D., none can be of  greater interest than the " robots " or mechanical men which, we are assured, wilt be used to perform almost every action of a human being. Meccano boys. may well envy their fellow constructors of the next century using a "squad" of these "mechanical humans" to do their homework while they complete a model of a super 500 m.p.h. land plane, or the latest pattern of a moon rocket !
Although the remarkable Meccano model robot described this month is not capable of working out Square Roots or Compound Interest, it will nevertheless walk forward in a remarkably realistic manner, merely by pressing one of the Pulley Wheels that represent this weird individual's "ears" !

1950 – Mechanical Man


1957 version below

1970 version from Chile.

Another 1970 version called "Fred".

1967 – Hoppy the Perambulating Robot.

Source: Meccano Magazine 1967                         
Eyes aglow,  Arms swinging, Head turning, Hoppy' perambulates in a most unusual manner. Build him with 'Spanner'. 

SCIENCE fiction writers—those prophets of the  mechanical age—have long foretold the existence  of man-like machines, capable of movement and able to perform all sorts of physical tasks. In these days of automation the prophesies of science fiction are well on the way to realization. Already men in a wide variety of industries are being superseded by machines which are doing the job better, faster and at a greatly reduced cost, but as yet, none of these machines could, even by the widest stretch of the imagination, be described as 'human-looking'.
In spite of this, it is an easy matter to produce a man-like machine, or robot, as is proved by the fact that Meccano owners have been doing just that for close on half a century! It has been some considerable time, however, since we actually featured a robot in the 'M.M'., so I thought I would make up the deficiency this month with the typical example described below. Admittedly, it cannot do anybody's work for them, but it does walk, swing its arms and move its head, thanks to the Power Drive Unit it incorporates. The only thing to remember is that it does not walk like we do with two legs, but moves both feet forward together, while standing on its 'legs', then swings its body forward to repeat the movement. Construction should present no problem.


1965 Meccano Dalek

WHILE travelling into the future in his incredible 'time machine', Dr. Who and his three companions encountered the fearsome Daleks! These weird space invaders of the future are, as most of you know, to be seen on the exciting television serial 'Dr. Who'.                                                
However, although the Daleks are in many ways frightening, they are fascinating creatures with strange metallic voices that have the ability to slip along, robot-like, under their own power. In fact, so popular are the Daleks that toy shops throughout the country have been selling thousands of models of these space creatures. Therefore, I thought it would make a popular exercise to build a Dalek in Meccano. The model described in this article is based on a television Dalek, although it is not identical in shape. Motive power is supplied by an Emebo motor and two lamps on the front of the body flash on and off as the model moves.

Modern, more realist version of a Dalek Mk IV.

1987 Mr. Clockwork Motor designed by Andreas Konkoly

The late Andreas Konkoly designed some interesting and often quirky models. Entitled Mr Clockwork Motor this model was published in the North Midlands Meccano Guild Newsmag No 47, March 1987.
The model is built around a No. 1 Clockwork motor which is able to provide the light model with a good run.
The large feet (3" square) are for purposes of stabilizing the model which exhibited an interesting gait when operating. His arms swung with each step and his head swung from side to side as if scanning the horizon.
Although it may appear from the pictures that the Double Angle Strips are likely become entangled, this does not happen in practice and his excursions are limited only by the endurance of the motor.
Like all ambulatory models of this kind, it is a kid magnet at exhibitions.

Model and Text by Lindsay Carroll.

A similar model called "Little Big Man" by Antoni Gual.

Miscellaneous Early Meccano Robots

1934 Mechanical Man [Below]

1952 Mechanical Man [Below]

Above. 5ft Mechanical Man 1951.

Above. 1957 – Oscar the Robot by Geoff Pratt.

Geoff must have built several more robots.  Rob Thompson (Mar 2014) informs me of Oscar V built in 1977.

Here Rob's pic of him from the Henley Exhibition in 1983.

Above 2 photos by NoirProfond2.  Above 3 images located at .

1975 – Edmund Atkinson with his Motorised Penguin.

1977c – Robot "Ripper Delux" with Matt Goodman. Photo by Rod Thompson

Update: Email from Matt Goodman 8 Feb 2014 

"I was fascinated to find by accident a picture of myself on p2 of your walking machines website (attached). It was either taken at The Town & Country Festival nr Coventry or at the Midlands Meccano Guild (the first guild & Dad was first Treasurer). …….
For your information Ripper Delux was the last in a series of robots all with very different capabilities. This had remote control of: moving about (driven by the steerable rear wheel), a rotating sign on the top, blinkin eyes, moving mouth, swivelling head, illuminated moving lungs and heart and shook hands. There were two types of buzzer and a bell. Nobody I had ever seen build a lifesize robot before and very few since.
Throughout our teens my friends and I specialised in destructive robots (looong before Robot Wars was ever conceived). The most successful design was based upon the Venus Probe (as escaped in Steve Austen's Six Million Dollar Man) which was extremely fast, stable and manouverable with a large pair of jaws at the front for throwing or grabbing the opposition. We damaged a lot of shiney Meccano in those days -these computer gamers are just whimps when it came to real losses of pocket money due to lost battles ! "

1977c  Robot "Ripper Delux". Photo by Rod Thompson.

See all the known Steam Men and early Walking Machines here.

See all the known early Humanoid Robots here.

1981 – The Walking Gyro – John W. Jameson (American)

The Walking Gyro was conceived and built by John Jameson in 1981. 

Article Source: Robotics Age, January 1985.


John W Jameson
275 E. O'Keefe #7 
Palo Alto, CA 94303

Walking machines generally fall into one of two categories: statically balanced or dynamically balanced. A statically balanced machine maintains stability at every position in its stride by always keeping its center of gravity aboye the region of contact between the machine and the surface.                       

A dynamically balanced machine is generally not statically stable at every stride position and must rely on intermittently applied control forces in order to keep upright. The Walking Gyro seems to fit best into the latter category, but its simplicity relative to other forms of dynamically stabilized walking machines makes it an attractive alternative for home experimentation.
Two characteristics are readily observed by experimentation with any toy gyroscope. One is the gyroscope's inherent stability, as illustrated by its ability to stay upright while keeping only one point in contact with a supporting surface. Another is the counter-intuitive reaction the device exhibits when the gyroscope is twisted about an axis perpendicular to the flywheel spin axis. The Walking Gyro utilizes both characteristics plus a third, gyroscopic precession, to provide a walking mobility base.

Although I have not yet constructed a model of the scale desirable for an experimental home robot, my analysis of the Walking Gyro's dynamics indicates that such a device is feasible. In fact, the analysis indicates that the stability and load-carrying capabilities increase dramatically with scale. Although the principies of the Walking Gyro are somewhat complicated, the basic mechanism is quite simple. Adding velocity and direction control offers a challenging (though not necessarily complicated) task for the home experimenter.  

The Walking Gyro utilizes the angular momentum of a spinning flywheel to perform the following functions: lift the feet, balance during the stride via gyroscopic reaction torque, and move forward via gyroscopic precession. My prototype, shown in Photo 1, is powered by a hand crank and relies on  energy stored in the flywheel to sustain motion.
Figure 1 shows a side view, partially sectioned, of a Walking Gyro in mid-stride.  The housing (1), which contains the flywheel (2), and the gear train (3), is caused to tilt back and forth with respect to the  leg frame (4) by the crank (5) and link (6).                                    

This motion is about the fore-and-aft pivot (7). The legs (8) are attached to the leg frame by the fore-and-aft pivots (9) and the feet (10) are attached to the legs by the vertical pivots (11). Finally, the horizontal bar (12) connects to both legs by the fore-and-aft pivots (13) so that they stay parallel. Note that in this particular presentation, the mechanism is equipped with an adaptor for a crank (14), which is used to bring the flywheel up to operating speed.


Caption  Photo 1. The Walking Gyro caught in mid-step.

Figure 2 details the mechanism's movements. Figure 2a shows the Walking Gyroscope in a neutral position. Figures 2b and 2c show the motion that would occur if the feet were somehow attached to  the walking surface. Figure 2b shows the housing tilting to the left, and Figure 2c shows a tilt to the right. Figures 2e and 2f show what happens if the same conditions of Figures 2b and 2c occur but with the feet free to move. Instead of the housing tilting to the left, the gyroscopic element maintains the vertical attitude of the housing, and thus the left foot is lifted off the surface, conserving the housing tilt angle with respect to the leg frame (Figure 2e).
As soon as the left foot is off the surface, gyroscopic precession causes the housing to pivot about the right foot. The left foot returns to the surface as the crank goes around, whereupon the right foot is lifted in a similar fashion (Figure 20. The housing then pivots about the left foot.
Since the precession about opposite feet is in the opposite direction, the result is a forward walking motion.
This explanation does not adequately account for the Walking Gyro's ability to pick up its feet. The primary aspects of the Walking Gyro's operation are based on the well-established theory of gyroscopic motion.

Figure 1. Cross-section of a slightly altered form of the prototype Walking Gyro.

See images for rest of article.


See full patent details here.

Patent number: 4365437
Filing date: Apr 15, 1981
Issue date: Dec 28, 1982

Toys based on Jameson's patent.

Remote-control to move robot in different directions.

"Hitch Hiker" Walking Robot.

Showing the insides of the "Hitch Hiker" version.



Meccano model of The Walking Gyro.

The Meccano model on the right was built by Bernard Perier from a Meccano set. Gyroscopic reaction force causes lifting of the feet and gyroscopic precession drives the motion forward.

(photo by Stefan Tokarski)

Gyroman 3D-printed by by Jeff Kerr from Make Magazine.




It would be great to see a scaled-up one of these at Burning Man with the driver as the payload.

**Update July 2015 – There’s a rumor that the original designer, John Jameson, is considering a giant, rideable version of Gyroman.

See also the Gyrocycle.

1950 – Toy Unicycle Pedaling Clown – Wilfredo Perez (American)

A gyroscopic toy, that imparts a walking motion via a reciprocating crank, driven via a worm off the flywheel shaft. The bottom part is interchangeable so that the pedaling unicycle can be replaced by walking stilts, or a leg arrangement for tight-rope walking.

Patent number: 2588040 – see full patent details here.
Filing date: Apr 11, 1950
Issue date: Mar 4, 1952

To date, I've seen no evidence that this toy was actually made.

It would be great to see a Meccano model of this gyroscopic unicyclist!

1936 – The Gyro-Cycle – Hubert Charles Henry Townend (British)

The Gyro-Cycle – A pseudo-pedalling machine.

Source: "Mechanical Toys" by Athelstan & Kathleen Spilhaus, 1990

First Meccano Magazine advertisement was in April 1938.

A very ingenious scientific toy. Toy was invented by a famous airplane designer in England. Action depends on the well known gyroscopic principle. The front wheel is the gyroscope and drives the unit through a set of precision gears. When the front wheel is spun, at high speed, the stored energy will drive the cycle for a considerable distance in an upright position. The boy on the bike peddles in a very realistic effect by the turning of the rear wheel. The wheels are lithographed tin, the frame is pressed steel and cyclist is celluloid with cloth arms. The cyclist is driven by a rubber band from the rear wheel. Rubber band is still intact but dry from age. Manufacture is Tri-Ang Works of London, England in the 1950s. Size is 8¼” long by 7½” tall and 2½” wide. Toy is in mint condition, never played with. Included are the instruction sheet, bottle of lubricating Shell oil and the instruction sheet of how to maintain the toy. Original pull string is also in the box.

A new, never used  example.

Tri-Ang Lines Bros. Gyro-tricycle – interesting conversion from the Gyro-cycle comprising green celluloid figure, red pressed steel cycle frame with 3 x tinprinted balloon wheels.

Hubert Charles Henry Townend  was an inventor in the aerospace industry. His known patents were in relation to cooling of air-cooled 4-stroke aircraft engines, mainly rotary aircraft engines. His inventions are: 

1. Improvements in or relating to means for the balancing and controlling of toy bicycles. Hubert Charles Henry Townend Jan, 31 1938: GB479430 . Application date was 29 July, 1936. Note: First Meccano Magazine advertisement wasn't until April 1938, soon after the patent was officially accepted.
2. Improvements in and relating to air cooled aero engines with a view to securing an improved cooling effect. Hubert Charles Henry Townend Nov, 13 1936: GB456819
3. Improvements in or relating to aircraft. Hubert Charles Henry Townend Oct, 10 1929: GB320131

Meccano version of Gyro-cycle

(add credits here when known)

1988 – “Wendell” the Unicycle Rider – Garner Holt (American)

Wendell the Unicyclist premiered in 1988, and is the world’s only unicycle riding animatronic figure. He performs without any visible means of support.

Source: The Illusion of Life: Lifelike Robotics, Gene W. Poor, 1991 

"… But the most impressive component Garner brings to the animation marketplace is an extraordinarily creative mind with superb  problem-solving and operationalizing abilities.
The evidence of those qualities can be seen in his animated character "Wendell the Unicycle Rider." I saw this animated piece when I visited Garner's facility. It is spectacular! Like Kuebler's sculptings, a picture does not do Garner's work justice. If you are serious about three-dimensional animation, I encourage you to take a pilgrimage to San Bernardino to experience Garner's "Wendell" robot. If that's not possible–be patient. In the future, you're going to see a lot of Garner Holt!"

Wendell's clay head during the sculpting process.

The completed Wendell head prior to assembly on the robot body.

Garner Holt with "Wendell".