Posts Tagged ‘Meccano Models’

2011 – “Mystic Mec” Meccano Automaton – Chris Shute (British)

Above Photo by Chris Shute

A Meccano machine to read your palm. Built in 5 months from mostly modern Meccano parts and 13 salvaged motors. All 24 electrical switches and the 32 – step Sequencer are made from Meccano. Mystic Mec will choose an almost 'random' letter to hint at your future. Working eyelids, index fingers among other things….
The video doesn't tell you the final secret of how Mystic Mec managed to 'predict' the initials of many of my Meccano friends who had their palms read at our exhibitions. You saw that the letter drum will adavance automaticaly to stop the left arm at a new letter. The selected stopping point can be seen through a small shrouded window at the left of the drum. Now the crafty bit: the drum can also be advanced by a second motor (black, bottom left at 4.15). This extra motor is part of the Meccano Infra-red control set. The remote handset will just about operate through thin trouser pockets!

Mystic Mec
Let Mystic Mec read your palm! Using her special powers, Mec will choose a letter for you. Perhaps your name, your home, a friend or a glimpse of the future. Who knows?
Mystic Mec is (almost) entirely made from Meccano parts, except for her luscious lips and curly hair. All the electrical parts are built from Meccano, including nineteen limit switches for the various motors.
Most of the motors have been salvaged from old video and cassette recorders. Each has a single belt reduction before minimal gearing or a screwed-rod ram, e.g. the fingers, head-tilt and eyelid mechanisms. Mystic Mec's head is mounted on a built-up roller bearing. Motors for her eyelids and head-tilt are fitted below the neck, working through linkages which pass through the slotted holes of the Circular Plates. A switch on the eyelids will automatically cut power to the eyes' light bulbs when closed.
Under the table, a 32 step sequencer selects each motion in turn. As each limb completes it movement, a limit switch diverts the power back towards the Sequencer, to advance it and begin the next operation. Mec's mouth is connected in parallel with the Sequencer motor. This allows her to 'chatter' between each limb movement, and so avoids any 'dead' time between operations.
The Sequencer is a stand-alone unit, which can be reprogrammed simply by re-arranging the colour-coded leads, which connect to the various motor wires via paperclips on isolated curved Meccano strips. Beneath the curved strips is a device to reverse the polarity of the supply to the motors, when required, to change the direction of travel.
Chris Shute
Wem, Shropshire

Mystec Mec, by the way, is female, inspired by the former UK lottery-predicting lady, Mystic Meg. The model has a modest, breathing bosom, a sort of homage to the 18th Century Automata.
Unfortunately, she was dismantled in 2012 to make way for other projects.

Chris Shute with "Mystic Mec"

Photos by Rob Thompson.

Images and captions from .

A 32 step sequencer selects each motion in turn. As each limb completes it movement, a limit switch diverts the power back towards the Sequencer, to advance it and complete the next operation. Mec's mouth is connected in parallel with the Sequencer motor. This allows her to 'chatter' between each limb movement, and so avoids any 'dead' time between operations. 

The sequencer is a stand-alone unit, which can be re-programmed simply by re-arranging the colour-coded leads, which connect to the various motor wires via paperclips on isolated curved Meccano strips. Beneath the curved strips is a device to reverse the polarity of the supply to the motors, when required, to change the direction of travel.

Detail of Head by Chris Shute. Nice earings!

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1937 – The Robot Gargantua – “Bill” Griffith P. Taylor – (Australian/Canadian)

The Robot Garguantua.

gar·gan·tu·a -n.
A person of great size or stature and of voracious physical or intellectual appetites. [After the giant hero of Gargantua and Pantagruel by François Rabelais.]

Like most, including myself, the true significance is lost in the title ("An Automatic Block-Setting Crane") and opening description of the original article published globally in Meccano Magazine, March 1938.

The original re-discovered documents now published in full book form.

In February 2013,  Chris Shute contacted me about "Meccano Robot Gargantua".
Although I was aware of it, but must admit to: 1. trying to keep away from industrial robots, 2. mistaking the robot taking it for an elaborate 'crane' when I first saw it, 3. didn't study it well enough to realise it was programmable, 4. assumed someone else more recently attributed to word 'Robot' to it, and lastly, 5. I didn't take note of its early publication date. I'd like to think my research is normally very good, but incorrect pre-conceptions let me down.. Anyway, I've now been corrected and amazed after reading Chris' story of The Robot Gargantua re-produced below.

"In March 1938, the Meccano Magazine published a brief article describing an automatic crane of stunning complexity. Have a look at Meccano Magazine, March 1938 p172, viewable via: . A single motor drove all the motions of this monster machine, capable of building complex structures from wooden blocks automatically. From the original photograph, it was difficult to tell if Gargantua was even made from Meccano, or whether it could really do all that was claimed. Nobody had ever built anything so ambitious in Meccano.
A full description and more detailed photographs lay hidden for nearly half a century until the Liverpool Meccano factory was demolished. Constructor Quarterly magazine published them in a book with notes by John Woollatt and the late Bert Love and Alan Partridge. The creator of Gargantua was a 21-year-old student, Griffith ‘Bill’ Taylor, the son of Scott’s Antarctic geologist. Bill died in 1996, having spent most of his life as a professor of civil engineering in Sydney, Australia. I built the ‘Robot’ programmer in June 1997 and met Bill’s widow and son. They encouraged me to build the whole crane, which I did during the following 12 months, about 400 hours work. Here's a picture of my reconstruction. The main features are:
 • A single motor drives all motions.
 • The grab can also rotate – power comes through the suspension cords.
 • Mechanical limiters protect against over-driving.
 • Control levers are situated at the base of the tower, not on the jib.
 • No electronics are used apart from five solenoids.
 • Sequences up to 3 hours long may be controlled by punched paper tape.
 • Contains over 4000 washers, 300 collars, 200 gears and 100 pulleys.
 • Non-Meccano parts: 4 bricks, 2 rollers, paper, wood, Ford Sierra fan motor.

This is the only known complete reconstruction of Gargantua. I believe it was probably the world’s first truly programmable place-and-put robot. I feel it deserves a place in the history of robotics."

Chris continues in a second email.

"I believe Bill Taylor submitted his article to Meccano Magazine late in 1937, after completing the machine. Roman numerals on his typed manuscript read "MCMXXXVII". His notes say the machine was "the result of 3 years "effort". The lead-in time for publication, and the surface mail time from Toronto to Liverpool would be considerable. Many mechanisms used in Gargantua are unique, and would have made good magazine features individually, at the time. It's puzzling why neither the magazine nor Meccano did not exploit Gargantua more. A Pathe Newsreel in July 1937 featured a Meccano loom, for example. Bill Taylor was born in August 1916, making him only 21 years old at the time of completing Gargantua, while still studying for his engineering degree. A remarkable acheivement. I've attached a picture of my reconstruction of the 'Robot' (as it was called) i.e. the device that pulls and pushes the pre-existing 5 control levers for the crane. Mine is the same size as the original. Each lever, top left, has a central neutral position and can move linkages to large dog-clutches in transfer gearboxes dedicated to each motion. The crane can be driven manually if the "Robot" linkages are disconnected. Then the lever ends must be squeezed to release any lever from its locked position, like an old semaphore railway signal lever. The 'Robot' is driven by the same single motor as the crane, via a driveshaft seen just right of the control levers. A Meccano Dog Clutch can disconnect this drive. A 5-digit counter, like an old electricity consumer meter, top right, is used to count the revolutions of the motor. My paper tape transport is slightly modified, using a capstan and rubber pinch roller, as in a reel-to-reel tape recorder, for constant paper speed, and therefore constant sized holes cut in the paper. When drive to the take-up paper drum is engaged, a light brake is applied to the feed drum, to keep the paper taut, and simultaneously, 5 wipers press down on the paper. When a hole arrives, a circuit is made to one of 5 solenoid coils. In the original device, these were home made (mine are 1960s standard Meccano parts). Power for the coils would originally have come from 4 large 1.5 volt dry cells (seen in the original magazine picture, about the size of a beer can). Mine use 12 volts from the motor supply. Lower right, I've added a cable to 5 pushbuttons for manually firing the coils during demonstrations. The (weak) solenoids do not actually engage any gears. Instead, they cause some of the main motor's power to act upon the control levers. Five differentials are driven from the motor through their RH half-shafts. A light brake on the LH half-shaft causes the diff cage to spin fast but with less torque, reduced still further by 1:5 gearing to a shaft above carrying a 2" rod in a Handrail Coupling. When the solenoid is energised, its core moves a rod left to jam this spinning rod, whereupon the LH half shaft will turn, overcoming its light brake. A 7:1 reduction to a shaft above moves a long linkage to the relevant control lever. After a quarter-turn of this shaft, a roller and sprung linkage will flick the solenoid rod right, thus releasing the differential cage, and movement of the control linkage stops. The quarter turns permit a sequence of Forward-Neutral-Backward-Neutral to be engaged for each drive. This seems an elaborate device to engage/disengage gears, but it does the job well, using only a single coil for each motion, requiring only 5 possible holes in the paper roll (3 1/2" wide, used for adding machines in the 1930s). Since the same motor drives both the paper and the crane, synchronisation is reliable. the distance between holes equates to the number of motor revolutions allocated for each operation. In practice, when any motion is required to arrive at an end-stop position, a few extra revolutions are given, to overcomes light discrepancies caused by slippage, for example of the string/pulley drives in the grab. All motions have mechanical limiters at their end-stops, so this is not a problem. The tower-buiding was planned on graph paper and a table of the required motor revolutions for each motion is calculated. (e.g.opening the grab requires 150 revs). From this, it is possible to write a 'program' of events (= paper holes) defined by motor revolutions starting at 00000. The program is transfered to the paper roll by disengaging the drive to the 'Robot' and cutting a hole over a wooden backing strip. For stacking 24 blocks, over 500 holes must be cut. An error of 1mm on the paper roll could translate into about 1"for a block's position. Editing/correcting of the program is done with sticky tape. But the system works. Errors are generally down to the 'software', not hardware."

Chris has an expanded version of his story published in 2007. see pdf here.

Historical Significance

I've largely left Industrial Robots out of my website, but I feel that The Robot Gargantua deserves to be recognised as the first currently known Pick-and-Place Robot built, so I'll add a page on the short history of Industrial Robots.

The First Industrial Robots:

The Babbitt invention of 1892, mentioned in many Industrial Robot timelines, is not a robot at all under any definition. The Babbitt Crane patent has no mention of anything automatic, is not programmable and is under manual control using hydraulics.  Also no evidence of it being built, none that I've found, anyway. It appears to be an arm to grasp and remove hot ingots from a furnace. It may look robotic in today's terms, but that's as far as it goes.

  • 1935-7 – The design, construction, and submitted manuscript of The Robot Gargantuan.
  • 1938, March – The publication of The Robot Gargantua in Meccano Magazine.
  • 1938, April – Pollard's Positional spray painting robot patent was filed in April 1938. This I would call a robot by current definition.
  • 1939, August – Roselund filed his spray-paint robot patent – less of a robot than Pollard's due to the cam-drive nature, which , although good for repeatability, not good in re-programmability which defines an Industrial Robot.
  • 1954, March – The Brit Cyril Kenward filed his patent , beating the Devol patent by a few months .
  • 1954, December – Devol's patent filed and granted in 1961. 

[Update 2 Mar 2012 – Pollard's son, Pollard Jr., produced an earlier patent for an automatic spray-painting machine. Filed on 29 Oct  1934, granted on 27 Aug 1940. From an article on parallel robotics by Ilian Bobey in 2003, the patent consists of two parts: (1) an electrical control system and (2) a mechanical manipulator. The control system consists basically of perforated films, the hole density of which is directly proportional to the speed of each motor. The mechanical manipulator, on the other hand, is a parallel robot based on a pantograph actuated by two rotary motors at the base. Pollard Jr.'s patent was eventually issued on June 16, 1942, but, in the meantime, a license was granted to the DeVilbiss company in 1937. In 1941, DeVilbiss, later to become the first industrial robot supplier, completed the first prototype under the direction of Harold Roselund. Roselund's spray painting robot, later patented in 1944, was not a parallel robot and used only the control system proposed by Pollard Jr. ]

Control Unit – photo by Chris Shute.

Above: Detail of Control Unit


The gripper.

All photographs by Peter Haigh – see supersize originals here.

More Meccano Walking Machines & Robots

Meccano model of GE's Walking Truck designed by Hugh Henry.

All legs are completely rotatable in the same direction.

For a complete set of images see the NZ Meccano web site here.  Thanks Antonio Gual for encouraging  Tony Brown (the author of the Modelplan) who found some pictures of Hugh Henry's original.

(Has anyone built this model? I wouldn't mind getting some more pics and possible Youtube clip of this.)

Walking Steam Boat

Above model by Anthony Burkitt.

The Meccano Steam Boat Construction Set is part of popular the Crazy Inventors series of 5 multi model motorised sets.

You can build 3 different unique models with the 363 wood, metal and plastic parts in the Steam Boat Crazy Inventors Erector Set. Included in the set are a legs with suspensions, an anchor with chain, gears, tools and a character. A 6V motor (requires 4 AA batteries -included) allows the vehicle to really walk.

Other Meccano models:

Konkoly Walking Camel by Gary Higgins

See a selection of Konkoly walking models here. Thanks Antonio Gual for the link.

Mechanical Elephant model 1954.

Mechanical Kangaroo – Gravity walker. 1969.

Man learning to walk on a treadmill.

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1965 – Meccano Walking Horse and Chariot – Andreas Konkoly (Hungarian)

Source: Meccano Magazine, March 1965

…Since then, we have featured examples of his skill at fairly regular intervals in the M.M., one model which I personally remember very well being a Walking Horse and Chariot which was described in a 1965 issue. In fact, Mr. Konkoly himself said of this model recently, "Although I later built bigger, or more attractive, or perhaps better models, I nevertheless consider this model the chief work of my Meccano activities". It took him two years to perfect, but I [Ed] remember that the result was well worth the effort.

Source: Mecanno Magazine, June 1972

Image by Charlie Pack.

Model by S. Tokarski.

Model by Chris Shute.

Models by John Hanson, includes the walking Nurse with Pram on the left..

The Horse with mounted Spanish Night.

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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.