"Homunculus" Kinetic Robot Sculpture From Found Materials




About: I am a kinetic sculptor who works from found materials.

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Step 1: Collect a Bunch of Junk and Tools

I guess I'm sort of biased here, but I think its important to hoard interesting things.  All of my projects develop out of this habit.  So naturally its the place to begin this instructable. 
I was fortunate enough to have been the Artist in Residence at the San Francisco Dump a few years ago, and have managed to retain the privilege to salvage there.  Scrap yards and second hand stores such as Urban Ore are also frequent sources for materials.
Of course, all these resources would be meaningless without some sort of facility to re-work  them.  My studio has evolved over the years to be just the sort of place to accomplish this.
I use a wide variety of grinders and sanders to clean old material, as well as many hand tools to disassemble these things for parts.  I've come to depend heavily on my collection of wrenches, pliers and screw drivers for this purpose (these links point to Craftsman tools, can you tell I'm entering this instructable in the Crafstman tools contest?). 

In the final images for this step you can see my studio and some of my equipment. The scooter being worked on in one photo was the subject of one of my previous instructables. You can see it here. The same goes for my Praying Mantis sculpture seen in another photo.

Step 2: What to Make?

Starting a project is the hardest part.  For me, it usually begins when I recognize a face or some other life-like feature in an object.  In this case it was an old wooden voltage meter.  Turned up side down, the window formed a pretty good mouth.  Brass keyhole covers made good eyes, and ukelele knobs made perfect teeth.

Step 3: The Head

Having decided I liked the face idea enough, it was time to dig in.  I wanted there to be light coming through the keyholes so LEDs were mounted behind them.  Since there was plenty of room inside I decided to add a motor and a machine that would make the head tilt from side to side.

Step 4: The Body

It was important that this guy be more than just a pretty face.  An old radio tuner, chair legs, and shoe forms made up a torso and legs to support him.
A trip to a scrap yard turned up a bunch of broken wind instruments and I was struck by how they looked like intestines so I set out to make a sort of engine room out of them in the robots belly.

Step 5: Arms

Since there was still a little bit of room available inside the torso I decided to make the arms move as well.  The same motors were used as in the head (4.8 RPM 120 volt).  I machined some little crank attachments to connect to the shoulders.  These were made from the discarded heels from the shoe forms used for the sculptures feet.  I used brass chandelier pieces for the arms.

Step 6: Wiring

One of the things I've learned about making machines like this is that they can be a danger to themselves if left running for extended periods of time.  For this reason I now try to build them with timers so that a viewer can push a button to start them, but not have to remember to turn it off when they are done.  To do this I use a simple timing relay available from several suppliers.  A basic diagram for wiring is attached here.

"Aux" refers to a line out that allows for an additional start button somewhere outside the piece.
"Timer Bypass Switch" is simply a switch that allows you to leave things running without the timer (mostly for demonstration purposes).

You can purchase these timing modules from:
McMaster Carr

Step 7: Presentation

A regrettable fact of the modern age is that a project isn't really finished until it is documented and posted on the internet.  I use a pair of florescent flood lamps and a sheet of seamless white photo backdrop paper to photograph all my finished pieces.  These things are key to helping an object make the transition from the workshop to the computer screen.

I realize that this instructable may have been a bit non-linear and unusual but I hope it was of interest to some of you.  As I implied in the introduction I can't really see anyone duplicating it, but hopefully it can serve as an example of what you can do if you're willing to fill your life with tools and garbage!

If you have any additional questions feel free to leave them in the comments.
Thanks for reading!
Again, you can find me on the web here:
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    19 Discussions


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Such stunning work Nemo. It takes quite a talent to create a working kinetic sculptor that also looks beautiful and stylish. I've just been to the Sharmanka exhibition in the Theatre Museum in Glasgow where the work of Eduard Bersudsky, created in a small bedsit in Stalinist Russia, is now displayed. I love the mad genius of your work!


    8 years ago on Step 7

    This is an awesome project! Do you sell most of the stuff you make? Cause this is an amazing one of a kind project!

    4 replies

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks Miatch. I do make my living (barely) by selling these projects. Its just a matter of matching the right piece with the right person.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Hi, glad you like. My price range is as wide as the range of scale of my projects. From the smallest (8 inches or so tall = $400-$800) up to the largest (8 feet or so tall = $10,000-$25,000). Mechanical complexity and time involved in building are also factors.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Apart from a smashing workshop, (jealous as hell) really love the lathe and Miller! Me thinks when the kids have grown up, there's gonna be some changes.;0) Love the robot...something that can stand on the mantlepiece as a talking point! Don't stop now!

    Great Robot!! I'm very envious of your workshop, you have all the equipment that I am saving up for - well done!


    8 years ago on Introduction

    I love Urban Ore! I get so many ideas from just walking around, although nothing as cool as this. I'm so glad this was featured - I'm enjoying your work quite a bit. Thanks for giving us a peek into the process :)

    1 reply

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    It's funny I sometimes refer to that place as my therapist. If I'm in a foul mood, I can often turn it around just by rummaging through their endless aisles of crap.
    Thanks for the support.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    So fantastic! Your work is wonderful, interesting and amazing and makes me smile :)


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Wow, gorgeous. And the keyhole eyes are remarkably expressive!


    8 years ago on Introduction

    What can I say- it's beautiful. Fantastic design and execution.