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Mechanics, electronics, robotics or what? Answered

I recently have become fascinated with what makes these moving stuffed toys work; like the Elmos and dogs that wag and walk, etc. I have my own stuffed creatures that I make and have an interest in animating them. But I don't know how to look up a book to start to teach myself. Are this toys considered mechanically powered, or electronically or what? Just what kind of motors are in them? Can I buy these motors? Would it be easy to adapt them to whatever types of movement I would want (according to the critter I was putting it in)? I don't think they would be considered robots; they're much too simple for that. Although I might consider doing something like that in the far off future. But I want to do something simple first; so what can someone recommend book-wise for me to teach myself the workings of these toys?



10 years ago

Toys are depressing. The sort of injection molding equipment most toy manufacturers have makes it really cheap for them to turn out the gears and cams and such that turn a raw electric motor into scale-like motion (slow) of toy-sized parts. But similar parts are expensive to buy (even surplus) and difficult to make with typical hobbyist equipment. It's so bad that its pretty common for people doing BEAM robotics (for example) to dissect toys to find gear motors...

Yes, that's the one suggestion that seems to be the most plausible; to find toys on sale that have the movements I'm looking for and take them apart to use the motors inside. My boyfriend and I saw one of those alligators whose workings are enclosed in a wire mesh this weekend; Mike pointed out to me how the motor was hooked to various points to make the head and tail more. It was a good lesson in the mechanics of how they operate. I can see what you mean about how the manufacturer's can do this stuff so cheap; explains why I don't see this sort of thing done in my field of crafting. But just for that reason, I'm more determined not to give up on my idea. Thanks for your comment!

There was a magazine with an article that install 6 motor to the unit and controlled from the computer, but I don't remember the name of the magazine. If someone know something and help me with the name of the magazine I will be gratefully. The mag was some king of electronics in the 80's. Thank for any help.

I'm beginning to realize my endeavor is more involved that I originally thought; but then that's typical for me. I can't dream up anything simple to do! Plus, I really don't have the knowledge that I should to be tackling this stuff. That's why I was asking for ideas about books that I could learn from. I have some electronics background, but I'm so rusty and probably out dated, it's virtually useless I suppose. I see that a couple of the other guys have suggestions for me; I'll have to check into those. Thanks again for your comments.


10 years ago

Make magazine actually sells a few items which might be useful for a beginning animatronics / mechatronics/ automaton enthusiast. Apart from all the microcontroller stuff (which I'm assuming you don't want to mess with yet), they also sell some cheap motors (4 different types, at $5.50 each), solar kits, etc. Most of this is in their Robotics section

In addition, they also sell a book on Cabaret Mechanical Movement, and a wooden Designing Automata Kit (which seems primarily focused on cam-shaft operated automata - no gears I could see).

There's plenty of more dedicated websites and online stores, but this is not a bad place to get you started.

Oops! I see you gave me a link to the mag! Duh.....sorry. I'm blonde you know. lol!!!

Where might I find "Make" magazine? That book sounds very good, thanks! Guess I can just google the mag and see if I can find it.

Thanks, these sound like good sources for me; I especially like the "Evil Genius" one! LOL!!!

The first thing you need to know is the correct name for them, they are called Automatom. Try the link and try searching the Web for automaton. Google gave 3,250,000 links for automaton so that should keep you busy for awhile;-)


Pat. Pending

Thanks, Patrick! I was trying to search by every word I could think of and wasn't hitting what I wanted. I've heard "automaton" before, but just couldn't bring it up out the dark little crevices of my brain! Your right; that should keep me busy for a bit!

I just noticed a typo on my previous post, the link should have read Automaton, and not Automatom. Cheers, Pat. Pending

I read Goodhart's comment first and was sitting here going "Huh?" and thought he was just making a pun; then I read your note. Notice I didn't even catch it? I spelled it correctly; didn't even phase me. Funny!

I think the different between animatronic and automaton is more one of scale than anything. The difference in cost has to do with the amount of power the system needs to do what it has to do and the level of precision built into the system. If you want to see some how tos on the big stuff, got to Halloweenforum.com and browse through their props section. There are some amazing things being done over there. The other place the cheap comes from is economy of scale. You and I can't hope to compete with a factory using custom circuitry that they buy in 10,000 unit lots.

Another thought, wouldn't it freak others out if there was a noise, or voice emanating from said object ? This might be the start of such a thing: ZeroToys Voice Changer

A book on animatronics would be handy. I took a class on that a few years ago, but I think I just threw out all my notes. If I find them, I'll tell you a couple good books. Anyhow, yeah you can buy the motors. You can make a framework out of erectorset parts and put on R/C helicopter motors, but it's not a cheap hobby. On the plus side, you can create an animatronic toy and usually sell it on Ebay for a nice profit!

But even that sounds more technical than what I'm looking for. What is it they put in these small toys; can't be anything too complicated when the toy only sells for $15-20. I was in a store Sunday and playing with one of those Elmo dolls that flap it's arms and legs and doing the "what if" in my head:thinking of how I could use the internal workings in one of my critters(I was thinking of buying one and bringing it home and bisecting it but I'm afraid of the Save Elmo Police!) So this is where my education desire comes in. I want to learn what makes these small toys tick. If I know how the motors work, then I can design my creatures around them. So now what is the difference between animatronic and automaton? My guess is the first deals more with electronics and the second is more mechanically driven? Patrick sent me an excellent page on the automaton. I suppose I should go to the same source and look up animatronics.

The simplest form of these I have ever seen is the "raccoon in a bag" toy. A fake tail hangs out of a bag, and a motor with an off center flywheel of sorts, makes it flop around on the ground like an animal is trapped in the bag.