Auto-what? Teaching Mechanical Aptitude

MAKE: Magazine’s store offers a Designing Automata Kit for $59.95. The kit comes with “everything you see here!” (at right).


Automata (n): The plural of automaton, self-operating machines or mechanisms.

The kits include shaped and drilled wood pieces that are fit together with dowels. No glue or tools required. The automata you build here are cam-operated toys. Turn a knob, and a part bobs up and down, seemingly animated.

I like the Designing Automata Kit because it’s reusable and “cut right”. Having pieces that are cut and drilled to sizes that work together is especially important to simply making the project work.

My classes have experience with automata: two years ago, my 8th graders built cam-operated toys while studying engineering (National Engineers Week is Feb. 17-23, 2008). The results suffered from our lack of quality materials. We were working with discarded items such as screw-on bottle caps, cardboard, and straws. Nothing fit quite right, so my students’ toys had a herkey-jerkey character to them. One kit per pair of students would be an awesome addition to my engineering week repertoire.

This kit is going on my Hanukkah wish list!

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2 thoughts on “Auto-what? Teaching Mechanical Aptitude

  1. Wait a minute! I had these as toys when I was a kid (in the early 60s). I can’t remember the name. hmmmm

  2. Kinda looks like an Erector set, doesn’t it? I would love to unleash a set of these on my youngest students (4th grade) and just watch them play.

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