Interactive Automaton


For the final project I would like to mainly experiment with the CNC router and the 3D printer by first designing the elements digitally on maya and illustrator. I choose making an automaton since it requires sophisticated mechanical parts that can be done by those machines. Plus I really want an automaton and would love to take this chance to study more about mechanisms.


Karakuri Ningyos (からくり人形) were invented during the Edo Period in Japan. Only using energy provided by the main spring, the automaton dolls can perform a diverse range of tasks such as doing acrobatics or shooting arrows. One of the most well-known species is called “Cha Hakobi Ningyo”, or tea-serving doll. Unlike other performative automatons, the tea-serving doll is more interactive since it actually brings tea to the customer! A Cha Hakobi Ningyo does the following things after the mainspring is rewinded:

  1. Starts walking (wheels start spinning) as the master puts the tea cup on the plate it holds with hands (which is the trigger for it to start and stop)
  2. Nodding as it goes
  3. Stops when the customer takes the tea cup
  4. As the customer puts the tea cup back on the plate after finishing the tea, starts walking again and makes a U-turn
  5. Returns back to the original position (where the master is)



I might make slight adjustments to the original model since the parts will be constructed by the 3D printer and the CNC machine. I would also like to change the design of the character (originally as a Japanese boy servant) to make it fit in the modern context. I have not made up my mind yet, but it might be a secretary who is made to serve coffee in the company or a robot that carries stuff back and forth.

For the last couple of days I have been researching on the mechanisms behind the piece since it seems very complicated. After looking through many DIY projects online and the reference photos, I have a better understanding what is going on in the piece. I will start modeling the automaton in maya and keep this post updated as I go.

Materials: Wood, MDF, CNC machine, 3D printer, wood glue, mainspring, strings, fabric.




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