[Maker’s Note] AUTOMATA Cam Project

by Yun-Han Lin


Automata means “Automatic Machinery,” usually referring to a machine or mechanism designed to operate automatically without using electricity as a power source. Instead, it features a long shaft inside the model driven via manual winding or rotating shaft manually. The cams, gears, and driven parts are placed on the long shaft to work together in performing a predetermined sequence of operations.

Structure of the Base

  1. The model on the right is for moving up-and-down (upper left of the picture below). Cams of different shapes create different movements and speeds.
  2. The middle one is a one-way rotating movement, featuring a regular circle with its center as the shaft. The friction from the parts rotating underneath drives the figure above to make a one-way rotation. (bottom left of the picture below).
  3. The one on the left is a combination of the first two. Two eccentric circles are assembled where they point in different directions, so they can move up and down as well as left and right at the same time during rotation (bottom right of the picture below).

We expanded the model with a few more modules for different movements (picture below):

  1. The one on the right features movements done through a joint, which can be made using 3 sets of M3 screws.
  2. The middle one adopts simple cam sets that can move up and down. A piece of cloth can be placed under the figure to create a scene where a gopher coming out from the ground.
  3. The one on the left features an axe chopping down, using the moving part to push up the axe.

We worked on a similar model in the life science and technology course in the senior year of high school.

  • Unit 1. Introduction to Cam: Introduction of the names of basic components, along with cams as teaching aids. By doing so, students can have a better idea of the movements created using cams of different shapes.
  • Unit 2: Story and Character Design: Students can learn from Automata works by other artists to see how the stories and the movements can be designed.
  • Module 3: Introduction to laser-cutting.
  • Unit 4: Design: Students start designing their own Automata, with a learning sheet as teaching aids to provide information on the specs of the base, so they have a start for drawing sketches of their model.
  • Unit 5: Teaching and Operating of Adobe Illustrator: Students create vector files of their figures for laser-cutting.
  • Unit 6. Practice: Assembly.


  1. Teaching Adobe Illustrator: It can take quite some time and effort to practice for students who are new to this software. Some schools that do not provide Adobe Illustrator use Inkscape instead.
  2. Gluing.The model in the film was built using super glue to save time. Yet, haste makes waste sometimes, so wood glues are also recommended. The model in the film was then finished using hot melt glue. The good thing is that hot melt glue dries very fast, yet it can be dangerous due to its high temperature.
  3. For primary school students, all these lessons and steps can be simplified.
Left: Super Glue ; Middle: Wood Glue; Right: Hot Melt Glue
The upper left model is the work by a self-learning student group at a primary school, and the right was made using even simpler materials such as cardboard.