Making wire automata, kinetic contraptions made of copper wire, is one of the activities we did at Open MAKE: Toys this month. Following the last year's Open MAKE: Metal, this was the second time that we tried this activity with visitors.
This time, as a part of our activity we provided jigs for creating automata frames. Do you see the line on the block?
Visitors choose a jig and put wire along the line to make a frame structure like this.
Providing the jigs definitely helps visitors to get started making their wire contraptions. Also, while visitors work with the jigs, they become used to bending wire and using new tools such as pliers and soldering pens.
What I liked about this activity is that parents also spent a long time at the workshop table with us. Some parents helped their kids making the wire contraptions, and others worked parallel to the kids making their own. In both cases, the highlights were to see the moments that their wire contraptions worked for the first time. Once they saw their automata mechanism working, they started making figures or objects to give motions.
Interestingly, the motions could be changed dramatically depending on many factors such as the radius of the crankshaft, the weight of the object, the length of the rod, the distance between the crankshaft and the anchor point, etc., so continuous tweaking was also necessary to keep the mechanism working. Visitors spent about one hour and a half to finish their projects and all seemed to be very happy with their creations: new toys!
Here are some examples of visitor's creations at Open MAKE.
You can see the movements vary depending on the directions of the shaft, though they all used the same shape of crank.
What I REALLY enjoyed while doing this activity was seeing unique structures that visitors came up with, without using our jigs. Walter’s friend, Siobhan, started drawing a sketch on the table and spent some time for her own design. A while later, I got really excited with what she was holding in her hands.
Here is the video of her wire flower blooming.
Running out of time, her exploration with the flower blooming mechanism ended there, but I hope her project will continue even after Open MAKE. As a facilitator, it was really exciting to see her attempts. Due to the complexity of automata, providing jigs is one way to do the activity, but it tends to be step-by-step and people might end up finishing their projects by just following the steps. I would like to experiment more doing activities with or without jigs.