Here’s what happens when a Steampunk vision meets LEGO geekery: An elaborate machine full of gears that automatically writes and draws to your specifications. Just turn the crank.
This hand-cranked automaton is the brainchild of Apple engineer and LEGO enthusiast Andrew Carol, whose complex machine can write messages or draw simple pictures with a colored pen. Carol was inspired to create it after watching the movie “Hugo,” which featured a mysterious automaton, John Pavlus reported on Co.Design.
If you’re looking for fast functionality, this isn’t it. The machine doesn’t use computers, motors or electronics, Carol explained on his website. Instead, programming is stored on a series of LEGO “chains.” A narrow chain link means “true” or “do something” and a wide link means “false” or “do nothing.” Those chains are read using a reciprocating fork mechanism and decoded into pen strokes for the plotter.
Conveying a message or completing a doodle takes a while but the automaton isn’t quite as ridiculous as a Rube Goldberg machine. It’s not intentionally arduous, just slow.
“In a certain sense, I’m trying to make machines as they might have rationally been approached in 1880 if LEGO was more available than custom metal parts,” Carol told Pavlus. This is just the latest in his wild machines made from the plastic bricks. The guy made an eclipse predictor and a 19th Century automatic mechanical calculator called the Babbage difference engine from LEGOs, too.
What brick enthusiast doesn’t already kind of live in alternate LEGO universe? Carol is exploring what inventors of the past might have invented using the toys, with a little nudge from Martin Scorsese. Imagine Da Vinci getting his hands on some bricks. His drawings certainly would have been more colorful.