Our minds on media.

Musings on the effects of media on cognition.

Dissection: Armatron

Speaking of robots and toys that American consumers buy, I recently pulled out an old Armatron from the garage and thought I’d see if new batteries would get the old boy to activate. No luck, but that warranted further investigation, and what I found, I was really surprised by. DSC00369 As you can see from this photo, this is a pretty complex little device. And two things in particular really wowed me. One, was that as I was disassembling this guy I was keeping close track of what screws were coming out of what sleeves. It was only after a while that I realized that all the screws were of the same width and length. That might sound obvious, but I’ve taken apart an awful lot of things that didn’t have such nearly effecient designs. This one is tight. The casing was so well put together that even after more than a decade (and who knows how many years in dustry attics and garages) there was no dirt inside the gearboxes—the gears were all still lubricated!

Moreover, there’s only one motor! That also might not sound like such a big deal for a toy, but when you consider that this toy has six degrees of freedom (rotate left-right, up-down, left-right elbow, up-down writst, wrist rotate, pinch) then you really have to marvel at the fact that it is all gear driven and all powered by only one motor. If you take a look at the picture on the right, you can see that the motor is the little silver cylinder. That motor turns the whole green tumbler assembly, each section of which is in control of one of the degrees of freedom that I mentioned. The motor essentially never stops turning the whole time the machine is on; instead, the controls (two joysticks on the outside panel) simply release the different sections. That was a surprise to me—that really the controls aren’t “activating” anything, but rather releasing elements of the device.1


Well, hopefully I can get a new motor at Radioshack; it would just be too cool to have it on my desk at school. Picture a cup of pencils, a cup of pens and a cup of candy. Person enters the room. “Excuse me, could I borrow a pencil.” Me, “Why, yes,” Whhrrrrrr whrrrr whhrrrr click whirrr whirrr (ten mintues later) Me, “There you go!” Person, (rolling eyes) “Thanks so much.” Why, people would never borrow writing instruments from me again!

  1. To boot, it’s something that really makes me want to get out my leogs droid kit again! 

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