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A two month long project that fulfills an 8 year long quest to know once and for all what the original writing instrument was for the famous Maillardet Automaton, which is housed at the Franklin Institute here in Philadelphia. The machine was created in the 1790's, almost certainly as a collaboration between the shops of Jaquet-Droz and Maillardet ~ with the majority of the mechanism designed and manufactured under Jaquet-Droz and the programming (a very large bank of 3-axis cams) created by Maillardet. The automaton is essentially an elaborate 3 dimensional pantograph, and so I use a simple 2-D pantograph in a proof of concept project to replicate the way the Maillardet Automaton originally made its elaborate renderings with very high crisp detail using varying line widths. I conclude this one as Q.E.D. - Quod Erat Demonstrandum!
My original blog "Reverse Engineering the Maillardet Automaton" - #reversemakeup
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By Fran

15 thoughts on “Solving the mystery of the maillardet automaton”
  1. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars tweetyericsson says:

    This thing is unreal

  2. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars Greg Ewing says:

    Do they have any plans to get the machine working again? It would be great to have it restored to its full original capabilities.

  3. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars ken phillips says:


  4. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars BixbyConsequence says:

    Nice to see you go all-in on this.

  5. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars EEVblog2 says:

    WOW! This is amazing! Great work Fran.

  6. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars Gregory McCoy says:

    I appear to have fully 9% of your skill… 🤔

  7. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars Andy E says:

    Nice video. I've a few brush pens from when I tried to learn a bit of calligraphy and they are very versatile.

    The stencil you made was the biggest issue I expect.

    At one company I worked at (the first in fact) The control panels of the various products were all engraved on a pantograph, a good deal larger than your little unit.

    All the stencils, letters and so on were made from brass, and were very well finished. That was most of the trick to getting good results, the stylus was super hard and very highly polished. For the most part the Z axis was fixed, but it was controllable by a handwheel on the top of the stylus, for when some depthg control was needed.

    A CNC router, not the woodworking things you used, but one intended for engraving would have made life easier. Many people have used these to make routed type PCB's and the width of the line is set by the depth of cut, and the shape of the bit. If you don't have such a machine they are worth looking at. The small units are not very expensive.

    Without that I would have tried an actual PCB, scan the artwork and tidy it up, convert to gerbers, then have a board made using 2oz copper, That would give you some easy to follow paths with the stylus.

  8. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars Eric Fielding says:

    Very interesting project well presented.

  9. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars boscorner says:

    I love seeing obsessive passion projects like this. Another absolutely fantastic video from fran

  10. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars Hans Imglück says:

    oh yeahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh !!!

  11. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars jts3339 says:

    Fascinating. One of your best videos ever!

  12. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars AgentOrange96 says:

    With a more sophisticated CNC system, it might be possible to adjust the depth of the pantograph template to control the Z height. This would be similar to the grooves in a record that encode both left and right channels. This would require programming in the line width and using some sophisticated coding probably to turn that into a height level. So it'd not be super simple.

  13. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars Joe Olejar says:

    My brain kept asking if a pen could be connected to a 3D printer head. I told it to shut up and enjoy the precision you were able to achieve.

  14. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars Scott from Baltimore says:

    What Edison said about genius holds true here!

  15. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars Normalized Audio says:

    Franklin is so lucky to have Fran.

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