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Make a Round-and-Round Automata

By Jackie Valentine, Exhibits Experience Lead at the Fleet Science Center.
When people hear the word “machine” most of us think of some big, complicated contraption with a lot of moving parts clanging about some factory somewhere. But in reality, a machine is an object that takes some force and changes its direction or its magnitude. For instance, you may not believe it, but when you screw the lid onto a jar, that’s a machine! You are twisting the cap in a circle, but that motion pulls the lid down onto the jar. You have taken a twisting force and turned it into a downward force. Or, if you’ve ever played on a teeter-totter as a kid, well,  that’s a machine, too! One side takes a downward force using gravity and turns it into an upward force on the other side just like magic. Wait, is it really magic? No, it’s mechanics!
A fun exploration of simple machines you can do at home is in the form of automata. We often make automata in Studio X at the Fleet, and they’re one of our favorite projects to build. The word automata has two components: “auto” meaning self and “mata” meaning move. This is also where the word automatic stems from. When we build our automata, they technically don’t move all on their own (I mean they’re not alive or something, I don’t think) but if you imagine a hand turning a crank as being similar to a battery powering a motor, then you could probably see how it still makes sense to call them automata.
There’s a lot of different types of automata out there, but this first one takes a vertically spinning force from the crank and turns it into a horizontally spinning force, or two wheels at right angles to each other to make this possible. One wheel’s edge runs on the surface of the other to drive the spinning motion of the round-and-round automata. If you have ever ridden a modern merry-go-round or carousel, you’ve benefited from this kind of simple machine. These rides are driven by a series of this same style of automata! 
Learn how to make your own round-and-round automata by watching our FLEETtv video below. Subscribe to our YouTube Channel for more fun STEAM projects to try at home! 

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