Apple engineer constructs a drawing machine out of Lego

apple engineer constructs drawing machine lego

During the day, Andrew Carol works on software code for Apple; during the weekends and the holidays, he fills his time with complicated Lego creations. Having already remodelled an ancient Greek computer and a Babbage Difference Engine using the multi-colored blocks, he’s now unveiled a contraption that can output simple drawings and messages using felt-tip pens.

According to Carol, the automatons in Martin Scorsese’s 2011 movie Hugo were the inspiration for his latest project. “Walking out of the theater, my mind was spinning with ideas,” he told Co.Design. After an original prototype mechanism had been gathering dust for a year, Carol used the Thanksgiving holiday to work on a full-scale model and bring his idea to life.

Like all of the engineer’s Lego constructions, the drawing automaton doesn’t use computers, motors or electronics. It’s powered by hand using a simple crank mechanism, and designs are loaded into the machine via a long chain of blocks that tell the pen when to move up, down, left and right. Paper must be fed backwards and forwards several times to complete one drawing.

“The Automaton is composed of three main elements,” writes Carol on the project’s website. “The plotter which moves the pen and paper to actually write the message, the encoded pen stroke program stored on a series of ‘chains’, and the reader which decodes the program chain into the required pen strokes for the plotter.”

As you can see from the accompanying YouTube video, the process is quite a slow one, but kudos to Carol for creating such a complicated bit of machinery from such simple raw materials.