Paper automata are paper models with parts that move using basic mechanisms like gears, cams, and levers. An example would be a flying pig that flaps its wings when you turn a crank, or a monkey that climbs a tree when you press on a handle.
These paper models are made often made from light cardboard, and require precision in cutting, folding, gluing, and assembling. Tools and supplies are very basic: sharp scissors, craft knife, cutting mat, straight edge, white glue and, depending on the project, ordinary household items like wooden dowels, bamboo skewers, drinking straws, and string. You'll need a bit of patience too, but the results are worth it!
Templates of paper automata are available as printable downloads, cut-out kits, or punch-out books. The more engineering-inclined among you can also start by making working models of the mechanisms themselves, and later on advance to designing your own automata.
Below are some websites on paper automata:
Here you'll find paper automata and models by Giuseppe (Pino) Civitarese that you can download for free. These are available as print-ready, full color PDFs with instructions in Italian and English. A wonderful site if you'd like to try your hand at paper automata without spending.
Canon Creative Park
Lots of kid-friendly, free paper automata here, alongside several other printable paper craft projects. Examples include a drum-playing monkey, a carousel with horses that move up and down as they turn, and a seagull sailor that rows a boat.
A must-visit site for anyone interested in paper automata. Projects – both mechanisms and full automata – are available for download for a small fee, but annual memberships that save you money in the long run are offered as well. A few projects are free to download.
The workshop has a section on mechanisms, which explains how the various mechanisms work and what they're used for, as well as a section on tools, techniques and a look at how a simple paper automaton is designed from start to finish. Resources for educators are also available.
This is a sister site of www.robives.com, and sells printed paper automata kits that are ready to for you to pop out, fold and glue.
Dragons, knights, and a group of spectators in a Wimbledon match are just some of the kits available, which you can order via email. A section on mechanics discusses the science behind automata, while a gallery links to several sites that feature paper automata.
Cool 4 Cats
An online store that specializes in paper automata kits. To date, nineteen models are available, including a cup of tea that stirs by itself, a tightrope unicycling cat, a swimming mermaid, and a skeleton that lifts up a coffin lid.
Paper Automatons by Peter Markey
Optical Toys sells, among other things, paper automatons by Peter Markey. These are cut-out kits, many of them inspired by sports.