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An automaton is a self-operating machine. The word is sometimes used to describe a robot
A robot is a mechanical or virtual intelligent agent that can perform tasks automatically or with guidance, typically by remote control. In practice a robot is usually an electro-mechanical machine that is guided by computer and electronic programming. Robots can be autonomous, semi-autonomous or...

, more specifically an autonomous robot
Autonomous robot
Autonomous robots are robots that can perform desired tasks in unstructured environments without continuous human guidance. Many kinds of robots have some degree of autonomy. Different robots can be autonomous in different ways...

. An alternative spelling, now obsolete, is automation.


The word Automaton is the latinization of the Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

 ,... automaton, (neuter) “acting of one’s own will”. It is more often used to describe non-electronic moving machines, especially those that have been made to resemble human or animal actions, such as the jacks on old public striking clock
A clock is an instrument used to indicate, keep, and co-ordinate time. The word clock is derived ultimately from the Celtic words clagan and clocca meaning "bell". A silent instrument missing such a mechanism has traditionally been known as a timepiece...

s, or the cuckoo
The cuckoos are a family, Cuculidae, of near passerine birds. The order Cuculiformes, in addition to the cuckoos, also includes the turacos . Some zoologists and taxonomists have also included the unique Hoatzin in the Cuculiformes, but its taxonomy remains in dispute...

 and any other animated figures on a cuckoo clock
Cuckoo clock
A cuckoo clock is a clock, typically pendulum-regulated, that strikes the hours with a sound like a common cuckoo's call and typically has a mechanical cuckoo that emerges with each note...


Ancient automata

The automata in the Hellenistic world
Hellenistic civilization
Hellenistic civilization represents the zenith of Greek influence in the ancient world from 323 BCE to about 146 BCE...

 were intended as toys, religious idols, or tools for demonstrating basic scientific principles, including those built by Greek
Greek mathematics
Greek mathematics, as that term is used in this article, is the mathematics written in Greek, developed from the 7th century BC to the 4th century AD around the Eastern shores of the Mediterranean. Greek mathematicians lived in cities spread over the entire Eastern Mediterranean, from Italy to...

 mathematician Hero of Alexandria
Hero of Alexandria
Hero of Alexandria was an ancient Greek mathematician and engineerEnc. Britannica 2007, "Heron of Alexandria" who was active in his native city of Alexandria, Roman Egypt...

 (sometimes known as Heron). When his writings on hydraulics
Hydraulics is a topic in applied science and engineering dealing with the mechanical properties of liquids. Fluid mechanics provides the theoretical foundation for hydraulics, which focuses on the engineering uses of fluid properties. In fluid power, hydraulics is used for the generation, control,...

, pneumatics
Pneumatics is a branch of technology, which deals with the study and application of use of pressurized gas to effect mechanical motion.Pneumatic systems are extensively used in industry, where factories are commonly plumbed with compressed air or compressed inert gases...

, and mechanics
Mechanics is the branch of physics concerned with the behavior of physical bodies when subjected to forces or displacements, and the subsequent effects of the bodies on their environment....

 were translated into Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 in the sixteenth century, Hero’s readers initiated reconstruction of his machines, which included siphon
The word siphon is sometimes used to refer to a wide variety of devices that involve the flow of liquids through tubes. But in the English language today, the word siphon usually refers to a tube in an inverted U shape which causes a liquid to flow uphill, above the surface of the reservoir,...

s, a fire engine
Fire apparatus
A fire apparatus, fire engine, fire truck, or fire appliance is a vehicle designed to assist in fighting fires by transporting firefighters to the scene and providing them with access to the fire, along with water or other equipment...

, a water organ
Water organ
The water organ or hydraulic organ is a type of pipe organ blown by air, where the power source pushing the air is derived by water from a natural source or by a manual pump...

, the aeolipile
An aeolipile , also known as a Hero engine, is a rocket style jet engine which spins when heated. In the 1st century AD, Hero of Alexandria described the device, and many sources give him the credit for its invention.The aeolipile Hero described is considered to be the first recorded steam engine...

, and a programmable cart.

Complex mechanical devices are known to have existed in ancient Greece
Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece is a civilization belonging to a period of Greek history that lasted from the Archaic period of the 8th to 6th centuries BC to the end of antiquity. Immediately following this period was the beginning of the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine era. Included in Ancient Greece is the...

, though the only surviving example is the Antikythera mechanism
Antikythera mechanism
The Antikythera mechanism is an ancient mechanical computer designed to calculate astronomical positions. It was recovered in 1900–1901 from the Antikythera wreck. Its significance and complexity were not understood until decades later. Its time of construction is now estimated between 150 and 100...

. It is thought to have come originally from Rhodes
Rhodes is an island in Greece, located in the eastern Aegean Sea. It is the largest of the Dodecanese islands in terms of both land area and population, with a population of 117,007, and also the island group's historical capital. Administratively the island forms a separate municipality within...

, where there was apparently a tradition of mechanical engineering; the island was renowned for its automata; to quote Pindar
Pindar , was an Ancient Greek lyric poet. Of the canonical nine lyric poets of ancient Greece, his work is the best preserved. Quintilian described him as "by far the greatest of the nine lyric poets, in virtue of his inspired magnificence, the beauty of his thoughts and figures, the rich...

's seventh Olympic Ode:
The animated figures stand
Adorning every public street
And seem to breathe in stone, or
move their marble feet.

However, the information gleaned from recent scans of the fragments indicate that it may have come from the colonies of Corinth
Corinth is a city and former municipality in Corinthia, Peloponnese, Greece. Since the 2011 local government reform it is part of the municipality Corinth, of which it is the seat and a municipal unit...

 in Sicily
Sicily is a region of Italy, and is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. Along with the surrounding minor islands, it constitutes an autonomous region of Italy, the Regione Autonoma Siciliana Sicily has a rich and unique culture, especially with regard to the arts, music, literature,...

 and implies a connection with Archimedes
Archimedes of Syracuse was a Greek mathematician, physicist, engineer, inventor, and astronomer. Although few details of his life are known, he is regarded as one of the leading scientists in classical antiquity. Among his advances in physics are the foundations of hydrostatics, statics and an...


There are also examples from myth: Daedalus
In Greek mythology, Daedalus was a skillful craftsman and artisan.-Family:...

 used quicksilver
Mercury (element)
Mercury is a chemical element with the symbol Hg and atomic number 80. It is also known as quicksilver or hydrargyrum...

 to install a voice in his statues. Hephaestus
Hephaestus was a Greek god whose Roman equivalent was Vulcan. He is the son of Zeus and Hera, the King and Queen of the Gods - or else, according to some accounts, of Hera alone. He was the god of technology, blacksmiths, craftsmen, artisans, sculptors, metals, metallurgy, fire and volcanoes...

 created automata for his workshop: Talos
In Greek mythology, Talos or Talon was a giant man of bronze who protected Europa in Crete from pirates and invaders by circling the island's shores three times daily while guarding it.- History :...

, an artificial man of bronze, and, according to Hesiod
Hesiod was a Greek oral poet generally thought by scholars to have been active between 750 and 650 BC, around the same time as Homer. His is the first European poetry in which the poet regards himself as a topic, an individual with a distinctive role to play. Ancient authors credited him and...

, the woman Pandora
In Greek mythology, Pandora was the first woman. As Hesiod related it, each god helped create her by giving her unique gifts...


According to Jewish tradition
Judaism ) is the "religion, philosophy, and way of life" of the Jewish people...

, Solomon
Solomon , according to the Book of Kings and the Book of Chronicles, a King of Israel and according to the Talmud one of the 48 prophets, is identified as the son of David, also called Jedidiah in 2 Samuel 12:25, and is described as the third king of the United Monarchy, and the final king before...

 used his wisdom to design a throne with mechanical animals which hailed him as king when he ascended it; upon sitting down an eagle would place a crown upon his head, and a dove would bring him a Torah
Torah- A scroll containing the first five books of the BibleThe Torah , is name given by Jews to the first five books of the bible—Genesis , Exodus , Leviticus , Numbers and Deuteronomy Torah- A scroll containing the first five books of the BibleThe Torah , is name given by Jews to the first five...

 scroll. It's also said that when King Solomon stepped upon the throne, a mechanism was set in motion. As soon as he stepped upon the first step, a golden ox and a golden lion each stretched out one foot to support him and help him rise to the next step. On each side, the animals helped the King up until he was comfortably seated upon the throne.

In ancient China, a curious account on automata is found in the Lie Zi text, written in the 3rd century BC. Within it there is a description of a much earlier encounter between King Mu of Zhou
King Mu of Zhou
King Mu of Zhou or King Mu of Chou or Mu Wang or Mu Wang was the fifth sovereign of the Chinese Zhou Dynasty. The dates of his reign are 976-922 BC or 956-918 BC.-Life:...

 (1023-957 BC) and a mechanical engineer known as Yan Shi, an 'artificer'. The latter proudly presented the king with a life-size, human-shaped figure of his mechanical handiwork (Wade-Giles
Wade–Giles , sometimes abbreviated Wade, is a romanization system for the Mandarin Chinese language. It developed from a system produced by Thomas Wade during the mid-19th century , and was given completed form with Herbert Giles' Chinese–English dictionary of 1892.Wade–Giles was the most...


The king stared at the figure in astonishment. It walked with rapid strides, moving its head up and down, so that anyone would have taken it for a live human being. The artificer touched its chin, and it began singing, perfectly in tune. He touched its hand, and it began posturing, keeping perfect time...As the performance was drawing to an end, the robot winked its eye and made advances to the ladies in attendance, whereupon the king became incensed and would have had Yen Shih [Yan Shi] executed on the spot had not the latter, in mortal fear, instantly taken the robot to pieces to let him see what it really was. And, indeed, it turned out to be only a construction of leather, wood, glue and lacquer, variously coloured white, black, red and blue. Examining it closely, the king found all the internal organs complete—liver, gall, heart, lungs, spleen, kidneys, stomach and intestines; and over these again, muscles, bones and limbs with their joints, skin, teeth and hair, all of them artificial...The king tried the effect of taking away the heart, and found that the mouth could no longer speak; he took away the liver and the eyes could no longer see; he took away the kidneys and the legs lost their power of locomotion. The king was delighted.

Other notable examples of automata include Archytas
Archytas was an Ancient Greek philosopher, mathematician, astronomer, statesman, and strategist. He was a scientist of the Pythagorean school and famous for being the reputed founder of mathematical mechanics, as well as a good friend of Plato....

's dove, mentioned by Aulus Gellius
Aulus Gellius
Aulus Gellius , was a Latin author and grammarian, who was probably born and certainly brought up in Rome. He was educated in Athens, after which he returned to Rome, where he held a judicial office...

. Similar Chinese accounts of flying automata are written of the 5th century BC Mohist
Mohism or Moism was a Chinese philosophy developed by the followers of Mozi , 470 BC–c.391 BC...

 philosopher Mozi
Mozi |Lat.]] as Micius, ca. 470 BC – ca. 391 BC), original name Mo Di , was a Chinese philosopher during the Hundred Schools of Thought period . Born in Tengzhou, Shandong Province, China, he founded the school of Mohism, and argued strongly against Confucianism and Daoism...

 and his contemporary Lu Ban
Lu Ban
Lu Ban was a Chinese carpenter, engineer, philosopher, inventor, military thinker, statesman and contemporary of Mozi, born in the State of Lu, and is the patron Saint of Chinese builders and contractors. He was born in a renowned family during the Spring and Autumn Period when China was...

, who made artificial wooden birds (ma yuan) that could successfully fly according to the Han Fei Zi and other texts.

Medieval automata

In the mid-8th century, the first wind power
Wind power
Wind power is the conversion of wind energy into a useful form of energy, such as using wind turbines to make electricity, windmills for mechanical power, windpumps for water pumping or drainage, or sails to propel ships....

ed automata were built: "statues that turned with the wind over the domes of the four gates and the palace complex of the Round City of Baghdad
Baghdad is the capital of Iraq, as well as the coterminous Baghdad Governorate. The population of Baghdad in 2011 is approximately 7,216,040...

". The "public spectacle of wind-powered statues had its private counterpart in the 'Abbasid
The Abbasid Caliphate or, more simply, the Abbasids , was the third of the Islamic caliphates. It was ruled by the Abbasid dynasty of caliphs, who built their capital in Baghdad after overthrowing the Umayyad caliphate from all but the al-Andalus region....

 palaces where automata of various types were predominantly displayed." Also in the 8th century, the Muslim alchemist
Alchemy and chemistry in medieval Islam
Alchemy and chemistry in Islam refers to the study of both traditional alchemy and early practical chemistry by scholars in the medieval Islamic world. The word alchemy was derived from the Arabic word كيمياء or kīmīāʾ...

, Jābir ibn Hayyān (Geber), included recipes for constructing artificial snake
Snakes are elongate, legless, carnivorous reptiles of the suborder Serpentes that can be distinguished from legless lizards by their lack of eyelids and external ears. Like all squamates, snakes are ectothermic, amniote vertebrates covered in overlapping scales...

s, scorpion
Scorpions are predatory arthropod animals of the order Scorpiones within the class Arachnida. They have eight legs and are easily recognized by the pair of grasping claws and the narrow, segmented tail, often carried in a characteristic forward curve over the back, ending with a venomous stinger...

s, and human
Humans are the only living species in the Homo genus...

s which would be subject to their creator's control in his coded Book of Stones. In 827, Caliph
The Caliph is the head of state in a Caliphate, and the title for the ruler of the Islamic Ummah, an Islamic community ruled by the Shari'ah. It is a transcribed version of the Arabic word   which means "successor" or "representative"...

Abū Jaʿfar Abdullāh al-Māʾmūn ibn Harūn was an Abbasid caliph who reigned from 813 until his death in 833...

 had a silver and golden tree in his palace in Baghdad
Baghdad is the capital of Iraq, as well as the coterminous Baghdad Governorate. The population of Baghdad in 2011 is approximately 7,216,040...

, which had the features of an automatic machine. There were metal birds that sang automatically on the swinging branches of this tree built by Muslim inventors and engineers at the time. The Abbasid Caliph Al-Muqtadir
Al-Muqtadir was the Abbasid Caliph in Baghdad from 908 AD to 932 AD .After the previous Caliph, al-Muktafi, was confined for several months to his sick-bed, intrigue was made for some time as to his successor...

 also had a golden tree in his palace in Baghdad in 915, with birds on it flapping their wings and singing. In the 9th century, the Banū Mūsā
Banu Musa
The Banū Mūsā brothers , namely Abū Jaʿfar Muḥammad ibn Mūsā ibn Shākir , Abū al‐Qāsim Aḥmad ibn Mūsā ibn Shākir and Al-Ḥasan ibn Mūsā ibn Shākir , were three 9th-century Persian scholars of Baghdad who are known for their Book of Ingenious Devices on automata and mechanical devices...

 brothers invented a programmable
Program (machine)
A program is a list of instructions written in a programming language that is used to control the behavior of a machine, often a computer ....

 automatic flute
The flute is a musical instrument of the woodwind family. Unlike woodwind instruments with reeds, a flute is an aerophone or reedless wind instrument that produces its sound from the flow of air across an opening...

 player and which they described in their Book of Ingenious Devices
Book of Ingenious Devices
The Book of Ingenious Devices was a large illustrated work on mechanical devices, including automata, published in 850 by the three Persian brothers known as the Banu Musa working at the House of Wisdom in Baghdad, Iraq, under the Abbasid Caliphate...


Abū al-'Iz Ibn Ismā'īl ibn al-Razāz al-Jazarī was a Muslim polymath: a scholar, inventor, mechanical engineer, craftsman, artist, mathematician and astronomer from Al-Jazira, Mesopotamia, who lived during the Islamic Golden Age...

 described complex programmable humanoid automata
Humanoid robot
A humanoid robot or an anthropomorphic robot is a robot with its overall appearance, based on that of the human body, allowing interaction with made-for-human tools or environments. In general humanoid robots have a torso with a head, two arms and two legs, although some forms of humanoid robots...

 amongst other machines he designed and constructed in the “Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices” in 1206. His automaton was a boat with four automatic musicians that floated on a lake to entertain guests at royal drinking parties. His mechanism
Mechanism (engineering)
A mechanism is a device designed to transform input forces and movement into a desired set of output forces and movement. Mechanisms generally consist of moving components such as gears and gear trains, belt and chain drives, cam and follower mechanisms, and linkages as well as friction devices...

 had a programmable drum machine with pegs (cam
A cam is a rotating or sliding piece in a mechanical linkage used especially in transforming rotary motion into linear motion or vice-versa. It is often a part of a rotating wheel or shaft that strikes a lever at one or more points on its circular path...

s) that bump into little lever
In physics, a lever is a rigid object that is used with an appropriate fulcrum or pivot point to either multiply the mechanical force that can be applied to another object or resistance force , or multiply the distance and speed at which the opposite end of the rigid object travels.This leverage...

s that operate the percussion
Percussion instrument
A percussion instrument is any object which produces a sound when hit with an implement or when it is shaken, rubbed, scraped, or otherwise acted upon in a way that sets the object into vibration...

. The drummer could be made to play different rhythms and different drum patterns if the pegs were moved around. According to Charles B. Fowler, the automata were a "robot band
Musical ensemble
A musical ensemble is a group of people who perform instrumental or vocal music. In classical music, trios or quartets either blend the sounds of musical instrument families or group together instruments from the same instrument family, such as string ensembles or wind ensembles...

" which performed "more than fifty facial and body actions during each musical selection."

Al-Jazari also constructed a hand washing
Hand washing
Hand washing for hand hygiene is the act of cleaning the hands with or without the use of water or another liquid, or with the use of soap, for the purpose of removing soil, dirt, and/or microorganisms....

 automaton first employing the flush mechanism now used in modern flush toilet
Flush toilet
A flush toilet is a toilet that disposes of human waste by using water to flush it through a drainpipe to another location. Flushing mechanisms are found more often on western toilets , but many squat toilets also are made for automated flushing...

s. It features a female automaton standing by a basin
A sink is a bowl-shaped plumbing fixture used for washing hands, for dishwashing or other purposes. Sinks generally have taps that supply hot and cold water and may include a spray feature to be used for faster rinsing...

 filled with water. When the user pulls the lever, the water drains and the female automaton refills the basin. His "peacock fountain" was another more sophisticated hand washing device featuring humanoid automata as servant
Domestic worker
A domestic worker is a man, woman or child who works within the employer's household. Domestic workers perform a variety of household services for an individual or a family, from providing care for children and elderly dependents to cleaning and household maintenance, known as housekeeping...

s which offer soap
In chemistry, soap is a salt of a fatty acid.IUPAC. "" Compendium of Chemical Terminology, 2nd ed. . Compiled by A. D. McNaught and A. Wilkinson. Blackwell Scientific Publications, Oxford . XML on-line corrected version: created by M. Nic, J. Jirat, B. Kosata; updates compiled by A. Jenkins. ISBN...

 and towel
A towel is a piece of absorbent fabric or paper used for drying or wiping. It draws moisture through direct contact, often using a blotting or a rubbing motion. Common household textile towels are made from cotton, rayon, bamboo, nonwoven fibers or a few other materials.-Types of towels:* A bath...

s. Mark E. Rosheim describes it as follows: "Pulling a plug on the peacock's tail releases water out of the beak; as the dirty water from the basin fills the hollow base a float rises and actuates a linkage
Linkage (mechanical)
A mechanical linkage is an assembly of bodies connected together to manage forces and movement. The movement of a body, or link, is studied using geometry so the link is considered to be rigid. The connections between links are modeled as providing ideal movement, pure rotation or sliding for...

 which makes a servant figure appear from behind a door under the peacock and offer soap. When more water is used, a second float at a higher level trips and causes the appearance of a second servant figure — with a towel!" Al-Jazari thus appears to have been the first inventor to display an interest in creating human-like machines for practical purposes such as manipulating the environment for human comfort.

Villard de Honnecourt
Villard de Honnecourt
Villard de Honnecourt was a 13th-century artist from Picardy in northern France. He is known to history only through a surviving portfolio of 33 sheets of parchment containing about 250 drawings dating from the 1220s/1240s, now in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris...

, in his 1230s sketchbook, show plans for animal automata and an angel that perpetually turns to face the sun.

The Chinese author Xiao Xun wrote that when the Ming Dynasty
Ming Dynasty
The Ming Dynasty, also Empire of the Great Ming, was the ruling dynasty of China from 1368 to 1644, following the collapse of the Mongol-led Yuan Dynasty. The Ming, "one of the greatest eras of orderly government and social stability in human history", was the last dynasty in China ruled by ethnic...

 founder Hongwu
Hongwu Emperor
The Hongwu Emperor , known variably by his given name Zhu Yuanzhang and by his temple name Taizu of Ming , was the founder and first emperor of the Ming Dynasty of China...

 (r. 1368–1398) was destroying the palaces of Khanbaliq
Khanbaliq or Dadu refers to a city which is now Beijing, the current capital of the People's Republic of China...

 belonging to the previous Yuan Dynasty
Yuan Dynasty
The Yuan Dynasty , or Great Yuan Empire was a ruling dynasty founded by the Mongol leader Kublai Khan, who ruled most of present-day China, all of modern Mongolia and its surrounding areas, lasting officially from 1271 to 1368. It is considered both as a division of the Mongol Empire and as an...

, there were—amongst many other mechanical devices—automatons found that were in the shape of tigers.

Renaissance and Early Modern automata

The Renaissance
The Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned roughly the 14th to the 17th century, beginning in Italy in the Late Middle Ages and later spreading to the rest of Europe. The term is also used more loosely to refer to the historical era, but since the changes of the Renaissance were not...

 witnessed a considerable revival of interest in automata. Hero's treatises were edited and translated into Latin and Italian. Giovanni Fontana
Giovanni Fontana (engineer)
Giovanni Fontana was a fifteenth-century Venetian physician and engineer who portrayed himself as a magus. He was born in Venice in the 1390s and attended the University of Pauda, where he received a his degree in arts in 1418 and his degree in medicine in 1421. University records list him as...

 created mechanical devils and rocket-propelled animal automata. Numerous clockwork automata were manufactured in the 16th century, principally by the goldsmiths of the Free Imperial Cities
Free Imperial City
In the Holy Roman Empire, a free imperial city was a city formally ruled by the emperor only — as opposed to the majority of cities in the Empire, which were governed by one of the many princes of the Empire, such as dukes or prince-bishops...

 of central Europe. These wondrous devices found a home in the cabinet of curiosities
Cabinet of curiosities
A cabinet of curiosities was an encyclopedic collection in Renaissance Europe of types of objects whose categorical boundaries were yet to be defined. They were also known by various names such as Cabinet of Wonder, and in German Kunstkammer or Wunderkammer...

 or Wunderkammern of the princely courts of Europe. Hydraulic and pneumatic automata, similar to those described by Hero, were created for garden grotto
A grotto is any type of natural or artificial cave that is associated with modern, historic or prehistoric use by humans. When it is not an artificial garden feature, a grotto is often a small cave near water and often flooded or liable to flood at high tide...


Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci was an Italian Renaissance polymath: painter, sculptor, architect, musician, scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist and writer whose genius, perhaps more than that of any other figure, epitomized the Renaissance...

 sketched a more complex automaton around the year 1495. The design of Leonardo's robot
Leonardo's robot
Leonardo's robot refers to a humanoid automaton designed by Leonardo da Vinci around the year 1464, when Leonardo was 12 years old.The design notes for the robot appear in sketchbooks that were rediscovered in the 1950s. Leonardo displayed his "robot" at a celebration hosted by Duke Sforza at the...

 was not rediscovered until the 1950s. The robot, which appears in Leonardo's sketches, could, if built successfully, move its arms, twist its head, and sit up.

The Smithsonian Institution
Smithsonian Institution
The Smithsonian Institution is an educational and research institute and associated museum complex, administered and funded by the government of the United States and by funds from its endowment, contributions, and profits from its retail operations, concessions, licensing activities, and magazines...

 has in its collection a clockwork monk, about 15 in (38.1 cm) high, possibly dating as early as 1560. The monk is driven by a key-wound spring and walks the path of a square, striking his chest with his right arm, while raising and lowering a small wooden cross and rosary in his left hand, turning and nodding his head, rolling his eyes, and mouthing silent obsequies. From time to time, he brings the cross to his lips and kisses it. It is believed that the monk was manufactured by Juanelo Turriano
Juanelo Turriano
Juanelo Turriano was an Italo-Spanish clockmaker, engineer and mathematician. He was born in Cremona.Called to Spain in 1529 by Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, he was appointed Court Clock Master and built the Cristalino, an astronomical clock that made him famous in his time. Philip II of Spain...

, mechanician to the Holy Roman Emperor
Holy Roman Emperor
The Holy Roman Emperor is a term used by historians to denote a medieval ruler who, as German King, had also received the title of "Emperor of the Romans" from the Pope...

 Charles V
Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor
Charles V was ruler of the Holy Roman Empire from 1519 and, as Charles I, of the Spanish Empire from 1516 until his voluntary retirement and abdication in favor of his younger brother Ferdinand I and his son Philip II in 1556.As...


A new attitude towards automata is to be found in Descartes
René Descartes
René Descartes ; was a French philosopher and writer who spent most of his adult life in the Dutch Republic. He has been dubbed the 'Father of Modern Philosophy', and much subsequent Western philosophy is a response to his writings, which are studied closely to this day...

 when he suggested that the bodies of animals are nothing more than complex machines - the bones, muscles and organs could be replaced with cogs, pistons and cams. Thus mechanism
Mechanism (philosophy)
Mechanism is the belief that natural wholes are like machines or artifacts, composed of parts lacking any intrinsic relationship to each other, and with their order imposed from without. Thus, the source of an apparent thing's activities is not the whole itself, but its parts or an external...

 became the standard to which Nature
Nature, in the broadest sense, is equivalent to the natural world, physical world, or material world. "Nature" refers to the phenomena of the physical world, and also to life in general...

 and the organism
In biology, an organism is any contiguous living system . In at least some form, all organisms are capable of response to stimuli, reproduction, growth and development, and maintenance of homoeostasis as a stable whole.An organism may either be unicellular or, as in the case of humans, comprise...

 was compared. France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 in the 17th century was the birthplace of those ingenious mechanical toy
Mechanical toy
Mechanical toys are powered by mechanical energy, for example using rubber bands, springs, and flywheels. Mechanical toys use four types of different movements, these are called Rotary , Linear , Reciprocating and...

s that were to become prototypes for the engines of the Industrial Revolution
Industrial Revolution
The Industrial Revolution was a period from the 18th to the 19th century where major changes in agriculture, manufacturing, mining, transportation, and technology had a profound effect on the social, economic and cultural conditions of the times...

. Thus, in 1649, when Louis XIV
Louis XIV of France
Louis XIV , known as Louis the Great or the Sun King , was a Bourbon monarch who ruled as King of France and Navarre. His reign, from 1643 to his death in 1715, began at the age of four and lasted seventy-two years, three months, and eighteen days...

 was still a child, an artisan named Camus designed for him a miniature coach, and horses complete with footmen, page and a lady within the coach; all these figures exhibited a perfect movement. According to P. Labat, General de Gennes constructed, in 1688, in addition to machines for gunnery and navigation, a peacock that walked and ate. The Jesuit
Society of Jesus
The Society of Jesus is a Catholic male religious order that follows the teachings of the Catholic Church. The members are called Jesuits, and are also known colloquially as "God's Army" and as "The Company," these being references to founder Ignatius of Loyola's military background and a...

 Athanasius Kircher
Athanasius Kircher
Athanasius Kircher was a 17th century German Jesuit scholar who published around 40 works, most notably in the fields of oriental studies, geology, and medicine...

 produced many automatons to create Jesuit shows, including a statue which spoke and listened via a speaking tube
Speaking tube
A speaking tube or voicepipe is a device based on two cones connected by an air pipe through which speech can be transmitted over an extended distance. While its most common use was in intra-ship communications, the principle was also used in fine homes and offices of the 19th century, as well as...


The world's first successfully-built biomechanical automaton is considered to be The Flute Player, invented by the French engineer Jacques de Vaucanson
Jacques de Vaucanson
Jacques de Vaucanson was a French inventor and artist who was responsible for the creation of impressive and innovative automata and machines such as the first completely automated loom.-Early life:...

 in 1737. He also constructed the Digesting Duck
Digesting Duck
The Canard Digérateur, or Digesting Duck, was an automaton in the form of a duck, created by Jacques de Vaucanson in 1739. The mechanical duck appeared to have the ability to eat kernels of grain, and to metabolize and defecate them...

, a mechanical duck that gave the false illusion of eating and defecating, seeming to endorse Cartesian ideas that animals are no more than machines of flesh.

In 1769, a chess-playing machine called the Turk
The Turk
The Turk, also known as the Mechanical Turk or Automaton Chess Player , was a fake chess-playing machine constructed in the late 18th century. From 1770 until its destruction by fire in 1854, it was exhibited by various owners as an automaton, though it was exposed in the early 1820s as an...

, created by Wolfgang von Kempelen
Wolfgang von Kempelen
Johann Wolfgang Ritter von Kempelen de Pázmánd was a Hungarian author and inventor with Irish ancestors.-Life:...

, made the rounds of the courts of Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

 purporting to be an automaton. The Turk was operated from inside by a hidden human director, and was not a true automaton.

Other 18th century automaton makers include the prolific Frenchman Pierre Jaquet-Droz
Pierre Jaquet-Droz
Pierre Jaquet-Droz was a Swiss-born watchmaker of the late eighteenth century. He lived in Paris, London, and Geneva, where he designed and built animated dolls, or automata, to help his firm sell watches and mechanical birds....

 (see Jaquet-Droz automata
Jaquet-Droz automata
The Jaquet-Droz automata, among all the numerous automata built by the Jaquet-Droz family, refer to three doll automata built between 1768 and 1774 by Pierre Jaquet-Droz, his son Henri-Louis and Jean-Frédéric Leschot: the musician, the draughtsman and the writer...

) and his contemporary Henri Maillardet
Henri Maillardet
Henri Maillardet was a Swiss mechanician of the 18th century who worked in London producing clocks and other mechanisms. He spent a period of time in the shops of Pierre Jaquet-Droz, who was in the business of producing watches, clocks, and automata....

. Maillardet, a Swiss mechanician, created an automaton capable of drawing four pictures and writing three poems. Maillardet's Automaton is now part of the collections at the Franklin Institute
Franklin Institute
The Franklin Institute is a museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and one of the oldest centers of science education and development in the United States, dating to 1824. The Institute also houses the Benjamin Franklin National Memorial.-History:On February 5, 1824, Samuel Vaughn Merrick and...

 Science Museum in Philadelphia. Belgian-born John Joseph Merlin
John Joseph Merlin
John-Joseph Merlin was a Belgian inventor and horologist.He was born Jean-Joseph Merlin in 1735 in the city of Huy, Belgium....

 created the mechanism of the Silver Swan
Silver Swan (automaton)
The Silver Swan is an automaton dating from the 18th Century and is housed in the Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle, Teesdale, County Durham, England....

 automaton, now at Bowes Museum
Bowes Museum
The Bowes Museum has a nationally renowned art collection and is situated in the town of Barnard Castle, Teesdale, County Durham, England.The museum contains an El Greco, paintings by Francisco Goya, Canaletto, Jean-Honoré Fragonard, François Boucher and a sizable collection of decorative art,...

. Tipu's Tiger
Tipu's Tiger
Tipu's Tiger or Tippoo's Tiger is an 18th century automaton or mechanical toy created for Tipu Sultan, the ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore in India. The carved and painted wood casing represents a tiger savaging a near life-size European man. Mechanisms inside the tiger and man's bodies make one...

 is a late-18th century example of automata, made for Tipu Sultan
Tipu Sultan
Tipu Sultan , also known as the Tiger of Mysore, was the de facto ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore. He was the son of Hyder Ali, at that time an officer in the Mysorean army, and his second wife, Fatima or Fakhr-un-Nissa...

, featuring a European soldier being mauled by a lion.

According to philosopher Michel Foucault
Michel Foucault
Michel Foucault , born Paul-Michel Foucault , was a French philosopher, social theorist and historian of ideas...

, Frederick the Great
Frederick II of Prussia
Frederick II was a King in Prussia and a King of Prussia from the Hohenzollern dynasty. In his role as a prince-elector of the Holy Roman Empire, he was also Elector of Brandenburg. He was in personal union the sovereign prince of the Principality of Neuchâtel...

, king of Prussia
Kingdom of Prussia
The Kingdom of Prussia was a German kingdom from 1701 to 1918. Until the defeat of Germany in World War I, it comprised almost two-thirds of the area of the German Empire...

 from 1740 to 1786, was "obsessed" with automata. According to Manuel de Landa
Manuel de Landa
Manuel De Landa, , is a writer, artist and philosopher who has lived in New York since 1975. He is presently the Gilles Deleuze Chair of Contemporary Philosophy and Science at the European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland; a lecturer at the Canisius College in Buffalo, New York; a lecturer...

, "he put together his armies as a well-oiled clockwork
A clockwork is the inner workings of either a mechanical clock or a device that operates in a similar fashion. Specifically, the term refers to a mechanical device utilizing a complex series of gears....

 mechanism whose components were robot-like warriors".

Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

 adopted automata during the Edo period
Edo period
The , or , is a division of Japanese history which was ruled by the shoguns of the Tokugawa family, running from 1603 to 1868. The political entity of this period was the Tokugawa shogunate....

 (1603–1867); they were known as karakuri ningyō.

Automata, particularly watches and clocks, were popular in China during the 18th and 19th centuries, and items were produced for the Chinese market. Strong interest by Chinese collectors in the 21st century brought many interesting items to market where they have had dramatic realizations.

Modern automata

The famous magician Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin
Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin
Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin was a French magician. He is widely considered the father of the modern style of conjuring.-Early life and entrance into conjuring:...

 (1805–1871) was known for creating automata for his stage shows.

The period 1860 to 1910 is known as "The Golden Age of Automata". During this period many small family based companies of Automata makers thrived in Paris. From their workshops they exported thousands of clockwork automata and mechanical singing birds around the world. It is these French automata that are collected today, although now rare and expensive they attract collectors worldwide. The main French makers were Vichy, Roullet & Decamps, Lambert, Phalibois, Renou and Bontems.

Contemporary automata continue this tradition with an emphasis on art, rather than technological sophistication. Contemporary automata are represented by the works of Cabaret Mechanical Theatre
Cabaret Mechanical Theatre
Cabaret Mechanical Theatre is an organisation that mounts exhibitions around the world of contemporary automata by a collective of artists based in the United Kingdom. It was started in 1979 in Falmouth, Cornwall.-External links:*...

 in the United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

, Dug North
Dug North
Dug North is an American artist who creates hand-cranked animated sculpture known as 'contemporary automata'. Though his work is much less complex mechanically, North draws inspiration from the masterworks of automatists such as Pierre Jaquet-Droz, Henri Maillardet, and the magic-themed automata...

 and Chomick+Meder, Thomas Kuntz
Thomas Kuntz
Thomas Kuntz is an American multi-media artist notable for his contemporary automata. He has devoted a lifetime to acquiring the skills of a designer, sculptor, mechanic, automatist, animator, model-maker, painter and conceptualist.-Early life:...

, Arthur Ganson
Arthur Ganson
Arthur Ganson is a renowned kinetic sculptor. Ganson makes mechanical art demonstrations and Rube Goldberg machines with existential themes. Ganson has held residencies in science museums, collaborated with the Studebaker Movement Theatre, and been featured in one-man shows at the MIT Museum,...

, Joe Jones
Joe Jones (Fluxus artist)
-Formation:Joe Jones grew up in Greenpoint, Brooklyn and received a classical musical education at Hartnett Music School in New York City. In the late 1950s he began a short career as a jazz drummer. In 1960 Jones began to study avant-garde experimental composition first briefly with John Cage and...

 in the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, and Le Défenseur du Temps
Le Défenseur du Temps
Le Défenseur du Temps is a large mechanical work of art in the form of a clock created by the French artist Jacques Monestier.-Description:...

 by French artist Jacques Monestier.

Some mechanized toys developed during the 18th and 19th centuries were automata made with paper. Despite the relative simplicity of the material, paper automata require a high degree of technical ingenuity.

See also

  • Automaton clock
    Automaton clock
    An automaton clock or automata clock is a type of striking clock featuring automatons. Clocks like these were built from the Middle Ages through to Victorian times in Europe. A Cuckoo clock is a simple form of this type of clock. The automatons usually perform on the hour, half-hour or...

  • Android
  • Animatronics
    Animatronics is the use of mechatronics to create machines which seem animate rather than robotic. Animatronic creations include animals , plants and even mythical creatures...

  • Centre International de la Mécanique d'Art
    Centre International de la Mécanique d'Art
    The Centre International de la Mécanique d'Art in a museum located in Sainte-Croix, Switzerland, and specialised in musical boxes and automatons.- External links :*...

  • Cuckooland Museum
    Cuckooland Museum
    The Cuckooland Museum, previously known as the Cuckoo Clock Museum, is a museum that exhibits mainly cuckoo clocks, located in Tabley, co. Cheshire, England...

  • Free will
    Free will
    "To make my own decisions whether I am successful or not due to uncontrollable forces" -Troy MorrisonA pragmatic definition of free willFree will is the ability of agents to make choices free from certain kinds of constraints. The existence of free will and its exact nature and definition have long...

  • La Maison de la Magie Robert-Houdin
    La Maison de la Magie Robert-Houdin
    La Maison de la Magie Robert-Houdin is a museum which fronts on the Royal Château de Blois. It is located in the Loir-et-Cher département in the Loire Valley, in France, in the center of the city of Blois...

     display of XIX Century automatons
  • Mechatronics
    Mechatronics is the combination of mechanical engineering, electronic engineering, computer engineering, software engineering, control engineering, and systems design engineering in order to design, and manufacture useful products. Mechatronics is a multidisciplinary field of engineering, that is...

  • Orchestrion
    An orchestrion is a generic name for a machine that plays music and is designed to sound like an orchestra or band. Orchestrions may be operated by means of a large pinned cylinder or by a music roll and less commonly book music. The sound is usually produced by pipes, though they will be voiced...

  • Robotics
    Robotics is the branch of technology that deals with the design, construction, operation, structural disposition, manufacture and application of robots...

  • History of robots
    History of robots
    The history of robots has its roots as far back as ancient myths and legends.Modern concepts were begun to be developed when the Industrial Revolution allowed the use of more complex mechanics and the subsequent introduction of electricity made it possible to power machines with small compact motors...

Further reading

  • All’epoca dell Scatole musicali
  • Bailly, Christian. Automaten, Hirmer
  • Bailly, Christian (2003). Automata: The Golden Age 1848-1914, Robert Hale, 360pp, ISBN 0709074034. Translation of 1991 L'AGE D'OR DES AUTOMATES 1848-1914
  • Beyer, Annette (1983). Faszinierende Welt der Automaten. Callwey Verlag Munchen 
  • Bowers, Q. David (1997). Encyclopedia of Automatic Musical Instruments, Vestal Press, 1008pp, ISBN 0911572082
  • Brauers, Jan (1984). Von der Aolsharfe zum Digitalspieler
  • DEWAARD, R. (1967). From music boxes to street organs
  • INTERNATIONAL (1974). Silver Anniversary Collection MUSICAL BOX SOCIETY
  • Mercier, Francois (1991). Museums of Horology La Chaux-de-Fonds Le Locle 
  • Musee d’art et d’histoire (1990). Clock and watch museum Geneva
  • Needham, Joseph (1986). Science and Civilization in China: Volume 2. Cambridge University Press.
  • ORD-HUME, W.J.G. (1973). Clockwork Music. An illustr. history of mechanical musical instruments from the musical box to the pianola, from automation lady virginal players to orchestrion, Allen and Unwin, ISBN 0047890045 
  • ORD-HUME, W.J.G. (1978). Barrel organ, the story of the mechanical organ and its repair, Barnes
  • ORD-HUME, W.J.G. (1980). The musical box: a guide for collectors, including a guide to values, Schiffer Publishing, ISBN 9780887407642
  • Ricci, F.M. (1979). ANDROIDS The Jaquet-Droz automaton
  • The Diagram Group (2001) Musical Instruments of the World, Sterling Publishing, 320pp. ISBN 0806998474
  • Webb, Graham (1984). The Musical Box Handbook. Cylinder Boxes
  • Weiss-Stauffacher, Heinrich (1976). The Marvelous World of Music Machines
  • Winter-Jensen M.E.L.D.L., Anne (1987). AUTOMATES ET MUSIQUES Pendules. Geneve 
  • Zeraschi, Helmut (1980). L'Oregue de Barbarie  Payot Lausanne

External links