Tuesday, August 07, 2012

From the Greeks to the Disney: a (very) short history of automata

Today's post points to an informative overview of the history of automata. The item comes to us by way of Molly, a Junior Librarian, who is spending her summer working and researching at the Jefferson Library. Molly discovered the article while doing research for a talk they plan to give on book The Invention of Hugo Cabret. It was a good find. The article is titled "Historical Watches: Automatons" and was written by Kingsley Walcott. Walcott starts with the all-important definition of an automaton:

The word means "acting on one's own will," and is a term used to describe machines that operate by themselves and without the help of humans. The term "animated puppet" is often used to describe an automaton, and it is also considered to be synonymous with robots, a concept which came into existence in the 20th century. Automatons are popularly identified with machines that look like humans or animals, but they can also come in the form of clocks and other strictly utilitarian devices.

The author then moves on to the ancient Greeks and is sure to mention Hero of Alexandria along the way. The article focuses next on the brilliant Middle Eastern scholar and inventor, Al-Jazari and his Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices. From there, we learn about Leonardo's efforts at creating automata and a bit about the Astronomical Clock in Prague -- the oldest working clock of its kind. The article picks up its pace moving from Jacques de Vauconson and his Digesting Duck to Maillardet's writing automaton, and Wolfgang von Kempelen's chess-playing automaton known as The Turk. The modern era is touched upon by referencing the "Audio-Animatronics" created by Walt Disney for Disney Land and finally modern automata-master, Thomas Kuntz.

It's a nice little article with a lot of really good information. I could have used it when I was preparing for the documentary on the history of automata that appeared on the Blu-ray release of the film Hugo!

Here is where you can read the article Historical Watches: Automatons.

[ Thanks Molly! ]


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