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Amazing automatons

While Amazing Stuff brings you the latest and greatest advances in technology, it is interesting to take a step back in time to see the ancestors of Big Dog and the quadrotor. Take a look at these incredible automatons built by Henri Maillardet in 1810.

Milliadet’s automaton was acquired by the Franklin institute in Philidelphia in 1928, although at the time of purchase, neither the creator nor the object’s history was known. It was only after months of reconditioning that the automaton started to work and immediately wrote, “Written by the automaton of Henri Milliadet” — thus solving the mystery!

Automatons have been popular for centuries with examples of simple devices dating as far back as 100BC. During the middle ages, automatons became more life-like, started aquiring human qualities and were used extensively by alchemists, magicians and psychics to illustrate their power. Such was their likeness to human physiology, automatons became associated with the dark arts, many believing they inherited the souls of their creators.

The painstaking development of these machines — many with over 300 moving parts — was so labour intensive, designers like Milliardet would often become reclusive, spending all their time perfecting their humanoids. Those close to Milliardet suggested that his creations were controlling him, not the other way round.

In the eighteenth century, Pierre Jaquet-Doz created three automatons, The Writer, The Draughtsman and The Musician, which are still considered scientific marvels today. The Draughtsman is capable of producing four distinct illustrations, while the Writer can write as many as forty letters. The Musician’s fingers actually play the organ and the figure ends her performance with a bow.

(Video in French but you should get the idea.)

Incredibly, all these devices are powered by clockwork; some took over an hour to wind. Intricate systems of cogs and springs provide power to eyes, fingers and heads to create what would have been an astonishing spectacle for Georgian audiences.

So lifelike were these vintage automatons that artist Kandace Commons has mounted a retrospective campaign for their rights:

Pics via World’s Strangest
Video via Franklin Institute Science Museum

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