Their hearts are not hearts, but clockwork springs. Their lungs are not lungs, but leather bellows. They are: Jack Donovan's Princely Toys [more inside]
Including the wind-up friar automaton repeatedly claiming his faults and not one but two creeping baby dolls, the Smithsonian lists the 11 collection objects giving them the creeps this Halloween.
120 years ago, in Paris, Blaise Bontems made a mechanism for reproducing birdsong. More recently, Michael Start restored it to working condition and recorded a video. [more inside]
A harpsichord automaton. Malcolm Messiter: "After hours of struggling with a soldering iron, suddenly it all became worth it when the system just worked flawlessly. The sheer joy and satisfaction of seeing and hearing it work for the first time was extraordinary. It played Soler’s Fandango, Brandenburg 5, the Goldberg Variations, and even the Flight of the Bumble Bee, late into that first night!" [Project direct link (PDF, from p.27)].
Boston Dynamics is getting close to mastering quadrupedal motion with Big Dog and Cheetah (previously). And are working on bipedal motion with Petman (previously), but how about a robot that is able to leap (up to the top of) tall buildings in a single bound? Sand Flea! [more inside]
A couple decades after the first appearance of Steam Men in the 19th century, and a few years after the word "robot" was coined, one Professor Harry May from London toured around the US with Alpha the robot. The one ton mechanical man was built from a combination of modern inventions that granted Alpha certain skills, from product model and vocal promoter of the automatic electric toaster, to gunslinger. The problem with giving Alpha a gun was that the robot revolted (PDF, via), shooting his master and creator in 1932. After this incident, Alpha became Mary Ann (via), complete with new hair, a dress, and a soprano voice.
Valentino Braitenberg's 1984 book, Vehicles: Experiments in Synthetic Psychology was a seminal work for its discussion of how one might design a system (biological or otherwise) in order to generate behavior like that seen in beings with brains. He embarks on a series of thought experiments in which he creates thirteen "vehicles" through simple components that (arguably) display intelligent behavior, evolving in a Darwinian fashion to demonstrate what appears to be high-level cognition. [more inside]
Al-Jazari is the best-known Islamic inventor of the Middle Ages, famous for his waterclocks and automata. The wonderful History of Science and Technology in Islam has articles on him as well as other subjects. A medieval manuscript of Al-Jazari's masterwork, a book generally known in English as either Book of Knowledge of Mechanical Devices, can be perused in its entirety in flash form. It includes 174 illustrations. If you want to see working copies of his most famous automaton, the Elephant Clock, you can go either to the Ibn Battuta Mall in Dubai (Flickr pictures), the Musée d'Horlogerie du Locle in Switzerland (Cabinet of Wonders post about visiting the museum) or Institute for the History of Arab-Islamic Science in Frankfurt (article about the institute from a feature in Saudi Aramco World magazine called Rediscovering Arabic Science).
"..watched him seize a silver fish from under the water and hold up his head and go through the customary and elaborate motions of swallowing it..."
The Silver Swan is a life-size musical automaton built in 1773 from silver and glass, now housed in the Bowes Museum in County Durham. [more inside]
Karakuri automata are representative of the highest technology in the Edo period (1603 to 1867). Automata were also crafted hundreds of years ago in Europe: The Dulcimer Player by Pierre Kintzing , made in 1772; The Singing Lesson, created by Robert-Houdin; three androids by Jaquet-Droz; the Pooping Duck by Vaucanson (the first link at the top). Ancient robots. The first automaton was created by Al-Jazari: video of his clock. The history of automata [pdf]. Contemporary toy automata. [more inside]
I just finished up reading The Turk by Tom Standage (briefly mentioned in passing here) a biography of the chess-playing automaton that toured Europe and later the Americas during the pivotal transition from the 18th to the 19th century. The Automaton was invented as an exercise in national pride by Wolfgang von Kempelen, who considered it a trifle compared to his experiments with mechanical speech synthesis. As a celebrity, the automaton had historic encounters with Benjamin Franklin, Napoleon, Beethoven, Philidor and Charles Babbage, and fictional encounters with the monarchs Catherine the Great, George III and Frederick II. Standage credits it with influencing the development of the Difference Engine, the power loom, Poe's mystery stories, and Barnum's manipulation of the press. The myths surrounding have even caught James Randi, who seems to have been unaware of a colleague's reconstruction based on notes from the last owner.
Automaton \Au*tom"a*ton\, n.; pl. L. Automata, E. Automatons. [L. fr. Gr. ?, neut. of ? self-moving; ? self + a root ma, man, to strive, think, cf. ? to strive.] 1. Any thing or being regarded as having the power of spontaneous motion or action.