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.
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]