Key Points

  • The word automat is the Latinization of the Greek word αὐτόματον, which means acting of one’s own will.
  • Automaton helps computer scientists to understand how machines compute and solve problems.
  • Automaton is a self-control or operating machine designed to follow and respond to predetermined instructions.

What is Early Automaton: Complete Explanation

The word automat is the Latinization of the Greek word αὐτόματον, which means acting of one’s own will. It is more often used to describe moving machines, especially those made to resemble human or animal actions.

Automaton is a self-control or operating machine designed to follow and respond to predetermined instructions. Generally, they are intended to initiate interests via visual appeal, mainly because of their somewhat spontaneous movement.

The automata theory/technology has evolved massively, especially in the overall concept and specialized functions. The most complicated of these evolutions is the android technology, made to play music, draw, write, and sometimes walk. Continue reading to learn about the full history of automatons, how they work, practical examples, e.t.c.

Early Automata: An Exact Definition

Automata are moving mechanical devices constructed to assume the look and functionality of humans or any animal figures. They are built to act as self-powered, despite having multiple mechanical systems that cater to their functionalities.

How Does Early Automata Work?

As mentioned above, automatons function based on multiple mechanical systems set in motion. In essence, their computations depend on several configurations or states; as they pass through each configuration, they are subjected to different roles. A transition function exists at each state, determining the next configuration. This process is also based on a defined portion of the present state or configuration.

Automaton helps computer scientists to understand how machines compute and solve problems, plus what it means to describe a function as computable or a question defined as decidable. Generally, automata machines have the following characteristics, instrumental in helping them work:

Inputs: these are the symbol sequences chosen from multiple input signals.

Output: This is also a sequence of symbols selected from different output signals.

States: This is a finite set whose crust lies on the type of automaton under consideration.

In this regard, there are four (4) major classes of automaton:

  1. Finite-state machine.
  2. Turing machine.
  3. Pushdown automata, and
  4. Linear-bounded automata.

The finite-state machine is the simplest form of automat from the classes outlined above, while the Turing machine is the most complicated.

How Do You Create an Automata?

Building an automaton isn’t entirely hard. Apart from being an excellent way to explore the working principles of levers and cams, it also helps in seamlessly incorporating their working principles into your craft/art.

There are several types of automata; therefore, there are several ways to create them – noteworthily, simple automata (finite-state machines) are the easiest to make. You can either use cardboard, plastic, wood, etc., as a frame, depending on the type of automata you want to create.

Anyways, generally, below are the materials and tools you will need, depending on the type of automata you want to create:

  • Cardboard
  • Drinking straws
  • Bamboo Skewers
  • Scissors
  • Pony Beads
  • Glue sticks and guns, etc.
An assembly drawing of the machine from Essays on Automatics
An assembly drawing of the machine from Essays on Automatics

Where Did Early Automata Originate From?

It is not known when exactly the first automatic machines were produced. What follows is an attempt for chronological review of some legendary devices:

15th Century BC:

The Egyptian Amenhotep, son of Hapu, had made a statue of Memnon, King of Ethiopia, near Thebes in Egypt, which uttered a melodious sound when struck by the sun’s rays in the morning and during sunset. It was suggested that a divine power was partly responsible as the mechanisms were far too simple to sustain the noise.

10th Century BC:

The ancient Daoist Chinese manuscript Liezi, attributed to the philosopher Lie Yukou, who lived circa 400 BC, included a remarkable account on automata. In the Liezi, there is a description of a much earlier meeting between King Mu of Zhou Dynasty (1023-957 BC) and a mechanical engineer, known as Yen Shi, called the artificer. Yan Shi proudly presented the King with a life-size, human-shaped figure of his mechanical handiwork:

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 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 colored 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 to take 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.

10th Century BC:

According to Jewish tradition, the King of Israel Solomon (1011-931 BC), great in wisdom, wealth, and power, used his wisdom to design mechanical devices. Several versions of a story about a miraculous throne, designed by or ordered by Solomon. The most modest story features an ivory throne surrounded by golden lions, 12 on both sides (eventually, each lion-faced an eagle).

There is, however, a much miraculous (upgraded:-) version, speaking about a moveable throne with mechanical animals, which followed Solomon wherever he wished to go. The throne was fashioned of ivory and covered with gold. It was set with rubies, sapphires, emeralds, and other precious stones that shone with the most brilliant, dazzling, and fascinating hues and colors. The throne was surrounded by 72 golden lions, facing 92 golden eagles.

Six steps led to the throne’s seat, and each step served to remind the King of one of the six special commandments that the kings of Israel were commanded to observe. On the first step, a golden lion lay, facing a golden ox on the opposite side. On the second step, a golden wolf opposite a golden lamb. On the third step, a golden tiger faced a golden camel.

On the fourth step, a golden eagle faced a golden peacock. A golden cat faced a golden rooster on the fifth, and on the sixth, a golden hawk-faced a golden dove. Higher still, above the throne, a golden dove held a golden hawk in its beak.

When the King stepped upon the throne, a mechanism was set in motion. As soon as he stepped upon the first step, the golden ox and the golden lion stretched out one foot to support him and help him rise to the next step. The animals helped the King up until he was comfortably seated upon the throne on each side. No sooner was he seated than a golden eagle brought the great crown and held it just above King Solomon’s brow so that it should not weigh heavily on his head.

When the King sat, the wheels began to turn to judge the people, and the beasts and fowls began to utter their respective cries, which frightened those who had intended to bear false testimony. Moreover, while Solomon was ascending the throne, the animals scattered all kinds of fragrant spices.

According to the legend, King Solomon’s miraculous throne was the talk of all the reigning kings and princes. They came to marvel at its wonders and admire its beauty. When later the Egyptian King Shishak invaded the land of Yehudah, he ordered to carry away this wonderful throne. Still later, when the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar (605-562) destroyed the Temple of Solomon and subsequently conquered Egypt as well, he carried the throne away to Babylon.

But when he tried to ascend it, the lion threw him over, and he did not venture to sit on it again. Later, King Darius of Persia conquered Babylon and carried the throne to his capital.

6th Century BC:

Around 520 B.C. lived the Greek mechanician Daedalus, a prolific and very clever inventor of ancient times, accredited with the axe, the level, and numerous other mechanical devices. He was reputed to have made statues that were worked by quicksilver and could walk. A more creditable description is stone statues that seemed to breathe in or move their marble feet. Given Daedalu’s proven abilities, he certainly was capable of inventing and making some form of a mechanical statue.

5th Century BC:

In the 5th century B.C., the Chinese engineer King-Shu Tse had made a flying bird (magpie) constructed out of wood and bamboo. He also devised a wooden horse worked by springs that could jump.

At the end of the 5th century B.C. (around 400 B.C), the ancient Greek scientist, a renowned mathematician, and politician – Archytas of Tarentum, Magna Graecia (now southern Italy), made a wooden pigeon suspended from the end of a pivot, which was rotated by a jet of water or steam. The pigeon simulated flight and was said to have flown some 200 meters.

Most modern scholars assume that the free-flying bird of Archytas was actually a hollow decoy filled with compressed air and connected to a pulley system. When the air was released, it may have caused the bird’s wings to flap and triggered a counterweight, which lifted the automaton from one perch to another and gave the impression of flight. Archytas is the alleged inventor of the screw and the pulley (crane). Again, given his abilities, he likely did invent a mechanical pigeon.

Early Automata
Archytas of Tarentum was an ancient Greek scientist and a renowned mathematician and politician who created a wooden pigeon that could fly independently.

Later Automata – Greek-Roman, Arabic, Western European.

The next stages of the development of automata are closer to our time, so there is much more and reliable information for them. They were products of the Greek-Roman civilization, Arabic civilization and will be featured on other pages of this site.

However, we will not investigate the legendary automata (talking heads and others) claimed to have been constructed by Gerbert d’Aurillac, Albertus Magnus, Roger Bacon, Robert Grosseteste, and Johannes Regiomontanus because there are neither working models nor written descriptions survived to our time.

What Are the Applications of Automata?

From history, Automata have been adopted into several technologies, especially with the massive modernization hitting the world over the past few decades. For instance, automata are widely used for software verification, modeling, structured data, real-time systems, etc. Nowadays, automatons are now designed with time-modeling features to aid their functionality. The next section examines a few real-life examples of automata adoption.

Examples of Automata in the Real World

Below are a few examples of automata’s application in the real world, both recently and from history:

Vending Machines: This is an automated dispensing machine. Items it dispenses include snacks, beverages, alcohol, drinks, etc. The function process of vending machines is based on finite-state automata

Traffic Lights: Traffic lights work by switching across multiple preset instructions. It is an automated way of ensuring compliance with traffic rules. Traffic lights were invented in 1868.

Video Games: Video games include a sequence of specific instructions, followed by the players to ensure compliance to such instructions and, most importantly, task accomplishment.

Other examples of automata in the real world include text parsing, speech recognition, regular expression matching, etc.

Automaton Vs. Robot

The significant difference between robot and automaton is that while a robot is a virtual or mechanical device or agent executing physical activities, automata are simply self-operating machines. Essentially, robots are programmable by computers and function only according to the program in its input.

Robots are seemingly controversial, particularly because they are the most recent form of automatons – technically, all robots are automata, but not all automata are robots.

Next Up…

Early Automata Explained: Everything You Need to Know FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What Are Automata?

Automaton is machines designed to self-act, following prearranged sequences of operations and instructions.

What Are the Types of Automata?

There are four major types of automata: finite-state machine, Turing machine, pushdown automata, and linear-bounded automata.

What Is Automata Theory with Example?

Automata theory is simply the study of abstract machines; how they compute and solve problems. Examples of automatons include vending machines, human detection machines, photo printing machines, etc.

What Is the History of Automata?

It is not known when exactly the first automatic machines were produced. What follows is an attempt for a chronological review of some legendary devices. However, it is famously believed that the roots of automatons were established far back in the 20th century.

What Was the First Automata?

An automated water-powering clock and hand-washing machine, designed by Arabic polymath, Al-Jazari.

Who Created Automata?

Jacques de Vaucanson

What Is the Oldest Robot in History?

The earliest robots were created by George C. Devol in the early 1950s. George invented a reprogrammable manipulator – however, the robot wasn’t commercially available for public use.

Who Was One of The Early Inventors of Automata?

The first commercially available automaton is the Flute Player. A device capable of playing up to twelve (12) songs. The Flute Player was invented by Jacques de Vaucanson in 1737.

What Is One Example of An Early Automaton?

An example of automata is the Flute Player.

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