Friday, 1 August 2008

The Automata

This page is from a dispersed copy of a manuscript, dated 1315, of al-Jazari's Kitab fi macrifat al-hiyal al-handasiyya (The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices, also known as The Automata). The various elements that compose this clock move and make a sound every half hour. This device is reminiscent of the elaborate clocks found on medieval town halls in Europe, which made the passage of time more entertaining with the performance of the moving figures. The elephant clock described by Al-Jazari in 1206 is notable for several innovations. It was the first clock in which an automaton reacted after certain intervals of time (in this case, a humanoid robot striking the cymbal and a mechanical robotic bird chirping) and the first water clock to accurately record the passage of the temporal hours to match the uneven length of days throughout the year. al-jazari (1136-1206) (Arabic: أَبُو اَلْعِزِ بْنُ إسْماعِيلِ بْنُ الرِّزاز الجزري) was an important Muslim scholar, artist, astronomer, craftsman, inventor, mechanical engineer from al-jazira, Mesopotamia who flourished during the Islamic Golden Age (Middle Ages). He is best known for writing this, the Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices in 1206, where he described fifty mechanical devices. He also devised a "peacock fountain" was a more sophisticated hand washing device featuring humanoid automata as servants which offer soap and towels. Mark E. Rosheim describes it as follows:

"Pulling a plug on the peacock's tail releases water out of the beak; as the dirty water from the basin fills the hollow base a float rises and actuates a linkage which makes a servant figure appear from behind a door under the peacock and offer soap. When more water is used, a second float at a higher level trips and causes the appearance of a second servant figure — with a towel!"

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