Weird History 10 Primitive Historical Attempts at Creating Robots  

Kellen Perry
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Who doesn't love robots? Forget what The Terminator taught you: the history of robotics is full of adorable metal scamps that have never wanted anything more than to peacefully serve humans. Just look at primitive robots from history such as the Digesting Duck of 1739. This manufactured waterfowl simply existed to eat and poop for the entertainment of onlookers - including a very impressed Voltaire.

And the first robots did much more than merely digest. As the list below reveals, early robots served tea, smoked cigarettes, played the trumpet, prayed, and shook like they had delirium tremens. Why inventors put together these mechanical men - and animals - is something of a mystery. Perhaps they were looking for ways to automate everyday tasks; maybe they were just curious to see if they could make an approximation of life. Whatever their intents, these creators made some truly remarkable mechanical devices.

How could anyone find these automatons from history threatening? Read on for examples of primitive robots that are definitely not destined to be humankind's future overlords.

The Digesting Duck Of 1739 Ate And Pooped

The Digesting Duck Of 1739 Ate... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list 10 Primitive Historical Attempts at Creating Robots
Photo: Unknown/via Wikimedia/Public Domain

In 1739, French inventor Jacques de Vaucanson created a robotic duck that appeared to eat grain and defecate pellets through rubber tubes. It was known as the "Digesting Duck," though the device didn't actually metabolize anything. However, de Vaucanson hoped he could eventually create a truly digesting automaton in time.

Regardless, the duck was considered a marvel of the Enlightenment. Even the famed author Voltaire was reportedly impressed: "Without Vaucanson’s Duck," he wrote, "you have nothing to remind you of the glory of France." Of course, he may have meant that sarcastically.

Al-Jazari Made A Musical Robot Band In The 11th Century

Al-Jazari Made A Musical Robot... is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list 10 Primitive Historical Attempts at Creating Robots
Photo: Farrukh ibn Abd al-Latif/via Wiimedia/Public Domain

Muslim polymath Ismail al-Jazari built a musical robot band in the first few years of the 11th century. His Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices of 1206 described, among dozens of other machines, a boat with four "automatic musicians" on it for entertaining guests at parties.

One British computer scientist theorizes that the robo-band worked via a system of pegs and levers. The pegs, for example, controlled the rhythm of the band's drummer, sort of like a primitive drum machine.

A 16th Century Mechanical Monk Still Works Today

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They don't make 'em like they used to: there's a robot monk at the Smithsonian Institution that has been functional since 1560. The story goes that King Philip II of Spain commissioned a "mechanic" to honor the life of Didacus of Alcalá, a monk that Philip thought saved his son's life.

The resulting robo-monk is made of wood and iron and is driven by a spring wound with a key. Its mechanisms are surprisingly complex: the monk walks in a square, raises a cross and rosary, moves his lips, and even rolls his eyes. He also devoutly kisses the cross from time to time.

Da Vinci Designed A Robot Knight In The 1490s

Da Vinci Designed A Robot Knig... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list 10 Primitive Historical Attempts at Creating Robots
Photo: Erik Möller/via Wikimedia/Public Domain

Renaissance luminary Leonardo da Vinci designed a robot knight in 1495. It wasn't just a hypothetical creation like his Jesus shoes, either: scientists in the 21st century made this thing to his specifications and it actually worked.

What does the robot knight do? It reportedly can stand, sit, and move its arms independently. It even has an anatomically correct jaw. There's a chance, historians say, that Leo even built the knight himself at one point and showed it off at a party.