• Weird History

Turns Out Humans Have Been Creating Robots For Hundreds Of Years

Forget what The Terminator taught you: History is full of robots that peacefully served humans. For hundred of years inventors have attempted to build mechanical friends that they hoped would go on to serve the planet, not take it over. Early robots served tea, smoked cigarettes, played the trumpet and even prayed. Inventors used them to recreate human interactions and find ways to automate everyday tasks. Here are the best examples of primitive robots that are definitely not destined to be humankind's future overlords.

  • The Digesting Duck Of 1739 Ate And Pooped

    Photo: Unknown / via Wikimedia / Public Domain

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

    At the time, 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

    Photo: Farrukh ibn Abd al-Latif / via Wiimedia / Public Domain

    Muslim inventor 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,  like a primitive drum machine.

  • A 16th Century Mechanical Monk Still Works Today

    Video: YouTube

    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

    Photo: Erik Möller / via Wikimedia / Public Domain

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

    What does the robot knight do? Da Vinci's robot can reportedly 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.