The Story of
the Automaton

Putting It In Motion...

For Teachers

For Students

For Reference

Does Maillardet's Automaton remind you of the machines we call robots today? A robot can be defined as a programmable machine that imitates the actions or appearance of a human or another intelligent creature. You have learned that Maillardet's Automaton was programmed (as demonstrated by the mechanical memory stored in its cams), and it most certainly imitates the actions of a human as it goes about producing its intricate drawings.

To qualify as a robot a machine has to be able to do two things. 1) Get information from its surroundings; and 2) Follow instructions to perform a physical task such as moving or manipulating objects.

Robots became possible with the invention of transistors and integrated circuits somewhere in the 1950s. A growing computer industry and the invention of compact electronics helped people designing these early robots make their machines capable of more complex and amazing acts with each passing year. In 1959 the possibility of robotic manufacturing became a reality when a computer controlled milling machine that made ashtrays was produced.

Today robots perform many varied and complicated tasks all over the world. Robots paint cars for automobile manufacturers, walk into live volcanos to gather information for researchers, explore space and the ocean, and even package cookies in a factory!

Just as people 200 years ago were fascinated with the introduction of automata, we are intrigued by robots today. Movies such as Star Wars with its friendly robots C3-PO and R2-D2 caught the interest of people everywhere in the early 1980s. Today robots are being designed that are more and more capable of imitating human intelligence and are less costly to produce. You can learn more about the world of robotics by visiting the Tech Museum of Innovation website. It is interesting to imagine whether students 200 years from now will be examining the workings of R2-D2 just as we have been examining the workings of Maillardet's Automaton!