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10 Historical Robots

        Science | Robotics

4
The Flutist
A drawing of three of Vaucanson’s works. The flute-player is on the left, another human-like automaton is on the right, and the famous pooping duck is in the middle.  National Library of France
A drawing of three of Vaucanson’s works. The flute-player is on the left, another human-like automaton is on the right, and the famous pooping duck is in the middle. National Library of France

In addition to his defecating duck, Jacques de Vaucanson made a number of other automatons, including a flute player that wowed onlookers. He supposedly first imagined the flutist while in the delirious grips of serious illness.

The wooden flutist, which was painted white to resemble a marble statue, was remarkable because at more than 5 feet (1.5 meters) tall, it was lifelike in size and shape. And it didn't just play one tune – it knew a whopping 12 separate pieces of music.

Clock-like mechanisms inside the body moved a series of nine bellows. The bellows forced air through the device's "lips" and into the flute. The mouth and tongue changed position, as did the fingers, to create many different tones in the instrument.


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