We went to Philly for a day trip on Saturday. We got a late start so we only had time to go to the Franklin Institute which is actually pretty awesome, although we had also hoped to go to the art museum and/or see the Liberty Bell. Also, did you know the Mutter Museum is in Philly? For some reason I thought it was somewhere else in Pennsylvania. Now that I know it’s in Philly we will definitely go back for a second trip.
Anyway, the point is, Maillardet’s automaton (above) was there. Apparently when it was donated to the Franklin Institute it had been badly damaged in a fire and nobody knew what it was exactly.
When the repairs were completed and the driving motors were set in motion, the Automaton came to life. It lowered its head, positioned its pen, and began to produce elaborate sketches. Four drawings and three poems later, in the border surrounding the final poem, the Automaton clearly wrote, “Ecrit par L’Automate de Maillardet.” This translates to “Written by the Automaton of Maillardet.” Amazingly, the first clue of the true history and identity of the machine had come from its own mechanical memory!
From here. Ha ha creepy. After like 200 years and a fire and the thing still works? They don’t make ‘em like that anymore.
The Franklin Institute’s Automaton has the largest “memory” of any such machine ever constructed—four drawings and three poems (two in French and one in English). Maillardet achieved this by placing the driving machinery in a large chest that forms the base of the machine, rather than in the Automaton’s body.
The memory is contained in the “cams,” or the brass disks… As the cams are turned by the clockwork motor, three steel fingers follow their irregular edges. The fingers translate the movements of the cams into side to side, front and back, and up and down movements of the doll’s writing hand through a complex system of levers and rods that produce the markings on paper.
I can’t even begin to understand how they figured this stuff out. But then I am not a watchmaker or mechanic of any kind, which may have something to do with it.