The Banu Musa and the Book of Ingenious Devices, 850.
So during the 800s, under the Abbasid Caliphate, there was a university in Baghdad that was called the House of Wisdom. It was initially founded as a center for the study and propagation of translation, particularly of the Greek and Roman classics, but pretty rapidly the priorities of the collected academics turned to such topics as “but these medical documents haven’t been properly peer-reviewed,” “I really feel the world needs another book of sexy poems about God,” “you know these histories leave out whole countries and if you give me tons of silver I can probably go explore the crap out of those places,” and “look what I can make.” The Banu Musa, or sons of Musa, were three brothers who enthusiastically fell into that last category.
Musa was an ex-highwayman in Khorasan who somehow became friends with the future caliph al-Ma’mun and signed on as a court astronomer. He prevailed on the Caliph to take in his kids when he tragically died young in some sort of stargazing and/or robbery accident, and the Caliph duly handed them off to the university, where they flourished through, apparently, spending huge amounts of money on Greek translations and successfully measuring the circumference of the Earth. (They were scooped to this by Aryabhata, among others, but I do like the story of al-Ma’mun asking the House of Wisdom what Ptolemy said the circumference of the Earth was. 180,000 stadia, the translators explained, proudly. What’s a stadium? al-Ma’mun asked. Uh, said the translators. “This does not tell us what we need to know,” al-Ma’mun said, presumably rather dryly, and dispatched them to measure the Earth.) They also appear to have measured the length of the year and, in their spare time, invented the gas mask.
They are most famous for building robots, though. Some of you are probably going like “WAY TO BURY THE LEDE! Surely the title of this article should be ROBOTS!!!!!”, but automata weren’t invented in our period, like, not even close—they date practically back to the wheel. No, no, the Banu Musa were simply some of many people during the “Dark Ages” casually building
robotsautomated devices for profit but mostly fun. They invented the player piano, automatic Vegas-style fountains, a self-trimming lamp (pictured above), and a ton of toys. Their work was hydraulic; my favorite manifestation is probably the automatic flute player, which worked by blowing hot steam through a flute and was programmable one thousand years before the invention of the Jacquard loom.
This would all be totally overshadowed in three hundred years when al-Jazari and his musical robot band showed up. Watch this space.
These are spermbots! Researchers in Germany mixed magnetic nanotubes with samples of bull sperm. Sperm would swim into the nanotubes and get trapped. Trapped sperm provided locomotion for the tube, and the tube let researchers control the sperm’s direction with magnets and to change speed with temperature change.
*Opinion polling about drones.
*Q. Did anybody else’s drones blow you up yet? A. No, so I like them”
I’m biotronic !
Twitterbots going to SXSW Interactive
Euphonia Speaking Machine
German inventor Joseph Faber’s Talking Machine, known as “Euphonia,” was able to speak sentences in a human if monotone voice. It is “… a speech synthesizer. By pumping air with the bellows … and manipulating a series of plates, chambers, and other apparatus (including an artificial tongue … )”
This is a video of a bunch of robots playing “Ace of Spades”; that is all.
Mother Jones reports:
First things first: No, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is not using drones to vaporize poachers. But thanks to a five million dollar grant awarded by Google on Tuesday, the organization is expanding its use of unmanned aerial vehicles to track and deter criminals who illegally hunt endangered animal species around the world.
Another MST3K inspired nail polish! This is Polished Perfection - Servo
The Queen’s Android (via http://bit.ly/Krr44d)
“This famous android was a collaborative effort by two Germans. Clockmaker Peter Kintzing created the mechanism and joiner David Roentgen crafted the cabinet; the dress dates from the 19th century. Automatons were in circulation and aroused much curiosity. Roentgen probably sent the tympanum to the French court and Marie-Antoinette bought it in 1784. The queen, aware of its perfection and scientific interest, had it deposited in the Academy of Sciences cabinet in 1785. The tympanum is a musical instrument that plays eight tunes when the female android strikes the 46 strings with two little hammers. Tradition has it that she is a depiction of Marie-Antoinette.”
I love history.