Archive for the 'Al-Jazari' Category

Ayhan Aytes on Al-Jazari’s Automata

Ayhan Aytes, a student at UCSD seems to have a very interesting take on Al-Jazari’s Automata. Here is a description of his work and a talk that he will be giving at the University of Minnesota.

Ayhan Aytes’s research complicates the categorical distinctions between sacred and profane through a series of examples from al-Jazari’s book of mechanical devices. Aytes’s study addresses mainly the depiction of the concept of time in some devices as it originates from the symbolic domain but eventually contributes to a mechanical understanding of the universe, while in other automata time reveals a strange synthesis of a religious ritual with an artificial life form. Traditionally these works have been mainly presented as “Islamic automata” by history of science scholars but even this conception is problematic because of the syncretic elements of the symbolic system referred to by these machines. Ayhan Aytes is a graduate researcher in the Department of Communication at the University of California, San Diego.

Replica of Al-Jaziri’s Elephant Clock

One of the readers pointed out that there is actually Al-Jaziri’s Elephant Clock in the Ibn Battuta Mall in Dubai. Here is the link to the pictures of Flickr. Enjoy and thanks for the link Craig!

Al-Jaziri at Wikicommons

Wikicommons has scans of some fascinating illustrations by Al-Jaziri. Given below are: The Elephant Automata Clock, The automata Basin, a water device and a water raising device.

More on Al-Jaziri


I have been extremely busy with work so have not been able to post as regularly as I would like to post stuff. Hopefully things would be better by the beginning of May. For now here an article on Al-Jazari that recently caught my attention.

Al Jaziri – The ingenious 13th century Muslim mechanic

Al-Jazari and the First Programmable Humanoid Robot

Before Da Vinci there was Al-Jazari – the Engineering genius of the Islamic world in the Middle Ages. He designed and built a number of automatas including the first programmable humanoid robot. He is also invented the Crank-shank. Here is a page (now offline) on the reconstruction of Al-Jazari’s automata.

A 13th Century Programmable Robot

A team from the USA history channel were on campus last month in the Faculty of Engineering to talk about some very old robots. They were there to film a replica of the mechanism for al-Jazari’s drinking boat; a boat full of musical automata first constructed in 1206. Professor Noel Sharkey from Computer Science built the core of the device –”bodged it together from a pile of rubbish”, he says – to demonstrate how it could have been programmed. The previous claim for the world’s oldest programmable automata is for a machine built by Leonardo da Vinci in 1478.

Al-Jazari’s machine was originally a boat with four automatic musicians that floated on a lake to entertain guests at royal drinking parties. It had two drummers, a harpist and a flautist. Professor Sharkey’s machine has just the one drummer with a drum, cymbals, bells and no body. The flautist is replaced with an Irish penny whistle. He says he wouldn’t risk taking this to any drinking parties round here.

The heart of the mechanism is a rotating cylindrical beam with pegs (cams) protruding from it. These just bump into little levers that operate the percussion. The point of the model is to demonstrate that the drummer can be made to play different rhythms and different drum patterns if the pegs are moved around. In other words it is a programmable drum machine.

“Whether or not al-Jazari dynamically programmed his machines is an intriguing question”, he says, “it is quite likely that he used this method, at the very least, for fine tuning the rhythm of the musicians”.

Professor Sharkey is currently looking at a much older mobile automaton device by Heron of Alexandria, 1st Century AD, which he now suspects may also have been programmable.

The TV programme, The Ancient Robots, will air in the USA in early 2007.

January 2022

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