Robots are generally seen as creations of the 20th century, but the modern automaton dates all the way back to the 16th century and legendary Renaissance man Leonardo da Vinci. Swiss watchmaker Pierre Jaquet-Droz lived in the 18th century, and his robotic creations "live" on today thanks to the Swatch Group.
One of them is called The Writer, and was created in 1774. Cited as an inspiration for the Martin Scorsese film Hugo, the automaton is a small boy that sits at a desk and writes phrases on paper using ink and a quill. In the video above, you can see it dipping its quill into the ink and writing using eerily lifelike motions. Its actions are powered by a complex, gear-driven machine hidden underneath.
The Writer is one of three in a series of such automatons created by Jaquet-Droz. The Draftsman and The Pianist employ similar designs but are intended to draw and play a piano, respectively. Though more than 200 years old, they still operate with precision today, and are the clear inspiration for the elaborate animatronics used to entertain theme park and pizza restaurant goers around the globe in (much) more modern times. The Writer can be seen in action at the Museum of Art and History in Neuchatel, Switzerland through September 30, 2012.
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