An automaton is a self-acting robot which behaves in a repetitive or predetermined fashion. Pierre Jaquet-Droz, a famous Swiss watchmaker, created three automatons in his life. One of these, which he created in the 1770’s, is know simply as The Writer.
The almost 240-year-old automaton, which looks simply like a doll holding a quill and sitting on a pedestal, still works perfectly to this day. This fact is as amazing as the automaton itself, due to the complexity of it. The Writer is made from around 6000 parts, which have been miniaturized and designed to fit into the body of the doll.
Jaquet-Droz built the automaton with the help of his son and used techniques such as homeostasis and miniaturization to complete the robot. Jaquet-Droz is a well known automaton builder and The Writer is considered his masterpiece. The doll can write any word or sentence up to 40 characters in length. As well as writing, the doll is able to control the pressure of the quill on the paper while writing and the eyes follow the writing on the paper as if it is actually following what it is writing.
The watchmaker made two other automatons, The Musician and The Draughtsman, which can be seen at the Art and History Museum in Neuchatel, Switzerland along with The Writer. What makes this an ancestor to modern computers is the fact that it was programmable. The letters and words would be preset and could be easily rearranged, meaning The Writer could write virtually anything within a 40 character limit.
This perfectly working example of a programmable robot shows us that Jaquet-Droz, was far ahead of his time. The watchmaker was indeed a mechanical genius who produced the future in his own time.