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Al-Jazarī Creates the First Recorded Designs of a Programmable Automaton


In his al-Jāmiʿ bain al-ʿilm wa al-ʿamal al-nāfiʿ fī ṣināʿat al-ḥiyal (The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices) written in 1206, the year of his death, Muslim polymath, inventor, mechanical engineer, craftsman, artist, mathematician and astronomer Badi'al-Zaman Abū al-'Izz ibn Ismā'īl ibn al-Razāz al-Jazarī ( بديع الزمان أَبُو اَلْعِزِ بْنُ إسْماعِيلِ بْنُ الرِّزاز الجزري‎, Turkish: Ebû’l İz İbni İsmail İbni Rezzaz El Cezerî) from Jazirat ibn Umar (current Cizre,Turkey) described and illustrated the first recorded designs of a programmable automaton and a set of humanoid automata.

"al-Jazari created a musical automaton, which was a boat with four automatic musicians that floated on a lake to entertain guests at royal drinking parties. Professor Noel Sharkey has argued that it is quite likely that it was an early programmable automata and has produced a possible reconstruction of the mechanism; it has a programmable drum machine with pegs (cams) that bump into little levers that operated the percussion. The drummer could be made to play different rhythms and different drum patterns if the pegs were moved around. According to Charles B. Fowler, the automata were a 'robot band' which performed "more than fifty facial and body actions during each musical selection" (Wikipedia article on al-Jazari, accessed 12-19-2011).

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