Archive for September, 2009

1850 – Chebyshev Walking platform – Russian

This linkage was invented by the Russian mathematician Pafnuty Chebyshev (1821-1894)

Model as seen in Russian Technology Museum – Moscow.

See the above Chebyshev walker in my compilation video clip here.

Wouter Scheublin's Chebyshev-based walking bookcase.

see Wouter Scheublin's Chebyshev-based walking table here.

1849 – Steam Man – Russian

The 1849 Russian Steam man entry is more a place marker in case further information comes to light that this steam man actually went through a walking motion, rather than a statue on some sort of steam carriage.


Scientific American. / Volume 5, Issue 14 1849  Page  108

A Steam Man.
A mechanic in Russia is said to have succeeded in making a steam man. It is probably, says an exchange, one of the most interesting inventions ever offered to the public. It is a colossal statue, the feet of which are placed upon wheels upon a railroad, and as he goes thundering, over the coarse, the steam comes puffing out of his nostrils in a manner to give the appearance of Satan as pictured in Revelation. Our own opinion regarding it is that there is nothing wonderful about it. There are hundreds of mechanics in our own land who could make steam men, if they received orders to do so and good pay for their labour: but of what utility would it be when executed.

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Grey Walter’s Tortoises – the video clips

In my research for all things Grey Walter and his tortoises, I have uncovered five (5) video clips available on the internet.

Of the five, I have downloaded four of them, the 5th has been allusive for some time, having not been able to re-locate it again after spending many hours trying. It is not so bad, as this video clip is a newsreel clip of the IBM exhibition "A Computer Perspective" and is a walk-by of the static model. I took a still image of it at the time, though.

The other four I will try to re-locate on the web as I did not keep the link when I downloaded them sometime ago.

When I describe tortoise behaviours in a future post, I will refer to these video clips.

(not re-located on yet!)

A "Computer Perspective" film was produced (1971). Its been loaded into Youtube by the Eames Office. Thanks to Domenico in notifying me of this. The  tortoise is 7:22sec into the  clip.


Bristol's Robot Tortoises Have Minds Of Their Own

In a simple villa on the outskirts of Bristol lives Dr. Grey Walter, a neurologist, who makes robots as a hobby. They are small and he doesn't dress them up to look like men – he calls them tortoises. And so cunningly have their insides been designed that they respond to the stimuli of light and touch in a completely life-like manner. This model is named Elsie and she "sees" out of a photo-electric cell which rotates about her body. When light strikes the cell driving and steering mechanisms send her hurrying towards it. If she brushes against any objects in her path, contacts are operated which turn the steering away, and so, automatically, she takes avoiding action. Mrs. Walter's pet is Elmer. Elsie's brother, in the darker vest. He works in exactly the same way. Dr. Walter says that his electronic toys work exactly as though they have a simple two-cell nervous system, and that with more cells, they would be able to do many more tricks. Already Elsie has one up on Elmer. When her batteries begin to fail, she automatically runs home to her kennel for charging up, and in consequence can lead a much gayer life.


Now meet Dr Grey Walter of Britain . Why the torch? Well, here's the reason – its Toby, a mechanical tortoise with an electronic brain which functions like the human mind. Toby's  head, or rather 'magic-eye' is a photo-electric cell constantly revolving until it picks up the strongest source of light, to which it is then attracted. In this case an ordinary electric torch guides the mechanical tortoise in any direction its inventor chooses. It can also negotiate obstacles.  When it hits an object, the pressure on the shell causes a short circuit of the photo-electric cell mechanism, and the tortoise moves at random until it is free of the obstacle. With a stronger source of light placed in position, Toby is attracted to the lamp  in the same way as a moth is attracted by light. Now, the front wheel of the tricycle undercarriage which is coupled to the photo-electric cell motor is turning on its axle while its two back wheels remain static and the tortoise attempts to get still closer to the light. A small syringe is being used to inflate the tyres, and with its shell removed, the inner workings of the complicated mechanism of Dr Walter's brain-child and the immediate affect of light on the magic-eye can be seen. Toby's probably getting tired and hungry by now for light to Toby is like food to any ordinary animal. And that light in his hutch never fails to bring him home,  without a torch, too.

Note: It is interesting that the tortoise is called "Toby" by the narrator. I don't know if this is journalistic license or whether, in fact, after the "CORA" circuit was cut out, the tortoise was actually called "Toby" thereafter.

This segment is from the movie "Future Shock". It is 17:27 minutes in. The unit next to the tortoise is not CORA, but another unidentified model, used as a prop for obstacle avoidance.

TRANSCRIPT: [Orson Wells – Narrator]

Step by step, the body parts grow disposable-like products we use and discard. This quaint English village, a remnant of permanence in a    future-shocked world  is the home of neurophysiologist  Grey Walter . He's one of the many scientists leading us towards the ultimate replacement –  Artificial Intelligence. Twenty-five years ago he pioneered the development of behaviour machines.

[WGW] This looks rather as though it was a childs'  toy, and I suppose it might be, but in fact it's a rather serious model of my ideas of behaviour. And it behaves in a complex way with all kinds of behaviour modes only having two elements compared with our ten billion in our brains, but its behaviour is finely?  complex. Now you see it hesitating a moment,  and then the body out of ?  and on its way slowly and by a rather devious path, right into its hutch down here. And so, rather like us, it has a sense of ?? which although its such a very simple  toy, but not really just a toy, a model of behaviour . END

(in French)

Site is quirky.  You need to register to view the clip. Last time I tried registration took around 24 hours. If you still can't see it in the English version, use the French version. Search criteria is CONGRÈS DE LA CYBERNÉTIQUE TORTUE . Date of clip = 18/01/1951: running time =
57 secs.  Clip also shows the chess automaton of Torres y Quevedo.

CHALLENGE: If a French speaking person would like to offer a translated transcript, I will publish it here.

See also my other posts on Grey Walter and his Tortoises here.


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1911 – Miss Automaton – Belcher (American)

At this point in time I am unable to locate an image for Belcher’s Miss Automaton.

In the mean time, here are some interesting transcripts from period newspapers.

The Waterloo Evening Courier 30 Aug 1911p1 Belcher Automaton


Boston. Mass, Aug. 30.-—John W. Belcher of Newton has created an automaton, a life sized figure of a woman 5 feet 8 inches tall. weighing 185 pounds, which can walk, talk, sing and write.
The automaton can talk hours without running down. It entertains friends of the Belcher family and its vocabulary appears to he inexhaustible. Seven years ago Belcher, who has previously spent about ten years in search of perpetual motion, began the construction of the figure. A phonograph arrangement allows of the figure talking and a gyroscope perfects the balance.



A Massachusetts Man Makes a Woman
Which Can Walk, Talk,
 Write and Sing.
[Boston despatch to New York Tribune.]

It walks, talks, writes, sings, smiles and performs similar and dissimilar "stunts," and still it isn’t human. No sleeping, eating or drinking is necessary to give it apparent life and action, yet in any except a close inspection it might pass for a mortal being Just turn the switch or press the button, all the wonderful motions are performed with ease, according to those who have seen it. Friends of John W. Belcher, of Newton, who have seen this mechanical wonder, are mystified, much to the gratification of its maker. That it does all these things, and does them with as much ease as is possible by mechanical means and with the assistance of hundreds of contrivances, all manipulated by electricity, is easy of belief when one talks with its builder, who does the whole trick at a distance of 40 feet. What is it? To the knowledge of its maker it is the first automaton ever made having the form of a woman.
The life-size figure stands 5 feet, 8 inches, weighing 185 pounds, is dressed in a red silk gown of the latest design can move lips, eyes, mouth, arms, legs and fingers, and is capable of many other seemingly impossible feats.
Nearly seven years ago Mr. Belcher, who had spent about ten years in search of perpetual motion, began the construction of the figure. As time went on, he found it necessary to perfect himself in practical electricity and mechanical engineering to build up the multiple parts of the body. Then, to solve the more complicated part of making the figure talk, sing. answer questions and "think," the inventor spent more hours in research.
The result is that his figure reproduces any word at a distance of 40 feet in very good tones. The phonograph arrangement he calls perfection. Other automatons there have been. but, in the opinion of Mr. Belcher, none has reached the perfection of his "Miss Automaton". Its building has been his hobby taking all his spare time, even Sundays and holidays.

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1909 – Occultus / Barbarossa – Whitman (German)

1909 – Occultus -also Barbarossa [redbeard]
Very little is known other than a weird photo and article on an automaton / robot named "Occultus" recently exhibited in Berlin by a man named Whitman.

Its quite probable that Occultus can't perform all the functions he's purported to do, but possibly some of them, so I haven't yet excluded him as a fake. See my friend David Buckley's account of him here.

"Radiomensch Occultus" is its German name. 

Some other reports have Occultus dated at 1911, but the Syracuse Herald (USA) reported it in 1909.

Herr Adolph Whitman posing with Occultus.

Here's a rather interesting rave – an insight into the times…

The Fort Wayne Sentinel 20 Jun 1914 p13 Occultus

Here He is—the Complete Man-Made Man Who Does Just About Everything

Inventor of the Bonesless, Bloodless, Fleshless Man Sees Ahead When Cog-Wheel Man Will Do All Work for Living People, and Even Do Their Fighting.

Berlin. June 20.— "I hold the world in the palm of my hand: I could be emperor of the universe; I could make the  terrestrial globe my personal property! For I've invented an artificial man who could compel all other men to become my slaves!"
So says Herr Adolph Whitman, famous Berlin Inventor. He has constructed of wheels and chains and levers an artificial man who walks, talks, mingles with a crowd just as naturally as any real man would. This machine-man is the outcome of many years laborious and painstaking application of Whitman's wonderful inventive genius.
He calls his mechanical man "Occultus."
"Occultus obeys my every order." says Whitman. "Whether I tell him to run, to turn, to stop, to lift something, to sit down, to sing, whistle or answer question, he obeys implicity and without hesitation. I could walk him into a crowded parlor and he would act so naturally that half the evening might pass before the guests realized that they had a mysterious and occult person among them.
"The secret of making my artificial men is simple. I shall soon be able to construct them by the hundreds in special factories.
"Just imagine what I can do when I begin to turn these mechanical men out by the wholesale. I could organize them into a vast army, and train it to an automatic perfection in military tactics. Then, armed with the most destructive weapons of modern warfare, my hordes on non-killable soldiers could set forth to conquer the continents.
"I could sweep the face of Europe clean in one campaign. Bullets, bombs, shells—my armies would he impervious to them all. Faster than my men fell, I could turn out new ones in my factories."
Whitman could man great navies with his machine-men, and send them forth through all the seas, and subdue all the nations. Shortly he would be emperor of the world.
Or, he could get control of the whole earth in another way — by purchase. For since all wealth is based on human industry, by controlling the inexhaustible industry of the machine-men, he could become the wealthiest man in the world. All the earth's riches he could monopolize, and all production would be carried on in his factories, filled with mechanical men.
Imagine what the new world then would be—humming with every known form of life and industry, and yet made up of only dead machinery! There would be not a ray nor smile of true life on all the globe, yet it would be covered with whirring, clanking, neverstopping mechanism.
The telegraphs, with mechanical men at their sounders, would continue to speak across the continents. Huge vessels would ply the seas, carrying freight and artificial passengers from port to port. Great areas would he built up into cities of towering skyscrapers whose streets would throng with machine-men, tramping back and forth on the multitudinous affairs of their life, And in vast factories they would be continually turning out new mechanical men by the wholesale!
There is nothing that a civilization of such men could not accomplish, for they would fear none of the chief obstacles of modern industry -disease, suffering and death.
"But of course I shan't attempt to bring about any such destruction of hunanity. Instead, I hope in time to perfect my machine-men so as to make them a great boon to humanity," says Whitman.
In time, his machine-men could be made into a race of slaves, supporting in case all natural mankind. Each human being would have as many servants as he liked. No one need do a stroke of work other than give orders to his mechanical serfs. Every bit of mining, manufacturing, all the dangerous and disagreeable labors of civilization would be turned over in the unfeeling machine-men. And we humans would live in ideal luxury.
"It would be the realization of the millennium!"


SanAntonioLightandGazette 23 Apr 1911 p34 Occultus

A Clockwork Man That Talks and Sings.

H.[err Adolph] WHITMAN, a Berlin Inventor, has, after many years, succeeded in making a mechanical man that can walk, and make other human movements, and can speak, sing, whistle and laugh.
This mechanical masterpiece is so human that at a distance of a yard it cannot be told from a living being. The figure is a mass of intricate cogs and machinery.
In the chest a number of phonographs are arranged, but how the machinery is controlled is a secret of the inventor. It has been said that wireless electric waves are at the bottom of the mechanical miracle. Each part of the figure is controlled by a little electric motor.
The inventor carries about with him a disk, upon which is a little needle. This ia attached to an electric coil of his own invention, which is in harmony with the little motors inside of the figure. By moving the needle from one point to another, he starts by wireless waves he parts that he wants to move. And this principle is worked out in endless combinations.
The invention seems in fact to duplicate Bulwer Lytton's mechanical servants in his famous story "The Coming Race," and at a latter date H. G. Wells's conception of the same solution of the servant problem.
Writers of fiction, in all countries and ages, have found inspiration in the Idea of duplicating the complicated works of nature with mechanical constructions.
To describe such imaginary mechanisms is much easier than actually to construct them.
Clockmakers, owing to their familiarity with the means of producing all sorts of movements in the transmission of power, have always been the most ingenious artificers on these lines—but they have usually connected their moving human figures with the main purpose of their contrivances—to tell the time of day and the progress of the seasons.
To construct a mechanical man is merely to triumph over mechanical difficulties—the man being of no use, but merely a curiosity when created—which appears to be the case with Mr. Whitman.


There is currently a Turkish story going around that Occultus / Barbarossa is an early Ottoman empire robot built as a gift for the Japanese, under the name of Alamet .  An early Turkish paper shows this robot with Gernsback's Robot Soldier. A misassociation has been made somewhere.

I cannot see any resemblance between the two mechanical men – they are not the same.