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An automaton is the plural for the term automation. Automation simply means a machine that is self-driven. Automate during the ancient days, dating back to around 10000 BC were basically intended as toys, spiritual statues, or implements which were used to demonstrate basic technical values. Examples of automata during the ancient days include; siphons, fire engines, water organ etcetera.
People like Hero Alexandria, a Greek mathematician designed machines during the ancient days. In fact, when his work on hydraulics and pneumatics were decoded into Greek in the 16th century, his readers were able to user that to reconstruct machines. It is indeed clear that life existed long time ago and for human beings to have done things, there had to be invention of machines. (Banham, 1995)
Complicated machines are believed to be present in ancient Greece. The one that is still surviving is the Antikythera mechanism. This machine draws its origin from Rhodes where there have been elements of mechanical engineering.
There are myths that revolve around automata in the ancient world. For example Daedalus used volatile silver to fix a tone in his statue. Hephaestus made automata for his workshop. Talos made an imitation of a man using bronze.
Solomon is said to have made a throne using mechanical animals; that is the Jewish culture. This summoned him as king when he raised it. It is claimed that upon sitting on it, an eagle is believed to put a circlet on his head and a dove would make him to have a Torah scroll. It is said that the king used a number of mechanically made animals to help him sit on his throne. The description of the whole mechanism is indeed interesting how during those olden days such complex mechanisms would exist.
In antique China, a fascinating explanation on automata is found in Lie Zi text. Here we come across between king Mu of Zhou and an automatic engineer whose name was Yan Shi. The engineer presented to the king a figure shaped like human being and of the same size as human being that he had made out of his mechanical handwork skills. This figure acted more or less like a real human being. It walked, sang, moved its head, postured keeping ideal time, winked its eye and made progresses to ladies in presence. The advances made the king angry and would have persecuted Yan Shi so he turned the figure into pieces only to realize that it was just an assembly of leather, glue, wood and lacquer. All the interior structures of the figure were artificial.
Designing automata in the ancient world involved making use of available simple materials. These materials include; wood, leather, metals like silver and bronze among others. The figures that were made depicted the things that the ancient man mostly interacted with. Since the world had not gone so much into technology, simple things were designed. There was no complex phenomenon like it is today that needed complex solution therefore life was mostly about appreciating the surrounding through creating things that represented it.
Designing automata to appease rulers was common in the ancient world. Solution to simple tasks in the surrounding like fetching water also initiated design of automata. Mostly it was not done for commercial purposes as it is in the current world, but rather to feed curiosity of the designers. This is the foundation upon which the current world laid the many mechanical projects it has carried out in the past. (Woods, 2000)
Design of automata in the 10000 BC used simple tools and materials to make simple and complex artefacts that depicted what man interacted with mostly. Simple mechanical figures were made to solve simple tasks. Indeed the ancient intelligence had the creativity that cannot be disputed.