Jaques de Vaucanson
Jaques de Vaucanson was born in Grenoble, France in 1709
10th child to a poor family of glove makers
Jaques wanted to become a clock maker as a child. His mother being very religious took Jaques to church with her. While she was in confession Jaques would watch the clock until he memorized its’ mechanisms to such perfection he was able to recreate it at home.
When Jaques father died when he was seven he was sent to live and train with the Jesuits. It was a difficult place for Jaques and he did poorly unable to concentrate on lessons. He was even punished for having cogs and wheels to create a boat in his possessions. There was a stand off with the priests where he refused to learn until a teacher would help him make a boat that could cross the pond. After being punished a math teacher and monk decided to help Jaques.
Later he became reacquainted with his love of mechanics after meeting the surgeon Claude-Nicolas Le Cat this is where his love of anatomy came from that will feature in his work.
At 18 he had his first automaton workshop in Lyon in 1727. Jaques created a robot that would serve the dinner and clear the table. Instead of being impressed one of the politicians found the robot to be an insult to the natural order and demanded the workshop to be destroyed.
This era was the time of the robots. They were all the rage in the royal courts though were often classified as toys or games.
Jaques was also greatly admired by the famous minds of his time. Voltaire even called him a "new Prometheus".
The Flute Player
The flute player while a marvel was Jaques first steps into creating not just a robot that would perform tasks but a robot that could imitate life. In 1737 the flute player was made as a life size Shepard that could play 12 songs.
It is said that the flute player came to him in a fevered dream during a four month illness.
Vaucanson had been told by a musician that the most difficult instrument to play and tune was a flute. The challenge was set and he decided to make an automaton that would not just mimic playing but would actually play the most difficult instrument.
This is what made the flute player unique in a court full of interesting automata was that the machine was playing the music as if it were alive using fashioned lungs that created the breath, fingers that moved, and a mouth that created the shapes need to make the music. The robot was playing the flute in an approximation of how a human would. He also created a tambourine player and a pipe and drum player based on the same principles.
The Digesting Duck:
When attendance and money fell of from his musicians in 1739, Jaques turned to something entirely new, the digesting Duck.
“…it was the same size as a living duck. It could drink, muddle the water with its beak, quack, rise and settle back on its legs and, spectators were amazed to see, it swallowed food with a quick, realistic gulping action in its flexible neck.” Gaby Wood
It is important to say the duck would grab pellets from the hands of visitors, gulp the food down a tube where the pellets would be “digested” in the duck’s stomach and then the duck would poop out the food. The entire food cycle in a robot duck all to the hilarity and enraptured crowd of France.
This Eighteenth-Century Robot Actually Used Breathing to Play the Flute
By Kat Eschner
FEBRUARY 24, 2017
Living Dolls: A Magical History Of The Quest For Mechanical Life by Gaby Wood The Gaurdia
See acast.com/privacy for privacy and opt-out information.