The “Father of Robotics” Al-Jazari: Quite Possibly the Coolest Dude You’ve Never Heard of


This week at quizzo, we had a round on founding fathers, and almost no-one knew that Al-Jazari was the father of robotics (no judgement here. I wouldn’t have known it either. The people who didn’t know Jerry Lee Lewis’s music, on the other hand…). Well, Al-Jazari was a fascinating dude, one well worth further study.

He was a Muslim who lived in what is now south-eastern Turkey in the 12th century and early 13th. He was an engineer who invented tons of awesome stuff, including the modern crankshaft, the combination lock, the automatic gate, and a highly advanced water supply system that supplied fresh water to the hospitals and mosques of Damascus.

But it was his friggin’ robots that make him so incredible. He made a drink-serving waitress, who could serve water or tea. The water would drip into a cup for 7 1/2 minutes, then a door would open, the robot would come out of the door, full drink in hand, and serve it to you like Rosie from the Jetsons. He also created the original Chuck E. Cheese band (almost 800 years before the father of video games Nolan Bushnell founded Chuck E Cheese!) From

Al-Jazari described also a musical automaton (see the image below), which was a boat with four automatic musicians, that floated on a lake to entertain guests at royal drinking parties. The mechanism featured 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. The automata were a robot band, which performed more than fifty facial and body actions during each musical selection.

Al-Jazari2Hard to believe there could be anything cooler than that, but the elephant clock certainly gives it a run for it’s money. This short video will tell you all about it. Well worth a watch (get it? Clock? Watch? Nevermind.). The first thing I thought of when I saw it was that breakfast contraption in Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. And let’s face it, any dude that brings to mind Jetsons, Chuck E. Cheese, and Pee Wee Herman must be pretty daggone cool. Here’s his wiki page if you wanna learn more.

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