October 08, 2007

Robot of the Week: The Digesting Duck

This week we report from Grenoble, France, where in 1739 Jacques de Vaucanson, a hobbyist, created the world's most sophisticated automaton. With over 400 moving parts, the duck flapped its wings, waddled, quacked, drank water, ate grain, and defecated. All internal mechanisms were exposed for viewing of the digestion process, although there was a hidden chamber for holding the excrement; it was a mechanical marvel, but did not fully replicate all digestive functions (it took 260 more years for Wim Delvoye's "Cloaca" machine to finally make this concept a reality, much to the wonder and disgust of patrons). Of no small consequence, Jacques experimented with a new material brought from the amazon when making the duck's intestines, and in so doing, invented flexible rubber. The Duck was known throughout Europe. Even Voltaire wrote, "without the Duck of Vaucanson, you have nothing to remind of the glory of France". Strangely, Vaucanson only created two other robots in his lifetime: full-scale android musicians that played flute and tambourine. Both were destroyed in the revolution. The duck's wherabouts are unknown, but an ersatz imitation is on display at the Museum of Automatons in Grenoble. See a short demo video here. UPDATE! 10/16/07: my sources were out of date; The original digesting duck was found and reconditioned by Fred Vidoni (maker of the replica seen in the youtube video), and is also on display at the same museum.

1 comment:

Lance said...

"Strangely, Vaucanson only created two other robots in his lifetime: full-scale android musicians that played flute and tambourine. Both were destroyed in the revolution..."

...or WERE they?