The remarkable story of Ancient inventions.
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Phil Crowley ...
 Narrator (27 episodes, 2005-2009)
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The remarkable story of Ancient inventions.

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21 December 2003 (USA)  »

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Arhaies anakalypseis  »

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A review of the Robots episode
4 December 2011 | by (Canada) – See all my reviews

This episode is only about 40 minutes long, and looks at ancient automatons and the longstanding human obsession with creating robotic beings, with commentary from Prof. Noel Sharkey. It begins with Leonardo Da Vinci's mechanical knight, which has been recreated based on his schematics. The suit of armour contained an intricate assemblage of gears and pulleys that would move its arms and legs. Historians think it may have been made to hug people with both arms when being demonstrated, which would have been quite surprising for crowds of onlookers.

If you can stomach the crude CGI examples from Greek mythology, there's some cool replicas of ancient automata a bit later. Heron of Alexandria and Philon of Byzantium are credited with inventing mechanisms still used today, like cams and pneumatics, and various automata that can be recreated from surviving diagrams. Model makers demonstrate several replicas, and they're all pretty nifty. Some of the more impressive examples include a fountain with singing metallic birds that contained water warblers, and a coin-operated water and soap dispenser.

Though it is filled with hyperbolic speculation about what our ancestors actually built, it's definitely entertaining to see the replicas of ancient automata from around the world, including a few from China and Baghdad. It concludes with a sophisticated replica of Leonardo's walking lion, which justifies the episode on its own. Unfortunately clockwork automata from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries are not covered outside of the famous Japanese tea server.


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