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The 6 Most Badass Robots (Invented Before Electricity)

You might think that robots are strictly a 20th century invention, but you'd be sorely mistaken: At the same time that the human race thought stomach aches were just tiny, enchanted dwarfs casting hunger spells, a few brilliant souls (possibly aliens) were actually building full functional robots. So maybe they're not R2D2 caliber, but who are we to judge? They built friggin' robots before there was toilet paper!

#6.
The Steam Man

Zaddock Dederick, a name that sounds more appropriate for a Level II Thetan Power-Zorg, was actually a young inventor in 19th century New Jersey. His first goal was to come up with a perpetual motion machine, but when that didn't pan out he delivered something much more ominous.

What we have here is the patent of an android that could pull a cart and run up to a mile a minute. In a top hat. Smoking a pipe. Probably thinking that there was no way anybody could actually build this monstrous ironclad robotic Flash, the clerk at the patent office approved the steampunk monster. And guess what? It worked.


"Eat my dust, Jeddediah!"

The robot, which was named Daniel Lambert (that's...that's actually the weirdest part) was dressed like a human so as to "not scare the horses." Because horses will be totally OK with a nearly 8 foot tall iron giant running 5200-feet a minute while pulling a carriage, just as long as it's dressed like a proper gentleman. The people, on the other hand, probably never stopped screaming.

How Did He Do That?

With a steam broiler in the robot's chest. The steam drove the gears which powered the legs to lift up and push off the ground with a kind of "springing" motion that propelled the whole outfit forward. The speed was determined by the engine, so once it started, you were off to the races--and at 60 MPH and without a seat belt, your best bet was to lash yourself to the roof and pray that death would be as quick and painless as it was crazy as shit to watch .


Man, you know bitches be creamin' their petticoats over a man with his own Robo-Rickshaw.

So why don't we have Daniel Lamberts all over the damn place pulling us to work while we jauntily rejoice and laugh at the poor chaps stuck on their penny farthings? Well, because it turns out when they got ready to mass produce it, they couldn't get it to cost less than $2000, which was the 1860s equivalent of all the money that has ever existed.

#5.
Medieval Robot Musicians

Al-Jazari was a 12th century inventor who is known to historians as the Leonardo da Vinci of the Middle East, which is slightly unfair considering he died 250 years before Leonardo da Vinci was even born. That's like saying George Washington was the Reagan of the Revolution. Perhaps he was aware of the injustices to come, when the darkness took him and he came up with a set of horrifying Dark Age automatons who could actually play music, make facial expressions and move their witch bodies. At a time when extensive bloodletting was commonly accepted as the best cure for a headache, this genius produced enchanted miniature androids just for the hell of it. And they were even programmable.


Unfortunately, they could only play "Mr. Roboto."

How Did He Do That?

Like most of Al-Jazari's creations, this one ran on water; specifically, water that would run from one tank to another, thus creating momentum which would drive gears. The programmable aspect of this robot came in the form of a concept known as "hydraulic switching," in which tiny pegs could be moved around to generate different drum rhythms and musical tunes. Since one of the robots was a flautist, this undoubtedly came in handy for those Jethro Tull requests.


What? You know those arabs love them some JT.

And it turns out the entire ensemble could be programmed to generate "more than 50 facial and body actions during each musical selection," which we would be an absolutely necessity when covering John Mayer numbers.


Except that John Mayer would have been burned at the stake in short order. We know the face of a witch when we see one.

#4.
Mechanical Devil Dolls From Japan

Perhaps also eager to invent the Japanese stereotype, this robot was built by 19th century Japanese engineer Hisashige Tanaka who started tinkering with robots at the age of eight. Historical record does not indicate if he liked watching squids rape pseudo-white schoolgirls, nor made any mention of the size of his penis. He left those developments to later generations.

Tanaka had a thing for Karakuri dolls, which were like mechanical puppets, only more sinister (if that's possible). They were intended to "tease, trick or take a person by surprise" which is just a brilliant thing to design your creepy doll to do, Japan.

Tanaka was best known for the Yumi-iri Doji, a lifelike (if life was horrible) doll that picked up four arrows and shot them in succession. So they loved to take taunt you and "take you by surprise" and were programmed to be expert archers? It's like you're trying to write a Stephen King novel here.

Although there is some hope of escaping the deadly robot projectiles: One of the four consecutive shots was programmed to miss the target to better simulate an actual archer (because in 19th century Japan archers were apparently creepily smiling half-men attached to boxes). This just proves what we've been saying all along: Japan is now, and has always been in the mouth of madness.

How Did He Do That?

Tanaka's masterpiece was truly elegance in simplicity. It was a combination of western clockwork techniques with cams, levers, threads and had only 12 other moving parts:

So Tanaka pretty much perfected the technology that Walt Disney would later exploit to build his eerie, music-infused robot doll armies.

If you're mourning the injustice of this world that such a great inventor went unheralded, don't worry: He wasn't toiling in obscurity; the workshop he founded would later become Toshiba. That's right: Your television's great-great-grandfather was a murderous Japanese doll built solely to harass humanity.

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