Jaquet-Droz Automata in Neuchatel, Switzerland

IMG_0833, originally uploaded by dynamicsubspace.

When Y and I were in Switzerland over the summer, I made a point to visit the Musee d’Art et d’Histoire in Neuchatel, Switzerland. The main reason that I wanted to make that trek from Laussane was to see the Jaquet-Droz automata: the musician, the draftsman, and the writer. Built in the 18th century, these mechanical beings are capable of complex tasks reflected in their names. Using complex and precise mechanisms, the writer can be programmed to write script, the draftsman can reproduce various drawings, and the musician can play her instrument. The musician is perhaps the most intriguing, because she is the most lifelike in her gestures, movements, and even replication of breathing. Unfortunately, the automata are only turned on for demonstrations once a month, and we had missed that month’s demonstration by about a week. Nevertheless, I was honored to see these fantastic creations in person.

Published by Jason W. Ellis

I am an Associate Professor of English at the New York City College of Technology, CUNY whose teaching includes composition and technical communication, and research focuses on science fiction, neuroscience, and digital technology. Also, I coordinate the City Tech Science Fiction Collection, which holds more than 600 linear feet of magazines, anthologies, novels, and research publications.