The Astounding World of Automata - Atlas Obscura Lists

The Astounding World of Automata

From mechanical dragons to storytelling clocks, 18 marvelous machines.

The growing world of robots and self-driving cars can trace its roots back to early automata. The origins of self-operating machines can be traced back to the ancient world, but saw a massive resurgence during the Renaissance through the designs of Leonardo DaVinci and fully-functioning devices such as robotic monks. During the Industrial Revolution, automata became a form of entertainment, from children’s toys to intricate clockwork devices.

Every day at 11 a.m. in Munich, Germany, the story of the marriage of Bavarian Duke Wilhelm V in 1568 is told through mechanical jousting characters and other figures. The Rathaus-Glockenspiel is a mechanical clock that features 43 bells and 32 life-sized figurines that all come to life. On Pier 45 in San Francisco, California, the Musée Mécanique is home to around 300 coin-operated automata and arcade games. From a collection of moving characters to a few ancestors of modern computers, here are 18 places to dive into the world of automata.