Before Robots, Japan Had Tiny Dolls That Tumbled Down Stairs And Served Tea

Automata paved the way for the creepy, lifelike robots we see today

Rodrigo Encinas

During Japan’s Edo period, which stretched from the early 17th century to the mid-1800s, wealthy families would buy Karakuri—little self operating dolls or toys that served tea and shot arrows. Here, you can see how one works—this one’s called the tumbling doll:

Tumbling doll (Work of Minesaki Sougo)

Most of these early automata used clockwork technology to create the movements: check out these plans for the tumbling doll and other karakuri.

As with most old traditions, the number of people making Karakuri is dwindling, but this man and his father are some of the last karakuri makers left.

Automata are not limited to Japan, of course. The famous monkbot is another exampleThe early Greeks and Renaissance artists were quite interested in building robot birdsThe Automata Blog has a whole slew of other historic robots as well, and these automata paved the way for the creepy, lifelike robots we see today.

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