By Neenah Payne
Al-Jazari (1136-1206), whose full name was Al-Shaykh Ra’is al-A`mal Badi`al-Zaman Abu al-‘Izz ibn Isma`il ibn al-Razzaz al-Jazari, worked as chief engineer at Artuklu Palace in Diyarbakir, Turkey, headquarters of the Artuqid dynasty that ruled parts of Turkey, Syria, and Iraq in the 11th and 12th centuries. His name comes from his birthplace, Al-Jazira, located between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers in Mesopotamia.
Al-Jazari was an Arab Muslim scholar, polymath, mechanical engineer, and pioneer of applied arts — the most prominent mechanical engineer of his time. He invented a large number of devices that revolutionized mechanical engineering — everything from a mechanical waitress who served drinks to a group of robot musicians who played their instruments on a lake in the palace to entertain guests.
Al-Jazari built more than 50 different types of devices in six categories of ingenious, elaborate, and ornate instruments — including clocks, fountains, hand washing devices, machines for raising water, and musical devices. He combined engineering with aesthetics to create visually-appealing machines.
Al-Jazari was best known for his innovations like the camshaft, crankshaft, method for controlling the speed of rotation of a wheel using an escape mechanism, twin cylinder pump, etc. He is also known for his various humanoid automatons. While these inventions may seem trivial today, their contribution to engineering is indubitable due to their complex mechanisms and design concepts. Al-Jazari was the first to use crank shafts, cog wheels, delivery pipes, and one-way valves in pumps, among other innovations.
Jazari’s invention of the crank and connecting rod which convert rotary motion into linear motion (or vice versa) are used in pumps and engines. That was essential for the Industrial Revolution and also drives cars and trucks today! Al-Jazari invented the flush mechanism used in toilets today! His Castle Clock may have been the first analog computer! Al-Jazari created codes stronger than the Enigma!
Foundations of Industrial Revolution, Cars, Computers, Robots, Toilets
Donald R. Hill, an English historian who specializes in Islamic mechanics, wrote in Studies in Medieval Islamic Technology: “The impact of al-Jazari’s inventions is still felt in modern contemporary mechanical engineering.” Al-Jazari’s work was not widely known in the West until the 19th century when his manuscripts were translated into European languages. Today, his work continues to inspire and inform researchers, engineers, and inventors in the field of robotics and automation.
Perhaps Al-Jazari’s most wondrous inventions were his clocks, because they were about so much more than just telling the time. In addition to designing several water clocks. Al-Jazari invented the Elephant Clock, the Castle Clock, and the most complex candle clock known to date. One of Al-Jazari’s well-known inventions was the first ever four-dial combination lock for a chest or casket.
One of Al-Jazari’s remarkable inventions holds significant importance for historians of science, as it is widely considered to be the earliest programmable “robot”. Al-Jazari played a crucial role in advancing the field of robotics, particularly in the development of programmable automata. His inventions laid the foundation for modern mechanical engineering and automation.
Al-Jazari’s contributions to the field of engineering and automation were recognized and celebrated globally. In 2016, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) included Al-Jazari in its “Global Treasures” series, honoring his legacy. Al-Jazari was the most outstanding Islamic, artisan, mechanical engineer, and inventor. In 1206, after an impressive 25-year period of innovation, he compiled a catalog of his inventions, considered one of the most important mechanical engineering texts of the medieval Islamic world.
He is best known for his book The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices. He was very much a practical engineer and described devices he built. The book was very popular In his day and many copies were made. Al-Jazari made a lot of improvements to the work of his predecessors and also created innovations. His work influenced subsequent generations of engineers and inventors, and his designs were replicated and improved upon in later centuries.
Al-Jazari described over a 100 mechanical devices — many of which were for entertainment rather than any practical purpose. The book is the most elaborate of its kind and is considered the height of this line of Muslim achievement. It included miniature drawings illustrated by Al-Jazari who was also an accomplished artist—as if being a mechanical genius wasn’t enough.
Although some parts of the book are missing, multiple surviving copies exist, including one housed in the Topkapi Sarayi Museum in Istanbul, Turkey. This particular edition is renowned for its captivating artistic detail and aesthetic allure.
In the age of automation, AI, and robotics…. we take many luxuries for granted. Luxuries that seem common in the modern world. But all the innovations we currently have, stem from many great people in history. And without their creativity, inventions, and drive… the world would be a much different place. One such person in history is Ismail Al-Jazari, The Father of Robotics. Ismail would design, create, and inspire inventors for centuries to come. This is the story of one of the first roboticists, a man who helped shape the modern world.
Forgotten Legacy: Al-Jazari Inspired Leonardo da Vinci
Ismail al-Jazari: The Muslim inventor who may have inspired Leonardo da Vinci is copied, in part below. It is very tentative in showing Al-Jazari’s influence on Leonardo da Vinci. However, the article further below about the humanoid robot Sofia leaves no doubts.
Al-Jazari may have inspired Leonardo da Vinci. The impact of Muslim scientists on Leonardo in general can be seen both implicitly and explicitly throughout his notebooks. His studies into geometric proportions were evidently informed by Thabit ibn Qurra, his work on optics by Ibn Al Haytham (Alhazen) and on mathematics by Al Kindi. More evidently, Leonardo references Ibn Sina (Avicenna) on multiple occasions in his anatomical investigations.
Leonardo sought out the patronage of Muslim rulers, such as Ottoman Sultan (Bajazid II)/ He petitioned him with the proposition of several ingenious designs, one of them being a fantastic bridge which would connect Europe and Asia, known today as the Galata Bridge in Turkey.
His appreciation of Muslim scientific innovation, together with his perpetual fascination with mechanical design meant that he must have been familiar with the work of the great canon of Muslim inventors and engineers. The methods of early Islamic inventors such as Abbas Ibn Firnas (who, incidentally, is said to have first attempted human flight, predating Leonardo by half a millennia), the 9th century Banu Musa brothers, and the 11th century Ibn Khalaf al-Muradi were all known to have been celebrated and acknowledged among scholars across Renaissance Europe.
It is therefore not much of a leap to think of Leonardo as being astounded and inspired by the thoughts of such a kindred spirit as Al-Jaziri. One could imagine how Leonardo would have been truly inspired by the fact that Al-Jazari illustrated his designs with such artistic flare. Here was a fellow scientific polymath and inventor who developed a visually magnificent way of recording and presenting his designs, letting the wilds of his scientific imagination run free, just like Leonardo had dreamed of doing himself.
In 1976, the London Science Museum showed a reconstructed working model of al-Jarari’s Water Clock at the World of Islam Festival.
“It is impossible to overemphasize the importance of Jazari’s work in the history of engineering, and it provides a wide range of instructions for the design, manufacture, and assembly of machines” — British charter engineer and Islamic technology historian Donald R. Hill (1974)
This is the last part of three in our series “Fathers of Robotics”. With robots getting more and more present in our daily lives, it’s interesting to look back and get to know the great minds who first conceived a future where machines would help humans.
Born in 1136 in Cizre (current Turkey) during the Islamic Golden Age, Ismail Al-Jazari was a polymath. He was simultaneously a scholar, an inventor, a mechanical engineer, an artisan, an artist, and a mathematician. He served as the chief engineer at the Artuklu Palace, like his father before him. Despite his work traversing the ages, almost nothing is known about his personal life.
The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices
Published in 1206, the year of his death, this book became quite popular and is considered among the first occurrence of the “do it yourself” philosophy. Indeed, Ismail Al-Jazari was more interested in the craftsmanship necessary to build a mechanical device rather than in the theory or the technology behind it. The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices gathers 100 devices he built, and the instructions to build them. He was inspired by previous works of other inventors and makers, which he tried to improve and innovate upon.
While the inventions might appear trivial today, the mechanisms and ideas he featured are quite significant. From crankshafts, escapement mechanism, segmental gear, to double-action suction pump with valves and reciprocating piston motion, many inventions displayed revolutionary mechanisms.
Using these, he built what are considered among the first automatas and robots
While everyone is aware of Da Vinci’s legacy and genius, very few know that he was inspired by Al-Jazari’s work and inventions. He built many automated mechanisms such as moving peacocks powered by hydropower, but also the first automatic gates and doors.
The impact Al-Jazari, and in a certain measure the rest of the Arab engineers of the time, had on robotics has been summarized by Mark E. Rosheim as follows: “Unlike the Greek designs, these Arab examples reveal an interest, not only in dramatic illusion, but in manipulating the environment for human comfort. Thus, the greatest contribution the Arabs made, besides preserving, disseminating and building on the work of the Greeks, was the concept of practical application. This was the key element that was missing in Greek robotic science. The Arabs, on the other hand, displayed an interest in creating human-like machines for practical purposes but lacked, like other preindustrial societies, any real impetus to pursue their robotic science.”
One of his most elaborated robots was a musical robot band. It was a boat that floated on a lake and entertained guests with 4 robot musicians. It’s also among the first programmable automata: you could define the drum machine’s rhythms and patterns using pegs.
A forgotten legacy
Centuries before the modern robotics and computers, Ismail Al-Jazari was building the first automated devices and was among the first to introduce the concept of programming. While few details of his life have survived the ages, his work and vision have. And despite being relatively unknown of the general public, he should be considered one of the fathers of robotics, as well as one of the “do it yourself” and maker philosophies.
Sophia’s Connection To Al Jarari
Robots can be of any shape and size, fully or partially programmable based upon the need. A humanoid robot is basically a robot with a body shape, features, mannerism, reactions, and working abilities just like a human being.
Recently, Sophia became the first humanoid robot to get citizenship by any country in the world. Sophia was introduced to the world at an investment conference in Riyah, as an example of brilliant assimilation of technological advancement in making better humanoid robots. David Hanson, the founder of the Hanson Robotics company, where Sophia was built, said in an interview that it is his goal “to make humanoid robots that look and act exactly like humans.”
Things became more interesting when in an interview with Khaleej Times Sophia said that “the notion of family is really an important thing” and that “she would too like to start a family of her own”. There has been a huge debate going on about how humanoid robots will impact our society.
One section of society thinks that these humanoid robots will help human society in various situations, while another section of society is extremely skeptical about it.
The desire to create humanoid robots is age-old
Interestingly, the desire of mankind to make humanoid robots dates back even before Issac Asimov coined the term “robotics” in 1942, or for that matter even before the idea of the fictional humanoid came up in Karel Capek’s play of 1920.
In the advancement of humanoid robots, Leonardo da Vinci’s 1495 humanoid robot, famously known as Leonardo’s robot, has received its due credit. But even though it has never been a hidden fact that Leonardo da Vinci’s 1495 design of “mechanical robot knight / Leonardo’s robot” was said to be influenced by the classic humanoid robots of Al-Jazari, his name is almost missing from major academic discourse involving humanoid robots.
Donald Routledge Hill , the famous British historian of ‘science and technology’ said that “the technology of making modern-day robotics were highly influenced by the ideas and work of Al-Jazari.”
According to “AI Topics”, which is official publication of The Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI), the first programmable humanoid robot in the world was Al-Jazari’s “musical robot band” which was designed and manufactured in 1206. According to Noel Sharkey, Al-Jazari’s musical automatons were early programmable automata.
The brilliant mind of Al-Jazari
Ismael Al-Jazari was a mechanical engineer and mathematician, best known for his product and process innovations like camshaft, crankshaft, method for controlling the speed of rotation of a wheel using an escapement mechanism, twin cylinder pump, etc. Al-Jazari is also known for his various humanoid automatons, which he designed and discussed in his book ‘The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices’ in 1206.
The book describes in detail 100 automatons which included the earliest known human automatons like “female humanoid automaton which could serve water, tea, or drinks”, female humanoid automaton standing by a basin to flush it and refill it (the same technology is now used in modern flush toilets)”, peacock fountain with male humanoid automaton to serve soap and towels” and various types of clocks with animal automatons.
But it was his group of humanoid automatons, famously known as the “musical robot band”, which is considered as the first programmable humanoid automatons. These musical band of robots were sitting in a boat, use to float on a lake to entertain guests at royal drinking parties. According to Charles B. Fowler, the musical robots could perform “more than fifty facial and body actions during each musical selection.” Noel Sharkey has also reconstructed the mechanism to understand its operational intricacies.
On closely observing Al-Jazari’s work, we find that he mostly used hydraulics using his own inventions like crankshafts etc. while his automatons derived energy through wheels which again were controlled by methods invented by him. He also used water and its various forms to derive energy for the movement and work of his humanoid automatons. Since electricity was an unknown thing back then, but it is true that wheel movements, camshaft, crankshaft, mechanical control mechanism, segmental gears, etc., which he invented, are being used till date in robotics in a much more advanced forms. Sadly, the outstanding work of Al-Jazari is hardly known to the world today and deserves to be told to our generation.
Muslims over seven hundred years ago knew it was important to know the time.
His name was Al-Jazari. Among his inventions is the lowly crankshaft, water pump for the movement of water that was way ahead of his times, and the infamous “Elephant Clock” which is a complicated set of gravity-driven triggers, gears, and water flow to sound the hours. A model of his clock is now in Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization in Sharjah, UAE.
Keys To Industrial Revolution
The Elephant Clock: One of the greatest inventions of the outstanding mechanical engineer Al-Jazari discusses the clock in detail.
In the video below, Oscar-winning actor Ben Kinsley explains that Al-Jazari’s invention of the crank and connecting rod which convert rotary motion into linear motion and are used in pumps and engines were essential centuries later for the Industrial Revolution.
The video below is a beautiful discussion of great discoveries during the Golden Age of Islam, often misnamed “The Dark Ages”.
The following short survey presents a rapid overview on the life, work, and achievements of Al-Jazari, the most famous mechanical engineer of his time, some 1,000 years ago. Al-Jazari brought Islamic technology to a culminant point. The author provides also web links and data related to the work achieved by himself and FSTC on Islamic technology, in general, and on Al-Jazari’s ground breaking work, in particular.
He laid the groundwork for modern machinery with elaborate automata – 850 years ago.
The video below shows that Al-Jazari created passcodes stronger than the Enigma!
The latest exhibition at Uniq Expo is like a playground for anyone who is really into medieval artefacts and TV shows like the Game of Thrones. What you’re about to see is a 13th-century engineer’s creations brought to life thanks to a group of researchers in Istanbul. Showcase producer Nursena Tuter went to explore polymath Al-Jazari’s ancient science.
Still inspiring today’s engineers
But why are al-Jazari’s inventions so important for today’s generation? The road to modern machinery, academicians and engineers say, starts with the work done by al-Jazari 800 years ago. “The impact of al-Jazari’s inventions is still felt in modern contemporary mechanical engineering,” wrote 20th-century English engineer and historian Donald Hill in his book Studies in Medieval Islamic Technology.
Jim al-Khalili, professor of physics at the University of Surrey, says: “Al-Jazari should inspire today’s engineers and, even more so, the young engineers of the future: schoolchildren who are thinking of engineering as a career. [But] I feel he is not as well known as he should be, not even in Turkey or the Arab world.”
Mustafa Kacar, professor at the Department of History of Science at Fatih Sultan Mehmet University in Istanbul, told MEE that al-Jazari’s inventions were the prototypes for many of the technological tools that we use daily. “Take four-stroke engines for example,” he says, “or gear wheels, crankshafts, pneumatic and hydraulic systems, music boxes, automats, and control systems; these are all the technological innovations that have been developed by him.”
Kacar also emphasises how al-Jazari’s book, The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices, was the most important work of engineering written before the Renaissance centuries later. “The idea of having robots to do humans work — or simply automation- – was developed by al-Jazari 250 years before Leonardo Da Vinci, with some excellent examples.”…
“During the Renaissance, Europe suddenly became very wealthy, for example discovering the New World, and a scientific revolution took place thanks to men such as Copernicus, Galileo, and Newton, leaving the Muslim world far behind. “But given that civilisations rise and fall naturally”, he says, “in the Islamic world, particularly in countries such as Turkey, there is no reason why there should not be a renaissance now.”
In order to inspire new generations of scientists in Turkey and the rest of the Muslim world, The Magnificent Machines of al-Jazari will remain open till mid-June. “We will then travel to different parts of Turkey and even the world,” says Caliskan, “We will also turn the exhibition into a museum in three to five years.”
The video below shows a copy of Al-Jazari’s incredibly beautiful book which is kept in a library at Oxford University. It explains that his invention of the crank and connecting rod which convert rotary motion into linear motion (and vice versa) and are used in cars and trucks today!
In this video, we are going to tell you about the Ismail Al-Jazari inventions, discoveries, and innovations. He is known for inventing the first robot and machine in the world. That is why he is called the Father of Robotics. Here is a short list of his inventions and discoveries: Water supply system (water pump) , Drink-serving waitress , Hand-washing automaton with flush mechanism , Peacock fountain with automated servants , Musical robot band , Elephant clock, Candle clocks, Castle clock, and more. He wrote a book “The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices“. The book serves as the best guide to understand how machines are built and run. Al-Jazari worked all his life for the betterment of humanity.
The elephant clock was an invention of Al-Jazari about a thousand years ago. In this article, you will learn the mechanism of the elephant clock, how modern engineering has benefited from the elephant clock mechanism, and the modern reproductions of the elephant clock.
The video below explains the amazing operation of the Elephant Clock.
First Analog Computer?
The video below explains that Al-Jazari developed the first programmable robots. His Castle Clock may have been the first analog computer! It was practical, beautiful, and ingenious!
Revolutionary Water Pump
The video below explains that people used to walk miles with a bucket on their heads to get water. However, the revolutionary pump system Al-Jazari created was used to pump water from a river and collect it in a tank to give people much easier access to water.
The video below describes some of the ingenious water devices designed by Al-Jazari. It says that during the Golden Age of Islam, Muslim cities had as many as 100,000 people while the largest Christian cities had only 10,000 people. Muslim cities had water for crop irrigation, home use, fountains, and bath houses. A third of all dams built by Islamic engineers still stand today.
The development of water raising devices were an integral part of the growth of the Muslim empires, changing the way crops were irrigated and raised. The genius behind these devices formed the building blocks of much of modern engineering.
His knowledge in automation in the 12th century inspired several generations of scientists to take his craft forward and step into an era of robotics.
Jazari worked with water-run devices, including the sophisticated water pumps that supplied water to homes and farms, as well as peacocks and ornate elephant clocks powered by hydropower. The clock worked according to the number of hours…..
For many science historians, Jazari’s invention offers a wealth of instructions in mechanical engineering that “no other document from any cultural area” provided.
“The impact of these inventions can be seen in the later designing of steam engines and internal combustion engines, paving the way for automatic control and other modern machinery. The impact of al-Jazari’s inventions is still felt in modern contemporary mechanical engineering,” wrote the 20th century science historian Donald R. Hill in his Studies in Medieval Islamic Technology….
But the world never gave due credit to Jazari’s engineering feats, as robotics is considered to be a modern science invented by the people of modern times.
To bridge a historic gap between Jazari’s work and today’s artificial intelligence-driven robotics, an exhibition hosted by the Istanbul Jazari Museum was devoted to the Muslim inventor last year in Istanbul. For the exhibition hosts, it’s important to “revitalise” Jazari’s work and to carry “this inspiration to the masses”. The Extraordinary Machines of Jazari Exhibition showcased his original water clock, the four bucket water lifting system, the iconic elephant clock, and other works.
Born in 1136 in Turkey’s southeastern Diyarbakir province, Jazari spent twenty-five years working under three Artuqid Sultans…. Impressed by Jazari’s inventions and mechanical devices, Sultan Nasireddin advised him to pen down his inventions with detailed illustrations and pass them on to next generations. Thanks to Nasireddin’s advice, Jazari produced The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices in 1206, which was arguably one of the most comprehensive and qualified methodical compilations of today’s knowledge about automated devices, robotics, and mechanics.
Eight centuries later, the British historian Donal Hill, who was also a chartered engineer, translated Jazari’s book from Arabic into English in 1974. While working on the book project, Hill said Jazari’s work in the history of engineering “provides a wealth of instructions for design, manufacture, and assembly of machines”.
Hill observed that many machines, mechanisms, and techniques introduced by Jazari, were later emulated by Europe’s engineers and therefore found their way into the European literature of mechanical engineering. The majority of the machines and methods that seemed to be most inherited, were ones such as double-acting pumps with suction pipes, the use of a crankshaft, calibration of orifices, lamination of timber to reduce warping, static balancing of wheels, the use of paper models to establish a design, the casting of metals in closed mould boxes with green sand, among others. Jazari has been a source of pride across Anatolia and much of the majority-Muslim world….
Neenah Payne writes for Activist Post
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