Humanoid Robot Sophia Is Related to Muslim Scientist Al Jazari – But Only Few Know About It

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 were 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 method 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.


This article was written by Sharique Hassan Manazir for, a PhD Candidate at Centre for Studies in Science Policy, JNU (India).

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