The beginning of the robotics – Before modern times?

Robotics is an interdisciplinary branch of computer science and engineering. The goal of robotics is to design machines that can help and assist humans in everyday lives. Robotics involves design, construction, operation, and use of robots. Nowadays, robots are used almost everywhere: in industry, medicine, schools, householdings, for transportation, communication … It is even possible, that robots were created before modern technologies?


Robotics is generally known as the science of 20th century, but not everyone knows that robots and automatization were known concepts already in ancient civilizations. The idea of some automatic machine, which would help human being to perform different activites – a robot – has been maintained through oral traditions for thousands of years. These ideas have been passed on in nowadays times to our modern civilization, which is gradually making all these ideas part of our everyday life with additions of all now accessable new modern technologies.

Evidences show that the idea of a self-sufficient, automated, intelligent mechanism, mobile or stationary, designed to execute specific tasks has lived before our counting. Some of the first attempts of such inventions were:

– The flying pigeon made by Arhitas (428-347 BC), powered by steam



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– The Antikythera mechanism, described as the oldest example of an analog computer, used for predicting the position of stars at any moment in time (late second century BC or the early first century BC)




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– Heron’s automata – Different programmable and automated mechanisms by Heron of Alexandria (10-70 AD).

Windwheel reconstruction:

Theatre automata:




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Steam powered pigeon was created by Archytas around 400-350 BC. He is well-known for inventing what is believed to be the first-ever self-propelled flying device.




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The flying pigeon was made of wood. It was named after a pigeon because of its similar structure, resembling a bird in flight. To power The Flying Pigeon’s movements Archytas used steam – from a pivot bar, the bird was able to fly about 200 m.

Flying Pigeon has a cylindrical shaped lightweight hollow body with two bigger wings projected out to either side, and smaller wings to the rear. In the front, object was pointed, similar to a bird’s beak. The shape of the structure was very aerodynamic, for maximum flying distance and speed. In the rear of the Flying Pigeon was an opening, leading to the internal bladder. This opening was connected to a heated, airtight boiler, where steam was created (picture in the left). As the boiler created more and more steam, the pressure of the steam eventually exceeded the mechanical resistance of the connection, and the Flying Pigeon took flight (picture in the middle). Pigeon is flying as long as it has enough steam (right picture).


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Archytas was an ancient Greek philosopher, who was born in 428 BC in Tarentum in Magna Graecia, which is now part of southern Italy. In addition to being a philosopher, Archytas was also a mathematician, astronomer, statesman, and strategist.



Archytas; Image source: Wikipedia


The most important contribution from Archytas’ was that he was the founder of mathematical mechanics and the inventor of what is known as “the first autonomous volatile machine of antiquity” – the Flying Pigeon. Archytas’ steam-powered Flying Pigeon was a highly advanced invention for his time.

Interesting fact is, that not only this is first known robot, but also the first recorded instance of a scientist doing research on how birds fly. In future years, research on mechanics of birds flying lead to different flight machines, also to invention of airplanes.

Significant contribution of Archytas to mathematics and mechanics remain useful to this day. Although the extent of his philosophical relationships is not known, it is said that he influenced the works of both Plato and Aristotle. In honour of Archytas has been named a moon’s crater.

Robotics and also other science fields have not just showed up in modern times with broad range of new technologies, but has roots ages ago, in ancient civilizations, when people try to create tools and mechanisms that could be used to help them in everyday life. All inovations started with simple steps and mechanisms. Learning the historical approaches in science classes can lead to a better understanding and broader the scope of our learning.


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Article written by GoINNO