An Automaton is a kind of robotic or animated toy. They tend to exhibit fairly complex and anthropomorphic (human or animal like) behaviour.

They can range from Leonardo Da Vincis Robot and Vaucanson’s Duck to victorian shoeboxes (a few of which can be found in the London waxworks), where a penny would see a small and spectacular piece of mechanical theatre.

It could even be argued that more modern toys like the Tekno Robot Dog and Furby are automatons which replace intricate and complex mechanisms with microcontrollers.

There have been automatons to handwrite.

Al-Jazari created a handwashing automaton.

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Vaucanson’s Duck

Vaucanson was a french inventor, who created an duck automaton capable of eating and appearing to digest food. It excreted too - although there may have been a concealed pouch for this.

Vaucanson also created one of the worlds first precision metal lathes using screws to adjust cutting depth for the tools, and factory machine automation for textiles.