Archytas (428 BC–347 BC) was a mathematician and scientist of Ancient Greece. He was a member of the Pythagoreans. (Click here to learn how Pythagoras was killed by his phobia of beans.) He was also good friends with the renowned philosopher Plato. His contributions to the field of mathematics alone would have earned him our respect. The thing for which this scholar of 2,500 years ago may be most remembered is that he is credited for the creation of the world’s first robot and flying machine.
Archytas loved pigeons. (Evidently, there is some sort of correlation between inventors and fascination of pigeons.) Like many before and since Archytas pondered the spectacle of birds in flight and wondered how they managed to pull it off. While others might content themselves to try to figure out the aerodynamics of bird flight through drawings, Archytas decided the best approach would be to create his own flying bird.
The result of Archytas’ ingenuity was the Flying Pigeon. Built out of wood and powered by steam, the light-weight cylindrical, winged object very much resembled Archytas’ favorite bird.
The rear of the Flying Pigeon had an opening that led to the internal bladder. This opening was connected to a heated, airtight boiler. The boiler produced steam, which built up until it was sufficient to overcome a mechanical resister. The resultant steam pressure propelled the object forward. The aerodynamics of its shape sustained its altitude, allowing it to fly for as much as 200 meters.
This groundbreaking work is believed to be among the first scientific studies into how birds are able to fly. His combination of mathematics and mechanical engineering made him the founder of mechanical mathematics. His Flying Pigeon is also considered by many to be the first robot, making Archytas the father of robotics.
While Leonardo Da Vinci gets a lot of credit for his groundbreaking studies into flight, it was Archytas who is responsible for the mechanical prototype a good 2,000 years before Da Vinci, and nearly 2,500 years before the first person to be killed by a robot. Maybe there is something to pigeon fascination, after all.
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Read more fun facts about Ancient Greece.