An automaton (plural: automata or automatons) is a self-operating machine. The word is sometimes used to describe a robot, more specifically an autonomous robot. An alternative spelling, now obsolete, is automation.
The history of the automaton reaches back through history to Ancient Greece and China and according to Jewish tradition even Solomon designed mechanical animals that would execute an rather intricate ceremony when he would ascend his throne. DaVinci was said to have created an automaton of a knight using a series of pulleys that would commit a a sequence of movements. In 850 three Persian brothers wrote the volume The Book of Ingenious Devices that described at least a hundred devices and their use and the principles of how they were powered.
When the Renaissance arrived the automaton became a fascination and a craze among the wealthy. Driven by elaborate clockworks these creations were court favorites and were even programmable in fact this ability to program the mechanisms can be seen in player pianos or the keypunch operations of computers in the '50's and 60's. Way before the advent of the diode, transistor or of today's silicon chip, the gear and spring were king. Below is an example of a programmable automaton created in 1810 by Henri Maillardet.
Today automatons would be a lost art if it weren't for creators like Thomas Kuntz whose wonderfully bizarre and often morbid creations have started a cult following. Below is one of his creations, The Alchemyst's Clock Tower.
Here is the same creation laid bare to see the series of gears and pulleys that drive the Alchemist.
The skill and talent to create these devices, let alone the time it would take to commit to such a project speaks of a sincere love for the craft of the automaton. Kuntz is a superb craftsman who began his career doing sculptures of Silent Film Movie Monsters, something he admits is not in huge demand but mirrors his love for the obscure as well as the grotesque. This make him somewhat of an enigma in todays society of digital media and CGI. But it is the true craftsman that can create something that can exists in the physical world and not only in a virtual one. It's quite refreshing to see such creativity in this world today and admirable for his passion to be devoted to a craft that by all accounts is a forgotten art form. I know that among the huge following in Steampunk, creators like Kuntz have a deep respect and recognition for his craft.
Here is an early interview with Thomas Kuntz in 1988 where he discusses inspirations and his early work as a sculptor creating model kits of Silent Film Monsters. Kuntz seems to have a love for the archaic and the obscure and is aware of how the themes and monsters of the earlier films laid the foundations for modern cinema. His work is a deep homage to the past and he is more than just an artist but a historian as well.