Amazing Automatons

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Automaton, by Andrew Porter

Most automatons are simple clockwork devices that perform singular tasks and are built having no legs. They are either immobile or permanently seated on wheeled chairs. They do not have sight or senses and can only speak from a music box with a pre-recorded voice that must be programmed with specific lines. Automatons can perform tasks, such as playing a piano or other musical instrument, shuffling and dealing cards, or “telling” jokes and stories. Most are powered by clockworks, pneumatics, or batteries, and they are controlled by a mechanical enumerator with punch cards or punch tape reels.

More complex automatons have advanced analytical engines, optographic eyes, dexterous arms, and a phonographic register that allows them to discern sounds. They may carry ten to twenty programs on reels of punch tape, which they can switch out as situations change. These advanced automatons move about on wheeled chairs and have programs that allow them to follow people and map reels that allow them to follow a map to a destination. They may also have a voice reel that can have up to twenty different statements or questions, and a command reel that can recognize up to twenty commands (as input from buttons or switches). Advanced automatons can even follow simple voice commands to carry out functions within their defined parameters.

The most advanced automatons, such as the automatons of Kendes, are capable of walking on mechanical legs and operating with some degree of rudimentary intelligence. Kendes’s kyurgeons are even rumored to be able to implant human brains into mechanical bodies. With their knowledge of human instrumentation, such rumors may well be true.

Following are some of the devices that can be found in automatons:

Automatronic Motivators

The automatronic motivator is one of the primary components of all automatons. It is a specialized compact enumerator that is geared to a set of gyros and servomechanisms that enable the automaton to move, avoid obstacles, take evasive actions, and, in the case of walking automatons, to walk and remained balanced. Automatronic motivators are produced by several different manufacturers, can be custom-made, and may be rudimentary or highly advanced.

Pneumatic Actuators

Although automatons are comprised of intricate clockwork parts, most automatons derive their “muscle power” from pneumatic actuators. Pneumatic actuators are found in the automaton’s arms and legs and sometimes its neck, back, and body to augment its mechanical strength.

Analytic Control Gears

The analytic control gears, or the mill, are the collection of specialized enumerator units (also called analytical engine mills) that constitute an automaton’s mechanical brain. Due to its size, it is usually found in the torso, but some of the analytic control gears may also be in the head if there is room to spare. The gears, which must be incredibly small and compact, endow an automaton with its rudimentary “thinking” and decision-making abilities. Given a set of instructions either verbally (if it has a phonographic register) or through punch cards, the analytical control gears provide the sequential steps, actions, and conditional reactions for the automaton to take in order to carry out its task. They are produced by only a handful of manufacturers. Although they are mass-produced to reduce cost, they usually constitute eighty percent of an automaton’s value.

Vocal Articulators

The vocal articulator is the device that enables an automaton to speak. Vocal articulators are based on the principles of a music box, but designed to simulate a voice—albeit a monotonous, metallic sounding voice. Most automatons can articulate between 30 and 100 different vocal responses or statements, such as “Confirmed,” “Negative,” “I do not understand,” or “Your termination is imminent. Please remain calm.” Automatons can only speak using pre-programmed responses, and only within the constraints of their functional parameters.

Punch Cards and Punch Tape

Automatons receive most of their operational instructions from punch cards and punch tape. Most of these cards and tape reels contain standard sets of operational instructions that are common to all automatons, such as how to move, lift, and carry; how to react to certain conditions; and how to interact with people. Due to limited space, automatons may have to have their cards or reels manually changed out by a human operator when conditions arise that are outside of their normal functional parameters. Punch cards or punch tape can also be fed into the automaton to provide immediate instructions for the automaton to perform a specific task.

Mnemonic Registers

In addition to punch cards and tape reels, some automatons also have a mnemonic register. The mnemonic register is a small box containing several thousand dials, each linking to another at up to eight different points, and capable of being configured in a composite “memory matrix”. Mnemonic registers are typically found on complex automatons that are also equipped with an optographic register and a phonographic register and are designed to accept verbal commands. When given a verbal command that its functional parameters can understand, an automaton fitted with a mnemonic register fixes the command in its mnemonic register so that it can “remember” the task. The mnemonic register can also be used to record an event or message. More advanced automatons have a magically enchanted mnemonic register, which gives them a greatly expanded memory capacity.

Optographic Registers

All but the most basic automatons have some means of perceiving their environment and the objects around them. Ocular lenses, typically mounted where the eyes would be on a human, focus light into specially crafted, spell-forged crystals that induce currents in order to set the positions of thousands of tiny dials located in the automaton’s optographic register. The positions of these dials allow the automaton to form a “picture” of its surroundings. By human standards, this picture would be quite rudimentary, comprised of little more than simple boxes and shapes, but it is enough for the automaton to register the location of objects, avoid objects and people in its path, and recognize certain objects set in its functional parameters. More advanced automatons have a superior optographic register, incorporating additional enchanted components, that gives them a more human-like visual acuity.

Phonographic Registers

Just as the optographic register is used to sense and record visual surroundings, the phonographic register is used to sense and record sounds. Miniature ear trumpets, usually located on either side of the head, are used to focus sounds to a small diaphragm. When this diaphragm vibrates as a result of a noise, sound, or voice, the vibrations induce currents in order to set the positions of thousands of tiny dials located in the automaton’s phonographic register. The positions of these dials allow the automaton to “hear” nearby sounds and voices. Sounds can also be temporarily recorded to a wax cylinder to be played back later—for instance, to record a message to carry back to someone else.

Power Sources

All automatons require a power source to operate. These sources usually provide one to three hours of power and are typically made up of advanced clockworks, vitriolic batteries, or pneumatic tanks. Steam pressurizers are also common on medium-sized automatons, which require more power than pneumatic tanks or clockworks can provide but are not large enough to house a full steam or ichor engine. Larger automatons, which may require a steam or ichor engine, usually weigh in at several thousand pounds. Some highly advanced automatons may use elemental turbines or empowered crystones, but these power sources are usually prohibitively expensive.

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