By Syed Aslam
Abu Iz ibn Razaz al-Jazari was born at Jazira a small town in northern Iraq in the year 1136 CE. His father was the chief engineer at Artukly palace, the residence of the Turkish dynasty ruler. He received his education at Diyar-Bakir, Turky, where the palace was located. Al-Jazari excelled in education and made several new inventions, and after the retirement of his father he became chief engineer of the palace. He lived all his life at Diyar-Bakir, Turky and died in the year 1206 CE.
Al-Jazari was a rare genius who mastered the science of mechanical engineering at an early age. He was also a scholar, artist, inventor, astronomer and craftsman. He is considered one of the fathers of modern day mechanical engineering because of his fundamental inventions in this field. He is also hailed as the father of robotics because he was first to design an early programmable humanoid robot.
Al-Jazari was an accomplished writer and artist. His treatise The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices is considered the most outstanding book in mechanical engineering. Gorge Sarton, the historian of science and technology says, “This treatise is the most elaborate of its kind and may be considered the climax of the Muslim achievements in science and technology.” In this book he has given the details of his inventions and has illustrated them with drawings and paintings. This book includes six main categories of machines and devices. Several of the machines, mechanisms and techniques that first appear in his treatise later entered in the vocabulary of European mechanical engineering books. This includes double acting pumps with suction pipes and the use of a crank shaft in a machine, accurate calibration of orifices, lamination of timber to reduce warping, static balancing of wheels, the use of paper models to establish a design, and casting of metals in closed mould boxes with green sand etc. He also describes methods of construction and assembly in great detail of about fifty machines, so that the future craftsmen could reconstruct them.
Al-Jazari was the first engineer to invent the crankshaft and connecting rod system, which is considered the single most important invention after the wheel. This system is used to transform linear motion into rotatory motion, and visa versa, and is central to the modern machinery such as steam engines and internal combustion engines used in cars today.
Al-Jazari invented five machines for raising water from a river or well. It was in these machines where he introduced his most important ideas and concepts. The first two devices used animal power and an open channel with a scoop. The third machine manipulated the water power and a series of gears to lift pots filled with water. In the fourth machine he used a brand new concept of using the crankshaft and connecting rod system to lift the water. The fifth machine was very complex, it utilized a cog wheel, piston and a suction pipe. Creating vacuum for suction and application of the double-acting principle were advanced technological achievements eight centuries ago. The modern reciprocating water pumps are not very different from what al-Jazari invented centuries ago.
Al-Jazari’s genus mind invented a host of new kinds of clocks, which had never existed before. His astronomical clock was a monumental invention, it displayed a moving model of the sun, moon and stars. His biggest model was eleven feet high–it displayed the lunar orbit, the zodiac and solar orbit. The clock had a pointer which traveled across the top and caused the automatic doors to open every hour. His elephant clock was an ingenious creation of several new innovations. It was the first water clock which employed the flow regulator in a closed loop system. This clock indicated hours to match the uneven length of days throughout the year. The float regulation used in the clock had a big implication during the Industrial Revolution of Europe when it was used in the boilers of steam engines; and in other industrial applications.
The candle clock was another original idea. Here he used a candle of uniform weight and cross section whose rate of burning was known. The candle rested on a shallow dish with a ring connected through pulley to the counterweight. As the candle burned, the counterweight pushed the candle upward at a constant rate, which was then calibrated in time. He also designed a mechanical clock powered by water. This clock was successfully reconstructed at the Science Museum in London, England.
Al-Jazari invented the earliest form of programmable humanoid robot. He used this invention to entertain the king in the palace parties. He is also credited with designing a verity of automata, like an automatic gate, door, and musical instruments all powered by water. His creation of water fountains with musical automation was unique; he did this by hydraulic switching, a new invention as well.
Al-Jazari was a rare genus whose inventions in the field of engineering and robotics gave birth to modern mechanical engineering. He deserves to be called the Leonardo da Vinci of the Muslim world.