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The automotive and automatic navigation appear for the first time in the twentieth (XX) rhapsody of the Iliad (8th century B.C.). There, Homer invents the “twenty automatic tripods with golden wheels”, constructed by Hephaestus, the technician Olympian god. Self-propelled and without a driver, they arrived at the meeting of gods, served them and returned. Although there is no clear technical description and realistic technological background, this passage is very important because it demonstrates the general interest of ancient Greeks in the self-propelled and self-navigating vehicle.
Homer’s mythical references regarding automation and automatic machines are numerous, such as the automatic gates, the golden healers, the golden dogs – guardians, the intelligent ships of Phaeacians, etc. However, in the 4th century B.C., this robotic technology has already been feasible, since Aristotle in his treatise “Metaphysics” praises these admirable existing automata of his era.
The automatic tripods of Hephaestus and the self-navigating vehicle become reality during the Hellenistic period by the Alexandrian engineers of the 3rd century B.C. and especially by Philon of Byzantium. The driving power is usually caused by the controlled descent of a lead weight (potential energy). The rotation of the wheels and the self-navigation of the vehicle are succeeded due to the traction of wound ropes (programmed in accordance with the desired course plan on pins) on their moving shafts.