Hero of Alexandria
Hero of Alexandria was a Greek mathematician who also created devices that depended on water, air and steam power. He is considered the greatest experimenter of antiquity, and his work on programmable automata presages the modern discipline of cybernetics.
Relation to Automatons:
Hero really was one of the great inventors of his age – imagine going to see his entirely mechanical play, which lasted almost ten minutes and included its own thunder sound effect, or seeing the first steam engine – a spinning sphere powered by nozzles on the side.
He also pioneered many things that we take for granted; he invented the world’s first vending machine, which dispensed holy water when you put a coin in the top, and automatic doors – a steam boiler powered by an altar fire was used to open and close temple doors.
Hero was part of a wider ancient Greek tradition of invention and engineering; the island of Rhodes had a particularly strong tradition of mechanical engineering, and the island was renowned for its automata:
The animated figures stand
Adorning every public street
And seem to breathe in stone, or
move their marble feet.
Relation to Power:
Water-power was already well established by his lifetime, but Hero was probably the first to harness wind power on land, inventing a windwheel to power one of his musical instruments. Beyond entertainment and powering important sacred functions such as opening temple doors, much of his contribution was more theoretical than practical, and from his position as a teacher in Egypt it’s unlikely the everyday man or woman would have known his name. We still think he’s awesome, though.
Read more about Hero of Alexandria on Wikipedia.