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Mechanical object, either functional (such as a clock) or decorative (such as a miniature singing bird), that is self-operating. Devices set in motion by water, falling weights, and steam were in use in the 1st century. Decorative mechanical objects were made for ecclesiastical use and table ornaments in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Spectacular fountains and waterworks can be seen in 16th-century Italian gardens; elaborate mechanical devices (such as the chess-playing Turk) were popular in the 18th–19th century. Except for some works by Carl Fabergé, the production of expensive automatons virtually ceased by the 20th century.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on automaton, visit Britannica.com.