Part of complete coverage on
Bringing the 200-year-old clockwork boy back to life
March 13, 2014 -- Updated 1501 GMT (2301 HKT)
- The 200-year-old mechanical boy can write poems and draw pictures
- Charles Penniman first saw him as a boy
- Today, he is caretaker for the automaton
Editor's note: Art of Movement is CNN's monthly show exploring the latest innovations in art, culture, science and technology.
Philadelphia, PA (CNN) -- The boy wears an expressionless porcelain face and holds his right arm outstretched.
Standing still, he could be a clothing store dummy. But crank the handle on the box below, and row after row of brass wheels begin to turn.
The 200-year-old boy lowers his pencil to write.
The mechanical automaton sits in the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, PA, writing his three poems in intricate, scrolling cursive -- as he has since Charles Penniman first set eyes on him over 75 years ago.
Penniman was six or seven years old then, he remembers, and was instantly transfixed by the way the revolving brass discs made the boy move with fluid, lifelike movements.
Now 85, Penniman is the boy's caretaker, and passes on the mechanism's secrets to the next generation.
Could this robot help disarm landmines?
Could a robot will help sniper victims?
The "Draughtsman-Writer," as the boy is known, is the most complex automaton of its kind.
It was created in London in the late 18th Century. But when it arrived at the Franklin Institute, the identity of its inventor was unknown.
Once set to work, the boy told all: "Written by the automaton of Maillardet" says a line traced along the edge of one of his ornamented poems.
Having left the workshop of Henri Maillardet, the famed Swiss clockmaker responsible for the bewildering mechanism inside the boy, the automaton's journey from London to Philadelphia is largely a mystery -- although it is known he toured Europe for a time.
Now, at least, it has found a home with Penniman, who speaks fondly of his old friend.
After all these years, the bond is stronger than ever: "The longer I know him, the more respect I have for the mysteries of how he works."
Watch the video above to find out more about Charles Penniman and the clockwork automaton.
Part of complete coverage on
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1310 GMT (2110 HKT)
For thousands of years, man has looked to the stars in search of answers. Who are we? Why are we here? Are we alone?
June 29, 2014 -- Updated 1551 GMT (2351 HKT)
NASA's new flying saucer-shaped spacecraft has made its maiden flight.
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1637 GMT (0037 HKT)
He may be best known for his part in the historic Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969, but did you know Buzz Aldrin snapped the "first space selfie?"
November 12, 2013 -- Updated 1033 GMT (1833 HKT)
Introducing GimBall -- a flying robot modeled on insects, which may change search and rescue missions forever.
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1039 GMT (1839 HKT)
If you were the second person to set foot on the moon, what would you be worried about? For Buzz Aldrin -- it was a locked door. Find out why.
July 29, 2014 -- Updated 0947 GMT (1747 HKT)
Man has been making images of the moon for millennia. Explore our gallery of some of the most eye-catching creations.
The moon has always had a powerful grip on our imagination. Here's how the likes of Shakespeare and Twain have taken inspiration from this midnight muse.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1056 GMT (1856 HKT)
CNN's Becky Anderson looks at how practicing underwater is the perfect way to prepare for spacewalks.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
From Earth, the sun appears as a constant circle of light, but when viewed in space a brilliant display of motion is revealed.
March 28, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Inventor Glenn Martin admits he appears crazy -- "But it's the crazy people who change the world."
Today's five most popular stories