Some automatons–a moving mechanical device made in the imitation of a human being–land smack in the middle of the Uncanny Valley, while others, like François Junod’s “The Flying Carpet with a Caliph,” exude whimsy and elicit wonder. The hypnotic motion of the Caliph’s flying carpet and the leisurely pace with which he enjoys his fresh-brewed coffee make this piece appear more magical than man-made, but the beauty of its presentation belies the complexities beneath the surface.
Junod’s former apprentice Yutaca Sawai posted this lovely behind-the-scenes video to his YouTube account in order to share the process of marrying art and science that brought the caliph and his carpet to life. Sawai, fascinated with the interface between mathematics and nature, linked his own video that maps out the sine wave function at the heart of the carpet’s mathematical, but no less magical motion:
The sine wave, or sinusoid, is a mathematical curve that describes a smooth, repetitive oscillation and is an essential equation throughout numerous scientific fields. In physics, it’s the only periodic wave that is able to keep its shape when another sine wave of the same frequency is added to it. “The Flying Carpet with a Caliph” illustrates this unique aspect quite beautifully as the carpet is essentially made of strips of independently oscillating fingers which rise and fall in an approximation of the sine wave; this gives the carpet the illusion of flight.
And there’s more to the Caliph than just math. Junod may be the automatier/automaton maker, but his team was also comprised of sculptor/painter Denis Perret-Gentil, micromechanics experts Nicolas Court and Jack Sueur, couturier/costume designer Fabienne Roth, and horloger/watchmaker Anthony Mac Gonigle, with a special mention of director Alain Margot for directing this behind-the-scenes look. It truly takes a village to bring a coffee-drinking robotic caliph to life. It’s good to be the king.
Enjoy the synergy of sine waves, automation, and art in this magic carpet GIF:
Step your game up, Aladdin!
Images: François Junod of Ste-Croix, Disney