I remember visiting their museum in Covent Garden as a child and being enthralled by the automata and mechanical toys. (We still have a couple of small ones that we bought there all those years ago). For me they sum up such a beautiful mix of craftsmanship, ingenuity, wit, British rude postcard humour and surreal visions that are always playful. They are also really the origins of interactivity - much of what we do electronically now has its roots in these automata.
It reminded me of the fascinating presentation at the 2005 Refresh! conference by Gunalan Nadarajan. It was called Islamic Automation: A Reading of al-Jazari’s The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices (1206) in which he examines interactivity and automata that are many hundreds of years old. You can watch the archived video stream of it if you’re interested.
Check out Chris’s Flickr set for more photos of the Kinetica exhibition (from which this one is nicked).
[UPDATE: I went to see it myself this week and it’s really great. Go to it!]