The Ethiopian Caterpillar is an Automaton Mechanical Robot created by Swiss watchmaker Henri Maillardet in 1820. It is covered in rare gold, ornate jewels, and pearls and was sold at Sotheby’s Geneva auction room in 2010 for $415,215 to an Asian buyer.
Here’s a write-up on the mechanism from the Oddment Emporium:
“The body is realistically designed to represent a caterpillar comprising eleven jointed ring segments, framed by seed pearls, and decorated with translucent red enamel over an engine-turned ground, studded overall with gold-set rubies, turquoise, emeralds,and diamonds. The underside is decorated with champlevé black enamel. When the automaton movement is engaged, the caterpillar crawls realistically, its body moving up and down simulating the undulations of a caterpillar by means of a set of gilt-metal knurled wheels. The automata work is composed of a barrel, cam and two leavers all working together to create the crawling motion.”
Maillardet, it is believed, was one of the only people creating animal automatons in the early 1800s. The creation date puts the age of this caterpillar at almost 200 years. We’ve been making robots for a long time!