Thu. Sep 19th, 2019

A temple for one of humanity's forgotten geniuses | Science


“Automation and computing are a Spanish invention. And they were invented here. ” The historian of science Francisco A. González take a sunny summer morning on the court of the Beti-Jai pediment, one of the most unknown architectural jewels in Spain, hidden at number 7 on the street of the Marquis de Riscal, in the heart of Madrid. When it was inaugurated, in 1894, the building was baptized by the press as “the real theater of the Basque ball”. Its spectacular grandstand with wrought iron railings could accommodate 4,000 people.

The Beti-Jai impresses. And his story, more. It opened its doors on May 29, 1894, when the success of Basque sport was such that it was said that in Madrid there were more players than bullfighters. But that fever disappeared soon. Just five years later, the parties rigged by the corrupt betting business scared the Madrid public. The majestic building has since drifted. It hosted Republican rallies, meetings of the alcoholic guild, an extinguisher company, a syringe factory and, in the 1960s and 1970s, it became a sheet metal and paint workshop in Citroën. Totally abandoned, the former royal theater of the Basque ball reached the 21st century in ruins and inhabited by homeless people.

Inflation of the envelope of an airship built in the pediment Beti-Jai, in 1906.


Inflation of the envelope of an airship built in the pediment Beti-Jai, in 1906.

“The only really relevant activity that Beti-Jai has had, through which it should enter history, is because it has hosted between 1904 and 1906 the Leonardo Torres Quevedo Aeronautical Testing Center,” ditch Gonzalez, of the Complutense University from Madrid. "Here the remote control was invented and the drone concept was born," continues the historian.

Leonardo Torres Quevedo.


Leonardo Torres Quevedo.

Torres Quevedo, an engineer born in 1852 in the Cantabrian village of Santa Cruz de Iguña, is one of the most forgotten geniuses of humanity. In Beti-Jai he manufactured the telekino, a remote control machine for remote control of land vehicles, boats and air balloons. And on the immense court of the pediment he also developed his own airship, an ingenious model with a “self-rigid system” that starred in World War I in the armies of France, the United Kingdom, Russia, the United States and Japan. “Torres Quevedo is pure 21st century. He advanced 100 years to the present. He conceived artificial intelligence at the end of the 19th century, ”says González.

On September 27, 2017, with Manuela Carmena as mayor, the plenary session of the Madrid City Council approved a special plan to remodel the Beti-Jai, expropriated two years earlier. The winning project of an ideas contest intended to recover the ball game as the main activity of the building, but the Superior Court of Justice of Madrid canceled the plan last December for lack of mandatory reports. The change of mayor has returned Beti-Jai to limbo. "From September, the situation in which it is to see the use that can finally be given will be analyzed," explains a spokesman for Culture of the City Council of José Luis Martínez-Almeida.

Entry of the Beti-Jai pediment in 1977, when it was a workshop of sheet metal and paint of Citröen.


Entry of the Beti-Jai pediment in 1977, when it was a workshop of sheet metal and paint of Citröen.

For González, it is time to put another proposal on the table: a Torres Quevedo Museum in Beti-Jai. The historian and his colleague Montserrat Cubría have published an investigation in the magazine The Cantabrians to demonstrate that "the main use that Beti-Jai had was not a minority and local game like that of the ball, but the scientific-technological innovation of international relevance." The recognition of Torres Quevedo "would be comparable to that of Edison, Tesla and other great inventors, but ours does not seem to be a country that is characterized by admiring, recognizing and valuing those who stand out and dedicate their lives to change the world for the better" , say the authors, who imagine an interactive museum with drones in flight. The historic court, they defend, could be used “punctually and exclusively for the celebration of major tournament finals, Super bowls of Basque ball ”.

Torres Quevedo, when he turned 75 in 1928, donated his revolutionary machines to the School of Civil Engineers of the Polytechnic University of Madrid. There, in a small room in a basement, wonders are stored today as El Ajedrecista, considered the first computer game ever. The automaton, developed between 1912 and 1920, played against a human the end of a game of chess, using electromechanical systems. The device always won and a gramophone in its gut shouted: "Checkmate!"

The telekino, a machine for remote control of vehicles, at the Beti-Jai pediment, in 1905.


The telekino, a machine for remote control of vehicles, at the Beti-Jai pediment, in 1905.

In the warehouse, which can be visited by appointment, the telekino is also guarded, a device that sends orders with electromagnetic waves by means of a telegraph button and the receiving machine converts them into motion through a numerical code. The first tests of the telekino, installed in a three-wheeled land vehicle, took place at the Beti-Jai pediment in March 1905.

“Leonardo Torres Quevedo is an absolute genius, of which we should be very proud. Unfortunately, the Spaniards do not give the importance that their figure and legacy deserve. If I had been born anywhere else, right now I would be known and respected worldwide, ”he says. Francisco Javier Martín Carrasco, director of the engineering school. "This summer we have started the works in a very relevant area of ​​the school to make a permanent exhibition to give it the disclosure and importance it deserves," he says. Regarding assigning pieces to a hypothetical Torres Quevedo Museum in Beti-Jai, Martín Carrasco opens the doors. "We are always happy to collaborate on any initiative that serves to highlight your figure," he says.

For the historians González y Cubría, there is no other option: “If there is a use that, together with the exceptional thing of being the only survivor of an era and a typology, makes the Beti-Jai of Madrid a jewel, it is to have welcomed the activity of the brilliant engineer, mathematician, inventor and precursor of artificial intelligence Leonardo Torres Quevedo. ”

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