London’s Science Museum wants to bring the UK’s first robot back to life, and is asking for your help to do it.
Named Eric, the robot marks a significant place in British history. He was the first talking, moving mechanoid made from aluminium and was key to constructing the stereotypical view of the iconic ‘tin man’ robot.
Eric was originally built by William Richards and Albert Herbert Reffell, two veterans of the First World War, in 1928 before vanishing without a trace. The Science Museum, determined to not let his legacy disappear, tracked down the relatives of Eric’s original creators to help gather enough original imagery to rebuild him.
The museum has now launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise £35,000 to rebuilt Eric. The project also has support from the Science Museum and expert roboticist Giles Walker – a scrap artist who has been transforming industrial waste into fully functional robots for over 20 years. At the time of writing the campaign had raised just over £4,200.
If funded, Eric will go on display at the Science Museum for free in October 2016. After which, the rebuilt robot will be the focus of a new Robots exhibition opening in February 2017.
WIRED spoke to the exhibition’s curator, Ben Russell, who told us why Eric is such an important and iconic representative of robotics in British history, and the motivations in creating the exhibition he will star in.
“A lot of robot exhibitions have been very ‘expo’ like,” said Ben Russell, curator of the Robot exhibition who’s leading the effort to rebuilt Eric. “But actually the motivation for building the things is just as interesting as how it works, and these motivations are very deeply human, rather than being purely rational,” said Russell.
“It’s one of our human instincts to anthropomorphise; we’ve built machines that look like us. And robots are almost like mirrors, they reflect back on ourselves, tell us who we are and how we are and what we think is important. When you take that long view you realise the places where you tend to find robots say a lot about the time and why they were important.”
Russell referenced the 19th century as an example; a time when people were questioning if industrialisation was “turning people into machines”.
“In the medieval times you’d see a lot of robots in churches, so that reflects a devout society in which the robots evolved in: Saints and Jesus and the devil,” he said. “The 1950s robots tend to be showmen and you tend to find them in theatres and cinemas. All these places were central for people.”