The UK's first robot is heading for the Science Museum to join 100 companions

18 May 2016

An exhibition of more than a hundred robots is to be held at the Science Museum, and curators hope that Eric, the UK’s first robot, will join them if the museum can rebuild him with funding from the public.

Eric the Robot
Keystone-France/Getty Images

The show, Robots, will contain examples of humanoid machines created during the past 500 years, from a 16th century mechanical monk and an articulated iron manikin dating from 1582, to modern toys, research models and robots designed for industrial applications.

There will be around a dozen working robots of different ages at the museum in London, including one of the first walking bipedal robots, and some visiting from the US and Japan.

The exhibition will explore the cultural, historical and technological context of robots and allow the public to interact with some of the exhibits, the museum says. Speaking at a briefing about the show, Ian Blatchford, director of the Science Museum Group, said this had not been done on such a scale before.

“This exhibition explores the uniquely human obsession of recreating ourselves, not through paint or marble, but in metal. Seeing robots through the eyes of those who built or gazed in awe at them reveals much about humanity’s hopes, fears and dreams,” he said.

The exhibition opens on 8 February and runs until 3 September 2017, but before then, the museum plans a month-long free display during October 2016 to show a rebuilt version of Eric, one of the world’s earliest robots and originally made in 1928 just eight years after the word “robot” was first used.

Eric could move and talk and was exhibited around the world, attracting crowds in the US and Europe as well as the UK, but disappeared and is presumed to have been broken up. It was only when conducting research for next year’s exhibition that the museum team discovered the story.

At the briefing on 10 May the museum launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise £35,000 to help rebuild him using archive drawings. Roboticist Giles Walker will conduct the project and the museum plans to take Eric on an international tour and make him part of its permanent collection.