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Robots at the Science Museum

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by Angela Lord (subscribe)
Freelance writer specialising in arts, travel and entertainment news, previews, reviews and interviews.
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From mechanical monk to robotic baby


If you were fascinated by the sight of mechanical fingers playing the piano in the opening credits of HBO's Westworld, you should enjoy the Science Museum's latest exhibition.

Robots brings together a unique collection spanning 500 years, from a magnificent 16th century mechanical monk to a robotic baby with eerily life-like expressions.

Britain's first robot, Eric, first amused audiences back in 1928 by standing up from a sitting position, waving his arm and shaking his head. Eric has now been brought back to life thanks to a Kickstarter campaign and takes pride of place in the exhibition.

"As the UK's first robot, Eric holds a unique place in our history," says the exhibition's lead curator Ben Russell. "He is everything we now imagine a robot to be – a talking, moving mechanical person."

The likeable Eric is among the most popular exhibits, but is dwarfed by Cygan, one of the first walking bipedal robots. Standing at 2.4-metres tall, the 1950's automaton from Italy could 'walk' on wheeled feet, crush a can in its fist and respond to voice commands.

Visitors have the chance to interact with some of the exhibits and there are 12 working models on display, although it's a shame there aren't more demonstrations of the robots' special skills: there's one on display holding a trumpet, ready to play - but it never does. The antique Silver Swan looks beautifully serene, but if you want to see it in action, it's scheduled for 10.25 am on weekdays until 23 March, so you'll need to book a timed ticket.

Covering five different time periods, the exhibition explores how mechanical models have evolved through the ages, starting with early examples based on religious figures, moving through the industrial revolution and 20th century popular culture to current developments and future plans.

The exhibition gives a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the latest technology, exploring how the latest models are built to look and behave like people. Today's robots are becoming increasingly complex, learning from their mistakes and able to simulate emotions. Even so, on this evidence, it doesn't look like robots are poised to take over the world anytime soon. Advances in robotics have brought us to the point where these creations are almost human – but not quite.

Robots is now open at the Science Museum and run until 3 September 2017. Admission prices are: £15 adults, £13 concessions (Free entry for under 7s; family tickets available)
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Why? Robot exhibition
When: now until 3 September
Where: Science Museum
Cost: £15/£13 concessions available
Your Comment
My dad and his friend went to the science museum last week to see the robot exhibition. For some reason the did not do their research first and were surprised when they got there that they had to pay, so they decide not to go in.
by Bryony Harrison (score: 4|11181) 60 days ago
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