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Robots return to make us think about ourselves as humans

a photo of a robotic baby mounted on a futuristic background mosaic of blue metallic plates

Entrance to the Robots exhibition – © Plastiques Photography, courtesy of the Science Museum

We just couldn’t resist having another little peek at these Robots, which are at the National Museum of Scotland until May 5 2019

If you didn’t catch this Science Museum show in London, Manchester or Newcastle this is the last chance in the UK to come face to face with some remarkable humanoid machines.

They include the now famously unsettling and realistic mechanical baby, the ‘female’ Japanese robot called Kodomoroid who reads the news and the rather annoying/charming (depending on your outlook) robot called RoboThespian who can perform vocal exercises and belt out a show tune.

According to his makers, Engineered Arts Ltd, RoboThespian’s impressive CV even includes a spell treading the boards with real life, flesh and blood actors, which is apt because the word ‘robot’ comes from a stage play penned by Czech sci-fi writer Karel Čapek, who introduced them to the world in his 1920 theatrical production R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots).

But the idea of a machine made to resemble the human body goes way back, past the era of Leornardo Da Vinci and deep into antiquity.

a photo of a four prosthetic arms hanging from wires

Four prosthetic arms in the Robots exhibition -© Plastiques Photography, courtesy of the Science Museum

a photo of a metal robot figure next to other similar robots

Cygan, a 1957 robot. © Plastiques Photography, courtesy of the Science Museum

a photo of a very realistic robotic Japanese woman with bobbed hair

Kodomoroid, a Japanese android who reads the news 2 – © Plastiques Photography, courtesy of the Science Museum

Robots begins by exploring this heritage and our understanding of our place in the universe through the heavens and the human body with the help of an astrolabe, made in France in about 1300 and the oldest astronomical instrument originating in western Europe. These clockwork navigational aids lay claim to a lineage that began in Ancient Greece and are here cited as the devices that provoked ideas about the human body as a machine, leading to the creation of the earliest robots.

It’s the start of a journey through five different time periods considering the role of humanoid robots in religious belief, the Industrial Revolution, popular culture and society’s dreams of the future.

Recent developments in robotics research are also on display as the exhibition examines why roboticists are building robots that resemble people and interact in human-like ways.

a photo of small humanoid robot on wheels with a white childlike face

Nexi, by Personal Robots Group, Massachusetts, United States, 2016. © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

a photo of a silver female humanoid robot in a gallery

Model of Maria from Fritz Laing’s Metropolis in the Dream section of the Robots exhibition © Plastiques Photography, courtesy of the Science Museum

a photo of a white humanoid robot

REEM Service Robot, built by PAL Robotics, Spain, 2016. The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

Over 100 robots help in this quest, with examples from the earliest automata to those from science fiction and the modern-day research labs, which are the latest manifestation in the centuries old journey to mechanically re-imagine ourselves.

Inkha, who was once a receptionist at King’s College London, is on hand to answer questions and offer fashion advice, Zeno R25 replicates visitors’ facial expressions, and ROSA moves its camera ‘eye’ and head to watch visitors as they move. Perhaps less unnerving is Baxter who can pick objects up and Nao – the most widely used humanoid robot in the world – who explains how robots make decisions.

Visitors to the exhibition will also come face to face with Eric, a modern re-creation of the UK’s first robot; as well as Cygan, a 1950s Italian-made robot which could go forwards and backwards, move its arms and crush drinks cans with its hands; and a T800 Terminator used in the film Terminator Salvation.

a photo of a robot with spider like arms

Baxter, a working robot. © Plastiques Photography, courtesy of the Science Museum

a phot of a small humaoid robot in white plastic and exposed mechanical arms and legs

RoboThespian 3 robot actor, built by Engineered Arts Ltd, UK, 2016. © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

a photo of a tall humanoid robot with single screen eye and exposed workings

ROSA in the Build section of the Robots exhibition. © Plastiques Photography, courtesy of the Science Museum

For people who want to delve deeper into the science behind robots, the challenges of re-creating human abilities, such as walking in mechanical form is also examined, with visitors able to study the intricate mechanisms of the Bipedal Walker; one of the first robots in the world to walk somewhat like a human.

“This fascinating exhibition explores the long history of our attempts to make robots which resemble and move like humans,” adds Dr Tacye Phillipson, Senior Curator of Modern Science at National Museums Scotland, “from clockwork automata designed to amaze and entertain to cutting-edge modern robots which can mimic our speech and movement.

“Robots have long captured our imagination, with popular culture exploring what a future living alongside them might hold. The exhibition highlights some of the capabilities of these mechanical marvels, but also examines how technically challenging it is for scientific fact to catch up with the imagination of science fiction.”

Edinburgh is also major centre for robotics research and National Museum Scotland has created a special section for the exhibition’s Edinburgh run which looks at some of this work.

A display on the Robotarium at the Edinburgh Centre for Robotics examines the science behind the creation of Valkyrie, a humanoid robot built by NASA and being programmed by the Robotarium in the hope of one day sending it on a mission to Mars

a photo of a gallery with several robots in it

Build section of the Robots exhibition with ROSA in the foreground. © Plastiques Photography, courtesy of the Science Museum

a photo of three humanoid robots

Three early REEM prototype robots. © Plastiques Photography, courtesy of the Science Museum

a photo of a gallery with a display of robot related memorabilia from popular culture

Dream section of the Robots exhibition (2) -© Plastiques Photography, courtesy of the Science Museum

There are many reasons to catch this exhibition’s sojourn in Edinburgh – from tech nerdiness and sci-fi to future worlds and the nature of what makes us human – but the last chance to come face to face with a range of iconic examples made in our own image, is perhaps the best of them.

Robots is at The National Museum of Scotland, Chambers Street, Edinburgh from January 18 to May 5 2019

venue

National Museum of Scotland

Edinburgh, Lothian

Fire your imagination at the National Museum of Scotland, one of the UK’s top 10 visitor attractions. Our diverse collections will take you on a journey of discovery through the history of Scotland, the wonders of nature and world cultures – all under one roof. From meteorites to monsters from…

 

 

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