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A Lost 1920s Robot Is Reconstructed in London

The UK’s first robot, Eric, disappeared after his debut, but the Science Museum has created a working replica.

The UK’s first robot disappeared sometime after his 1928 debut, but now the electric Eric has returned! Following a successful crowdfunding campaign, the Science Museum in London is unveiling a working replica of Eric this week.

Ben Russell, lead curator of the Science Museum’s upcoming Robots exhibition, in which Eric will star, told Hyperallergic earlier this year that no one is exactly sure what happened to the original robot, but many early-20th-century automata were “cannibalized for spare parts, lost, neglected, forgotten about, or deliberately scrapped.” Artist and robot builder Giles Walker spent five months reconstructing Eric based on archival material; you can see some of his process in the video above. Russell also wrote a post for the Science Museum’s blog that delves deeper into the reboot.

Now complete, Eric is part of the museum’s permanent collection. As he boasts in his welcome video below, his “insides may have had a 21st-century makeover,” but he “looks just as terrifying as ever,” with blazing red eyes, spike-toothed mouth, and a menacing, armor-like aluminum body. The letters “RUR” across his chest reference Karel Čapek’s 1921 play Rossumovi Univerzální Roboti (Rossum’s Universal Robots),  in which the word “robot” was coined.

Nevertheless, he speaks in a friendly tone, and no longer shoots blue sparks that flamed from the 35,000 volts that powered his 1920s frame. He’s on view at the Science Museum for the next month and a half, with his mechanizations being demonstrated twice a week; he’ll then return for the Robots exhibition in February.

Replica of Eric the robot in the workshop of artist Giles Walker (courtesy Science Museum)
Replica of Eric the robot in the workshop of artist Giles Walker (courtesy Science Museum)
Popular Science Monthly (December 1928) showing Eric the talking robot opening the Model Engineering Exhibition in Londo (courtesy Science Museum SSPL)
Popular Science Monthly (December 1928) showing Eric the talking robot opening the Model Engineering Exhibition in London (courtesy Science Museum SSPL)
Replica of Eric the robot (courtesy Science Museum)
Replica of Eric the robot (courtesy Science Museum)
Replica of Eric the robot on view at the Science Museum in London (courtesy Science Museum)
Replica of Eric the robot on view at the Science Museum in London (courtesy Science Museum)

Eric: The UK’s First Robot is on view at the Science Museum (Exhibition Road, South Kensington, London) through November 30.

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