Inside a railway arch in Brixton, a piece of history was brought back to life. First built in 1928 by Captain Richards & A.H. Reffell, Eric is one of the UK’s first robots. Eric’s design was relatively simple. He was automated, but the interesting thing about Eric is how much extra stuff people read into him. Ingenious electrical instruments enabled Eric to hear questions and answer in a human voice.

On September 28 1928 Eric stood up at the Royal Horticultural Hall, bowed, looked right and left and moved his hands as he proceeded to give a opening address as sparks flashed from his teeth.

Exhibition of the Society of Model Engineers in London in 1928. CREDIT: SCIENCE MUSEUM

Exhibition of the Society of Model Engineers in London in 1928. CREDIT: SCIENCE MUSEUM

The original plans of Eric CREDIT: SCIENCE MUSEUM

The original plans of Eric CREDIT: SCIENCE MUSEUM

The New York Press described Eric as the “perfect man,“ built less than a decade after the word robot was used for the first time, Eric toured the world with his makers but then vanished, seemingly forever.

Nobody knows if the robot was thrown out, or lost, but it’s apparent that Eric once lauded for his technical prowess became an early victim of technological obsolescence. He may have no longer been needed or wanted even though he may have still been in working order.

In May 2016, over 800 Kickstarters investors campaigned to bring Eric back to life. Roboticist and artist Giles Walker created a replica of Eric using just a handful of archived news cuttings, pictures and video. The robot is built with the same finesse as modern robots but purposefully lacks their capabilities. Eric is controlled by a pre-programmed sequence, using software similar to that used for controlling lights in theatres.

By resurrecting Eric, Russell and Walker want to make people reevaluate the place of robots within our history and society at large.

Commissioned by the Science Museum and funded through a successful £51,000 Kickstarter campaign, Eric is on display at the South Kensington museum ahead of a Robots exhibition in 2017 and will thereafter tour the world just like he did more than 90 years ago.

The new exhibition will feature more than 100 robots, from a 16th century mechanical monk to robots from science fiction and modern-day research labs.

Robots are almost like mirrors, they reflect back on ourselves, tell us who we are Ben Russell, Curator, London 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 CREDIT: SCIENCE MUSEUM

As the UK’s first robot, Eric has a unique place in history.

Discover more at http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/eric.

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