Robots Exhibition at the London Science Museum

Tracing our very human obsession with re-creating ourselves as machines...

Enter into the Robots exhibition at London’s Science Museum and you are immediately welcomed by an ultra realistic robo-baby. A display that shows just how far we have come in robotic engineering and what we have accomplished in the dream to accurately re-create ourselves.

The haunting baby is the only sophisticated model present in the first room and is displayed as an example of how far we have come. The exhibition space is separated into five different sections that represent key time periods in the evolution of automation and robots throughout history.

The first room shows the earliest forms of automation from the 16th century up until the end of the 18th. Influenced by the power of religious faith at the time, it was churches and monasteries that commissioned many of the early automated clocks. The clocks were used to calculate dates for festivals, feasts as well the moons phases. It represented the early mastery of both time and space for the human species and also the first seed from which mechanical automation grew.

From the 17th Century, more and more automation was making its way into people lives.  The largest display of the first room contains the ‘Draughtsman-Writer’, an automation built around 1800 that was designed to write three poems in English and French and complete four drawings.

The second room focuses on the industrial revolution and marks the creation of factory automation that replaced human workers. A key period in the manufacturing of sophisticated automation, machines were purpose built for specific tasks such as spinning cotton and whole industries were completely transformed by their efficiency.

The third room draws attention to the dreams of the robot creators, not just by engineers, but by the film makers, authors and animators. Robots became a symbol of fascination in the minds of  people from the 1920’s, as they could imagine a future with sophisticated robots that could entertain and assist in our everyday lives.

Attention is immediately drawn a multi-colored lit stage in which a life size robot perches. If you have seen the film Metropolis you will recognise this as Maria, one of the first robots ever depicted in cinema. Past the toys, films and books that were influenced by the development of robots, tucked away in its own designated space stands a T-800 endoskeleton used in the 1991 film Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

The next section has a Westworld science lab feel to it. Limbs fill the room but motors replace joints and wires replace veins. Exhibits demonstrate the intricacy of movement, and the amount of time and effort that must go into to achieve menial tasks such the movement of a hand. The display is based around the building of robots, and how we discovered just how complex and incredible our human minds and bodies really are as we attempt to re-create them.

In the last room you are treated to some of the worlds most sophisticated humanoid robots that represent the pinnacle of modern day research and development. Each of the exhibits demonstrates a different set of skills ranging from RoboThespian: the robot entertainer who is able to recite Shakespeare and speak 20 languages, to Asimo: the locomotive robot developed by Honda who can walk, run and recognise moving objects and gestures. The room is also home to Harry the trumpet playing bot, Kodomoroid the android news presenter and Reem the full-size humanoid service robot.

What I took from the exhibition is that it is hard to imagine a future that doesn’t include life-like robots designed for people’s everyday lives. With artificial intelligence and machine learning consistently breaking down barriers and  AI assistants like the the Amazon Echo entering into homes, we could be seeing a precursor to the invitation of sophisticated humanoid robots in our homes and lives.

the exhibition will be opening at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester on 19 October 2017.



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