Eric, a British robot built in 1928 that could speak, walk and move about and then suddenly disappeared, should be rebuilt, says the Science Museum in London, as it launches a crowdfunding campaign to bring the humanoid machine back to life using original archive materials.
In an fund-raising letter posted in the crowdfunding website KickStarter, Ben Russel, curator at the Science Museum, is asking members of the public to contribute to the £35,000 target so that expert artist-roboticist Giles Walker can get us our robot back.
Eric the Robot fascinated crowds of people, including celebrities and dignitaries, with his 35,000-volt sparky teeth, human-like movements and ability to speak. (Image: KickStarter. Credit: Science Museum)
“You can help save Eric for the nation as part of the Science Museum’s permanent collection. Eric will go on public display for everyone to see for free in October 2016 for a month before he stars in the Museum’s major Robots exhibition opening in February 2017.”
Eric – one of the first robots
Eric, originally built by A.H. Reffell, Eric and Captain W. H. Richards, was one of the first robots ever created. He was created less than a decade after the word ‘robot’ became part of people’s vocabulary.
Eric was quintessentially British, according to the New York press, and deemed an almost perfect man.
The humanoid machine first appeared in public when it opened the Society of Model Engineers’ annual exhibition on 20th September 1928, with an amazingly sparkling speech.
Eric the Robot’s first appearance at an event in 1928. (Video Footage: KickStarter. Credit: Science Museum)
Originally, the Duke of York had been invited to open the event, but he declined. So, Captain Richards decided to have a humanoid robot open it, given that it was ‘a mechanical show’, and set about creating Eric the robot.
When Eric was built, robots were just starting to become part of popular culture. The word ‘robot’ was first introduced into the English language by Czech writer Karel Čapek in a play in 1920. The letters R.U.R. (Rossumovi Univerzální Roboti – Rossum’s Universal Robots), the name of the play, were written on Eric’s chest.
Eric had armour plated arms, legs and chest made of aluminium, and he weighed slightly over 45 kg (99 pounds). His eyes were two light bulbs – 35,000 volts of electricity caused his teeth to produce sparks that would fly out of his mouth.
Eric attracted huge crowds, who watched him in wonder. He also charmed celebrities and dignitaries as he travelled around the world with his creators – he visited the whole of the UK, and much of Europe and the United States.
Then Eric vanished. We do not know whether he was lost, stolen, destroyed or recycled for spare parts. However, we can all bring Eric back to life, the Museum said.
Eric the Robot in 1928 at the Model Engineering Exhibition in London, as shown in Popular Science Monthly. (Image: KickStarter. Credit: Science Museum)
Dream to build Eric
The Science Museum’s dream to build Eric started when staff stumbled across the robot’s remarkable story while researching the Museum’s Robots exhibition. Russell and colleagues tracked down the relatives of the people who created Eric, and they have helped gather enough original imagery to bring the robot back to life.
The Museum has commissioned Giles Walker, an artist-roboticist, to bring Eric back to life.
Giles has already started making working drawings based on archive materials and discussions with Russell and colleagues at the Museum.
Giles, who says he is ready to start, claims it would take him about three months to rebuild Eric.
A roboticist and scrap artist, Giles has been turning industrial waste into fully-functional robots for more than twenty years. He has brought old robots back to life before, and has created humanoid machines for music festivals.
According to cultured.com, Eric was the first robot that could move and speak. (Image: cultured.com)
As a member of The Mutoid Waste Company, a prolific guerilla-art group, his work has been exhibited across the globe.
When can the public see Eric?
If the Eric crowdfunding campaign hits its target, we will all be able to see Eric on display at the Museum from October 2016 for a month – entrance will be free.
He will also feature as one of the stars of the Museum’s Robots exhibition in 2017, before he travels across the globe, just like the original Eric did nearly ninety years ago. He will then become part of the Museum’s permanent collection.
Eric and his creators – A.H. Reffell, Eric and Captain W. H. Richards (kneeling). (Image: cyberneticzoo.com)
The Museum wrote:
“This is your chance to help rebuild a part of history, to bring one of the earliest robots ever made back to life and help Eric inspire future generations across the world.”
“So join us and be part of this amazing project to bring Eric back to life.”
Reward for £25+ backers: If you donate £25+, your name will be proudly displayed in the Science Museum by its Robots exhibition (Feb-Sept 2017).