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Robots at the Science Museum

Robots, a major new exhibition at the Science Museum, explores humanity’s 500-year quest to reimagine ourselves as machines.

  • Remarkable 500-year history of robots revealed in major new exhibition
  • Explore humanity's quest to recreate ourselves in mechanised form
  • Most significant collection of humanoid robots ever displayed, featuring over 100 robots
  • 8 February – 3 September 2017, Science Museum, London
  • Admission: £15 adults, £13 concessions (Free entry for ages 7 and under; family discounts available
  • Further information and tickets
  • Supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund

Opening on 8 February, Robots, a major new exhibition at the Science Museum, explores humanity's 500-year quest to reimagine ourselves—not through paintings or sculpture, but as machines.

This intriguing exhibition features a unique collection of over 100 robots, from a 16th-century mechanical monk to robots from science fiction and modern-day research labs. Set in five different times, Robots explores how religious belief, the industrial revolution, popular culture and dreams about the future have all shaped society through the incredible robots on display.

Recent developments from robotics research are also on show, with visitors able to explore how and, more importantly, why roboticists are building robots that resemble us and interact in human-like ways. The exhibition encourages you to imagine what a shared future with robots would be like, with visitors able to see the latest humanoid robots in action.

Ian Blatchford, Director of the Science Museum Group, said: 

"Visitors to Robots will see the greatest collection of humanoids ever assembled. This stunning exhibition explores the fascinating question of why, rather than how, we build robots. To look through the eyes of those who built, commissioned or gazed upon these mesmerising mechanical creations over the past 500 years, reveals so much about humanity's hopes, fears, dreams and delusions."

The first robot visitors to the exhibition will encounter is an incredibly life-like mechanical human baby, recently acquired for the Museum's new robotics collection. Usually made for use on film sets, this baby has no intelligence, making only pre-programmed movements (sneezing, breathing and moving its arms and legs) yet many visitors will feel strong emotions towards it.

Ben Russell, lead curator of Robots, said: 

"Coming face to face with a mechanical human has always been a disconcerting experience. Over the centuries, each generation has experienced this afresh as new waves of technology heralded its own curiosity-inducing robots. That sense of unease, of something you cannot quite put your finger on, goes to the heart of our long relationship with robots."

Our understanding of ourselves and our place in the universe has often been expressed through religious faith, and Robots begins by exploring both the heavens and the human body. On display is a beautiful Astrolabe, made in France in about 1300 and the oldest astronomical instrument originating in western Europe. These clockwork machines provoked ideas about the human body as a machine, leading to the creation of the earliest robots. Objects like the automaton monk—built in around 1560 and one of only three in the world—were expressions of faith, but also of our desire to amaze, enthral and wield power.

The incredible Silver Swan, a life-size clockwork automaton built in 1773, will be on display until 23 March 2017, on loan for the first time ever from the Bowes Museum in County Durham. As the only one of its kind in the world, the Swan uniquely illustrates our endless fascination with replicating living things in mechanical form. Its performances have enchanted audiences for four centuries and this will continue at the Science Museum as the Swan will play most weekday mornings at 10.25.

Lead curator Ben Russell said: 

"The Silver Swan is an amazing evocation of life. We are honoured that the Bowes Museum has loaned us this treasured object for Robots and delighted that visitors will see the Swan on display in all its glory."

Robots have been at the heart of popular culture since the word 'robot' was first used in 1920. In the exhibition, visitors will come face-to-face with Eric, a modern recreation of the UK's first robot, as well as Cygan, a 1950s robot with a glamorous past, and a T800 Terminator used in the film Terminator Salvation. The challenges of recreating human abilities, such as walking, in mechanical form is also explored, with visitors able to study the intricate mechanisms of the Bipedal Walker—rescued by curator Ben Russell from a forgotten basement cupboard—and Honda's P2, two of the first robots in the world to walk like humans.

Visitors can watch as 16 mechanical forms spring to life and even interact with some of the robots on display. Inhka, once a receptionist at King's College London, will be answering questions and offering fashion advice, Zeno R25 replicates visitor's facial expressions and ROSA will move its camera 'eye' and head to watch visitors as they move. Every twenty minutes Kodomoroid, the most life-like android of its time, reads robot-related news bulletins; RoboThespian does vocal exercises and gives a theatrical performance; and Nao, the most widely used humanoid robot in the world, stands (or sits if tired) to tell a story exploring how robots make decisions.

Robots is open daily until 3 September 2017, with late opening until 22.00 each Friday (last entry 21.00) and at Lates on the last Wednesday of each month.

The Robots exhibition is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). The HLF's Collecting Cultures programme has enabled the Museum to acquire objects and create a new robotics collection of over 50 objects, many of which feature in the exhibition. The HLF also supported the creation of a new handling collection of robotic artefacts, and with the help of Robots exhibition volunteers, visitors will be able to see and touch these items.

The exhibition also benefitted from the generosity of the Engineering and Physical Science Research Council, Federal Department of Foreign Affairs Switzerland, The Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation, The Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation, The Mercers' Company, supporters of the automaton lathe conservation and 861 backers of the Museum's Kickstarter campaign to recreate Eric, the UK's first robot.

Two new books have been published to accompany the new exhibition. Robots: The 500-year quest to make machines human, edited by curator Ben Russell, expands on the themes and stories explored in the exhibition through a series of newly commissioned essays with photographs of key exhibition objects. The Super-Intelligent High-Tech Robot Book, written by the Science Museum's Jon Milton and published by Macmillan Children's Books, is a fact-packed illustrated guide to the world of robots.

In late 2017 Robots will embark on a five-year UK and international tour, visiting the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester to open the 2017 Manchester Science Festival, the Life Science Centre in Newcastle (2018) and the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh (2019).


Notes to Editors

For more information or to request a review copy of Robots: The 500-year quest to make machines human please contact Scala Arts & Heritage Publishers. For The Super-Intelligent High-Tech Robot Book contact Macmillan Children's Books

Robina (Robot as Intelligent Assistant) is on display in the Museum's main entrance, where it will be seen by thousands of visitors to the Museum each day. Robina was developed to promote Toyota's vision of the personal robots we might one day own. From 2007 to 2009, this Robina model was used as a museum tour guide. It was then used for research before retiring in 2012.

Named after the part of the human brain which perceives motion, Area V5 is a wall of artificial skulls with robotic eyes which follow the motion of visitors as they walk towards the Robots exhibition entrance. This interactive artwork was designed and built by Louis-Philippe Demers (Nanyang Technical University, Singapore).

Exhibition Layout
Robots is split into five sections, exploring how robots and society have been shaped by religious belief and our understanding of the universe (Marvel), the industrial revolution (Obey) and popular culture (Dream). Stories from those building robots today, including five filmed interviews with roboticists offering a glimpse inside their workplaces are on show (Build) alongside the latest humanoid robots (Imagine). More information about the exhibition layout can be found in the Robots booklet.

Working robots
Sixteen moving robots feature in the Robots exhibition (listed here in the order visitors will see them):

  • Animatronic baby: This mechanical human baby was commissioned for the exhibition and is now part of the Museum's new human robotics collection. It was made by a special effects company, which make animatronic machines for films. The baby makes only pre-programmed movements (sneezing, breathing and moving its arms and legs) yet we feel strong emotions towards it.
  • Silver Swan: This unique clockwork automaton is on display until 23 March 2017. The Swan will play on 8, 10, 13, 15, 17 February and weekdays from 20 February – 23 March at 10.25. Performances at 18.30 on Friday 24 February and Friday 10 March will also take place.
  • Eric is a modern recreation of the UK's first robot, funded by the Museum's first Kickstarter campaign. Eric will be operated occasionally while the exhibition is open.
  • ADA hand will move while on display, making wriggling and grasping motions.
  • Rob's Open Source Android (ROSA) was built to move like a human, with a plastic skeleton, ropes that act as tendons and motors that act as muscles. ROSA has face-tracking software and motors which allow its neck and eyes to follow visitors as they move around in front of it. Its arms also move.
  • Inhka is a reactive robot answers visitor's questions, offers advice on other robots to look at in the exhibition and also delivers fashion advice (with attitude).
  • Pepper is a humanoid companion created to communicate with humans through voice and touch and movement. This robot will invite visitors to touch its hands and fist bump while sharing a story using the screen on its chest.
  • REEM Service Robot is designed to work in real human environments and interact freely with people. This robot greets visitors, who can interact with it via a touch screen.
  • RoboThespian was the first full-sized humanoid robot to be commercially produced. This robotic actor will move in the exhibition, looking around and doing voice exercises while waiting to give its main theatrical performance (every 20 minutes).
  • Kodomoroid was one of the most realistic androids in the world when it was first made in 2014. This robot will move in the exhibition, sharing news stories about robots every 20 minutes.
  • Telenoid is a telecommunication avatar—a physical stand-in for the person on the other end of a telephone conversation—and will move in the exhibition.
  • Zeno R25 is one of the most expressive humanoid robots commercially available. Visitors can see what Zeno 'sees' on a screen and the robot will direct you to move if not standing in the correct place to interact with it. This robot replicates visitor's facial expressions.
  • Nao is the most widely used humanoid robot in the world. The robot will stand (or sit if 'tired') to deliver a story every 20 minutes, and will dance, blow kisses and exercise at other times.
  • Baxter was the first dual-arm robot designed to work with people. When used in manufacturing, Baxter directs its gaze to indicate what it is about to do, using facial expressions to show its state of operation. This robot will move while on display, learning how to handle unknown objects.
  • YuMi is a dual-arm collaborative robot. While on display it will move electrical components and also dance. The robot will also make and throw paper airplanes.
  • Amico is a demonstration model, created to promote the capabilities of its high-precision, flexible robot arms. While on display, its arms will lift and move pistons into an engine block. The robot also dances.

Robots UK and International Tour

In late 2017, Robots will embark on a five-year UK and international tour. The exhibition will visit the following venues, with further venues to be announced at a later date:

  • Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester (part of the Science Museum Group): 19 October 2017 to 15 April 2018
  • Life Science Centre, Newcastle: 26 May 2018 to 2 December 2018
  • National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh: 18 Jan 2019 to 12 May 2019

Robots Documentary
Watch a short documentary about the exhibition

About the Science Museum
As the home of human ingenuity, the Science Museum's world-class collection forms an enduring record of scientific, technological and medical achievements from across the globe. Welcoming over three million visitors a year, the Museum aims to make sense of the science that shapes our lives, inspiring visitors with iconic objects, award-winning exhibitions and incredible stories of scientific achievement.

About the HLF
Thanks to National Lottery players, the Heritage Lottery Fund invests money to help people across the UK explore, enjoy and protect the heritage they care about—from the archaeology under our feet to the historic parks and buildings we love, from precious memories and collections to rare wildlife.

About Discover South Kensington
Discover South Kensington brings together the Science Museum and other leading cultural and educational organisations to promote innovation and learning. South Kensington is the home of science, arts and inspiration. Discovery is at the core of what happens here and there is so much to explore every day.