Robots Exhibition at the Science Museum Astonishes

The Science Museum is running a Robots Exhibition from February 8 to September 3. The exhibition explores 500 years of robotics and based on pre-released material promised to have one of the most comprehensive collection of robots in the world. As a teacher, Future Technology lead at my school and early adopter of most new technology this appealed to me and so off I went to see the exhibition for myself.

It kicked off well with a creepy wall of skulls and as you walked by they tracked you. The three layers of the robotic skull showed the complex wiring and was an unnerving introduction to the exhibition.

This creepy wall of skulls track you as you walk by- it is unnerving.

The exhibition proper was organised into 5 areas encapsulating different times and places; marvel, obey,  dream, build and imagine.

As you walked into the first section, marvel, your eyes had to adjust to the low neon purple lights, and is it did so you made out an animatronic baby attached to a tessellated square plastic wall. The baby was surrounded by a glowing halo of light and the provenance stated that this robotic baby was like the ones used in movies. Going around the baby you could see the wiring involved, it reminded me of an umbilical cord but this one went into the spine instead of the stomach. As the first exhibit you see it was quite jarring and unsettling but it laid out the foundations of what was to come well; the fear people have of humanoid looking machines.
The rest of this part of the exhibition was primarily concerned with automatons and the religious and spiritual quandaries it raised at the time. There were various Jesus and religious figure automatons from hundreds of years ago, including a creepy looking monk from over a 400 hundred years ago. For me the highlight of this area was the silver swan automaton. It wasn't moving but there was a video showing it in motion and it looked intricate and stunning. As a primer I was intrigued and pleased with this first section.

The next section, Obey, looked at the industrial revolution and on show was a single shuttle loom.

Section three, Dream, discussed the march of robots into our pop culture consciousness with many classic robots on show including the robot Maria from Fritz Lang's masterpiece Metropolis, the T-800 from Terminator and the humanoid robot George, the UK's first humanoid robot made in 1949 from scrap aluminium. The full size Maria was marvelous and beautifully showcased, deservedly so for a landmark film.

Build looked at the rise of intelligent machines and on show was the Honda P2, the first robot in the world to walk up stairs in 1996, although this drained its hefty battery life in 15 minutes. There were other impressive examples of robots on show and it showed clearly how people have evolved the robotics technology forward, building on what has gone before.

Imagine was the busiest area with many robots on show and most were working. On show was Asimo, famous for the Honda advert but also intriguing was the iCub, robot toddlers that learn through experience. The provenance behind each of the robots was amazing and it shows how different organisations have been using robotics in their work space.

Overall the exhibition was very impressive and it was wonderful to see the evolution of robots all under one roof. The exhibition is a must-see for technology and robot enthusiasts.