Museum Kickstarter: Help Rebuild the UK’s First Robot!

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Funding.  It’s something a lot of museums struggle to secure.  Yet with the advent of crowdfunding, museums have a unique opportunity to appeal to investors around the world. 

We love seeing the variety of projects that come up on Kickstarter and other crowdfunding sites.  We want to help museums out by focusing our spotlight on new projects that are relying on crowdfunding to achieve their goals.  First up is the campaign to Rebuild Eric – the United Kingdom’s First Robot!

Eric the Robot sitting down
Eric the robot, built by W. H. Richards and A.H. Reffell in 1928. Image courtesy NPR.

In 1928, the word “robot” was just coming into popular use.  The idea of a walking, talking mechanical man seemed a thing of the future – and yet, Captain W. H. Richards and A. H. Reffell proved that robots were the here and now.  When the Duke of York declined to speak at the Society of Model Engineers’ annual exhibition, Richards jumped on the chance to create and show off his latest invention.  Eric the robot made his debut on September 20, 1938, with “a really sparkling speech” that enraptured audiences.  He also stood up and sat down, took a bow, and moved his arms.  His success was so great that he did tours through North America and Britain!

Eric in action, 1928.
Eric in action, 1928.

Yet, after an improved version of Eric was made, Eric disappeared!  While other robots of the time were destroyed during the Second World War, Eric vanished completely off the record after his world tour.  The original blueprints and science behind how Eric work also disappeared, leaving only photographs and artist re-imaginings of this pioneering technological achievement.

Now, curator Ben Russell of the Science Museum is raising funds to rebuild this example of human ingenuity and progress.  He’ll be working with Giles Walker, a London-based kinetic artist, to reverse engineer, design, and build Eric based on original archival materials.

Curator Ben Russell in conversation with roboticist Giles Walker. Credit: Science Museum.
Curator Ben Russell in conversation with roboticist Giles Walker. Credit: Science Museum.

You can help Eric become part of the Science Museum’s permanent collection and blow audiences away at the upcoming Robots exhibition. 

“One of the points we wanted to make in the exhibition is that robots aren’t just science or technology with a capital S or a capital T, but actually they are the product of a much wider range of motivations, which might be about the thrill of a show, or our curiosity about ourselves and our bodies, and those questions of magicalness or faith or spectacle or showmanship. So it’s a much richer story.” – Ben Russell, as quoted by NPR.

Hurry – the Kickstarter campaign to rebuild Eric has only one week left to get fully funded!  Learn more and help fund Eric here.

Have an awesome crowdfunded project happening at your museum? Let us know and we may feature it on our blog!

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