This spark-breathing question-answering 1920's robot will soon live again

Britain's first robot is being reborn, along with a mischievous little friend.
Written by Steve Ranger, Global News Director

Eric, Britain's first humanoid robot

Image: Keystone-France/Getty Images

Eric the Robot, Britain's first humanoid robot is being rebuilt following a successful Kickstarter fundraising campaign by London's Science Museum.

Eric caused a sensation in the 1920s, delivering speeches answering questions and firing sparks out of his mouth. He made his debut in London at the Model Engineering Exhibition in 1928, and could stand, move his arms and head, and take a bow as well as speak -- probably thanks to a human operator hidden off-stage.

Eric is important because he was built around the time the modern concept of the robot was taking shape. And mysteriously, after wowing the crowd with his debut, Eric was taken on an international tour but disappeared soon after -- possibly cannibalised for parts, or lost.

In May, the Science Museum launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise £35,000 to build a new version of Eric ahead of its Robots exhibition next year. It's not entirely clear what made Eric work, so the team behind the recreation will have to reverse-engineer his inner workings from what he was able to do.

The campaign smashed through its target to raise £51,813, so another pioneering robot will be rebuilt too.

This is Inkha, the "mischievous" robotic receptionist that greeted visitors to King's College London from 2003 until 2014, "dispensing directions, information and attitude with a cocky tilt of her head."


Inhka the robot will also be refurbished.

Image: Science Museum

The additional funds will be used to replace Inhka's motors and update her software so she moves smoothly. "We'll upgrade her hardware so she can maintain her behaviours and physical functions, ensuring that the technology that controls her doesn't go obsolete," said the Science Museum.

After the conservation work, Inhka will join Eric in the 2017 Robots exhibition "where she will once again interact with the public, enjoying banter with visitors and perhaps even offering fashion advice."

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