Robotics is not a new concept in technology but not many people know that the field actually goes back at least 500 years into the past. That is why the Science Museum in London offered a glimpse into the evolution of the field of robotics with its "Robots" exhibit, which was unveiled on Feb. 7.
Most people simply associate robots with boxy mechanical contraptions, futuristic Sci-Fi characters like R2D2 and C3PO, and more advanced humanoid androids that mimic the look of famous personalities but "Robots" shows that these marvels of technology has been around far longer than people imagined.
People usually look to the future when the topic of robots comes up so Curator Ben Russell patiently charted down the history and evolution of robots from the simplest mechanical contraption to more advanced automatons that are closer to people's imaginations.
"Coming face to face with a mechanical human has always been a disconcerting experience. That sense of unease, of something you cannot quite put your finger on, goes to the heart of our long relationship with robots," Russell said.
Russell also noted that many of the old robots were used to express faith-an interesting observation that shows religion and science co-exist even in the old days. To prove this, one of the early automatons in the exhibit is that of a mechanical monk built in the 1560's. The monk, which is on loan from the Smithsonian, can walk, lift a crucifix and rosary, move its lips, and beat its chest in an act of repentance.
There is also an animatronic baby complete with an umbilical cord on display which is, honestly, a little disturbing as it wriggles about while stuck on a wall. Of course, T-800 from "Terminator: Salvation" is also on display to represent almost everything people fear about a dystopian future caused by the uprising of Artificial Intelligence agents because why not?
There are also robots that mimic human actions ranging from walking, singing, and dancing to those which "read" news and tell stories about how robots make decisions.
"When you take a long view, as we have done with 500 years of robots, robots haven't been these terrifying things, they've been magical, fascinating, useful, and they generally tend to do what we want them to do," Russell expressed.
The exhibit is divided into five sections representing different period in history (and the future) and will remain in London's Science Museum until late 2017, however, the robotic Swan display will only be exhibited until Mar. 23.
In the 4th quarter of 2017, the exhibit will pack up to go on tour, starting with the launch of the Manchester Science Festival in mid-October. "Robots" will then be exhibited in Newcastle's Life Science Centre in 2018, Edinburg's National Museum of Scotland in 2019, then go on an international tour until 2021.
There are around 100 robots in the exhibit so, if you want to know which ones are the most interesting, you may want to take a look at Russell's recommendations in the video below.