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Building a Replica of the First English Robot and a Little History Lesson

L Vanice

Feb 8, 2006
Fort Wayne, IN
I just came across this news item. The London Science Museum is raising money to build a replica of a 1928 metal "robot" that was rather famous in its day, but has been lost and forgotten. The article apparently misquotes the Museum representative. "Eric was built in 1928 by World War I Capt. William Richards and engineer A.H. Reffell — less than a decade before the word "robot" was ever used, the Science Museum said." The actual statement should be that the robot was built less than a decade after the word "robot" was introduced to the world. The word first appeared in a 1920 Czech play called R.U.R. about Rossum's Universal Robots. I read the play, translated into a story in English, about 60 years ago.

Note that the picture of the English robot has a nameplate with RUR, so it was obviously meant to capitalize on the popularity and interest created by the play. But the robots in the play were made of synthetic flesh, not metal, so the builders actually ignored the play and created the prototype of all the metal man-shaped devices that since have comprised the popular vision of robots. The one-arm manufacturing devices that spray paint and do spot welding are a rather recent invention and calling them robots is a stretch. In the play, human actors with human faces played the robots, presumably with eccentric body language to show that they were not human.

The play: R.U.R. - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

The news: