KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
One place where art and technology have long merged is in the design and construction of robots. Our fascination with robots goes way back. Sketches from the Middle Ages include robotlike renditions.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Today, our ideas of robots are more or less shaped by Hollywood.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "EPISODE I - THE PHANTOM MENACE")
ANTHONY DANIELS: (As C-3PO) Hello. I am C-3PO, human-cyborg relations. How might I serve you?
MCEVERS: Think, of course, "Star Wars," or think further back in the 1960s and the TV show "Lost In Space."
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LOST IN SPACE")
DICK TUFELD: (As The Robot) Danger, Will Robinson, danger. Go, Will Robinson - danger.
CORNISH: Skip back another decade...
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ROBOT MONSTER")
CORNISH: ...And there's there's Ro-Man, the ape-machine combo from the campy sci-fi movie "Robot Monster."
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ROBOT MONSTER")
GEORGE BARROWS: I am ordered to kill you. I must do it with my hands.
CLAUDIA BARRETT: How is it you're so strong? It seems impossible.
MCEVERS: (Laughter) It seems impossible because it was.
CORNISH: But long before any of these fictional robots, there was Eric, one of the world's first modern robots. He was British, built in 1928.
BEN RUSSELL: Eric was about 6 feet tall. He was made of aluminum. He looked quite scary. You know, he was designed so that when he spoke, sparks flew between his teeth.
CORNISH: This is Ben Russell. He's curator of mechanical engineering at the Science Museum of London.
RUSSELL: Looking back, I suppose you could say he was relatively simple. He could stand up. He could move his arms. He could take a bow and sit down again. He was, in a way, everything that we imagined a robot would be. He's that sort of stereotype that even now when you ask kids to draw a robot, they draw something that looks pretty much like Eric.
CORNISH: Eric was made by two men - an engineer and a World War I veteran - and he was intended as a showpiece. They took Eric and their next robot, George, on an international tour which included a stop in New York City.
MCEVERS: Ben Russel's now putting together a major robot exhibit at the Museum of Science, and he wants to include Eric. But there's a problem. Eric no longer exists.
RUSSELL: No one's quite sure what happened to the robots. We knew George was destroyed by a bomb in the second World War, but Eric vanishes off the record.
MCEVERS: To get Eric back, Russel wants to rebuild him. And so the London Museum has launched a Kickstarter campaign. The goal is to raise $50,000.
RUSSELL: You can only go so far with a picture of something or, you know, a computer simulation. People want to see actual stuff. As a 3D object, it has much more appeal than just a drawing or a photograph.
MCEVERS: And he's intrigued by the technical challenge.
RUSSELL: Although there's lots of photographs and there's one or two artistic re-imaginings of what was inside him, no one quite knows how he worked.
CORNISH: For Ben Russell, unraveling that mystery is as much about technology as it is about art.
RUSSELL: 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.
MCEVERS: The robot exhibition opens next February. And if the Kickstarter campaign is successful, Eric will be there ready to take a mechanical bow.
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