Robots at the Science Museum review *****



Science Museum, 7th June 2017

The Robots exhibition at the Science Museum is now around half way into its run (ends 3rd September) and with school holidays done and dusted I figured it was safe to take the plunge and have a look. Mid afternoon slot and near empty when I went in.

Now don’t get me wrong. I like children. I have three of them in my collection and over the years they have provided me with hours of, albeit expensive, entertainment. There was even a time when this exhibition might have been, with appropriate concessions granted after intense negotiation, a candidate for a “family trip out”. But time marches on so now I am flying solo with this sort of thing. 

Anyway an opportunity to have a good nose around. I had high hopes. The Cosmonauts exhibition from a couple of years ago at the Science Museum was a triumph. The exhibition certainly starts with a flourish with a collection of Medieval and Early Modern automata and other beautifully constructed machines. I would have been happy just with these though I suspect they may not be exactly what the average punter has in mind when it comes to robots. These pieces are, understandably, in vitrines, and the atmospheric lighting veers towards the murky, but they are beguiling.

If I am honest the next section is a bit half hearted. I guess it would have been possible to assemble a few crackerjack machines from the golden age of the industrial revolution across the West in C19, but, again, this might not have sat neatly with the exhibition offer. What followed this was also a little underwhelming, a collection of classic “science fiction” style toy robots from the mid C20 with accompanying imagery, and some full size early humanoid-like robots. You know the score. Knocked up by earnest blokes with beards in sheds using whatever materials they had lying around. Ingenious.

It is though the final couple of sections that really sends the head spinning. There are demonstrations of the key current areas of focus for roboticists through some well chosen exhibits accompanied by short explanatory videos from the top boffins in each field. And then we see, and in a couple of cases, get to play with, some of the most advanced commercial robots from the last decade. I defy anyone not to be swept along by the possibilities that are opening up. The curators though also diligently explore some of the wider issues that will arise from a world where robots become more widespread.

So all up if you have any curiosity at all about this subject, and you probably should, then get along if you haven’t already. Kids of all ages welcome. Despite my curmudgeonly comments above.

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