Liam Rudden: Robot celebrities are National Museum’s star attractions

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ROBOTS are fascinating.

From the ruthless pepper-pot Daleks to the Class M-3 Model B-9 General Utility Non-Theorizing Environmental Control Robot (thankfully just known as Robot) in Lost In Space .

And from the Cybermen, part man, part machine to Forbidden Planet’s Robbie the Robot, they have captured the imaginations of generations.

In the past they tended to be futuristic creations with little resemblance to today’s ‘real thing’.

Channel 4’s drama Humans took the robot theme and ran with it in an all together more convincing way, well, sort of.

As I learned at the National Museum of Scotland earlier this week, walking, talking robots are still some way off. That is to say, they might be able to talk, walking on the other hand is still a bugbear - the art of robotic balance yet to be perfected.

All this I discovered at Robots, a major new exhibition at the Museum that explores ‘500 years of humanity’s quest to re-imagine ourselves as machines’.

On display in Exhibition Gallery 1 on Level 3 are more than 100 robots, from the earliest automata to those from science fiction and modern-day research labs.

It was the stars of screen that caught my attention first.

Robbie might not have been in attendance but Eric was - perhaps not the most adventurous name for a robot.

The original Eric was built in 1928 to open the Exhibition of the Society of Model Engineers in London and in its heyday could rise to its feet, bow and give a four-minute address. The UK’s first celebrity robot, you might say.

Also on show is the towering Cygan, a 1950s Italian-made robot which could go forwards and backwards, move its arms and crush drinks cans with its hands. Useful. Mmm.

Coming more up to date, film fans will love the T800 Terminator that stands balefully in its pen - it was used in Terminator Salvation.

None of these look particularly human, of course, unlike Kodomoroid, a Japanese android newsreader, which is so lifelike it is just plain creepy, though not quite as eerie as the mechanical baby that welcomes you on arrival.

Perhaps the most familiar sight on display is a replica of Maria, the Maschinenmensch in the 1927 classic movie Metropolis. The most famous robot ever perhaps, if you discount Star Wars’ favourites like C-3PO and R2-D2 (They are not on show).

The exhibition considers the role of humanoid robots in religious belief, the Industrial Revolution, popular culture and society’s dreams of the future.

However, it is to the past that you must look to find my favourite exhibits; hanging mid-air in their glass case are four prosthetic arms and hands made of metal and wood, which date back to Victorian times. All very steam-punk, each is a work of art in its own right and completely captivating.

I wonder who wore them?

Robots, National Museum of Scotland, Chambers Street, until 5 May, £10 (under 16s free)