8-foot robot Cygan from 1950s auctioned for $27,000

This vintage behemoth has "the strength of a dozen Samsons." Now a lucky collector gets to freak everyone out with it.

Tim Hornyak
Crave freelancer Tim Hornyak is the author of "Loving the Machine: The Art and Science of Japanese Robots." He has been writing about Japanese culture and technology for a decade. E-mail Tim.
Tim Hornyak
2 min read

Ah, 1950s robots. They seemed to usher in an era of automatons fulfilling our every whim and desire. Decades later, science fiction has yet to deliver.

But that hasn't stopped enthusiasts from bidding up the price of this 8-foot-tall droid from the era to a whopping 17,500 pounds ($27,660) at a recent auction by Christie's.

Cygan was made in Italy in 1957 by a certain Ing Fiorito, and then brought to the UK. It could "walk" by shuffling its wheeled feet forward or backward, move its head and arms, and even respond to basic voice commands.

According to archival footage aired by the BBC in the clip below, Cygan was controlled by shortwave radio and had 300,000 parts, 170 valves, 13 electric motors, and a 28-volt battery. An RC hobbyist article posted by the auction house says it had a remote-control range of 1 mile, and could move at up to 10 feet per minute.

Created as a domestic helper, the 1-ton automaton could also crush cans and even dance with a partner, provided he or she stepped on its huge feet.

The bubbly narrator in the clip also suggests Cygan could be used for babysitting, though one wonders if that would have been a good idea.

Sadly, the electronics were removed and the bot can't dance or babysit anymore.

Nevertheless, the winning bid was well above Christie's guide price of 8,000 pounds to 12,000 pounds ($12,000 to $18,000). It came from a UK buyer who beat a crowdfunding effort on SpaceHive organized by a group that wanted to install Cygan as a "Robot in Residence" in Leeds.

Now Cygan will live somewhere else, and it's sure to make a memorable conversation piece.

(Via Vice)