Cybernetic tortoise, developed to help with studies on brain function

1950-1952 in Bristol
William Grey
William Grey

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Cybernetic tortoise, c1950. Front three quarter view. Graduated white to grey background.
Science Museum Group Collection
© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

Cybernetic tortoise, with photo-electric cell, developed to help with studies on brain function, invented and made by William Grey Walter, at the Burden Neurological Institute, Bristol, England, 1950-1952

A landmark both in robotics and cybernetics (the science of communication and control systems), the tortoise invented by William Grey Walter was an 'artificial animal' designed to investigate brain functions. It was devised at the Burden Neurological Institute in Bristol, a unique centre combining experimental and clinical work, established in 1939. A favourite at the science exhibition of the Festival of Britain, held at the Science Museum, under the name Machina speculatrix, was designed to behave like a simple animal. It was wired to display certain characteristics: it travelled around floors, manoeuvred to avoid obstacles and slopes, and was equipped with a photo-receptor so that it would approach moderate light but avoid bright illumination.

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Science Museum: Making the Modern World Gallery

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