While Cygan may be one of the crappiest robots you ever set eyes on, it’s worth remembering that when it was unveiled way back in the 1950s it was considered to be nothing short of extraordinary. After all, few people had witnessed a contraption of this nature – one that could walk (sort of), move its arms (in a limited manner), turn its head (just about), and even respond to rudimentary voice commands (according to the BBC). I guess you might describe it as a really early Asimo.
Built in Italy in 1957 by Turin aeromodeler Dr. Ing Fiorito, the eight-foot, one-ton robot was soon wowing audiences across Europe, making various public appearances and opening major events such as the British Food Fair in London in 1958.
After years in obscurity, Cygan (aka Gygan) stepped back into the limelight recently (or was carried, as it doesn’t actually work anymore) when Christie’s of London auctioned it as part of a special Out of the Ordinary event featuring other unusual items – a “north Italian taxidermy ostrich” among them.
The aluminum humanoid smashed its estimated sale price of between £8,000 and £12,000 ($12,650 to $19,000), fetching an impressive £17,500 ($27,695), though little is known of the UK buyer or what plans they have in store for Cygan.
For their money, the new owner gets a robot that during its functioning days comprised a 28-volt battery, 170 valves, and 13 electric motors, with the whole machine made up of 300,000 parts. Cygan was controlled by shortwave radio and also had a TV camera mounted on its body, enabling the operator to monitor its progress.
Below is an interesting BBC report on the robot featuring some amusing archive footage, its plummy-accented commentator suggesting Cygan would be ideal for taking care of “chores like babysitting”, though “with the strength of a dozen Samsons” could also be used “for more ominous purposes”, whatever that means.
Push it on to the 1:38 mark if you’d like to see Cygan ‘dancing’, though its style is admittedly more plank-of-wood than Michael Jackson.