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Mr. Wu’s scrap robots

Chinese robot man

In a small farming village just outside Beijing, far from the bright lights of university labs and untouched by their multi-million dollar research grants, Wu Yulu sits in his yard building robots out of scrap. He’s been doing it, obsessively, since 1986.

Dissatisfied with his teachers as a child, Mr. Wu decided to stop attending school before he had learned to read or write properly. But that didn’t stop him building his first robot out of sewing machine parts, before he even knew what a robot was! He was driven simply to make machines that walked like people.

Now aged 49, Mr. Wu has created more than 30 robots, including machines capable of pouring tea, lighting cigarettes, writing calligraphy and giving him a massage. Among his gaggle of amazing creations are human-sized robots that can pull his whole family along in a rickshaw, repeatedly declaring through moving lips, “Wu Yulu is my dad. I take him out on the town.” Mr. Wu built his first rickshaw robot because he couldn’t afford a car.

Mr. Wu has developed such an emotional bond with his scrap robots that he refers to them all as his sons. However, his hobby hasn’t been without its hardships. In 1995, a recycled battery blew up in his face, scarring his arms and causing him to temporarily lose his memory. His most serious incident to date involved burning his house down, which put him £8,500 in debt and almost led to his wife leaving him with their two human sons.

The robots are amazing creations, but the true star of the show here is Mr. Wu and the inspiration, imagination and obsession of his shining human mind:

So what could it do if I finish it?…It could pour water for guests, light and snuff out cigarettes. It could also write; it could play the erhu. Of course, that one can also pour water. But it doesn’t look as good as the other one. – Wu Yulu

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