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We’re rolling out our annual invention awards today, so it’s perhaps a fitting coincidence that this video should surface of the so-called peasant inventor Wu Yulu, a Chinese farmer and robot hobbyist displaying his whimsical creations at Shanghai’s Rockbund Art Museum.

Following a rich tradition of DIY inventors from China’s interior, Wu doesn’t benefit from university backing or a robotics lab of his own, so he instead scavenges rubbish piles for throwaway parts and the odd aesthetic fixture. As such, some of his creations possess a Tim Burton-esque kind of macabre quality: rust-covered drummer boys patched together from scrap marching tirelessly in a circle, or a remote-controlled child-bot that ambles around with an unnaturally spastic gait.

Chinese Peasant Inventors from Malcolm Moore on Vimeo.

And what do his robots do? Mostly, they entertain. Some walk around, some hop about aimlessly like children’s wind-up toys, and one simply jumps off a high platform to be violently caught by a rigid cable strapped to his back. But some do possess a certain degree of functionality. “I had no money to buy a car,” Wu says of his rickshaw bot, a yellow humanoid in a straw hat that tows a passenger-bearing rickshaw cart behind. “So I built my own.”

Shanghaiist

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