Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Robots: Big in Japan

After a hard day of work, what brings a smile to my face? How about a photo of a life-size (59 feet tall!) statue of the eponymous robot from the anime series MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM, built to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the still-thriving Gundam franchise. (If we're attacked by space colonies, just hope that there's a 14-year-old introverted genius around to operate the dang thing.)

Or, not quite as tall but perhaps more impressive, is this Popular Science magazine story about an Alaska army mechanic who has built a working -- yes, working -- 18-foot "mecha" exoskeleton that mimics the movements of its operator, who rides inside the chest. It can purportedly raise its arms, bend its knees, and do sit-ups. And it was built for about the price of a car: $25,000.

What will really amaze me is if someone comes up with a giant robot that actually walks. Duplicating human locomotion on a small scale has always challenged robotics engineers. Creating a machine that lifts and drops the equivalent of a grain silo with each step -- and keeps its balance -- seems to verge on the impossible. (And even if it was possible, why do it? Why not put the thing on tank tracks -- as MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM did with one of its more plausible robots, Guntank.)

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