"ROBOSQUARE!" (Robots in Japan!)

Trip Start Sep 09, 2009
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Trip End Oct 21, 2009


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Where I stayed
Khaosan International Hostel

Flag of Japan  , Fukuoka,
Wednesday, October 21, 2009

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091020

"ROBOSQUARE!" (Robots in Japan!)
by swami_worldtraveler

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INTRO:

Japan is famous for robots! - especially humanoid robots, even very sophisticated walking robots. I built walking robots in college as an Electrical Engineering student. So, naturally I had to find some robots while I was in Japan!...

You'd think it would be easy; they must be walking around the streets everywhere. Well, I googled for museums or exhibition halls in Tokyo the first week I arrived. Didn't find anything! I'm sure I must have just missed them somehow. Then in Osaka I heard about a robot place in Nagoya, but I'd already passed that town by and was nearing the end of my trip, so backtracking didn't fit the circumstances. Somewhat reluctantly, I resigned myself to not getting to see any of the famous Japanese robots... at least not on THIS trip, I consoled myself.

Then I saw it... "ROBOSQUARE" the little ad said at the bottom of the 'NOW Fukuoka' guide map I picked up in Hiroshima. I inquired at the Information Center upon arriving at the train station in Fukuoka... my LAST stop in Japan; my LAST DAY in Japan!

"It's open till 6 pm tonight," the assistant informed me.

I checked the time. It was not even 2 pm yet.

"I can make it to the hostel, catch a bus, and get there with several hours to spare," I thought to myself excitedly. "I might actually get to see some robots afterall!..."

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ROBOSQUARE MISSION & VISION:

According to its founder, Dr. Hiroaki Kitano, "ROBOSQUARE does not simply refer to a physical space but embodies all the aspects involved in robotics."

The official website (http://robosquare.city.fukuoka.lg.jp/english/index.html), states that ROBOSQUARE was created with the aim of:
"
1) Providing vision and understanding of the science and technology of robotics.
2) Offering research environments for advanced robotic technology.
3) Refining the growth of robotics related industries.
"

It also aims to:

- "exhibit the latest robotics and AI technology to the public and contribute to the future researchers and ventures in this field"
- "keep a focused eye on market developments of the robotics-industry, offering support where possible to new venture companies"
- "cultivate the ground work for the robotics industry in Fukuoka City by engaging in various robot-related activities."
* become the "'Silicon Valley of Robotics' in Fukuoka City Japan"!

The institute holds "science and technology workshops, for school teachers who intend to incorporate robot building courses as a part of their schools science education courses." It's "a portal of knowledge and hands-on activities for the youth and individuals seeking information and an understanding" thru on-site and in-school workshops and demonstrations. And it has helped provide "free rental of therapy robots to nursing homes for the elderly," specifically, Paro, a lovable, consoling seal-type robot.

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ROBOTS AHEAD!...

I made it to the TNC TV Building next to the Marizon Fukuoka Tower before 4 pm. Still looking for the place, thinking it was a couple streets south, I looked up to see a large sign that displayed four futuristic-looking humanoid robots. It read simply, "ROBOSQUARE www.robotsquare.org." I had arrived!:)

As I reached the top of the escalator, the place came into view. Robots ahead!...

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ROBOSQUARE ENTRANCE:

Ceiling-length glass displays housed vintage robots. I went right for TMSUK-03 and TMSUK-04 (pronounced, "TIM-SUCK" - insert childish joke here:)

Built in 1998, TMSUK-03 is a short little guy with a big head, two arms with grippers, and two tractor treads for locomotion. It was the world’s first experiment robot controlled remotely by mobile telephone. Ten years ago this was hi-tech, state of the art stuff.

Built one year later, TMSUK-04 is a humanoid super-remote-controlled robot with a head, arms, and tracks. She sorta reminded me of Dot Matrix from the movie Spaceballs, but without legs.

I checked out some other display robots, including BANRYU, and Wall-E, then finally actually went inside the "square"...

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ROBOSQUARE FACILITY:

A group of young Japanese women were excitedly interacting with Hello Kitty ROBO. Pretty cute. But for the $1000 price tag I could buy a lot of 'cute' in the red light district!

Next, the AIBO collection caught my eye. Several generations of the lovable little robot dog by SONY were obediently seated on a matrix of shelves. If you've seen an AIBO it's probably been one of the futuristic looking shiny silver, black, or white ones. I was surprised to see a more "natural" looking beige pup from 2003, the AIBO ERS-311, but I think "FIDO" (Friendly Indelligent Dog Option) would be more fitting:).

Several pretty young Japanese women were on hand to demonstrate the robots and answer any questions. One had just fed an AIBO (i.e. replaced its batteries) when a trio of female Korean Navy officers happened by. Reading from a command list, one officer commanded the digital canine to dance. Their eyes lit up with amusement when the little robot sounded a tune and started to dance.

I made my way around the room checking out more robots, including ROBOVIE (a humanoid robot), Miuro (a wheeled robot iPod dock to follow you around... really!), SR-01 (a shallow, tractor treaded surveillance robot), PLEO (an AI baby dinosaur), and last, but not least, Paro (a therapuetic robot).

Finally, I perused the retail toy section. - LOTS of fun stuff there!:) Some highlights were the "2-LEGGED WALKING ROBOT," the "RESCUE CRAWLER" articulated tank-track robot, the "SOLAEMON-GO" solar-powered Doraemon (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doraemon) robot, the "life-like" pet cat robot, and perhaps my favorite, the "SUMO WRESTLER ROBOT"!:)

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CLOSING COMMENTS:

6 pm came around before I knew it and they had to run me out! I was the last one there. I kept snapping photos as I backed my way out, trying to capture the last little bits of my robot experience in Japan!.

And so yes, in the end I DID get to see some robots:)
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Comments

Patrick McGrath on

Excellent! Thanks for posting this blog on robots in Japan. I've always been a big fan of robots. Disapointed though to see how still today's technology falls short and way behind of what we may see in science fiction films. Have you seen Battle Star Galactica, the new series, and Caprica. These I highly recommend. The message in them is quite powerful and it has to do with our responsibility as creators of sentient beings. It also shows us that nothing is really new under the Sun. The idea of robots has always existed in the imagination of humanity. You can see the ancient Greek God Hephaestus already making them out of metal and being obedient servants to help him out with his work. Anyway, at a slow pace but we are getting there. I just wish governments didn't waste so much money on weapons and instead they shared this vision. With their mentality Im sure they ARE investing in robotics but on destructive ones. Thanks again for sharing your experience in Japan, Swami. You must have enjoyed this trip a lot. take care and see in Puerto Rico!

swami_worldtraveler on

Hey Patrick,

Tnx for the comments. Yes, I very much enjoyed my trip thru Japan... and look forward to an adventure on your enchanted island! See you there:)...

As for robots and rate of advancement, the more I studied robots in college the more I came to appreciate natural systems. Things we do naturally and take for granted prove to be VERY difficult to emulate, like walking, navigation, vision, perception, language recognition, etc. Technology does not always advance as quickly as promised or expected, nor does it do so at a constant rate. Perhaps someday robots will advance to the level of current scifi. Luckily, fiction writers and ethicists are exploring the ramifications of artificial sentient beings. Perhaps you could do a triptych intertwining a traditional Japanese Buddhist painting w/ modern day (or futuristic) robots. Or you could use a Christian painting more in line with your current works. Would be a little different, but still somewhat in your realm of art. Just a thought. Do with it what you want, if anything.

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