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Robots at Tsukuba Expo 1985

Tsukuba, Japan was the host of the World Expo in 1985 which ran from March through September that year, attracting more than 20 million visitors. Among the many Japanese exhibits were several cutting-edge robots, which you can see in the following video. This is an excerpt from Computer Chronicles, a popular technology program that ran from 1983-2002, found at the Internet Archive.

Host Stewart Cheifet conducted a rare interview with the late Prof. Ichiro Kato (Waseda University), the father of bipedal robots.  His WHL-11 (bipedal robot) and WABOT-2 (robot pianist), as well as Titan IV (HRFL) were at the expo.  We also see an exhibit entitled Robot Fantasy 2001, where a number of strange robots perform a choreographed waltz. Photos follow after the break.


Interestingly, Tsukuba city has recently announced plans to allow robotic vehicles such as the Segway on public roads.  Small personal mobility vehicles (e.g. Toyota’s Winglet, Honda’s U3-X, etc.) have less impact on the environment and are expected to be used in urban areas for short-distance trips.  Assuming the legislation goes through, it will be the first of its kind in Japan.

Hopefully the copyright brigade won’t force the removal of this video as it is an important educational document on the history of Japanese robotics and the Tsukuba Expo.  Thanks to Alex Sickling!

[source: Internet] & [Asahi News (JP)] via [NODE (JP)]

A pamphlet from the time

Designed chiefly by Luigi Colani (an industrial designer famous for his smooth lines and elegant curves) the original exhibit consisted of 50 robots (with 20 varieties in all) featuring colorful chassis that hid the internal mechanisms.  It would have been quite amazing to see all these robots moving about, automatically following one another before finally exiting the stage.

You may not be able to experience the expo in all its glory today, but you can still see some of the robots on display at the Cyberdyne Studio in Iasu, Tsukuba.  Adults can get in for 500 JPY and relive some of the excitement from the Fuyo Robot Theater (the most attended pavilion of the expo) and check out Cyberdyne’s HAL exoskeletons.

The “Flag Leader” twirled flags in its “arms”, as others followed close behind


It’s a bit scuffed, but the logo is still clear

These “Flag Robots” would follow, waving their flags to the rhythm of the music

Looking a bit like police, these “Family Robots” came in similar shapes and colors

Proceeding further you’ll find a stage similar to the one from ’85

Your robot friend Marco

Marco would draw a carriage for two

A simple character that would make an excellent mascot

The elegant curves that Colani is famous for

He was doing work in 1985 that still isn’t matched today

Marco’s control panel

From the brochure of the time

Marco without his chassis: antennae, range sensors, speaker, eye lights and more

Opposite Marco are these Dopink Robot cheerleaders

Thesefollowed the flag robots, wiggling their heads (and pompoms) and turning at the waist

The eyes seemed to look around as the head tilted left and right

Their curvaceous bodies reflect the light

Compared to the brochure, they’ve been well preserved over the past 25 years


The Cheerleader robot’s internal mechanisms

A pink Baby robot (the blue one is missing) – some damage to the base

During the play, this Baby robot actually had quite an important role.  At the beginning of the show it would wake up all the sleeping robots so the show could begin.

The “Duet robots” meant to represent female and male qualities

Their section of the play was a “Robot Romance”

They say that Disney was interested in bringing the robots to perform in the United States after the expo had run its course.  However, it seems that the robot’s fragile FRP bodies did not meet Disney’s stringent requirements for durability and ease of maintenance, so the robots never left Japan.  Luckily Cyberdyne Studio has them on display!  Where before you would have only been able to see them from a distance, now you can get quite close to them.  For kids who experienced the expo firsthand, it’s quite a thrill!

[source: Lounge SRG (JP)]