Well, this is some sad news. On Friday Toyota announced that one of its Trumpet-Playing Partner Robots (nicknamed “Harry”) would retire from active duty. This particular model made its debut at the Aichi Expo in 2005, and was starting to show its age through everyday wear and tear. Its farewell concerts took place at 12:30 pm and 4 pm on Sunday, June 10th 2012, where it was accompanied by a pair of (human) trombonists.
The robot has far exceeded the initial plans to have it perform for three years, having toured multiple countries and played five minute pieces up to six times a day at its station in Nagoya. Its repertoire of about a dozen songs included an anime medley, “I Just Called to Say I Love You”, “Moon River”, and a Disney medley featuring “Hi Ho”, “Whistle While You Work”, “When You Wish Upon a Star”, and “The Mickey Mouse Club March”. It was not unusual for crowds to gather around to enjoy the robot, with youngsters often commenting that they’d like to build a robot one day.
The 145 cm (4’9″) tall, 40 kg (88 lbs) robot used artificial piston-driven lungs to blow air through rubberized lips, and was able to play individual notes using its fingers. Luckily Toyota will continue to exhibit a Trumpet-Playing Partner Robot at the Toyota Kaikan Exhibition Hall for those who want to see it in person, but there’s no telling for how long. They suggest the robots are missing parts from years of maintenance.
In 2007, the company unveiled a Violin-Playing Partner Robot, however due to the delicate touch required to play a violin it is only shown on special occasions (such as at the Japanese pavilion at the Shanghai Expo 2010, see here). In 2009 the company published conceptual images of Partner Robots on the Moon in 2020 (see here) and even patented their design, but Toyota’s focus seems to have shifted away from humanoids. In the past few years the company has favored the Winglet, a personal mobility vehicle similar to the Segway, and a walk-assist device instead.
I hope that Toyota will once again wow us with a new Partner Robot in the future. The Toyota Partner Robots, which harken back to the Japanese tradition of karakuri ningyo, rank very high on my list of personal favorites. It seems like a missed opportunity that Disney never set up a semi-permanent attraction featuring one, as they have done with Honda’s ASIMO for the past several years.