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Book Review: RoBolution

RoBolution-headerRoBolution is a Japanese photo book originally published in 2001, right as humanoid robots were beginning to appear in the mainstream media thanks mostly to Honda’s P2 and P3 humanoids in the late ’90s.  It focuses on 5 humanoid robots: Honda’s ASIMO, SONY’s SDR-3X, Kitano Symbiotic’s PINO, Waseda University’s WABIAN R-4, and E-sys Aoyama Gakuin University’s Mk.5.  The majority of the photos from this book cannot be found online – and the shots of the SDR-3X in particular are hard to come by in such high quality.  They even revealed the often veiled single camera in the SDR-3X’s forehead which really can’t be seen in most photos I’ve seen on the net.  Besides photos there are also orthographic schematic drawings with specs, examples of prototypes, and interviews (in Japanese).

Insanely realistic ASIMO costume


Recently the costume pictured above, a prefab $400 ASIMO-like suit, has made the rounds on various sites. It’ll turn heads, but upon closer inspection it’s just not realistic enough to pass for a real robot. But have a gander at this one:

40-photo02Now this is what I’m talking about.  Yamamoto Katsura, an alumni of Waseda University, made this ASIMO costume himself, mostly out of wood. Apparently, one of the most famous events held by Waseda University is the annual Honjo-Waseda 100km Hike, which takes 2 days and typically gathers a thousand participants. In keeping with the hike’s spirit of pushing one’s physical limits, some participants decided to take it one step further by donning costumes as a kind of handicap. Pretty soon people were trying to one-up each other to see who could make the best costume, and the World’s Longest Costume Parade was born, with the hike’s organizers fanning the flames by handing out awards. More pictures and a video of the suit in action after the break.

• AV Mascot Robot “Bot-chan”

MASCOTROBOT-headerAt CEATEC Japan 2005, Hitachi displayed a voice-operated prototype Mascot Robot (nicknamed Bot-chan), an intelligent user interface for AV equipment.  Standard remotes are not necessarily the best interface for the growing number of television channels, their programs, and the ability to record and watch content on demand (TiVo).  Remotes have become increasingly complex as a result, only complicating things further.

Hitachi developed the Mascot Robot for quick and easy access to content through speech recognition, speech synthesis, image recognition, and text analysis technology.  The robot analyzes the user’s viewing history to effectively alert you when a show is on, record your favorites, and recommend shows you might enjoy.  Simply tell the robot (which can hear you from up to 2 meters away) what you’re looking for and it can find it for you.

Besides its cute voice, the animated eyes on its LCD display and the robot’s “rabbit ears” can move to help express the robot’s “emotions”.


AIBO ERS-31LAs its name suggests, the ERS-31L has a similar body to the Latte and Macaron model, but a tougher looking mug more akin to a bulldog.  It was released in May 2002 to mark the 3rd anniversary of the original AIBO release, with the lowest price yet: $600.  As part of the celebration, SONY took their AIBO Orchestra on a tour, where attendees could watch 9 AIBOs perform Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.

Interestingly, a study conducted in 2007 suggests that mechanical pets like the AIBO offer the same health benefits as a real dog for patients in long term care facilities.  Patients grew attached to the AIBO, which helped alleviate feelings of loneliness in the elderly.  Of course an AIBO cannot teach owners about social relationships, but in those cases where a bedridden hospital patient needs some companionship, apparently even robots are better than nothing at all.

• The Day The Earth Stood Still (2008)

TDTESS-HeaderA classic sci-fi movie with strong anti-war themes made during the Cold War, updated for our own troubled times. Just replace the threat of all-out nuclear war  with climate change, ocean acidification, rainforest deforestation, and other depressing problems looming just around the corner.  Throw Keanu Reeves and Jennifer Connelly into the mix and what could possibly go wrong?

A lot, apparently.  I’ve never seen the original but I’m familiar enough with it.  On paper, it seems like a great opportunity for a remake.  But that’s only if made to the high standards of say, Children of Men or Moon (the last truly intelligent and well executed sci-fi films that come to mind).  To say this movie falls short of its potential is a huge understatement.