The Rise of the Robots

Two enterprising Japanese engineers have taken their robomania to its logical conclusion and built their own giant ‘mecha’ Steampunk/Dieselpunk-style robot in their own backyard workshop. “KURATAS” is four meters (13ft) tall, has four legs, weighs 4 tonnes, has 30 hydraulic joints and can travel at a top speed of 10 kph (6.5 mph).

It should properly be titled a ‘mecha’, not a robot, because it has a chest-cabin where the human operator sits and controls it actions. The creators have also included weaponry – an arm cannon that fires 6,000 BB rounds a minute and is camera-controlled by the pilot’s facial expressions (in this case, a broad smile). Kuratas was unveiled to the Japanese public at the Wonder Festival at Mukahari Messe exhibition hall earlier this month.

ABOVE: “Pilot Anna”, controlling the Kuratas robot from the cockpit within its torso, at Makuhari Messe in early September.

It’s on sale for $1million, and has received numerous queries, although I personally doubt that the owners will part with it. This behemoth is the brainchild of 39-year-old engineer Kogoro Kurata, and 27-year-old Wataru Yoshizaki, a Ph.D student from the Nara Institute of Science and Technology. Ever since childhood, Kurata had built plastic scale models of robots, and decided to turn his dream of a full-scale mecha into a reality. The project really took off when his personal contacts put him in touch with Yoshizaki, who was working on software applications for controlling robot movements. The result was that Kuratas can be controlled not only by its on-board operator, but remotely from an iPhone. Yes, an iPhone.

Among the list of awesome facts surrounding Kuratas is that the co-creators did not seek corporate sponsorship, but funded the construction from their own pockets. They did not want executive meddling to change the project – for example, there are more control buttons than necessary in the cockpit, because Kurata wanted the ‘Raygun Gothic’ look of a control board with lots and lots of buttons.

ABOVE, FROM LEFT TO RIGHT: Kurata, Pilot Anna, Yoshizaki.

“In Japan, although there are a lot of people and companies with the skills and technologies to produce something cool,” Kurata said in an interview with the Japan Times, “they don’t take the initiative to build it. But when someone takes the first step and succeeds, the rest will follow. This is how things go in Japan … if someone creates a more awesome robot, it will motivate me to make an even better one.”

About J P Catton

Speculative storytelling and skewed fiction: the blog and website of author John Paul Catton.
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