The Problem with Japanese Robots
Japan. The world leader in the field of robotics. There are robots created in Japan every day, each one more advanced than the last one. It’s fascinating. But are these robots good? Is the Japanese world of robotics on the right tracks? No. Today, Señor Editor and Ninja Ross sit down to discuss the main problem in Japanese robotics.
SE: Hello. If you’re a longtime reader of Trash Mutant, you may be surprised to learn that we are actually very interested in science. And I think it’s time for us to make our voices heard in the scientific community. With me today is Ninja Ross.
Ross, we both have been following the development of Japanese robots for a long time now, and I know we have similar doubts about the direction they’re heading. We’re talking here about a country that made Mechagodzilla in 1974, yet today they make robots that sing and dance and look like kids’ toys.
NR: Robotics is definitely a passion we share. Looking back at Japan’s rich history in robotics, it’s hard to believe they’ve lost their way so badly. How do you go from city stomping, butt kicking giant robots to wobbling around a small room and falling over?
SE: I agree. That’s why it’s probably best if we examine some of the latest robots from Japan, and see just how bad Japan misses the mark on robots in the 21st century.
SE: Let’s start with Honda’s Asimo. Possibly the most famous robot on Earth. One thing that’s immediately noticeable is how white he is. He is not the silver, shiny type of robot we have known from popular culture.
NR: Asimo is so famous they made a movie about him; 2012’s Robot and Frank, directed by Jake Schreier. He is not the kind of robot you make movies about. You’re right, he isn’t silver or shiny. He’s plain. If you watch this video presentation, one of the first points mentioned in is is how he gives way to humans. Eventually. It’s easier if he stands still so people can walk around him.
SE: He looks like a tiny astrounaut that (who?) shit himself. I just had to get this out of the way. He gives way to humans and fetches drinks, which is useful, if you have the time to wait for your drink, but I haven’t noticed any weapons on him. If they are in the backpack, then that doesn’t seem like the best place to carry firearms.
NR: I assumed the backpack stored some kind of jetpack, but the video makes no mention of it. That was incredibly disappointing. I had hoped he perhaps stored his weapons within his arms or legs, but that seems unlikely.
SE: Yes, that would be a logical decision and it’s hard to imagine Asimo’s creators haven’t thought of that. We have all seen Paul Verhoeven’s “RoboCop”. I think it’s safe to say that movie was one of the reasons for even developing humanoid robots. A small machine gun turret in the backpack or at least flamethrowers hidden inside the hands could really make Asimo movie-worthy. Asimo is, of course, named after Isaac Asimov. I think it’s fair to say Asimov is rolling in his grave.
What do you think about Asimo’s voice?
NR: His voice sounds like a Taylor Swift song played backwards; a demonic chant that’s more sad than horrifying.
SE: That’s an accurate description. One thing that we should also mention is that Asimo is supposed to help people in their daily lives... I am not sure if Honda noticed that, but he is about four feet tall. This is something that’s a problem with many of the robots we will be talking about. If you got over the fact that he doesn’t carry weapons, and would just like him to go and make you a whiskey, you would have to make sure you keep it somewhere really low.
NR: Which would no doubt cause an increase in child alcoholism.
SE: Before we begin talking about the tmsuk04, I would like you to try and forget about all your robotics knowledge for a second, Ross. Empty your mind, look at this robot’s design and try to tell me its possible function.
NR: To re-enact Jack the Ripper’s murders.
SE: See, that would provide some much-needed edginess to Japan’s robot industry. Sadly, the tmsuk04’s (it is not a good robot name if it has “suck force” in it, in any form) main role is to be a robot you can send to do some shopping. Since you can order almost anything online without having to pay for a robot, I imagine the things tmsuk04 shops for the most often are things like condoms, tampons, venereal disease medicine etc. This may be useful, but there’s a clear downside here. How many people own robots? In Japan, many, probably, but anywhere else the clerks would soon know “Oh, here goes Mr. Johnson’s ‘suk04 again, getting the anal warts cream.”
NR: Look at this thing. Have you ever been to a shop that would allow for robots like this to roll down the aisle? Canned goods everywhere. Chicken all over the floor. Display cases SHATTERED.
SE: Could there be a better idea here somewhere? Some re-purposing of ‘suk04, to make it one step closer to the right kind of robots? The only robot it currently reminds me of is Rosie from The Jetsons, and it doesn’t even come out the winner in this comparison.
NR: It has plenty of storage room. I don’t see why it can’t have weapons. Rosie at least had mechanical arms stored inside. Imagine a giant butt cannon. Infinitely better.
SE: I say lose the old timey dress, keep these arms, because they’re the only good thing here - they’re kind of like the T-800 endoskeleton - and add some red LED eyes. That would be a good first step on the way from tmsuk to tmrocks. Also, this is actually another robot the size of a child.
NR: An important question: How is this thing supposed to climb stairs?
SE: That’s a good question. ED 209 was better at climbing stairs than this thing, and ED 209 couldn’t climb stairs at all. Also, ED 209 was made in 1987 Detroit. We should be getting better robots from Japan now, not this.
NR: Yeah, if they haven’t even reached ED 209 standards, how are they ever going to reach RoboCop standards?
NR: Kids are creepy enough. Japan has decided to take things too far. They have created something that is clearly designed to do nothing but stare at people until they panic. This is a panic attack machine.
SE: Now this at least seems like a better direction - out with the over the top cutesy robots, in with something much less friendly. Much more unnerving. Is… is this a good robot from Japan? I think it definitely works in terms of making me uncomfortable, but what else can it do?
NR: It’s actually a learning robot. It’s supposed to learn as it goes, which sounds scary at first, but let’s remember: Skynet took a couple of weeks to learn how to blow the world up and enslave humanity. This thing can barely even walk. It looks horrifying, reminiscent of the ceiling baby scene from Trainspotting, but that’s all it has going for it.
SE: Right, but can it even learn to walk better, by itself? Or does it need a team of engineers working on it 24/7 for years before it could run a little? Because if I was in the market for a creepy, lumpy baby robot, I would like to know that he would one day go to college, move out and provide for me. Not just sit there, giving me that creepy look.
NR: Exactly. not only is it terrible at being Skynet, but it’s also terrible at being a child. Although, it is the only robot on this list that really shouldn’t have weapons.
SE: I can’t believe we’ve arrived at this conclusion, but you are right, this definitely shouldn’t have weapons.
NR: It’s made pretty clear by the image that the Toyota Partner Version 8 plays the violin. What you might not know, is that it also plays the trumpet! Which no doubt has a lot of practical uses.
SE: Is there a shortage of musicians in Japan? Did they have to go through seven versions of this robot to reach this level of musicianship? For me, the musician robots are just a step above the dancing robots. When you show me a robot; seeing it dance or play the violin is on the bottom of the list of things I would like it to do.
NR: It has zero value to the industry, really. How much money do you think was spent on this? It’d be a huge amount. It would have been cheaper to pay me to learn to play a violin. I’d even turn up to the party wearing a lazy home made robot suit (A.K.A Tin Foil).
SE: Not only is this robot weaponless, there’s something terribly pointless and outdated about it. I don’t imagine this robot composes his own tunes. He most likely has a set of classical standards programmed into his snow white dome, and just replays them over and over. Clearly, this is a step back since we’ve had robot musicians reaching the top of the charts way back in the 1990s - the Daft Punk robots, if you recall. The Toyota Partner plays two instruments and he most likely only plays classical music, a genre that isn't really widely enjoyed anywhere outside of Japan.
NR: This thing is the ultimate expression of pointlessness. No creativity! Even the name is boring and pointless. At least the other robots on this list have semi interesting names. This thing is a partner. Whatever that even means. I assume there’s two of them at all times? Perhaps they break down if there’s only one of them in a room.
SE: Meet Kobian. The ultimate example of Japan taking robots in a direction that’s very wrong. You don’t have to have a degree in robotics, or write for a pop culture website to connect the dots here: Kobian? Is his first name possibly Curt (or Cutr, I guess). Kobian is an emotional robot. This is the robot that makes C-3PO seem tough and threatening in comparison.
NR: I find it hard to believe this thing can express more emotion than “kind of surprised.” Maybe a bit of sarcasm thrown in. Why would you need it to express emotion? The T-800 showed no emotion, yet it still behaved in a more human way than this thing ever could.
SE: “Kind of surprised” and “flamboyant, but depressed” are the only emotions I see here, really. Apparently the Japanese think he can make people laugh, but I think that’s 20 years of making dancing robots talking here, not scientific expertise. I don’t think focusing on emotions or interactions is the right direction - you’re absolutely right here. If Kobian isn’t threatening me or going back to the past to kill my mother, than I have no reason to interact with him.
NR: Exactly. What use does this even have? Is it designed to make humans cry to death? Die of confusion? I feel nothing for this monster. It’s like it sucks emotion from the room, rahter than expressing it.
SE: I try to look at these robots from a buyer’s perspective, because if I saw a robot I would really like, I’d want to have that. If I could have a silver skeleton of a robot, like the already mentioned T-800 (One of the prime examples of robotics. A Prime Robot, really), then I could have use for him. Plenty of use for that. If it was a transforming robot, like the well-known Transformers, then that is a two-for-one deal. That’s good - plenty of things going for that kind of robot. Now imagine getting back home after work, tired. Kobian is there, because he never leaves house, he’s on the couch again, watching Hugh Grant movies and eating away his depression…
NR: Yeah, meanwhile, Asimo is still trying to serve you the drink from yesterday. You’d have a house full of robots that are terrible at their jobs. WHATEVER THOSE JOBS ARE.
SE: Right, these aren’t even jobs. They aren’t even good at being butlers or anything. They can kind of walk, kind of talk, but people can already do that. Japan is making robots without any clear purpose.
NR: I think we both know what this guy needs. Over the top weapons. And claws instead of human-like hands. Claws would help.
SE: Claws and over the top weapons could really save this robot. He could go from the worst on the list, to a must-have. Imagine a platoon of these, armed to the teeth. Hell, give them teeth. Razor-sharp teeth. I think when the tmsuk (yes, they are also responsible for Kobian) engineers read this article, it could really be a turning point for the industry.
NR: Heavily armed clowns. Horrifying.
SE: Unfortunately, after all we’ve seen, I doubt this is the direction they will take. If they ever wanted to actually make something with potential like that, we would have seen it by now.
NR: We could go on forever about the problems with Japanese robots, but we don’t have the time or patience to explore all of their failures. They are clearly not the robotics experts we all thought they were. They’re so far behind, it’s not even funny. They have created an army of white, plastic looking shambling toys…
SE: Please, Japan. For the love of robotics. Go back to Mechagodzilla. Go back to Transformers. You HAD THIS! It is not too late.
Can the Japanese robots ever regain their former glory? Which one of these robots do you think is the worst? Can you provide a counter argument for this article? You can try. In the comments section, below.