What's new in my robots pages?
Wednesday, apr. 6th, 2005 :
Updated the Toys page with pictures and details for a few new toys.
Sunday, feb. 6th, 2005 :
Updated the Fujitsu, Nec and Promet pages with pictures, text and a video.
Wednesday, sept. 8th, 2004 : BN-1
Added a Bandai BN-1 page to my real robots collection. Also updated the Wonderborg page a bit.
This feature will soon be available
Japanese Robots History
Period 1 : Mythology
Aside to the Japanese tradition of automatons (that is certainly a part of Japan special attraction to robots), a worldwide robots culture will grow in the beginning of the 20th century, mostly through art, and later in the industry. The background for many robots research programs may be found in a few events that the whole world went through, including WW-I and the invention of the word "robot" itself.
That's the era i call "mythology".
CREATION OF THE WORD "ROBOT" (Culture/Art - World)
In 1920, czech writer Karel Capek uses the word "robot" to name the scientifically created artificial being taking place in his play "RUR - Rossum's Universal Robots".
History remembers Karel Capek as the word's inventor, but Capek himself doesn't claim the invention. It is actually his brother Josef that came up with the word "robot" as Karel Capek asked him for help to name the creatures he wanted to picture in the play he was writing.
It's interesting to know that Karel Capek first thought of naming them "Labors", which did not sound good to him. My guess is that the 1990's japanime Show Patlabor might by name after this story!
The name "robot" is taken from the czech word "Robota" meaning "forced work". The play, arrived in Japan in 1923, was to generate a robot enthusiasm all over the world.
It is also interesting to know that the play "RUR" plotted a world where mankind created the robots, then got overwhelmed by them after the robots progressively replaced humans in every field of human activity. From 1920's RUR to 1980's Terminator and 2000's Matrix, nothing new really!
METROPOLIS (Culture/Art - World)
Fritz Lang's movie "Metropolis", initially released in 1926 and introduced in Japan in 1929, is considered by many as the initiator of serious robotic research programs. The robot "Maria", focusing on the idea of a man-engineered mechanical being, echoed numerous social interrogations raised after WW-I. It's design, mixing a cold and metallic feel with human female characteristics cleverly summed the philosophical issues discussed in the movie, and impressed it's audience. This robot is also said to be the inspiration for famous Star Wars robot C3-PO's design.
TESTUWAN ATOMU (Manga/Animation) - manga release date
Testuwan Atomu was born from the imagination of Ozamu Tezuka, who is considered the father of modern japanese comics ("manga").
His hero "Testuwan Atomu", aka "Astroboy" outside Japan, is the first and one of the world's most popular japanese sci-fi robot. The idea behind the character is to show that technology is just a tool in mankind hands, and it all depends upon our emotions and feelings to put it to good use.
The name "Tetsuwan Atomu" refers to atomic energy. Indeed, this little-boy-shaped robot is powered by nuclear energy. After Japan tragic bombing during WW-II, Ozamu Tezuka created this atomic-powered robot, and gave him the heart of his inventor's defunct son. Tetsuwan Atomu is thus not just a pacific nuclear machine, but it's a machine with a heart and human emotions. It's the symbol of the choice mankind is offered when developping new and powerful technologies. The choice should come from the heart.
On the Sci-Fi side, Tetsuwan Atomu differs from the upcoming "giant robot" trend, in the way it is a very small robot, the size of a little boy. He happens to fight against huge machines, though...
TESTUJIN 28 (Manga/Animation) - manga release date
Little do i know about this manga series. What i know for sure is that it is the first *giant* japanese robot, the father of the numerous giant robots that will appear in Japan (and in the rest of the world) up until the 21st century.
If you wonder why the name "Testujin" sounds a lot like "Testuwan", that's because "Tetsu" means "Metal" in japanese (or does it mean "Iron"?). "Jin" means "person". "Testujin" thus means "metal-person" or "metal-man". Don't ask me what "Testuwan" means, though...It strongly seems that "Tetsu" is here for the same reason, but no idea about the "wan" part!
Testujin 28 also bears a major difference to Testuwan Atomu : if the latter is an automous, intelligent machine, Testujin 28 is a "giant puppet" entirely controlled by his master, a little boy operating the robot with a huge remote-control.
Again, the idea of a child-pilot as a symbol of innocence and powerful technology put to good use.
Period 2 : Prehistory
On the humanoid robots side, the machines from the era i call "prehistory" resemble dinosaurs.
Even if art was still producing rich variations on the humanoid robot theme, the place of man and the idea of man/robot interaction did not evolve much, except for the crucial change that would appear with the Gundam show.
On the industrial and research side, a few humanoid projects existed, but the actual development, and the actual economic market begun and grew with industrial robots.
KAWASAKI UNIMATE (Industry) - Product release date
"Unimate" is the first Japanese industrial robot. Developped by Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd, after years of R&D based on an industrial robot presented in the USA in 1962.
This robot will be the starting point of the very active Industrial robots development in Japan, that will later reach an important point in 1980.
MAZINGER-Z (Manga/Animation) - anime release date (?)
After a long black-out in the japanese robots history, Mazinger-Z brings a lot of new ideas that will often set the standard for all of the following Mecha series.
It is also the first robot created by Go Nagai, one of the most productive robot-creator in Japan.
Unlike it's predecessors, that both had round, human-like designs; Mazinger-Z is a colorful machine with a distinctive look of it's own. It's still a humanoid machine, but it has a few clues that makes it a little more of a war machine.
Also, the evolution in design now places the pilot inside it's machine. Mazinger-Z is a "puppet" just like Tetsujin 28; but instead of using a remote, the pilot has to use a little aircraft to dock in the robots head, taking the place of it's brain.
Mazinger-Z had several sequels (as manga series at least), up until late 20th century, and maybe even since then.
One of the latest Mazinger news i've heard of was the release of an interesting "steam-punk" (read "retro-futuristic") version of the machine, released as an articulated model. I have no idea whether this model was inspired by a manga or an OAV.
WABOT 1 (Research) - presentation date (?)
Sometimes considered as the first Japanese humanoid robot, the Wabot 1, developped by the Atsuo Takanishi Laboratory of the Waseda University is not actually able of walking. It is able to transfer his weight from one leg to another, thus processing some sort of "static walk". It's abilities also include speech synthesis as well as limited speech recognition and visual analysis.
GRENDIZER (Manga/Animation) - anime release date (?)
Another robot from the huge Go Nagai family, Grendizer is world-wide know as "Goldrake" or "Goldorak". It's design is very similar to Mazinger, and it is also a machine that hosts it's pilot in it's head. There are a few crossovers between the two series, like Mazinger's Pilot appearing as a buddy and sidekick to Grendizer's pilot in every anime episodes, or fellow giant-robots from Mazinger making guest-stars appearances in a few episodes...
Mobile Suit GUNDAM (Animation) - anime release date
1979 is an important date in japanese Science Fiction history. After years of giant robots fighting alone against armies of aliens or invaders, Gundam comes up with a totally new, different, and more "grown-up" plot.
In previous robots series, the central robot was the hero in itself. In Gundam, there is not *one* robot, but armies of them. They're industrially produced.
In previous robots series, a pilot had to defend the earth against evil alien invasions. In Gundam, there's a complicated background story involving an independance war between human space colonies.
This leads to important changes in the way the robot story is told. As a matter of fact, Gundam being a robot story is more of a side-effet. The robots are here because the technology makes it possible at the time of the story, but they represent the everyday life of the characters, no more no less. It's a step-forward that, in my humble opinion, led to the more grown-up vision i was mentionning.
Other changes can be found on the design side. Although they still have a oh-so-cute fantasy look (just think of a yellow, blue and red war machine!), they look much more square shaped than their predecessor, they bear exhaust grids, joints, supposing a more functionnal and heavy duty design.
Period 3 : Rise of the robots
In 1979, Gundam brought a very new approach to the popular robot sci-fi genre. Fed with the raising developments of industrial robots, it arrived with exact timing to announce the situation of Japan in the robotics industry world for the years to come.
"YEAR ONE OF THE ROBOTS" (Industry/Economy)
In 1980, Japan reaches the position of #1 industrial robots owner in the world, with 50% of the industrial robots in the world being used in Japan.
The country will never loose it's position since then.
MACROSS (Animation) - anime release date
Macross uses the same approach as Gundam : the story takes place in a world where robots are industrial products. One of the distinctive points is that those robots are now transformable. That's actually nothing really new in the Sci-Fi robot business; but it's the first time those transformable robots appear as "mass production" machines.
The robots however do not stand such fancy transformations as Transformers or Gobots do, but some of the fighters have 3 different battle modes : battroid (the humanoid form), "Gerwalk" (a mixed robot-plane mode), and Fighter (plane mode).
The purpose of the giant robot is also made a bit clearer in the show ; mankind has to face a race of giant alien, and the giant robot are dimensionned for close-combat against them...
An important note about the show is that it's one of the 3 shows that were to be later gathered as one bigger story. American producer Carl Macek actually bought 3 shows from the Tatsunoko catalog (Namely Macross, Mospeada, and Southern Cross) and gathered them to create the series known as Robotech.
Armored Troopers VOTOMS (Animation) - anime release date
I'm not sure whether that series was that important in the history of japanese robots, but i put it on the list because i think it's special. I like the mecha design, the plot also seems to be very interesting. The series has it's fans all over the world, i know there's even a RPG taking place in the Votoms universe.
Armored Trooper Votoms is about a centuries-lasting war between people of a distant galaxy. The plot involves a mysterious mother planet, and the Votoms technology used on the battlefield. The Votoms mechas have a very distinctive design, that makes them very close to actual war machines.
Genesis Climber MOSPEADA (Animation) - anime release date
Mospeada is one of the Three series that were gathered into the Robotech series. With very nice mechas created by the talented ARTMIC Studio and a background history opposing humans to a mysterious alien race on a post-apocayptic Earth, it was one of the most charismatic part of the series, in my opinion.
HONDA P-0 (Industry/Research)
In 1986, the P-0 is Honda's very first step into what will be become the "Humanoid robot" program.
Back in 1986, the P-0 was "only" a mechanical pair of legs, developped for experimentation purpose.
Mobile Police PATLABOR (Animation) - anime release date
With Patlabor, a new step is made in the direction of a "everyday life" vision of the robots.
Designed as mass productions machines, the Labors are presented as the evolution of both artificial intelligence and machinery; developped in a world that could just be ours.
No space colonies nor wars here, Labors are used as construction machines, exploration vehicles; and to face the threat of the emerging "labor-crimes", they are also used as law-enforcement machines. The name "Patlabor" means "Patrol Labor", the Police versions of the Labors robots.
Maybe i'm wrong, but it's the first mecha series i've heard of where the giant robots are not primarly designed as war machines.
HONDA P-1 (Industry/Research)
7 years after the P-0 experiments, the P-1 is the first version of the Honda "Humanoid Robot". As the program names suggests, the P-1 has a humanoid appearance, it is capable of walking on it's 2 legs, it has 2 articulated arms...
Neon Genesis EVANGELION (Animation) - anime release date
At the time when Evangelion was released, mechas were a bit left apart in Japanese animation. Even if Gundam was still popular, there were very few new Mecha series, and i do feel it was a time when the mecha scene was moving to video-games.
Anyway, Evangelion was as a revolution in many ways...
The background story is one of the most complex story *ever* in the history of japanese animation. Why do the EVA robots exists, what is it exactly that they keep fighting along the episodes; who is their creators.... To answer all of these questions (and many more!), all that the viewer's has in hands are complicated clues mixing religion and mythology. Yet the show is fascinating!
Along the episodes, we learn that the robots are actually armored living creatures. They're based on the remains of "Adam", the first angel, and they were designed to prevent Angels from destroying the Earth by going back into Heaven.
Also, the robots (which are actually not robots) are now piloted by selected pilots that are directly in interaction with the nervous system of their "machines". As a matter of fact, the organisation in charge of developping the robots and fighting the Angels is called the "Nerv". Just realizing.. Maybe it's not related at all!
HONDA P-2 (Industry/Research)
The P-2 is the first autonomous robot in the "Humanoid Robot" program. It is still a R&D prototype. Autonomous doesn't mean it has an artificial intelligence, but that the P-2 does not need an external power supply or external control anymore.
Bandai Tamagochi (Industry/Toys)
Ok, the world famous Tamagochi has very little to do with robotics. Neither is it actually related to artificial intelligence.
I do think it has it's place in the Japanese robots history because it is considered the first consumer market "artificial creature"; and it met world wide success too.
Although it's technology was very simple, and although it was practically no use at all, it entered History as the first toy of it's kind. It's legacy remains so strong that all of the barely-robotics toys that came after it (including the famous Furby, and the very high-tech Sony Aibo) were refered to as a "new kind of evolved tamagotchi".
SONY AIBO (Industry/Consumer Market)
Here it is! The first domestic robot in the shape of an artificial creature!
Sony released the AIBO as a limited edition machine, placing it's pricetag too high to think of a real mass-market product; but the dog-shaped AIBO, featuring real robotics technology (including Artificial Intelligence) was released in 1999 as any SONY product virtually anyone could buy.
Marketted both as a high-tech toy and as an actual companion for home, it met triple success : marketting success, public image success and scientific success.
Although it was a toy, and although, apart from being a toy, there was no use to it; it was regarded as a very impressive technological achievement all over the world.
HONDA ASIMO (Industry/Consumer Market)
AND....Welcome to the 21st century; in 2000, HONDA Officially introduces the most advanced robot from the "Humanoid Robot" program, the little ASIMO, and sells its services to (rich) companies!
With a height of approx 1.6 meters, ASIMO is designed for human interaction. After years of R&D on the mechanical part; ASIMO is now ready to interact with humans in a business and office environnment, and it's development now focuses on Artificial Intelligence.
ASIMO is actually the first humanoid robot to reach the consumer market, albeit with an extremely high price tag, and only under rental agreements. Since 2000, Honda continues it's R&D effort on the ASIMO program. Several other companies have also annonced the development of robots, humanoid or not, targetting consumer market.
SONY SDR-3S (Industry/Research)
In a move that also seems to say "Hey, we're entering the 21st Century, let there be robots", after it's robot-dog Aibo, Sony introduces it's humanoid robot fellow, the SDR-3X, in 2000.
"No release date" will appear in every data sheets and reports about the product; although it seems that Sony does envision a possible release of a future version of the device someday. R&D is actually going on on that product, as the SDR-4 was presented to the public since then, with improved capabilities, but still no release date for it or any future version.
All hope of a possible release vanish when Sony announced in 2006 the end of all the robotic projects and the closing of their robots department.