In the 1950's, we stood on the street in front of a department store in Washington, D.C. watching hundreds of people totally enthralled by their first experience watching a television set. The screen was small. The image was black and white. And they had absolutely no idea how it would end up changing their lives completely. Still, they were fascinated.
In the 1980's, we stood on a street in front of a department store in Shanghai watching hundreds of people totally enthralled by their first experience watching television. The screen was much larger, and in color, but the impact was just the same.
Last Saturday, we stood in the Makuhari Messe convention center just outside of Tokyo watching several thousand people totally enthralled by a small, white, bicycling robot. The robot wasn't even for sale, and will probably never be commercialized, but there was something about the experience that absolutely riveted the crowd's attention and captivated them.
As we mentioned in a previous post, Murata Manufacturing designs and produces a wide range of semiconductor and sensor devices for use in products like cell phones, portable computers, and the like. In order to show off their devices they hit upon the idea of a robot that could balance and ride a bicycle.
Their demonstration robot, named Murata Boy, features lots of Murata devices including gyroscopes, accelerometers, Bluetooth modules and quite a few others. Each device, taken individually, isn't that exciting. Our cellphone uses one of their accelerometers to sense when to rotate the display from portrait to landscape mode. Bluetooth modules have become fairly commonplace in cellphones and other portable devices.
Murata's real inspiration was to combine all of the devices into one robot that would immediately capture the attention of their customers. As it turns out, they may have been too successful. The crowds at the Murata CEATEC 2006 booth extended out of their huge exhibit and completely blocked the aisles in every direction. Even at 4:30 pm on Saturday afternoon just before the show closed its doors for this years event, the Murata exhibit was still packed with people trying to get a glimpse of the robot doing its stuff.
Here's what it was like: