The 49th All Japan PLAMODEL RADICON Show (PLAstic MODEL RADIoControl) will take place October 8th through the 11th at the Makuhari Messe Convention Center complex in Chiba. The first two days, Thursday and Friday, are only open to the trade, but on Saturday and Sunday the show is open to the general public.
While the show concentrates primarily on more traditional modeling hobby crafts, like trains, cars, and planes, in previous years there have been interesting exhibits by some of the leading hobby robot manufacturers including JR, Futaba, Kyosho, and Kondo.
This year it’s unclear, at least so far, how strong attendance will be at the show, especially given the rapidly aging demographic of the traditional model making fan and the current economic depression. The age distributions between different hobby modeling sectors has always been striking to say the least. The oldest age group would gather around the electric train exhibits, while their sons and daughters would be clustered in the model and RC airplane booths, and their grandchildren would be happily enjoying the new goodies exhibited by the RC car manufacturers.
The hobby robotics demographic, here and apparently in the US and Europe, extends across multiple generations (from young teens to middle age), and doesn’t really mesh well with the existing modeling communities. Modelers are intent on recreating classic trains, cars, and planes with great precision and detail. In contrast, robot hobbyists are often motivated to create something entirely new to demonstrate their own talent, skill, and creativity, although they often draw strongly on well established robot characters like Gundam and Mazinger.
And, even within the manufacturers companies, there are obvious conflicts of interest and management attention. Exhibit space allocation is often under the control of the existing power base within any given company, so the younger startup groups are sometimes relegated to a back corner of the exhibit. A few years ago the Kyosho MANOI robot series was drawing great press and public attention both inside and outside Japan. It was frequently featured in the mass media and on major television networks. But at the show that year the robot was only visible on stage for a few limited minutes, then hustled off to make way for the RC racing car models. The robot group staff were assigned to a broom closet sized niche deep inside the exhibit where interested customers really had to hunt to find them.
It will be interesting to see how the situation has changed this year, if it has changed at all. Our own personal take on it is that sooner or later the hobby robot community will have to find its own way and stand on its own two feet. Companies like Kondo, Vstone, and Robotis have already proven that there is a huge, largely untapped, market for well designed, well supported robot kits that allow their owners to express their creativity and craftsmanship.