Tomotaka Takahashi has to be one of the most well known Japanese robot creators. His humanoid robots, featuring smooth fluid human-like movement, have all been inspired by his childhood fascination with Astroboy (known as Mighty Atom in Japan.) Unlike most children that outgrow their childhood dreams, Takahashi has made the unusual step of building his life long career following, and realising, his dream.
During March, the Konica Minolta Gallery next to Tokyo’s Shinjuku Station featured an exhibition of Takahashi’s work, including one showroom with 100 of his ROBI robots.
F.T., short for Female Type, was first demonstrated by Takahashi in 2008 drawing tremendous press and public attention worldwide. Unfortunately it was never commercially marketed.
One of the original founders of Robot Garage at Kyoto University, Takahashi has played a key role in the evolution of RoboCup Robot Soccer competitions as well as advancing the state of humanoid robot technology.
He pays intense attention to the finest details. Many, if not all, of his creations are literally works of art. This has caused some difficultly in bringing them to market in any significant volumes. Some of his robots were primarily demonstration pieces, while others have been sold commercially by working together with third party companies and have met with mixed success.
ROBI has been Takahashi’s biggest commercial success, at least so far. Sold as a subscription kit in Japan, it quickly became popular with robot fans, students, and even senior citizens. Selling the complex robot kit in monthly instalments made the purchase acceptable to those that otherwise could never justify spending over US$1,500 on an entertainment/companion robot. Of course, the total cost ended up being closer to US$2,000 by the time users received the final kit parts, but their monthly incremental cost was about the same as buying a single magazine issue.
One of Takahashi’s robots even made it into space as a part of the KIBO ROBOT PROJECT.
Like many artists, in contrast with pure engineers, Takahashi spends a lot of time sketching out his concepts and ideas by hand as if he was drawing a Japanese manga or anime. His basic approach always starts from the organic, animated perspective. He has to compromise his designs somewhat in order to incorporate servo motors, gears, and linkages since they exist in a Cartesian/rectilinear world, but somehow he is able to avoid any significant performance degradation. The result is that all of his robots turn out to be incredibly lifelike, especially in their movement and actions.
Takahashi’s alliance with Panasonic, entering around the EVOLTA rechargeable battery line, has definitely been mutually beneficial resulting in miniature robots that have bicycled long distances, climbed ropes up from the bottom of the Grand Canyon, and even pulled a train car.