Thursday, July 1, 2010

Miraikan, robots and the Gadget Cat from the Future

The National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (Miraikan) out in Odaiba has an exhibit going on right now that begs the question: "Doraemon's magical gadgets -- can the current science and technology realize the dream?"

I think of Doraemon as the Winnie-the-Pooh of Japan, because he's this much beloved, ubiquitious illustrated character that started out as the star of a series of books (in D's case, manga) published a few decades back and is still going strong on TV, in movies, and as various forms of branded merchandise. I've posted about Doraemon before as my kids love the original series, which you can buy (translated into English) at Maruzen near Tokyo Station and Kinokuniya book store in Shinjuku and probably elsewhere...

Anyway, the exhibit. The museum website explains the objective: "We will introduce today's science and technology together with the world of dreams created by the magical gadgets such as the "Takecopter" and the "Invisible Cape." The exhibition can be enjoyed with the entire family and will teach you the importance of continuing to dream."

When we got in there, Terry wasn't too impressed -- he tells the kids that it's pointless to dream, because dreams don't come true (I'm kidding) -- but I kinda liked it and the kids loved it. Here's Dylan talking to some plants. "These plant-shaped robots predict the pauses of talk and nod accordingly"... They can't talk, but they nod as if they were saying 'I am listening to your conversation'..." a sign posted nearby explained.

And there's Conor comparing his height to that of the various robots whose inventors were apparently inspired in one way or another by Japan's Anime Ambassador. (Click here to read Lisa Katayama's post on that details Doraemon's best tricks.)
I recognized quite a few of the robots pictured (or even present) at the museum as I seem to have written about them all at one time or another, for Time mag's Best Inventions of the Year issue (back when I still freelanced for them... seems a lifetime ago). I seem to recall that most were designed to help the elderly or otherwise infirm. My favorite, though, was the crossing guard robot who had briefly managed the foot traffic outside a Tokyo elementary school. Reportedly, anyway. Someone had blogged about it or something. We put a stinger on the case (I was in New York at the time), but the article didn't run. I think it was because we couldn't get a good picture. That or the robot was a total gimmick (aren't they all?).

There are some really wacky robots here though. This is old news but I think this is one of the weirdest: Saya, the robot teacher. Read about the 18 motors hidden behind her latex face here.

I should look up old Saya, see if she's still standing in front of a blackboard somewhere...

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