Loving the Machine: The Art and Science of Japanese Robots
Timothy N. Hornyak
Kodansha International, 2006 (2006)
Read an Excerpt
Reviewed by Hilary Williamson
Loving the Machine
, Timothy Hornyak tells us about meeting household robot
(named after a Japanese warrior). It can read your horoscope, and remind you to take an umbrella if rain is forecast. Hornyak tells us that '
The urge to accept this humanoid robot in front of me as something more than just complex clockwork was irresistible.
' He goes on to talk about the legions of automatons being introduced in Japan, where people '
can't get enough of them
' and developers have big dreams of fundamental societal change. He continues to look at '
the ancestors of today's dancing robots of silicone and steel.
, Hornyak delves into a centuries old fascination with automata, including Nagoya festival puppets, an ancient tea-serving doll (an Edo period robot!), and a
archer that plucks arrows from a quiver, sights a target and fires.
The Buddha Robot
, built by a biologist in 1928, is Japan's first modern robot built, '
a giant golden man that could move its upper body, change its facial expression and write Chinese characters while sitting at an ornate altar-like desk.
' Hornyak explains the derivation of the term
from a play by Czech Karel Capek, compares early robot developments in Japan with those in other countries, and discusses robots in Japanese art and literature.
100,000 Horsepower Dreams
Japan's best-loved fictional robot
from a 1950s comic series, as well as the life story of the comic's creator. We're told that this atomic-powered Pinocchio, '
the world's first robot with a soul
', had an incalculable impact on the Japanese attitude to humanoid robots. Next,
addresses super robots like
, as tools for human (usually teen boy) heroes - with all kinds of merchandising spin-offs.
Of Walkers and Workers
looks at the 1973 WABOT-1, '
the world's first full-scale anthropomorphic robot
', based on prosthetics
. Further models are evolving into equipment to help an aging population stay mobile. Other developments in industrial robotics have resulted in productivity improvement through
ere's the chapter I was waiting for -
Humanoids at Home
. Though I don't quite see the point of a robot dog (Aibo is awfully cute), I appreciate the application of robot therapy (with a therapeutic robot seal named Paro) and robot helpmates for the elderly. But where are the robots that Heinlein described in
The Door into Summer
, who vacuum for us and do other household chores (which I abhor)? In
, Hornyak introduces Honda's
(named after Isaac Asimov, I presume), '
the world's most advanced bipedal robot.
' It can serve drinks, and run in circles! Then there's the entertainer - Sony's
(retired in 2006), which danced and conducted the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra.
Man vs. Manmade
looks at the
competition - including soccer and a contest for disaster-rescue robots - as well as research into
in machines. And in
, Hornyak covers the development of
, a remarkably lifelike robot clone for a well-known Japanese news announcer. Finally, in an
, the author asks himself why robots are so loved in Japan, and answers that '
they are simultaneously fact and fiction ... fuel for distant flights of imagination.
' Fascinating stuff indeed - my copy goes under the Christmas tree for the two budding robotocists in my own family.
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