Tokyo-based startup Tsubame Industries has developed a 4.5-metre-tall (14.8-feet), four-wheeled robot that looks like “Mobile Suit Gundam” from the wildly popular Japanese animation series, and it can be yours for $3 million. THIS GIGANTIC MECHA IS called ARCHAX, after the avian dinosaur archaeopteryx. It has cockpit monitors that receive images from cameras hooked up to the exterior so the pilot can maneuver the arms and hands with joysticks inside its torso. It will debut at the Japan Mobility Show later this month, and it can operate in two modes: the upright “robot mode” or a vehicle mode that enables it to travel up to 10 km (6 miles) per hour.
The founder of Tsubame, 25-year-old Ryo Yoshida, wants to create a product that combines Japan’s expertise in animation, video games, robots, and cars into one practical machine. He initially hopes to sell five giant mechas to wealthy robot lovers, but he envisions the robot having broader applications in disaster relief efforts and the space industry.
Yoshida’s mecha is a massive collaboration with various companies and individuals in Japan, including the frame made by an ironworks company and the exterior, which is fashioned from the same fiber-reinforced plastic that F1 car chassis are made of. A roboticist from Kyoto University designed the cockpit, while engineers designed the arms and hands from an industrial equipment maker. Other components come from a maker of industrial robots and an automobile component supplier.
This is just the latest example of how popular culture can unexpectedly influence technological advancements. Earlier this year, Japan’s West Japan Rail Company used a humanoid maintenance robot inspired by the Gundam anime series to fix a railway power line. The robot, controlled by a VR setup worker, can use its arms to climb up the cable and its legs to move along the track.
Yoshida’s ambitious project may seem like a pipe dream for many people worldwide, but Tsubame has already built and tested three prototypes of ARCHAX. The company plans to build five more of these giant mechas and expects to sell them to a mix of wealthy customers, including some foreign ones. It will be interesting to see if other companies and governments worldwide follow suit and develop their life-size mecha, which can help them achieve their goals in the real world. For those who don’t have the money to purchase a giant mecha, there is always a more straightforward solution: play the Gundam video games and films instead. They are just as exciting, if not more so.