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Fukuoka’s Robosquare Museum: The Fascinating and Playful world of Robotic Technology in Japan

Robosquare Museum

When you think of robots, what’s the first thing that pops into your mind?  For me, it’s movies like Blade Runner, Terminator and 2001: Space Odyssey, where robots turn frighteningly evil and eventually, take over the world. Scary, right?

Another part of me thinks of fantasy Lego-set bots like Transformers or cute, quirky mechanized toys like Wall-E or R2-D2 from Star Wars.

But mostly, the notion of “robots” used to live in a world far far away… that of space men and film fiction.

ROBOSQUARE Museum, an interesting look into Robotic Technology in Japan

 

Escaping the tourist rut

I was at the Fukuoka Tourist Information center inquiring about landmarks to visit.  Everything the agent suggested seemed to lackluster… I was coming towards the end of my trip and it all seemed like ‘tourist standard’ stuff:  beach, observation tower, temple, museum, etc…

Sometimes, sightseeing is like eating. If you diet on the same thing each day, eventually you grow tired of it. It doesn’t matter if it’s spicy or sweet… if it’s a night market or river houses on raised stilts, with time and regularity, it all starts to go bland and you need something “different” to awaken your spectacle senses.   Just as my mind was about to go numb, she blurted out something accidentally…

A robot museum.

Fukuoka is a leader in robotic technology

Like many cities in Japan, Fukuoka is a clean, orderly and quiet city. But it’s also a leading city for robotic technology and development. Yup, under that placid and mellow exterior, there’s a heart where R2-D2 dreams are made.

Although you won’t see humanoid robots or mechanized wheelies wandering the streets of Fukuoka, there’s probably more robotic systems and electronic circuitry integrated into the community, than you suspect.

A trip to Fukuoka’s Robosquare Museum

Built in 2002,  Fukuoka’s Robosquare Museum  is a cozy robot technology museum. The center offers robot performances, robotic technology workshop classes and it houses over 200 intelligent systems, from robots to interact and have conversations with, responsive robots, rescue robots and everyday machines you may not think belong to the robot clan….Best of all, touring the museum is free.

robot museum japan fukuoka

The Robot Collection

What sets this museum apart from traditional museums, is that you’re not merely looking at robots, with your nose pressed against a glass case. Instead, you get to “play with the art” in order to understand how they were developed for human use, interaction and consumption.

Here’s some of what was on hand…

Conversational robots

The first robot I played with was a Hello Kitty robot, which held some 20,000 conversations in Japanese, while expressing emotions with its hands, eyes and head (see video below). My Japanese isn’t extensive, but it was enough to get Hello Kitty engaged and once she is, boy, she loves to talk!

The Ifbot was another conversationalist robot, which had similar features, but expressed emotions by lighting up.

robot museum japan, robots in japan, robotic technology in japan

Ifbot conversation robot hello kitty talks, hello kitty japan robot Hello Kitty Roborobot museum japan, robots in japan, robotic technology in japan, hello kitty robot Instructions for a Hello Kitty Robot.

Responsive Robots

You can entertain yourself with light-sensitive robotic balls that propel when you shine a flashlight on them. Or you can test your speed and fork lift operating skills against the clock, with a robot that you must control to pick up a ball and drop it in a hole.

robot catch game, robot and ball, games with robots

How about a game of Robo catch? Objective is to maneuver this robot to pick up the ball and drop it in the basket.

Mental Therapy Robots

Despite what people think, robots don’t always generate cold responses. Some can be used for social therapy with humans.

Paro is a robotic seal that responds to being pet and stroked.  It coos and purrs, when it’s stroked on its body and winces and squirms, when it’s touched on places it doesn’t like, such as it’s eyelashes and nose. It’s actually quite adorable and cuddly.

This seal was taken to a retirement home as a therapy pet, to draw lonely seniors out of their depression, by giving them something to talk to, care about and interact with; thus, improving their emotional well-being.

Humanoid AIBO dogs

Invented by Sony in 1999, AIBO (Artificial Intelligence RoBOt) dogs could do many things a normal dog could do, but more. A robotic pet, it had a built-in camera to take photos and memory chip that stored words. It could learn to respond to the name you give it, respond with emotion and develop it’s own personality (more here). Read one owner’s experience raising two pet Aibo dogs here.

In 2006 Sony discontinued their line of dogs, but Robosquare houses a collection.

 Performance ‘puppet’ robots

Robosquare has two resident robot performers or mechanically-programmed dolls, which are animated to act out entire scenes like a puppet show. The movements are a little choppy, but overall, still pretty good. One of them is a two-foot high geisha, performing nihonbuyo  (or Japanese traditional dance) with a fan. The other is a samurai robot.

Puppet performance oriented robots which are programmed to perform entire scenes and dances.

Samurai puppet robot

 Everyday robots

Much robotic technology goes unnoticed in society, despite the fact, some have important roles, from wake-up alarms and house cleaning robots, to survey takers and  search and destroy robots used post 9-11 to search through the rubble.

Did you know that even Segway stations are considered robotic technology?

RIDC-01 Passes out survey flyers and calculates them. Search and Destroy? This robotic model are the arms and hands for jobs that humans don’t want to do. When 9-11 happened, New York used some of these robots to help them search through the rubble.

robot alarm

. Segway stations: Have you seen this robot around?

 

Information:

Robosquare Museum, Fukuoka
Address:
 2nd floor of TNC building
Directions: Momochi area, 15 mins walk from Nishijin Subway. (More directions)
Website: http://robosquare.city.fukuoka.ig.jp
Hours: 9.30 am to 6.00 pm (closed 2nd Wednesday of month, except Jan, July, Aug and Dec).
Show times:  Monday-Friday:  11am, 2pm and 4pm,  Saturday and Sunday:  11am, 1pm, 3pm, and 4:30pm.
Admission: Free

 

48 Hours : Japan on $30/day

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I WANT IT!!

9 Comments

  1. Russel Schwartz says:

    Hi Christine! Fantastic article. I would like to visit yet when I read the article I feel a sense of the place and learn things I might have learned there.

  2. Lopaka says:

    Aloha, Christine. Thanks for the cool report. Are they for sale to the general public yet? I want that Samurai guy! 🙂

    • Christine Kaaloa says:

      @Lopaka: woops, sorry about the delay. The samurai guy is pretty darned cool and he performs too! Have a feeling he could be very pricey though. 😉

  3. Chris says:

    Kind of makes me think of a more adult version of Innovations at Epcot, Florida I visited many, many years ago. I love robots. Japan rocks.

  4. Agness says:

    It’s sooooo Japanese! We don’t have it here in China though.

  5. I am absolutely fascinated by robots. A great post and a great place to visit. Thanks !

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