Motors, robots, and a lot of fun

Jul 20, 2018 | ExplorAsia

The first – and only – full day in Osaka started really early, at 6am in the morning. The day commissioners woke everyone up, and slowly but surely each participant made their way to the community room where some delicious breakfast was served. There were different kinds of bread and drinks, and scrambled eggs and soup finished it off deliciously.
After breakfast, the group made their way to the train station where we would begin our day filled with interesting company visits (eventually all with passports!) and a lot of sweat.

The first stop of the day was Keigan, a startup company that focuses on easy use and rapid prototyping with motors. After a small “breaking the ice”-minigame, they gave a presentation that informed us about the history of the company, as well as Keigan’s product. After that, a couple of brainstorm sessions where held in groups, resulting in five final ideas for “activities or things that become interesting if movement is added to them”. One group had thought of a Destinator, a way to easily get from one platform to the other on a train station via hovering tiles and efficient route planning. This was thought to be the best idea. Other ideas concerned moving sockets so you always had a socket nearby, moving cinema seats so you could always see the movie, a book delivery system for the lazy reader, and a moving information point.
After this, the study trip group moved on to Hiroshi Ishiguro Laboratories, which might have sounded unknown but seemed to be a world famous place.

Hiroshi Ishiguro is a well-known engineer that has made a robot that looks exactly like him. It talks and can move its head and arms, resembling human movement. Seeing this robot gave the group a somewhat creepy feeling but after they found out that somebody in the room was controlling the robot made it a lot less creepy but a lot more fun. It didn’t take long until several students were “controlling Hiroshi’s body”, talking to the other students via a microphone and camera installed just above the robot’s head. Soon after, an interesting baby had been found that also talked to people. Another person in a different room was controlling this robot, and the students also experimented with this one. The baby was carried and talked to, while it (the students on the other side) asked for “mommy”, “food”, or very specific people.

Finally, the group went on to the last robot of the day: Erica. This was an autonomous (i.e. not controlled by real people) robot that could make small talk in Japanese and had movement and facial expressions similar to that of a human. The robot is still in progress, but it was amazing to see what current technology is capable of!

After this long, interesting but exhausting day, the group returned to the hostel to grab some food at the 7-Eleven, pizza bar, or to cook themselves in the hostel! The next day, we will visit the Umeda Sky Building, before moving on to our next destination in Japan: Nara. It is said that there are lots of deer living there, that like to be cuddled. We will just have to wait and see.

Good night and thank you!
– Dani and Peet

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