By >RENO J. TIBKE
Japan’s Kuratas vs. The U.K.’s Mantis: Pure Science Robot Showdown!
Have you heard of the robot maker species that doesn’t need a grand research goal, isn’t motivated by government competitions or corporate interests, and doesn’t necessarily care if their efforts result in profit? Japanese blacksmith Kogoro Kurata and British animatronics expert Matt Denton are live specimens with a simple purpose: make awesome robotic machines.
Those with an even mildly passing interest in robotics technology probably heard about Tokyo-based Suidobashi Heavy Industries’ Kuratas robot last year. Those just a bit robo-geekier have probably seen this month’s blast of coverage on Winchester-based Micromagic Systems’ Mantis robot. Here’s a quick rundown to set the stage (also see specs & videos below):
Kuratas – Japan, Public in July, 2012
Team leader Kogoro Kurata is by trade a blacksmith, and with perhaps a few sponsors and some donated labor, his namesake Kuratas robot appears to be an entirely self-funded undertaking. In development for some 3-4 years, Kurata considers his four-legged rolling mech project an artistic and proof-of-concept exercise, and this exercise can be bought and customized: rolling away in your own Kuratas will only require US $1.3 million (bells & whistles also available at $50,000-$100,000 each). Realistically, it’s probably cheaper to pack up and move to Japan than pay for overseas shipping on this one.
Mantis – U.K., Public in April 2013
Matt Denton is a microelectronics and software guy who, when not making giant robot bugs, makes other robotic stuff for the entertainment industry. Denton’s walking hexapod project took off in 2009, and he considers Mantis a demonstration piece and hopefully a source of inspiration for other robot makers. While it’s managed under the umbrella of his company, Micromagic Systems, the project does receive additional outside funding. At the moment, Mantis is not for sale, but you can arrange appearances, demos, and sponsorships. How about, uhhh… birthday parties?
A Win for Imagination
The Kuratas robot is last year’s news, but this month’s announcement of the updated Mantis robot provides an opportunity to remember that not all valuable technological development has to be sober or practical or provide immediate, obvious utility. Sure, perhaps Mr. Kurata in Japan and Mr. Denton in the U.K. are the embodiment of oversized boys with cash enough to build man-sized toys – but check your worldview – that is not a bad thing!
If you’ll forgive here a small slice of cheese, it’s nice to know that these grown men haven’t let the grown-up world and the joyless, withered, humorless souls of business and academia emasculate their imaginations. From nearly opposite sides of the earth these independent robot creators have chased their dream of building badass robots because building badass robots is badass. It’s truly admirable.
While the latest from Kurata’s and Denton’s imaginations are wildly dissimilar in design, origin, and intent, there is also a measure of commonality. This isn’t Kurata’s first giant mech rodeo, and Denton’s been at the hexapod game since long before Mantis went into development; they’re both robotics veterans. On top of that, although released 8 months apart, both robots received common threads of media attention. We saw it last year with Kuratas, and this month Mantis is also getting a taste of the “Wow, that’s an interesting but useless robot, so… moving on.” or the “Gee, what an irresponsible and wasteful thing to create.”
Superficial media blips overlook not only the imagination put into these robot masterpieces, but also give little treatment to the super-advanced and original engineering, computer science, and design prowess that defines these machines not as mere sculpture, but actual factual functioning robots.
Mantis and Kuratas: Also a Win for Pure Science
No doubt, Kurata and Denton are the drive behind their respective robots, but their forces of passion have also produced two world-class robotics engineering and software development teams. Sure, Kuratas and Mantis may be indulgent, but while these two executive-level robot dorks pursue their geeky dreams, they’re also producing loads of practical knowledge and providing a venue for other developers to experiment.
Kurata and Denton had their self-driven, beholden-to-none ideas and goals, so they made some hypotheses, got their R&D teams together, did countless tests and trials, built models and stuff, rejiggered this and that, and eventually sent out a press release and uploaded their justifiably viral YouTube videos you see down below.
Please forgive another slice of robogeekery cheese, but it’s worth stating that pursuing something because you love it, seeing if you can get it to work just to see if you can get it to work… well, that’s some beautiful, pure science right there. In robot form.
Go Make Your Own
You might have noticed this wasn’t much of a showdown. Really, it’s a vote of encouragement to anyone building iron giants, tinkering with a robot hobby kit, or wiring together cardboard boxes, tubing, and PVC pipe.
So, good luck to Kurata and Denton, we love your work and we’re waiting for the next generations. And hey guys, how about fostering a little international cooperation and goodwill amongst robots: mount Kuratas on the Mantis chassis and have a little cultural exchange?
Oh would it were.
Reno J. Tibke is the founder and operator of Anthrobotic.com and a contributor at the non-profit Robohub.org.