Robotics

Japan is building a 60-foot-tall, walking Gundam robot

Japan is building a 60-foot-ta...
An 18-meter (60-ft) walking Gundam robot will be unveiled in Yokohama this October
An 18-meter (60-ft) walking Gundam robot will be unveiled in Yokohama this October
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An 18-meter (60-ft) walking Gundam robot will be unveiled in Yokohama this October
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An 18-meter (60-ft) walking Gundam robot will be unveiled in Yokohama this October
The attraction, by the Yokohama port, will have a robot viewing area, a hands-on robotics lab, shops, cafes and educational facilities
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The attraction, by the Yokohama port, will have a robot viewing area, a hands-on robotics lab, shops, cafes and educational facilities
Gundam Factory Yokohama will open October 1, 2020
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Gundam Factory Yokohama will open October 1, 2020
The 25-ton RX-78 robot will have 24 degrees of motion, including the ability to walk
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The 25-ton RX-78 robot will have 24 degrees of motion, including the ability to walk
Original Gundam series creator Yoshiyuki Tomino has one key piece of advice for the design team
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Original Gundam series creator Yoshiyuki Tomino has one key piece of advice for the design team
The robot's hands alone stand 2 m (6.5 ft) tall and weigh around 440 lb
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The robot's hands alone stand 2 m (6.5 ft) tall and weigh around 440 lb
View gallery - 6 images

The port of Yokohama will play host to a colossal, walking Gundam robot for a year starting this October. With 24 degrees of motion, it'll be the most advanced full-sized Gundam ever built, and the engineering challenge of making it work is enormous.

First going to air in 1979, Yoshiyuki Tomino's Gundam series has left an indelible mark on Japanese culture and the world of animation. Its giant, samurai-influenced, sword-fighting mecha robots have launched nearly 50 official TV series and movies, and inspired countless others. Transformers, Pacific Rim, Real Steel, Voltron, MegaBots, anything with a big robot in it owes some debt to Gundam, indeed, even the Master Chief's armor in the Halo series of video games. It's impact is so great, Gundam is currently ranked as the 14th highest-grossing media franchise of all time.

Japan in particular loves these big fellas. Sales of miniature figurines from the official Bandai Namco company itself were approaching half a billion back in 2015. And there's been no shortage of full size, 18-meter-tall (60-ft) recreations either. Indeed, this is the fourth time designer Masaki Kawahara has worked on a full-sized Gundam attraction.

Gundam Factory Yokohama aims to bring the iconic RX-78-2 robot to life in a huge public attraction by the port of Yokohama. Surrounded by what appears to be a mobile scaffold, the enormous robot will weigh somewhere in the order of 25 tons, making it much, much bigger than the average industrial robot. This means that giving it 24 degrees of motion, and indeed making it walk – which the team is aiming to do – will stretch the limits of common motor, materials and actuator technologies.

The robot's hands alone stand 2 m (6.5 ft) tall and weigh around 440 lb
The robot's hands alone stand 2 m (6.5 ft) tall and weigh around 440 lb

In a series of videos celebrating the efforts of the engineers behind the robot, we can get a few glimpses of what this means. The hands, for example, each stand 2 m (6.5 ft) tall, and feature fully articulated fingers and thumbs. Since they'll be mounted on rotating wrists, with moving elbows and shoulders, each hand's weight, inclusive of all motors, cabling and bodywork, needs to be kept under 200 kg (440 lb) to ensure the motors higher up the chain can function reliably. Not a simple task. One shudders to think of the stresses and balancing that come into play when this huge hunk of metal shifts its weight onto one leg to take a step.

Another video shows what could've been a heart-warming moment as elderly Gundam creator Yoshiyuki Tomino visits designer Masaki Kawahara to see the head and torso bodywork at scale. But Yoshiyuki is brutal and relentless in his criticism, saying "it's boring. It rubs me the wrong way ... It's just not interesting ... It feels like they're going backwards, trying to reproduce a 40-year-old original." He eventually makes a suggestion for how it could be improved:

Original Gundam series creator Yoshiyuki Tomino has one key piece of advice for the design team
Original Gundam series creator Yoshiyuki Tomino has one key piece of advice for the design team

The robot is being developed using the open source Robot Operating System (ROS) and Gazebo simulation software, and the team is releasing a full-scale virtual copy of the robot that aspiring programmers can play with to develop their own actions and poses. This includes accurate representations of the motors, gears and sensors used on the actual machine, so, in theory, a fan-made set of actions could be uploaded to the real robot at some point – not that this is currently part of the plan.

The attraction, by the Yokohama port, will have a robot viewing area, a hands-on robotics lab, shops, cafes and educational facilities
The attraction, by the Yokohama port, will have a robot viewing area, a hands-on robotics lab, shops, cafes and educational facilities

There's a heck of a lot of work yet remaining, with most of the robot's parts appearing far from finished, but the scheduled opening date is the 1st of October, after which the attraction, which will include an exhibition center, hands-on robotics lab, conference facilities, shops and a café serving "Gundam-inspired menu items" will remain open until October 3, 2021.

We'll keep an eye on the project as it progresses. Yes, it'll be painfully slow. No, it won't be leaping, rolling and fighting evil any time soon. The MegaBots Japan vs USA giant robot fight should teach us all to manage our expectations in this regard. But four-story-high walking robots don't pop up every day, and this is a project of pride and passion for the folks involved, so stay tuned.

The press conference announcement video, complete with 1/30th scale model, can be viewed below – you'll want to turn on captions and auto-translate to English.

動くのか?ガンダム 夢への挑戦!│ 番外編

Sources: Gundam Factory/Gundam Challenge via IEEE Spectrum

View gallery - 6 images
12 comments
MarkHughes4096
One step closer to Robot Jox.
Bionic88
Only 60ft?? Godzilla's gonna crush it!! Lol
John Hagen-Brenner
If we learned anything from Boston Dynamics and the DARPA Robotic Challenge, it is that any walking, humanoid robot must be robust enough to survive falling over. This will make a mighty crater when it does!
Wolf0579
What a target for hijacking!
guzmanchinky
The Japanese are so crazy/cool.
buzzclick
No mention of how many electric motors and actuators will be used. In order to function better, perhaps something of this scale should have a combination of motors and hydraulics. The massive scaffolding frame around Gundum is smart. It will allow techs to tweak and repair the robot throughout the exhibition year since this kind of situation will be unavoidable. Looks like the robot will only walk ahead about 25-30 feet, maybe raise its arms and make hand gestures, and walk backwards into its cradle dock, which might explain Yoshiyuki Tomino's dissatisfaction with the project. When he says it "should be more busty", I suspect he means it should have more dynamic movements not the size of his chest. lol
vince
Only 60 feet? The Pacific Rim creatures will swallow it whole.
Gregg Eshelman
"in theory, a fan-made set of actions could be uploaded to the real robot at some point – not that this is currently part of the plan." Yeah, because you know people would program it to flip the bird then do some pelvic thrusts.
JohnSawyer
buzzclick: My guess is that Tomino meant it should have a bigger chest, since many Gundams do have something of a "manly chest", like a weightlifter.
ljaques
"Yes, it'll be painfully slow. No, it won't be leaping, rolling and fighting evil any time soon." Then what's the use of even building it, I wonder. Unless it's Real Steel/Pacific Rim compatible, just flush it. It's like limiting the top speed of a Ducati to 9mph.