Team Osaka is favored to win the humanoid league soccer championships again this year--they walked away with the Louis Vuitton Humanoid Cup in 2004, 2005 and 2006. Team Osaka's secret weapon is Tomotaka Takahashi, one of the world's leading designers of humanoid robots. His pioneering work may make possible a dream that stands out as strange even in the strange world of humanoid robotics. A female league.
I first met Tomotaka Takahashi in Kyoto a few months ago. He had just launched what he describes as the first "female-type" robot. "Most robots are strong hero-types," he told me. "Very bulky and menacing. Good for fighting but you don't want to live with them." Robots, he believes, are the victims of gender stereotyping: people are used to seeing fire-breathing robots bent on destruction. A robot with a feminine form challenges this image and paves the way for a more intimate and peaceful future in which robots will serve as domestic helpers, receptionists, and translators between humans and machines. But first he had figure out how to hide the wires. "It is difficult to conceal all mechanics inside slender form while maintaining proper balance--most particularly on smaller feet."
But there is something slightly off about the FT. Despite the curvaceous form, despite the walk and wiggle, there remains a masculine undercurrent that only adds to the uncanny effect.
The FT was Tomotaka's pet project, and he designed and built nearly every aspect himself by hand in his small workshop located in his parent's home in the imperial city of Kyoto. It was summer, he says, and so he sat in his underwear bolting together pieces of arms, legs, and torsos, while sweating in the heat.
David writes about robots, the "Internet", and the occasional monkey for publications including Metropolis, The Guardian, Salon.com, and Eye magazine. He is the editor-in-chief of Adobe ThinkTank, an online journal covering trends in design and technology and consults for Adobe on a variety of issues. He is currently working with the Japan Society on several projects designed to foster creative exchange between Tokyo and New York. David is the co-author, with Steve Heller, of the forthcoming book Becoming a Digital Designer.