John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
We're calling B.S. on this fully armed, $1.3 million deathbot.
Here it is, the ultimate vehicle for your daily commute: a rideable, armored deathbot that swivels on a dime to unleash a furious metalstorm at aggressive tailgaters.
But is it real?
Many news outlets seem to think so, repeating what's posted on the website of "Suidobashi Heavy Industry," the company supposedly manufacturing these "Kuratas" robots for $1.3 million a pop. (See here, here, here, here, here and so on.) Suidobashi identifies itself on Google as "an organization which aims to spread human ride robots. We mass-produce and sell prototype KURATAS by Kogoro Kurata."
The features of this marvelous, 13-foot-tall machine include a diesel engine and four-wheeled drive that makes the robot putt along at about 6 mph. Plus there's heavy metal plating for defense against projectiles, a water-powered, non-fatal rocket launcher and a Gatling gun said to fire 6,000 BBs a minute, which is... wait for it... triggered whenever the operator smiles. The weapons systems supposedly are guided via facial recognition tech and, Suidobashi promises, "will not allow any wild targets to escape."
How is this not getting more skepticism? Perhaps because some form of Kuratas does seem to exist. A non-highway-ready version of the stomping goliath debuted at the 2012 Wonder Festival, a gathering of geeks to see the latest in toys and "garage kits," or sculptures of popular anime and sci-fi characters. The debut of Kuratas, which you can watch here, featured a comely model scurrying like a squirrel up into its chest cavity, followed by the robot making a feeble gesture with its arm and spinning its gun.
I'm guessing that's as much as it will ever do. Think about it: A five-ton robotic hulk that you can control by swiping your iPhone? If you accidentally dropped the phone, or your toddler got ahold of it, you could inadvertently destroy a house in the span of seconds. And the scenes of it motoring down the street in the admittedly fantastic promo video above look fake.
The blog Candid Innovations is calling B.S. on this dubious mode of transport as well, writing:
We think it’s highly likely this is a clever bit of PR for something else. Why do we think that? Well apart from the crazy over the top but amusing elements of the video like smiling to fire the gun – the suidobashijuko.jp domain was actually registered by a company called Kaibutsu Inc last year – Kaibutsu Inc are a Japanese PR company. A little suspicious!...
We think it’s more likely there is a Mech based computer game / toy being released soon, and that Suidobashi Heavy Industry is part of the plot. Great marketing idea if true.
That would make a whole lot more sense than a company rolling out a consumer-oriented machine basically designed to generate liability suits. It's probably best this way, though, living as we do in the era of road rage.