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Mecha: Making Things Work Smarter and Better with Robots

November 19, 2014       Curious Mind
The Age of Mecha
Making Things Work Smarter & Better with Robots

More than just a cult sci-fi movie, Pacific Rim shows how
mecha can save the world if we use tech to save the world.

In the first decade and a half of the 21st century, MECHA are our tools for making everything work better and faster. 

Kids of all ages love them: from the old Japanese cartoons, to the recent stunning movie Pacific Rim, mecha put us all in awe.  Mecha are certainly more than just big suits of armor that kill space monsters (which only happens in the movies and cartoons). 

Used in military warfare, extreme rescue operations, in deep space exploration, and in everyday household chores, mecha are a vital part of human life.  Mecha as in robots and mechanical tech that help make our work easier.  You may think that robots are just a recent modern contrivance in the late half of the 20th century but the idea of automatons and machina have been around since
350 BCE, in Ancient Greece according to lore.

Deep sea submersible remote controlled exploration vehicle used
to search shipwrecks or ocean research purposes, a robot too.

The Modern Mecha

By the 1940’s, the concept of an automaton or mecha become the fasciation of science fiction pulp writers – thanks to Fritz Lang's movie "Metropolis" that was reliesed in 1926.  Research in the 1950s led to the development of programmable machines that could perform the usual tasks of human workers such as welding a car chassis together with more precision and efficiency as well as other rote mechanical jobs.  From that time until now, modern factories around the world have a production line manned by special robots that work around the clock to build us all our equipment and gear, from cars to appliances to small gadgets like mobile phones.  All more efficiently and with the flexibility to update work processes for new models and new product lines. 

Artist's rendition of robotic production line for cars

To Serve and Protect

One of the most ubiquitous robots from the 1980s was the
robot arm built into the Space Shuttle of the U.S. space program helped assist American spacewalkers in retrieving and repairing satellites as well as launching new ones into Earth orbit.

By 1997, the Pathfinder Mission lands on Mars and successfully deploys a robotic rover called Sojourner onto the Martian desert surface.  The robot continues to broadcast data from pictures taken to soil samples analyzed by its robotic sensors and camera.

Some advanced bomb disposal units around the world use remote
control robots to disarm bombs especially in urban environments, these
are also used in war fronts when the need arises.

When the M1A1 Abrams tank was developed, the U.S designed it to have an efficient and crew-safe automatic ammo loader, unlike the other side (the Soviet T-72) which had still utilized a human gunner or loader for the cannon shell because their automated ammo loader had the unfortunate tendency to load the human gunner along with the shell into the barrel.

Even the U.S. armed forces are now flying mostly unmanned, robot drone attack planes, equipped with sophisticated AI and remote command and control systems:  which allow base or ship commanders to guide the robot drones to targets deep inside hostile enemy territory, where loss of a pilot and an expensive manned attack plane from anti-aircraft weapons might be too big of a risk. 

Most of the military operations of airstrikes against terrorists in Afghanistan, and in hotspots in the Middle East are now carried out by remote controlled, unmanned drone attack planes.  The first robotic missile of the U.S. was the cruise missile developed in the late 70s and deployed in the 80s, which could fly under the radar and be difficult to intercept as it hit its target deep inside enemy territory.

One of the most feared weapons in the modern U.S Air Force arsenal:
the remote controlled attack drone.

Today's 3D printing technologies are micro robot production rigs that are now available for home businesses.  3D printers can create prototype molds of models in under an hour once the CAD instructions have been fed into its operating system.  It's like having an automated production line the size of a desktop.

One of many DIY 3D printer models made for home use.

As ridiculous as it sounds, there are automatic software scripts that allow you to play your online video game character.  Called BOTS, these AI let you rack up your characters experience points and accumulate loot while you are offline, sleeping or working.  In some video games that have multiplayer settings, the AI of the video game allows 'BOTS' to fight you in solo play so you can test various characters before you play against live human players.

Mindstorm Robot Toy Kit:  build your own robot kids!  HeretoHelp  CC 3.0

Lego released a toy set, called the first Robotics Invention SystemTM 1.0. or MINDSTORMS Robotics Invention SystemTM 2.0 and the MINDSTORMS Ultimate Builder's Set in the early 2000. 

All of these are robot building kits for creating toys out of parts that include tracks, wheels, engines, gears, jointed legs and radio receivers for remote control, as well as a mini computer for you to program instructions.  A robot toy builder kit for smart kids!

Honda introduced ASIMO (Advanced Step in Innovative Mobility) Robot to the world in 2000, the first to incorporate predicted movement control, allowing for increased joint flexibility and a smoother, more human-like walking motion. In 2007, Honda improved ASIMO's programming to allow multiple ASIMO robots to work together in coordination.  Korea has nannny robots!  Called the  iRobi, Jupiter and ED 72-70,  these robot “nannies” are designed to take care of your kids.

For kids who still want to live the dream of being a mecha pilot, we may soon find those armored mobile suits of legend fighting space monsters if space monsters ever show up  on our planet. 

But for now, mecha are some of the best tools for us to enjoy our lives with modern technology.  They make everything more efficient, of higher quality and precision, allow us to explore and do extremely dangerous activities like bomb disposal and deep sea exploration from the safety of our remote control access.  Mecha promise even better than these in the future.


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