Since the end of the 19th century, scientists, at that time in the United States and Russia, have been working on creating a type of mechanical exoskeleton for the sake of enhancing human movements. The goal was to advance technology for injury rehabilitation, industrial labor, space travel, and also warfare. However, it has not been until recently that the full robotic shell has become a real possibility.
From Science Fiction To Reality
Robotic humanoids have been around in science fiction for quite some time. Usually, their purposes in those fictitious roles are related to protecting and saving the world in some capacity. Think Voltron and the Jaeger Robeasts from Planet Doom. Think RX-78-2 Gundam from Yoshiyuki Tomino’s Mobile Suit Gundam anime franchise. Think Transformers.
Robotics technology has advanced exponentially in the recent past. This includes machines with remote controls that range from semi-autonomous to fully autonomous. Military drones are used in combat zones, wheeled machines explore the deep sea, and space exploration probes can travel further out than humans have been able to go, even sampling soil on other planets.
Now, we are on the verge of building our own, real-life Gundams. Humans stepping inside a giant robot, finally giving our machines legs, is a real possibility.
The Power Of Legs On A Machine
If you think about the natural world, you will be hard pressed to find a creature that rolls around on wheels. They are biologically extremely rare. In the animal kingdom, wheeled creatures do not exist, and there is a reason for that. Natural selection has chosen legs for their use in transporting us across the terrestrial world, in part because they offer a distinct advantage. Walking is the most effective way to get around in the grand scheme of things. Of course, if you’re on a flat surface, wheels serve their purpose, but not all surfaces are flat. In fact, many are not, and what is one built with wheels supposed to do in that situation?
That’s why it only makes sense to follow evolution as far as robots go, in order to allow them greater functionality. Giving our robotic machines legs means providing them more ability to traverse a wide range of environments. Robots that can fly, wheel, or swim can only go so far. The most functional robot will be able to walk on land.
The Progress In Creating Real-Life Gundams
There is a reason why robots with legs have not been fully developed yet. For a machine to move around on legs, it requires an extraordinary about of power and programming. Animals have taken nearly the entire history of our planet to evolve to be able to walk because it is a very complex movement. A Gundam with a human pilot, where a person is controlling all the movements would require immense amounts of biomimetic engineering. A robot which is semi-autonomous or fully-autonomous would not only require the ability to perform those difficult movements, but also master things like spatial awareness and dexterity, or else expect them to be constantly falling down.
Despite how difficult it is to create a real-life Gundam, it is happening both at the level of high science and even on a smaller scale, amongst sci-fi fans. Go to sci-fi conventions, and you’ll be sure to come across a few mecha suits that function reasonably well. However, that’s small potatoes compared to what Japanese engineer Masaaki Nagumo built in 2018: a life-size model of a Gundam that actually works. LW-Mononofu is 28 feet tall, 7.7 tons, and is too big to get out of the factory where it was built. Still, it’s progress where Gundams are concerned, even if it is only current use is to be rented out (for over $900 an hour) by people to try within the factory. The next step would seem to be a Gundam that can leave the factory. It might be coming sooner than we expect.