A video has gone viral depicting a Yaskawa Electric Corportion robot, literally a man-sized mechanical arm, swinging a katana, matching the cutting techniques of a Japanese sword master cut for cut. It is doubtful if there has ever been a more dramatic way of displaying a precision killing tool than through the “Yaskawa Bushido Project,” where a tireless robot cuts and slices in perfect mimicry of the master swordsman. And if ever there was a time when Isaac Asimov’s Laws of Robotics should start being programmed into robots, that time would be now.
As Popular Mechanics reported June 5, Yaskawa created the video for its coming centennial celebration. In order to show that their robots are top-notch and able to master even the most precise motion, the company brought in Isao Machii, five-time world champion master of the ancient sword techniques of iaijutsu. (Note: Isao Machii is so quick and precisely skilled that he can slice a ball in half as it travels at 150 miles per hour. Phy.org recounts that he was challenged once with cutting a tiny BB gun pellet in half as it flew — which he did.) Programmers had Machii go through his iaijutsu regimen, which they filmed in 3D, and then they fed the information to their industrial robot, the Motoman-MH24.
Writes Popular Mechanics: “Where Machii trained his entire life to master the sword, his metallic pupil picks up the technique immediately.” An incredibly apt pupil, the Motoman-MH24, looking every bit like a riveter arm playing hookie from the nearest Toyota plant (except for the deadly katana secured at the end of its arm), is shown in the video first going through Isao Machii’s four-directional cut maneuver alongside the master swordsman, matching him stroke for stroke. Especially chilling is the somehow inhumanly smooth way the machine returns to rest, complete with turning the ancient (and authentic) Edo Period katana blade downward.
Then it is time for precision maneuvers. The machine matches the downward diagonal and rising cuts, but does Machii one better in the horizontal cut. Where Machii slices an orange, the robot’s katana slices six. And for a bonus demonstration of both precision and speed, the industrial robot sent his katana slicing horizontally through a snow pea pod along its seam, leaving half of the pod resting on its prop.
Then follows the grueling “1000 cuts” challenge. “While Machii looks visibly tired towards the end of the final ‘1000 cuts’ scene,” Motherboard writes of the robot versus sword master video, “his mechanical counterpart could probably go on for at least an extra 2000.”
But Motherboard might be selling the industrial robot a bit short. It undoubtedly would continue cutting thousands upon thousands of times if programmed to do so and was supplied with ready targets and constant power in which to carry out the program. The Popular Mechanics article darkly jokes that it is fortunate that this robot does not have legs. Yes, there is that (but fully functioning ambulatory robots are on the way), and can we get back to the idea of programming those Three Laws of Robotics into these machines?