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Domo Arigato Mr. Roboto

Cold Front
posted: 02/25/2004

In a perfect world, the magic of technology would offer skiers jet-fueled rocket packs, instant portable powder storms, and personal avalanche force fields. Instead, well have to settle for a two-foot-tall skiing robot that looks like it would get its ass kicked by R2-D2. Developed for a cool million yen ($8,500), the worlds first remote-controlled auto-schusser is the culmination of four years of tinkering by a group of professors at Japans prestigious Kanazawa University.

The yet-to-be-named bot (thats dudespeak for robot) packs ten motors inside its frame, allowing it to abduct and adduct its hip and knee joints, throw in a little torso twist, and carve groomed runs at 15 miles per hour. On some level, thats impressivebut how exactly does a robotic skier advance the sport?

One thing our robot has already taught us is that skiing is not difficult, says project consultant and Japanese Olympic skier Gaku Hirasawa. This shows someone who wants to start skiing that all they have to learn is how to move their hips. Project director Takeshi Yoneyama has bigger plans. He envisions a day when skiers can plug their personal motion into the robot and examine what is effective and what should be improved to get more smooth and fast turning. Ski instructors take notice: Slap some hair gel on this little Japanese cyborg, and get him to yell, Follow me! Do as I do! and your jobs are toast.

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