Little House In Ise

The Belly of the Beast
October 28, 2006, 03:22
Filed under: Japan, Robots | Tags: , , ,

Last week I did Giant Robot Training! Woohoo! Safety concerns were very much secondary as we crawled through a maze of cables and climbed poorly attached metal frames covered with many meters of “DO NOT ENTER YOU WILL DIE!!!” tape. I had a headache brought on by clashing, out-of sync, high-pitched, electronic “Mary had a Little Lamb”, “London Bridges” and “Camp Town Races” spewing from the robots racing past overhead. It made the threat of death rather appealing. This may fall into the category of “The Mondays” but it’s hard to tell.

Based on the size and color of that particular robot, I figured it should transform into a Winnebago. Nobody would tell me where the transform button or what the secret chant was. I really wanted to see if there was an icepack in the RVs freezer.

There were a few other folks in training too. One was an Irish guy who has been at the company much longer than me. “The Young Guy”, who just started fresh out of college and a couple of older guys who are in from other companies and need to know how to work with these robots. The Irish guy looked worse off than I was. He had spent the weekend participating in Shinto a ceremony that involved lifting heavy weights in the sun while screaming and drinking heavily. I might have participated had I known about all the yelling — for me, it would have counted as karaoke practice. I should have been clued in by that fact that it was a religious ceremony. The Young Guy had lost his wistful smile early on in the class. I’m sure the thought of falling from one of those platforms probably didn’t appeal quite as much to him. I sympathized, I still haven’t seen the last episode of LOST.

At the top, we stood around a column where the “remote” control cable protruded. We balanced on a grid of 5cm wide braces meant for attaching metal floor plates. Sadly, someone had forgotten to add the floor. The view down wasn’t so bad but the pile of angled metal parts at the bottom was more threatening than all those wasted rolls of yellow tape. Why we had to climb that thing to play with the robot is still not quite clear (my money is on really bad user interface design …) but we were there to work on the “Stalker” (really it’s “Stocker” but the other is more menacing and appropriate for a giant robot). So I learned to train the Stalker and absolutely sweated beads trying to get the damn arm to carry it’s demo payload to the appropriate trio of kinematic pins. All the guys gave me shit, in their “enigmatic” Japanese way, because the UI for the remote controller was in English and they thought I should be able to understand it because of that. A bad UI is a bad UI no matter what language it’s written in. After much stress, I managed to teach the massive beast where to put its little plate and when I put it in test mode the 5 meter long arms rushing past were, ahem, thrilling. I didn’t wet my pants — let’s leave it at that.

I was happy to get that little bit of training out of the way even though it got me out of a couple of crack-of-dawn teleconferences with irritated customers. So back to the people farm and more stories of the weird as I experience them …


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