Sometimes when hiking in Japan, I’m surprised by the large number of senior citizens I run into. Nothing makes you feel lazy quite like huffing and puffing your way to the top of a mountain trail, only to find there’s already a relaxed silver-haired gentleman sedately snapping pictures at the top.
Of course, even these elderly outdoorsmen have nothing on Hitoshi Takahashi, who decided that once he turned 50 he was old enough to do whatever he wanted, and took steps to realize his dream… of building a giant robot.
Takahashi is the owner of a machine shop in Ibaraki Prefecture. One of the prefecture’s largest cities is Tsukuba, a planned city built in the 1960s and home to numerous engineering colleges and scientific research centers. Perhaps inspired by all the science in the air around him, Takahashi came up with the idea of creating the KABUTOM RX-03.
Taking its name from kabuto, a kind of Japanese beetle, the KABUTOM RX-03 is 11 meters (36 feet) tall and 3.6 meters long. The 17-ton machine is powered by a pair of diesel burning engines.
Starting in 1997, when Takahashi was 50, the robot took 11 years to go from concept to completion. Even more impressive is the fact that Takahashi did the entire project by himself. “I did it as a hobby, while still maintaining my regular work schedule,” he explains.
The machine contains over 30 moving parts, including its signature horn and wings that open from its back, both in keeping with its beetle motif. It can also shoot smoke from its head, which, as something real beetles can’t do, seems to be a feature added solely for the purpose of making the KABUTOM RX-03 even more awesome than a giant bug mecha already is.
Although the robot is incapable of flight, it can shuffle its six legs at speeds up to 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) per hour, thankfully slow enough that we’ll all be able to escape on foot if (when?) the KABUTOM RX-03 goes berserk. In the meantime, the robot can transport up to seven people, with one driver riding on top and manipulating it with a control panel, and six occupants in an internal compartment.
Since finishing the KABUTOM RX-03, Takahashi has displayed the robot at a number of events. At the Matsuri Tsukuba, visitors could even ride the robot for 200 yen (US$2), thus ensuring parents that their kids will never be satisfied with pony or piggyback rides ever again.