Chiba Prefecture’s Wonder Festival is a bi-annual figure and model expo. The event’s bread and butter is figurine of anime and video game characters, in both frighteningly realistic and sexily unrealistic varieties.
But while the first thing most people associate with the event is toys, if your model is made of metal instead of plastic or urethane, and it’s self-propelled to boot, you’ve crossed the line of three-dimensional art and moved into straight-up engineering. Of course, Wonder Festival’s exhibitors aren’t going to stray too far from their fanciful roots, so what do you get when you combine technology with science fiction? You get this amazing giant robot, which is so easy to pilot that attendees could test drive it.
Not too long ago we tried out a powered suit from Sagawa Electronics. We’re not going to lie, it was awesome, and if it were in our budgets, we’d totally choose it over the train for our commute to the office.
Still, sometimes you don’t feel like settling for a robot suit when what you want is an actual robot. So imagine our joy when, while heading out into the walkway connecting two of the Wonder Festival exhibit halls, we came across the 3.4-meter (11-foot, two-inch) Landwalker from machinery manufacturer Sakakibara Kikai.
This was no mere decoration piece, either, as the Landwalker is mobile. It’s not a pre-programmed automation either, as the imposing mecha is controlled by an operator seated inside its chest cavity.
▼ It even comes with a cool racing seat.
Despite the Landwalker’s intimidating-looking replica weaponry, you don’t need a military background in order to operate it, as proven by the 12 civilians who took it for a spin in front of the extremely jealous crowd in a demonstration put on by hobby website Guru Guru Box. Eight lucky Guru Guru Box users were chosen in the days leading up to Wonder Festival, and another four applicants were selected by drawing at the site.
It’s impossible to look at the Landwalker and not be reminded of mecha anime such as Gundam, Macross, and Evangelion. While we’re on the subject of those three classics, though, let’s stop and ponder the implications of a scene that all three share.
Early on in each title, through a series of events the protagonist suddenly finds himself in the cockpit of a giant war machine for the first time. With no training, he’s able to pilot it simply by listening to explanations and commands from his allies, which seems like stretching artistic license pretty far. Piloting a giant robot can’t really be that easy, can it?
Apparently it can. Before the 12 mecha jocks tried out the Landwalker, they stood around for a few short minutes while the staff briefed them on the controls. Next, without any training or practice, they strapped in and, one by one, easily manipulated the bipedal robot by pedals placed in the footwell of the machine.
The Landwalker’s forward progress is accompanied by all the whirring and clanking you’d expect, and honestly hope for, from a robot of its size. The test pilots reported that despite all the noise, the seating area remains relatively stable when the unit is in motion, and the cockpit isn’t at all an uncomfortable place to be. Given their complete lack of experience, some had trouble keeping their movement to a perfectly straight line, and others felt the outward visibility could have been better, but aside from that, there were no complaints.
Despite our giddiness at seeing Sakakibara Kikai’s creation in action, we do have one tiny nitpick about its name. Technically speaking, the Landwalker doesn’t actually walk. Yes, it stands on two legs, which it pumps back and forth to move. It doesn’t actually pick up its feet though, instead shuffling them along the ground like an 8-bit Castlevania character.
So how does the Landwalker get around without tearing up the ground under it? By having wheels embedded in the soles of its feet. Technically it’s a Landslider, but we’ll give Sakakibara a pass on the semantics for creating something this cool.