Robot-martial art video making big waves

PHOTO: YouTube screengrab

KITAKYUSHU, Japan - A YouTube video clip showing a robot mastering the techniques of an iaijutsu martial art sword master is gaining wide popularity, especially overseas.

The roughly five-minute video, "YASKAWA BUSHIDO PROJECT," was produced by Yaskawa Electric Corp. in Kitakyushu to commemorate the company's centenary. Since the video was posted on YouTube in June, the live-action sequence featuring the fusion of a robot and a traditional Japanese martial art has made quite an impact. The video has been viewed more than 5 million times, with more than half of the viewers located outside Japan.

The video features iaijutsu master Isao Machii, who runs training facilities in Hyogo and Osaka prefectures, and the industrial robot MOTOMAN, which can be used for welding, paintwork and other purposes. They stand in a row, each with a Japanese sword, and cut rolled-up straw mats in basic iaijutsu movements, such as kesagiri (diagonal cut) and kiriage (rising cut). The video ends with both of them bowing to each other. The clip also shows the robot horizontally slashing fruits and vegetables in two - kinkan tangerines that are about three centimeters in diameter and pods of snow peas about one centimeter thick. Viewers can also see Machii giving movement advice to the robot's operators.

The spirit with which the company was founded was to take on challenges in developing new technologies and establishing new industries. By making the video, the company hoped to let its employees revisit this spirit and to publicize it outside the company. Keiichiro Yasukawa, who founded the company, came from a samurai family in the Fukuoka clan. Therefore, the company decided to use the iaijutsu swordsmanship in the promotion video to show its identity as a Japanese company to other countries where the company generates about 70 per cent of its sales revenue.

In making the video, Machii's movement was monitored by a motion capture device, which analyzes motion, to teach the robot iaijutsu moves. After the data was analysed, the robot used the data to repeat the movement. But it failed many times in slashing tests. Based on Machii's advice, minor adjustments were applied to the angle of the sword held by the robot. The way the robot wielded the sword was modified as well. Shooting of the video required three days.

From the moment the video went online, it was viewed more from outside Japan than within. In about a month, the video was watched more than 3 million times. The company's employees at its overseas locations have been making the most of the video at exhibitions and seeing good responses.

"We wanted to show an ideal portrayal of a man and a robot together, with the man as a master and the robot as an apprentice," said Koichi Mehara of the company, who was in charge of the project. "Our initial goal was reaching 1 million views, but the view count has surpassed that by far."

The video can also be seen on the company's website (