Motoman robots: from killing The Terminator to samurai swordmanship

31 years ago, the original Terminator met its demise in a factory full of industrial robots. They included Motoman arms made by Japan’s Yaskawa Electric.

Fast forward to today, and Motoman robots are still at the cutting edge – literally. In this promo video, one goes up against a samurai sword master in a test of skill.

A century after it was founded as a motor manufacturer, Yaskawa claims top share in industrial robots.

To show off its robot chops, the company recently opened a new showroom in southern Japan, home to its headquarters and several of its factories.

The Yaskawa Innovation Center features a range of eye-popping automation technologies. They include flatscreen TVs that move in synchrony, a projection-mapping display of spinning cubes that act like pixels, and a mini factory that can make toy cars in a snap.

Motoman's robot arms were seen in the final scenes of The Terminator, helping take down this guy.

The exhibits aimed at getting younger people interested in robots and they center on Yaskawa’s signature Motoman industrial robot arm. The SIA20 has seven axes of motion, similar to a human arm, and can move in surprisingly supple ways.

While robot arms can help with manufacturing tasks, one of the latest versions of the Motoman is a step up in robot evolution. With looks that seem to channel a classic Apple esthetic, the BMDA3 is designed to help drug researchers.

Behind the Yaskawa showroom and corporate headquarters lies a group of factories that are simply full of robots working and building.

Production capacity is 2,200 robots a month. The machines are housed in protective enclosures. When they assemble part of a robot, such as a wrist module, they deposit it in a tray so the human workers nearby can do the detailed components work.

After assembly is complete, the robot arms are tested, prepared for shipping, and given final inspections.

In an industrial robot market worth over £6 billion, this is serious work. But the company does have a sense of fun.

It has programmed these Motoman drones to emulate a Japanese folk drumming performance. They’ve appeared in the centuries-old Kokura Gion Taiko festival.

Back in the showroom, there are robots that balance balls on grooved boards, robots that play games and robots that dance.

But nothing beats this. Yaskawa-kun is an industrial robot that can make ice cream. It even has its own theme song.

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