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からくり人形 (karakuri ningyo in romanised form) literally means “mechanical doll.” Centuries before Japan embraced giant robots, people there crafted mechanical automata to amuse theater- and festival-goers as well as feudal lords. Being a tea nut, I'm partial to the 茶運び人形, or tea-serving doll, type. One of them appears in the gorgeous 2004 film Ghost in the Shell II: Innocence, in the scene(s) upstairs in the mansion. It turns out there are manufactured kits you can buy these days to make your own, and I did. The instruction manual being exclusively in Japanese was a bit of an obstacle; I may be learning the language, but I'm far from literate in it. Fortunately, it included a lot of helpful diagrams.

What this automaton does is hold a tray, and when the host puts a teacup on the tray, it moves to the guest. Reaching the guest, it bows its head and waits while the guest takes the teacup and drinks. When the guest puts the cup back on the tray, the robot turns around and returns to the host. It doesn't sense where anyone is; rather, it relies on the host and guest being in predefined positions.

Here's a short video clip of mine in action.

In other beverage-serving robot news, if a cup of tea isn't your—ahem—cup of tea, Asahi will give away beer-bots.


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 30th, 2006 09:22 pm (UTC)
That is super adorable!
Jan. 30th, 2006 10:42 pm (UTC)
That's a cute little gadget, there... I like the classic/retro/mechanical feel. I don't think it'd be the same if it were, say, computer-controlled.
Jan. 31st, 2006 12:37 am (UTC)
That's so neat! And cute :)
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )