Education meets fun at Tokyo’s Miraikan museum
If robots had feelings, Asimo would likely need an appointment with a good therapist after a bout of bad press this month.
When an upgraded Asimo appeared for a performance at Tokyo’s Miraikan (the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation) recently, the Associated Press noted that Asimo couldn’t distinguish between raised hands and others taking smartphone pictures. At one point, Asimo froze and kept repeating the same line to a crowd of onlookers.
The Associated Press also noted that in 2011, Asimo was unable to enter the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant following the Great East Japan Earthquake.
Okay, so a dancing, tea-serving, soccer ball-kicking robot couldn’t save Japan from a nuclear meltdown. I doubt Batman could have done much about it, either.
There is probably room in a technical journal somewhere to discuss whether Asimo’s manufacturer, Honda, should be further along in its robotics development, but I doubt most museum-goers care.
For adults weaned on Western pop culture, it’s a thoroughly cool robot that brings back memories of the old Buck Rogers TV show, fantastical year 2000 predictions (still waiting for my jetpack) and whatever the imagination could spawn from action figures.
Children today are exposed to high technology as infants, and by my observation, they were pretty excited too.
So what if Asimo is glitchy? One of the overarching lessons of Miraikan’s varying exhibits is that failure in science is part of the learning process, and is sometimes even desirable.
One of the nearby exhibits shows the timeline of several types of scientific endeavors, where small advances in identifying life went on to help cure diseases. In between, there were no doubt several failures.
Some of the best-qualified people to vouch for that are the museum’s science communicators, several of whom speak at least some English. They are located throughout the building and able to answer questions about the exhibits. After a quick survey, I found their expertise to range from bugs to brains to volcanoes.
The broad range of talent goes with the museum’s ever-changing focus.
“There aren’t many permanent exhibits, so there’s always something new,” said Isao Yamasaki, one of the museum’s scientists.
It’s easy to spend a few hours wandering the floors, stopping for a while at whatever seems striking. There is plenty to learn about earthquakes, human impact on the environment, biology, space and more. There are also several planetarium shows each day. While translation devices exist, there weren’t any available when I attended. If you have to wait a few hours for a show and don’t understand Japanese, I wouldn’t bother.
That said, Miraikan is worth the price of admission and a nice break from the shopping frenzy and summer sun of Tokyo’s Odaiba area. Enjoy Asimo, but if he should stutter or get confused by your smartphone, do Asimo a favor — cut him some slack.
DirectionsThe museum is a five-minute walk from the Yurikamome line’s Tokyo Teleport Station or the Fune-no-kagakukan Station. A free shuttle bus is available from 10 locations in Odaiba, including the Venus Fort mall.
TimesMiraikan is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and closed on Tuesdays and some holidays. Asimo demonstrations begin at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. for 10 minutes.
CostsAdmission for adults is 600 yen. Ages 18 and under get in for 200 yen on regular days, and can attend for free on Saturdays. Tickets for the planetarium and some other shows are required. Staff scientists recommend picking up first-come, first-serve tickets early, even for afternoon shows.
FoodThe Maraikan 5F Cafe offers snacks and drinks, and is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
InformationThe museum website: www.miraikan.jst.go.jp/en