Japanese Robotland

After the charming exhibition on Women Samurai, Tenoha changes tune and theme and goes cybernetic on us: their new effort is called Robotland, and has: a section on the history of robots, grouped by theme and following the book; a section on the exploration of what robots can do, where you can either interact with […]

After the charming exhibition on Women Samurai, Tenoha changes tune and theme and goes cybernetic on us: their new effort is called Robotland, and has:

  • a section on the history of robots, grouped by theme and following the book;
  • a section on the exploration of what robots can do, where you can either interact with robots or request the aid of a lab assistant.

Don’t get me wrong: I love everything the guys at Tenoha do, and I wish they’ll keep doing exhibitions for a very long time, but I think this is their most underwhelming installation yet.

The introductory section is cheap and shallow: while the general setting of shipping containers is done very well, and there’s the occasional stroke of genius such as Tetsujin breaking away from one of those containers, the historical pieces are explained with meagre paragraphs inkjet-printed on a piece of paper and the cardboard standee don’t do much justice to the illustrations by Berta Paramo nor to her witty takes on the different automatons people have ideated throughout the centuries.

Tetsujin breaking away from one of those containers

The interactive section, though showcasing some very interesting pieces, isn’t grouped by theme, nor does it seem to be grouped by the kind of technology the different robots employ: they’re three lines of boxes and cases with robots and, though you can cuddle them, I can’t help but think it can’t be enough.

Last but not least, placing a robot with visual sensors inside a box made of mirrors, though very scenographic, is a bit sadistic towards the robot, and I won’t help you when they come to kill you. Though they probably won’t be able to see you.

Anyway, I’ll try to focus on the positive stuff.

The Exhibition

As I was saying, the exhibition starts with a general introduction of the main themes the book uses to group robots, and these themes are:

  • homo, for robots mimicking the human figure such as Haephestus’ golden maidens;
  • animalium, with automatons with the shape and behaviour of animals such as swimming birds or loyal dogs;
  • cosmos, for machines meant to observe or reproduce the sky and the movement of stars;
  • securitas, for robots dedicated to surveillance and security;
  • divinus, for a vast assortment of some weird-ass robots connected with prayer and worship (more on that later);
  • laborare, the section dedicated to our mechanical slaves which will probably rebel and kill us all since we keep treating them like shit;
  • tempus, with elaborate contraptions to measure time and its passing;
  • exploratio, for machines meant to travel where no man has gone before;
  • musica, with contraptions that either play by themselves or seem to do so;
  • ludo, in the area of gaming and play;
  • fontana, a spectacular take on the water theme;
  • theatrum, for machines capable of elaborate performances.

Aesthetically, it’s divided in four sections: the general introduction with the eleven kinds of robots explained, a portion with containers and props, and the showcase of robots to interact with, closing with the mirrored box where ALTER-2 tries to do its thing.

The Robots

The exhibition features real robots that are either experimental or actually manufactured for the consumer market. Here’s some of them.


Designed for emergencies by the Italian Institute of Technology (IIT) around 2015, Walman is a humanoid construction 1,85 meters tall, and it’s controlled from a distance by a human wearing a motion-capture suit. It was used in Amatrice to inspect buildings wrecked by the earthquake, and if you don’t remember what that’s about, you might start by reading here and the pingbacked articles at the bottom.

LEGO Mindstorm

Accessible, groundbreaking, revolutionary: LEGO was the first mainstream toymaker to provide you with an easy way of assembling and programming your own robot. Through the years they also proposed different levels, with the WeDo line being an easier and more approachable product for younger inventors. The Mindstorms line has been withdrawn from the market, much to everyone’s dismay, but the PowerUP system still exists, for those who want to make their own smart toys.


I never understood the hype around this thing, but then again I don’t particularly understand animated toys.
Since I’m not a fan, I didn’t know they revamped the product and made it queer. Of course I approve of that.

Furbies were the first successful attempt to produce and sell a programmed robot.

Amagami Ham Ham

You know that pleasant feeling of being gently nibbled on your finger by a puppy or baby?

That’s the whole premise of this weird, sensor-based toy, and unfortunately my answer is… no? I mean, everyone has their kinks, but being bitten is not one of mine.
For these robots to do their trick, you have to stick your finger down their throat (I mean, it’s supposed to be in the mouth but I swear you really need to push deep for the sensor to work) and it’s really weird.


If you thought the finger-nibbling toys were weird, wait until we step into the realm of religious robots.
This particular one was invented in 2017 in Germany and is equipped with a touchscreen where you can choose the language, the kind of voice, the kind of blessing you want to receive and the robot waves around its arms to… well… bless you. It recites verses from the Bible or can be more neutral in its blessing, and I swear I can’t figure out why would you want to invent a mechanical priest, of all the weird things.

BlessU-2 is weirder than it looks. And yes, I know it already looks weird. Trust me.


If you thought BlessU-2 was the only religious automaton, you’ll have to think again. SANTO requires you to light the fake candle in front of it with the other fake candle standing on the side, it lights up, explains to you what it does, and then you can ask it a question. For instance, it can list the saints of the day and their feats.
It’s like a talking Frate Indovino.
Again, why?


Created in 2018 in Japan by professors Hiroshi Ishiguro and Takashi Ikegami, it combines two different approaches: while Ikegami tried to create a human-like entity through a bottom-up design which focused on the essence of life, Ishiguro adopted a top-down perspective and emphasised expressions and the skill to imitate people.
This skill is central to the robot’s functioning: ALTER-2 tries to imitate the behaviour of people in front of it and, when you confuse it by being really weird, it resorts to similar behaviours that are stored in its memory, entering a state its creators define “Dream Mode”.

Dreaming is considered essential not only to consolidate memories but also to generate new movements.

Only, the poor thing is in a box made of mirrors and I think it’s super confused.

The Book

The exhibition springs from a book as it often happens with Tenoha. In this case, it’s an original Italian title by Berta Paramo, structured as a touristic guide through the world of robots, androids and other humanoid constructions, and I think it’s brilliant.

Machines have been part of our lives for much longer than we can imagine. They were born out of the dream of creating artificial life capable of working, measuring time, observing the universe or creating music, among many other things, and their evolution is continuous and ever more rapid. In the course of this extraordinary journey, we meet robots of all kinds, from the most modern to their most ancient ancestors, not forgetting those that belong to the world of fantasy. A truly original book, conceived as a tour guide through the true history of automata. To get your bearings, there is a map showing the various routes, represented as underground lines, each one dedicated to a precise purpose that, throughout history, prompted someone to invent these intelligent machines, sometimes a little funny, sometimes a little disturbing.

It’s kind of a shame the exhibition wasn’t able to maintain the concept of a journey nor to keep the focus on the identified groups.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.