Robot rendezvous Essay

Robots acting in skits, a train floats above its track, a 75- by
120-foot television screen, buildings shaped like mountains and
machines: these are some of the electronic wizardries and architectural
marvels exhibited at Tsukuba Expo 1985, Japan’s $3-billion
world’s fair.

It opens March 17, runs through September 16, at Tsukuba
(pronounced scuba) Science City, a recently created industrial research
city about 90 minutes northeast of Tokyo by train and bus.

If you’ll be visiting Japan at that time, you might allow a
day for the expo, accepting its high-tech vision of the future as a
striking contrast to the timeless gardens and ancient shrines on your

Tsukuba Expo celebrates the latest generation of consumer
electronics, from sophisticated telecommunications systems to robots who
paint portraits. It’s also a showcase for products still in the
development stage, such as the Showscan system that heightens the
reality of filmed images by vastly increasing the number of frames shown
per second.

More than 40 countries are participating. When we toured the site
earlier this year, we saw a frenzy of activity as swarms of construction
workers hoisted full-grown trees into place, laid the last paving
bricks, turned fountains on, installed terminals, fine-tuned ride
mechanisms, and tested gigantic video monitors. A view from the top

The 250-acre complex takes your breath away. Pavilions, rides, and
exhibits line up along two major north-south axes running past a sleek
15-story glass-and-steel observation tower–a good place to head for
first. From the top, you can locate the pavilions you don’t want
to miss.

Double-peaked Mount Tsukuba frames your view on the north. The
structures stretched out below your complete for attention in a chorus
line of gigantic geometric solids, bright colors, and structural
pyrotechnics. You’ll see buildings a packaged as electric yellow
cubes, gold spheres, brilliant blue cones, and wedges covered in

Other buildings leap and stretch in butterfly curves or soaring,
cable-taut masts. Monorails and gondolas slide across the sky. All in
all, it looks like the movie set for a science fiction epic. Pavilion
highlights: eight to catch

U.S. Pavilion. The sculptural tent-like roof, suspended from tall
poles, covers a medly of high-tech exhibits, including one tracing
computer development. A model of the first American manned space
station is on display. You’ll also see how state-of-the-art
computers can respond to voice commands and compose music (of sorts) on
the spot.

Fuyo Robot Theater. A central dome and roller-coaster curves
identify this building where robots perform a variety of skits, from a
courtship scene to a soccer game. Unlike conventional robots, these are
encased in skins of sinuously curved plastic; some resemble friendly

Fujitsu Pavilion. A two-story waterfall floods the front of this
building. An inner hall contains Fanuc Man, a 15-foot-high, 20-ton
yellow robot who can assemble a miniature of himself. A theater
presents worldwide news simultaneously translated into English, French,
and German.

Kurumakan. Here, in a five-story drum encased in a cube of steel
webbing, you’ll see future automobile prototypes. In Disneyland
style, “space rider” cars lift you to the top for panoramic
views of the expo, then descend through a series of computer-enhanced
photographic scenes.

Electric Power Pavilion. Straining cables linked to a central
laser tower symbolize the sun’s radiant energy. The building
contains “The Adventures of Electro-Gulliver,” a ride that
takes you through major sources of energy, from volcanoes to hurricanes
to the sun itself.

Shueisha Pavilion. Like an international Mount Rushmore, a craggy facade contains huge faces and symbols from ancient civilizations.
Inside exhibits amplify the historical theme.

Jumbotron. Sony’s vast television screen, visible from all
parts of the expo, presents television programs as well as shows
performed on the stage directly in front.

HSST. Japan Air Lines’ high-speed prototype train floats over
its track by means of magnetic-levitation devices. You can take a short
ride, but expect a long wait. Getting there, hours, and cost

Accommodations in the Tsukuba area will be scarce. Best advice:
stay in Tokyo. Trains run from Tokyo’s Ueno Station to
Banpaku-chuo Station every 10 to 15 minutes; the 55-minute ride costs
800 yen ($3.25) one way. Buses run every few minutes from Banpaku-chuo
to the expo; the ride takes 25 minutes, costs 460 yen. The expo is open
from 9:30 to 7 from March 17 to April 25, 9 to 9 from April 26 to
closing on September 16. Adult tickets are 2,700 yen ($11); 15 to 22
years, 1,400 yen; 4 to 14 years, 700 yen. Japan Travel Bureau
International Inc. offers a dray-trip package from Tokyo hotels for
13,000 yen (about $55 per person, including expo ticket). For details,
call the nearest JTBI office: (808) 923-5622 in Honolulu, (213) 433-5907
in San Francisco.

For expo brochures and other information, write or telephone the
Japan National Tourist Organization: 2270 Kalakaua Ave., Honolulu 96815,
(808) 923-7631; 624 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles 90017, (213) 623-1952; or
360 Post St., San Francisco 94115, (415) 989-7140.


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