Robot rendezvous Essay

Robots acting in skits, a train floats above its track, a 75- by120-foot television screen, buildings shaped like mountains andmachines: these are some of the electronic wizardries and architecturalmarvels exhibited at Tsukuba Expo 1985, Japan’s $3-billionworld’s fair. It opens March 17, runs through September 16, at Tsukuba(pronounced scuba) Science City, a recently created industrial researchcity about 90 minutes northeast of Tokyo by train and bus. If you’ll be visiting Japan at that time, you might allow aday for the expo, accepting its high-tech vision of the future as astriking contrast to the timeless gardens and ancient shrines on youritinerary. Tsukuba Expo celebrates the latest generation of consumerelectronics, from sophisticated telecommunications systems to robots whopaint portraits. It’s also a showcase for products still in thedevelopment stage, such as the Showscan system that heightens thereality of filmed images by vastly increasing the number of frames shownper second. More than 40 countries are participating.

When we toured the siteearlier this year, we saw a frenzy of activity as swarms of constructionworkers hoisted full-grown trees into place, laid the last pavingbricks, turned fountains on, installed terminals, fine-tuned ridemechanisms, and tested gigantic video monitors. A view from the top The 250-acre complex takes your breath away. Pavilions, rides, andexhibits line up along two major north-south axes running past a sleek15-story glass-and-steel observation tower–a good place to head forfirst. From the top, you can locate the pavilions you don’t wantto miss. Double-peaked Mount Tsukuba frames your view on the north. Thestructures stretched out below your complete for attention in a chorusline of gigantic geometric solids, bright colors, and structuralpyrotechnics.

You’ll see buildings a packaged as electric yellowcubes, gold spheres, brilliant blue cones, and wedges covered inmirrors. Other buildings leap and stretch in butterfly curves or soaring,cable-taut masts. Monorails and gondolas slide across the sky. All inall, it looks like the movie set for a science fiction epic. Pavilionhighlights: eight to catch U.S. Pavilion. The sculptural tent-like roof, suspended from tallpoles, covers a medly of high-tech exhibits, including one tracingcomputer development.

A model of the first American manned spacestation is on display. You’ll also see how state-of-the-artcomputers can respond to voice commands and compose music (of sorts) onthe spot. Fuyo Robot Theater. A central dome and roller-coaster curvesidentify this building where robots perform a variety of skits, from acourtship scene to a soccer game. Unlike conventional robots, these areencased in skins of sinuously curved plastic; some resemble friendlygrasshoppers.

Fujitsu Pavilion. A two-story waterfall floods the front of thisbuilding. An inner hall contains Fanuc Man, a 15-foot-high, 20-tonyellow robot who can assemble a miniature of himself. A theaterpresents worldwide news simultaneously translated into English, French,and German. Kurumakan. Here, in a five-story drum encased in a cube of steelwebbing, you’ll see future automobile prototypes.

In Disneylandstyle, “space rider” cars lift you to the top for panoramicviews of the expo, then descend through a series of computer-enhancedphotographic scenes. Electric Power Pavilion. Straining cables linked to a centrallaser tower symbolize the sun’s radiant energy. The buildingcontains “The Adventures of Electro-Gulliver,” a ride thattakes you through major sources of energy, from volcanoes to hurricanesto 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 allparts of the expo, presents television programs as well as showsperformed on the stage directly in front. HSST. Japan Air Lines’ high-speed prototype train floats overits track by means of magnetic-levitation devices.

You can take a shortride, 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 toBanpaku-chuo Station every 10 to 15 minutes; the 55-minute ride costs800 yen ($3.25) one way.

Buses run every few minutes from Banpaku-chuoto the expo; the ride takes 25 minutes, costs 460 yen. The expo is openfrom 9:30 to 7 from March 17 to April 25, 9 to 9 from April 26 toclosing on September 16. Adult tickets are 2,700 yen ($11); 15 to 22years, 1,400 yen; 4 to 14 years, 700 yen. Japan Travel BureauInternational Inc. offers a dray-trip package from Tokyo hotels for13,000 yen (about $55 per person, including expo ticket). For details,call the nearest JTBI office: (808) 923-5622 in Honolulu, (213) 433-5907in San Francisco. For expo brochures and other information, write or telephone theJapan National Tourist Organization: 2270 Kalakaua Ave.

, Honolulu 96815,(808) 923-7631; 624 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles 90017, (213) 623-1952; or360 Post St., San Francisco 94115, (415) 989-7140.

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